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Web Designers, Don’t Do It Alone


Whether freelancers, small agency founders or website owners, too many of us work alone. The downside of the digital revolution is isolation. The Web allows us to do alone what previously would have required a team of people. It also frees us from the constraints of geography, allowing us to work from home. But while these are benefits, they also leave us isolated.

The Dangers Of Isolation Link

Over time, working in isolation (even if you function as part of a team) can prove harmful to your mental health, business and website. In fact, even if other people are working on a project of yours, if they are junior to you, you can still feel isolated.

Depressed dog
lifeandlove, Shutterstock1

If you don’t find a peer with whom you can share ideas and discuss your business or project, you face a number of dangers:

  • Dry up creatively
    Creativity is born of interaction. Being consistently creative on your own is hard. The best ideas come from people brainstorming together and from one great idea leading to another. Without someone to bounce ideas around with, your business or project will lack a creative spark.
  • Lose confidence
    Over time we can lose confidence in our abilities or our business. This is especially true when we make mistakes and things go wrong. Without someone to encourage and reassure us, we can begin to second-guess our decisions.
  • Become over-confident
    While some suffer from a lack of confidence, others are over-confident and need to be challenged and questioned. This is a trait I suffer from; I would happily dive headlong into disaster if my fellow directors did not constantly question my ideas. Without people like this, moving your business in entirely the wrong direction would be too easy.
  • Reach the limit of your knowledge
    We can’t all be experts at everything, and yet running a website and a business requires a broad range of skills. When working in isolation and tackling problems beyond your comfort zone, you can easily reach the limit of your expertise and flounder.
  • Have a blinkered perspective
    Another problem with working alone is that you have only a single perspective on your work. By adding another set of eyes to your problems, you gain a broader vision and can approach your challenges from a different angle.
  • Feel overwhelmed
    Running a business or a business-critical website can feel like a burden. You are often required to make big decisions, particularly with hiring and expenditures. Making these decisions alone is a big responsibility and can be really scary. Having someone to share that with would make a big difference.

So, can you identify with any of these traps? If not, then I suggest you read the one about over-confidence again! I don’t believe a single website owner or entrepreneur couldn’t benefit from an outside perspective.

The question, then, is how do you find someone?

Getting An Outside Perspective Link

The most obvious solution is to partner with somebody at the outset. Whether you work with someone on a website or form a business with an associate, partnerships can be very beneficial. This is what I did with our company, and I haven’t regretted it for a minute. I would be lost without my two co-founders, Chris and Marcus.

That said, I know that not everyone’s experiences with partners have been rosy. Also, by the time you read this, the opportunity for this kind of partnership may have already passed.

What can you do then? What other options are available to those seeking an outside perspective and someone to bounce ideas around with?

Here are some options:

  • Sleeping partner
    This is the approach we took. We have a non-executive director named Brian who works with a number of companies and keeps us on our toes. He has a radically different view of business and constantly challenges us. In return, he has a small stake in the business. He is worth every penny.
  • Paid consultant
    If you don’t fancy having someone so entrenched in your business, why not consider an external consultant with whom you could speak on an ongoing basis? Admittedly, this kind of consultant can be pricey, but they do bring an outside perspective to the table.
  • Mentor
    Another option is to approach a Web designer or website owner you admire and ask them to mentor you. Obviously, these people are probably busy with their own work, but if you are willing to pay for their time, you might get some valuable advice. You’ll usually need only an hour per month to stay on the right track.
  • Buddy
    A buddy would be a cheaper option, someone in a situation similar to yours. The two of you could agree to chat regularly and share the challenges you face as business or website owners, discussing different approaches and ideas.
  • Community
    Yet another option would be to look not for a consultant, mentor or buddy, but for a supportive online community. Loads are around, but make sure the one you join is not too big. You want people to remember you and your circumstances.

Whatever you decide is entirely up to you. The point is, if you want to realize the potential of your website or business, you need the help and encouragement of others. Humans by nature work best in groups, and you are no exception. We are not meant to do it alone!


Footnotes Link

  1. 1
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Paul Boag is the author of Digital Adaptation and a leader in digital strategy with over 20 years experience. Through consultancy, speaking, writing, training and mentoring he passionately promotes digital best practice.

  1. 1

    I do everything alone and will continue so, who cares.

  2. 2

    absolutely true…

  3. 3

    Thomas Offinga

    June 27, 2010 3:45 am

    Great article. I’d say a good alternative is ‘Shared Workspace’. Just get a bunch of freelancers (and maybe 1/2 small companies) in one building and let everything take care of itself.

  4. 8

    dude that´s so true and reminds me of my beginning of being self employed.
    fortunatly I could surround myself with a creative network and it feels just great.
    and the projects resulting from that are the best works I´ve ever done.

  5. 9

    Great article…and very usefull for me…..

  6. 10

    I think, this article come from someone with rich experiances. very usefull. thanks for shared

  7. 11

    Sahus Pilwal

    June 27, 2010 4:06 am

    As Thomas has mentioned shared workspace is a great alternative. I have worked from home for the past 2 years and it does become a little depressing. I do have friends who also work in the web design/development industry who keep in touch with the use of MSN Messenger or Skype and that’s a great way to actually talk to someone in any given day.

    I think a partnership between say a developer and designer can work really well even if you are situated in two different location/offices. Having someone to share conversation with, ideas, projects can help with that feeling of isolation and loneliness!!!

  8. 12

    This is very true. A couple weeks ago I asked our print designer (I’m a web designer) to coffee so we could commiserate. We have an ongoing friendly competition to see who has done the most versions of a project before final approval. I thought I was getting close to the record on my latest one (29!) but he still holds it at 36 for a book project. Glad we have each other to laugh with at the absurdity of it all. ;-)

  9. 13

    This is indeed a very good article and absolutely true. The questions is where to start? I work from home and I really can’t find anyone to discuss/brainstorm projects with me.

    Anyway, Thank your for “Website Owner’s Manual” – Excellent read!

    • 14

      Same here.

      While all this social stuff sounds nice and rosy, you only get a decent “social refill” by meeting a reasonable bloke in person.

      Most people I’ve met want to get something out of me – contacts, deals, etc. Few want to discuss technical aspects of the trade and fewer still want to be friendly as such.

      Good manners only go so far, and when time does not produce money, all goodwill / bonhomie goes away quickly.

      Getting a plain simple friendly guy online is a bit tough too.
      So while you end up being of use to people, people mostly are happy to stick their geography / class / ethnicity circles.
      I’m not judging anyone or anything here, merely stating that offline has great value and online cannot replace offline in some cases.

      Even a pet dog is a great buddy who will keep you happy and cheerful most of the time. The whole Lolcats / ponies / dancing babies thing succeeds well and also has real science behind it.

  10. 15

    Very true and very recognizable. At my current job I’m the only front-end developer and also the only webdesigner. There’s another designer, but he’s mostly into Flash and not into HTML/CSS/Javascript at all. Very hard and not fun at all…

    • 16

      Hey Pim ,

      I am also Front-End developer, consider my self good in CSS/XHTML and Graphics design and ow just placed my first step on JavaScript ladder , we can be a skill sharing buddy. Howz that :-)

  11. 17

    This article was too good… i am in a dilemma ..whether to do a freelance job o r work in an organisation?? can anyone help me with this?

    • 18

      Do both freelance and work at a company if you can. Just make sure the company gives to you as much as you give to them. Meaning, hard work for flexibility. Facilities to work in for your time. Do they have a gym for you to work out over lunch.

      Can you get 4 weeks vacay? that kind of thing. Work hard and get a good company behind you. It can happen.

  12. 19

    I am launching my own online communication project and, being on my own, I can definitely feel the pressure from working alone. My plan is to overcome it by establishing a network of creative associates once I have the basic structure in place. Sometimes I feel like I’m working in a baric chamber, with the pressure constantly rising, hurrying to wrap up this phase and get out before I begin to crack.

  13. 20

    Smashy Design

    June 27, 2010 6:06 am

    Awesome post.
    Thanks for sharing…


  14. 21

    Working alone sometimes makes me exhausted, flooded by projects after projects and even being in the emptiness of creativity. Having some buddies to share with is really great. Inspiration will surely be made among the team and fasten the speed and efficiency of working.

  15. 22

    WOW thanks Paul you nailed it

    I’m a self employed web developer (shh.. not a freelancer) and can identify with most of the problems. i had a partner ones but it just robbed me from doing anything right (I’m not angry or something, he just wasn’t creative at all).

    I’m thinking of developing a platform not for a fee, but some screening; for designers and developers only, to exchange views and ideas or to point out flaws in design concepts.

  16. 23

    From my experience I taught myself how to design and build websites over many years. Through that time I tried to show people my work, but of course, they don’t really understand how a website works and it doesn’t really appeal to them.

    The majority of your options involve paying someone, which might suit some, but I think that’s even more sad that you can’t find some body who would offer advice out of friendship.

    • 24

      You’re showing them to the wrong people. If people aren’t interested in helping you, find someone who is. Their skill level doesn’t matter as long as they’re giving honest feedback. I often ask industry professionals, peers, and tech-savvy friends and even friends who have difficulty using the internet to look at my work, so that I can gain perspective from the many types of users who will be using my work.

      In the same way you’ve criticized the author for having too many paid options and saying its sad if you don’t have someone to give advice out of friendship, it is just as sad if you don’t have a network of people and friends to turn to to get good advice.

      It’s worse if your friends feel that it “doesn’t really appeal to them” to help you.

  17. 25

    Great article. Everything was excellent until I approached the last sentence reading, “Humans by nature work best in groups, and you are no exception. We are not meant to do it alone!”

    I do not agree human nature is the right term. I believe working in a group is a choice; therefore, it would be human behavior. In nature, there is no control (it inevitably happens). In behavior, there is a choice (you have control over what you can do – i.e., working in teams or working alone). The term “nature” does not apply.

    Other than that minor technicality, the article is very well-written and has great meaning.

  18. 26

    It depends, sometimes alone is much better.

  19. 27

    While I agree with the author in that a well rounded, professional developer needs a network of peers and friends that they can turn to for advice, support or criticism, there are, at times, a downside:

    1. You can find that you will lose your identity in your work.
    2. You can find that your work with be lost in revision hell, and/or find that after all the feedback it has turned into something “average”.
    3. You can find that you may waste your time with a thousand differing opinions, when there is no right answer.
    4. You may find that some of the people you ask may be counter productive to your work (such as asking the wrong demographic that is not part of your end user demographics… like asking a hardcore programmer when you’re making a website for internet novices).

    There’s plenty more I’m sure, but just some ideas off the top of my head. As long as you’re cognizant that there are always pros and cons, and that ultimately as the professional, you should be humble enough to accept feedback, but confident enough to only implement the ones that make your product better.

  20. 28

    I work alone on my projects. My hope is that one day I’ll make enough money to work with someone. It’s incredibly difficult to do EVERYTHING and not be able to bounce ideas or get help from others.

  21. 29

    That’s great and all, but maybe you guys can show us exactly where to get partners?

    it’s great in theory but in fact it’s difficult to find partners if you’re not already in the biz.

  22. 30

    Bill Johnson

    June 27, 2010 5:35 pm

    So who wants to be my buddy to bounce ideas off of?

  23. 31

    so far, so good, so true…. liked the part Become over-confident i personally dont do it, but i know a few—– f — that behave like god and that is annoying, and ridiculous, thanks for sharing

  24. 32

    The only reason I work alone is because I don’t think I could collaborate with someone who doesn’t have the same coding-style as me and more or less understand the code and project I am doing.

  25. 33

    Holy Crap. I’m going through this very problem right now, and didn’t have words to apply to it. Bless you Paul.

  26. 34

    Do you think that people(customers) begin to think ”giving a job to a design studio(office)” make things much more serious?

  27. 35

    The United States has several good choices for joining communities of other professionals (AIGA, GAG,, etc.) and, as far as marketing one’s own business goes, networking with live people is just one important part of your branding and marketing. It does, as I have found, create referrals and resources when you need other creatives for a certain project.

    As for a mentor, I have never heard of paying one. I have always volunteered my time as a mentor (even paying for lunch or drinks at meetings) because I feel it’s the natural order of life for the experienced to help the less-experienced and beginners. By training the upcoming generation(s), we assure a consistency in our field. Unfortunately, the practice of mentoring seems to be extinct and the training for business and professional practices being taught, or not, in art schools is sub-standard. Yet another reason to find live people (or even professional groups online) to discuss, compare, share and laugh/cry.

    As for paid consultants, that is something I do and I am amazed at the internal problems companies have. It all comes down to communication. It seems to be a human function we are losing quickly in the digital age.

  28. 36

    So true. I work alone most times, but im working on building a network. Im skilled all round, but it affects my mental health when there is pressure.

  29. 37

    Great post. It’s absolutely true.

    Reading how bad it can get flying solo in this business makes me glad I’ve had a partner in web design since I started in web development :)

  30. 38

    lol wtf sleeping partner?

  31. 39

    Having worked alone for quite a number of years, I can say that you have hit on the most critical issues. Thanks for the article.

  32. 40

    I was just about to put things together and start looking for a freelance job. Great article, it made me rethink if that’s the way to go. I will seek other opportunities as well.

  33. 41

    I like the picture of the dog. Good article.

  34. 42

    I started again doing freelance after 14 years in office and I feel that I’ll have to list some good points of being self-employed:

    1. You are much more effective. It’s absolutely terrifying how much even little organisation wastes energy in bureaucracy.
    2. Only dorks you’ll have to deal with are your customers. And that’s ok – they will pay you for being ones.
    3. You are able to choose what you do. In agency, even if they tell you that they want to give you opportunity to utilize your skills the way you want, it’s all BS.
    4. Your expertise comes much wider. In agency you are doing things you already are familiar with and nothing else. They don’t want you to spend working hours for studying anything. They want only something chargeable. Right now.
    5. Buy a dog. Even an asshole for the hound has much nicer personality than average human being.

    • 43

      While Paul has nailded all bad points,
      you my friend, had nailded some (on my point of view)
      very important good points.

    • 44

      Evan Skuthorpe

      June 28, 2010 7:05 am

      true. and you’re a little bit bitter ;)

      i know what you mean though, only when you work for yourself can you truely do something you want to do.

  35. 45

    Hey nice article.I am looking for online community. Can you please suggest some good online community?

  36. 46

    Nice article!

  37. 47

    That article just hit it right on the spot.

  38. 48

    This is one of the better articles on Smashing Magazine, a nice change from the “50 best … plugins” or the latest CSS3 tricks, they’re useful as well but they don’t solve the real problem (isolation) many freelancers face daily do they? (Quite opposite, they add to the to do list)

    I would like to see a follow up on this article, I mean it’s clear, a successful business is almost every time the result of teamwork (and a client who is engaged). Now, how do you find your dream team? How did you find yours? I bet Twitter or any digital form of communication is not the answer.

  39. 49

    This article is so true.

    Want to discuss, brainstorm or ask questions? Maybe I can help.

  40. 50


    June 28, 2010 1:48 am

    To bad you can’t post some links in here for communities or emails. Just find me in the search engines by looking for the name yourwaytomagic and get in contact.



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