This overview features a hand-picked and organized selection of the most useful Smashing Magazine’s articles on business advice, design process and communication published here over all the years.
- The Roadmap To Becoming A Professional Freelance Web Designer
- Successful Strategies For Selling Ad Space On Low-Traffic Websites
- Marketing Rules and Principles for Freelancers
- Web Designer, Be Your Best Promoter
- Fight The System: Battling Bureaucracy
- Fight The System: Battling Bureaucracy — Part 2
- Understanding Copyright And Licenses
- How To Deliver Exceptional Client Service
- How To Respond Effectively To Design Criticism
- Web Design Criticism: A How-To
- How To Explain To Clients That They Are Wrong
- How To Successfully Educate Your Clients On Web Development
- How To Spot A Sketchy Client (Plus A Contract Template)
- How To Get Sign-Off For Your Designs
- How To Persuade Your Users, Boss or Clients
- Supporting Your Product: How To Provide Technical Support
- Lessons Learned: Productivity Tips For Running A Web Design Business
- Professional Team Management Tips For Creative Folks
- Effective Strategy To Estimate Time For Your Design Projects
- Passing The Holy Milestone: How To Meet Deadlines
- Website Maintenance Tips for Front-End Developers
- Is John The Client Dense or Are You Failing Him?
- Utilizing The Power Of Recycling In Web Design
- When 24/7/365 Fails: Turning Off Work On Weekends
- Work, Life And Side Projects
- Making Your Mark On The Web Is Easier Than You Think
- Social Media Is A Part Of The User Experience
Becoming a freelance web designer is a common dream among many designers, although it takes quite a bit of talent, business savvy, committment, and time. With all there is to consider when becoming self-employed, one can become overwhelmed — enough to deter themselves from trying at all.
Realizing many Smashing readers probably already have a head-start into the world of professional and freelance web design, this post is meant to act as not only a step-by-step guide, but also as a checklist for those who have already started their career. Hopefully this guide can cover all aspects of becoming a professional and freelance web designer, from business aspect and working with clients, to creating an effective portfolio and advertising one's work.
Upon first thinking about it, the idea of selling advertising on a website or blog with limited traffic seems a bit daft. After all, aren't most advertisers interested in putting their product in front of the highest number of eyeballs possible? Approaching them with piddly visitor numbers seems like a surefire way to end up in the deleted folder. But though it may feel like putting the cart before the horse, there are many good reasons and ways to sell ad space on low-traffic websites. What you need to always keep in mind is that, while advertisers are drawn to high traffic numbers, they desire something else even more: high conversion rates.
There are plenty of success stories of websites that have limited traffic but sell a ton of advertising. These websites succeed because they do one thing well: they deliver the right type of customer to the right type of business.
Freelancers have it hard. I mean, really hard. In theory, the idea of working for yourself, of being able to choose who you work with and what you work on, sounds like the perfect job. In practice though, it’s a lot more than just working on amazing projects for amazing clients from the comfort of your own home.
There is a tremendous amount of competition out there, and a lot of it is willing to play dirty, cut-throat and underhanded to beat you to the clients. How are you supposed to get ahead of those guys? Is it even possible to earn an honest buck? Thankfully, it is possible and can be a lot easier than you think.
Marketing and its in-your-face division Advertising are all about one thing. Building brand equity. If you take away only one concept from this article, please let it be this one! In this internet fueled economy, brand strength is everything! But brand and brand equity are often misunderstood concepts, the easiest way to think about brand equity is that it’s the sum total of feelings people get when they think about your business or service. And it’s important to remember that brand equity can be positive or negative.
Have you ever had someone flirt with you and they did nothing but demean themselves the whole time? Did that make you attracted to them? Doubtful. Yet, this is how so many individuals seem to handle their business today.
With the advent of social media, the Web has been overflooded with individuals claiming that they are experts at everything. It has become so rampant that whenever I come to see someone label themselves as an expert, I immediately believe they are trying to pull a fast one on me. Unfortunately, many times these people get business because there are people out there who really do believe that they are experts.
How many great designers do you know out there who struggle to find clients, while the world's worst Microsoft Frontpage jockey can't keep client offers out of his inbox? I know some of you reading this are dying to get more clients or more users to the app you created. Obviously, to get more people you need to let more people know about you and that doesn't happen unless you say something. Once you develop a big enough reputation, you can sit back and let others talk about you, but 98% of us aren't at that point yet so we have only ourselves to depend on.
If you work as part of an in-house Web team, you have my sympathy. If that in-house team is within a large organization, then doubly so. Being part of an in-house Web team sucks. Trust me, I know. I worked at IBM for three years and now spend most of my days working alongside battle-weary internal teams.
It's hardly surprising that most in-house teams are worn down and depressed. They face almost insurmountable challenges. Too often, a website becomes a battleground for pre-existing departmental conflicts. Political power plays can manifest themselves in fights over home page real estate or conflicts over website ownership. After all, is the website an IT function or a marketing tool? Read more... ## [Fight The System: Battling Bureaucracy — Part 2](https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/09/14/fight-the-system-battling-bureaucracy-part-2/ "Permanent Link to Fight The System: Battling Bureaucracy — Part 2") This article is the second part of Paul Boag's series about common problems and difficulties that occur in in-house Web teams working in large companies. The series explains ways to to improve how your team is perceived within your organization, overcome politics and problem people, ensure that a project gets approval and deliver work within scope and on time. Feel free to check [part 1 of the article](https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/09/06/fight-the-system-battling-bureaucracy/) as well. When working for a large organization, you constantly require the approval of others to move anything forward. If you want a budget for a new Web project, you need to get senior management to buy in. When you conceive an approach for a new design, it needs to go through marketing and the brand police. Sooner or later, everything you want to do on the website needs approval. [Read more...](https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/09/14/fight-the-system-battling-bureaucracy-part-2//#more-61471) ## [Understanding Copyright And Licenses](https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2011/06/14/understanding-copyright-and-licenses/ "Permanent Link to Understanding Copyright And Licenses") The Web is full of creative and practical resources that we can use to improve our projects. Photography, fonts, music and code are perfect examples. Finding stock objects and existing implementations is often quicker, cheaper and more practical than producing your own. Whether free or not, these resources normally **come with a license to ensure fair use**. For professionals, understanding the limitations of a license is critical; with this knowledge, you’d be surprised by what’s available. Understanding copyright and licenses allows us to do what we do best: be creative.
In this article, we’ll cover the basic principles that govern copyright and licenses. We’ll then explore common licenses in our industry, with examples.
We often hear companies, including Web agencies, boast about how they provide exceptional client service. But how do they define exceptional?
Consider this scenario. You are hired to design and develop a new website for a retail client. The client loves the design, and the pages you develop use the latest in HTML5, CSS3 and responsive design, resulting in a website that works wonderfully across browsers and devices. The e-commerce features of the new website help the client significantly increase their online sales, and the entire project is delivered on time and on budget. Now, is this “exceptional” client service? I don’t think it is.
When the client hired you, they expected that you would design and develop a great website. They also expected it would be done according to the timeline and budget set during the planning stages of the project. As successful as this project may have been for both you and the client, in the end, you did exactly what you were hired to do. You did your job.
Winston Churchill once said: "Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things." Regardless of where you work or who you work for, being able to take criticism is part of the job description. Whether you're getting feedback from your boss or a client, having a proper perspective on criticism and a sound understanding of how to use it effectively is important.
Unfortunately, not many people enjoy criticism. In fact, many have developed a thick skin and take pride in their ability to brush it off and move on. However, despite its negative connotation, criticism often presents an excellent opportunity to grow as a designer. Before you can respond effectively, you need to understand what those opportunities are.
Uncover blind spots. Doing your own thing is easy, but your habits will eventually become deeply ingrained and hard to break. Criticism gives you a vital outside perspective on your work, uncovering potential areas for improvement that you are unable to see by yourself.
Web design is a relatively young field. It's youthful, growing and made up of people from all kinds of backgrounds, many of whom lack formal design training. We have learned, and still are learning, as we go. I came into my first job as a Web designer for Boeing back in the mid-1990s, with no formal design training. I was lucky to get some training on the job, and I would guess that my experience there was similar to that of many who are reading this article.
I had the opportunity to work with some very talented and highly experienced designers who all had made the jump from other design fields to the Web. It was there, as part of that training, that I learned about critiquing, both giving and receiving, through regular design reviews.
GIFs of spinning @s on the "Contact us" page. Common usability mistakes for the sake of visual appeal. Splash pages. Fancy search box. No whitespace. Music on page load. Home page banner of a jigsaw-puzzle globe with a piece missing. Sometimes you just know that what a client is requesting is wrong and that you have to find a way to tell them. But how?
Before getting into how to explain to a client that they're wrong, ask yourself, "Is the client actually wrong to begin with?" Just because you don't approve of the direction they're taking or of a request they've made doesn't necessarily mean it is not a step in the right direction for the project. To be able to answer this question effectively, you need to train yourself to be completely objective and humble when dealing with client requests.
If you are running a design agency, your job is very likely to combine business development, graphic design, technology and user experience design: a basketful of very different fields. When dealing with clients, one faces the challenge of clearly and effectively communicating the goals and results of the work done in these areas. In this post, we'll provide you with some ideas on sharing information and knowledge with developers and clients — a couple of tips and tricks we've learned from our own experience.
As designers, our core purpose is to solve business challenges for our clients. No, I haven’t forgotten you Mac-loving, single-mouse-button-fanatic designers. A business solution includes an application platform, solid data design and a page design that makes the UI and website approachable and easy to use (for converting, transacting, clicking on a monkey's butt, etc.). Your daily challenge, then, is to deliver the project on time while satisfying the client's visual, business and aesthetic requirements.
Many things about our business make one glad to be creative; and there certainly are things that destroy the very soul and one's will to carry on. Client interaction can either lead to strong relationships that last a lifetime or make you feel low and worthless. We look at our designs as our own children, and why not? We create our work from our mind and very being. We have an emotional attachment to our work. But we also need to earn a living from that creativity, and there lies the door to our problems and aggravation.
The question arose on a blog about how to screen a client. Perhaps talking about it in terms of how to spot a sketchy client would be a bit much, but like any freelancer, I need to dump my anxieties on those who sign my paychecks. From corporate clients to the single-owner businesses, clients are our lifeblood… and they can be a cruel, cruel mistress. No wonder we drink.
“How did you do that?” My colleague Leigh sounded impressed. He had been working with a problem client for weeks trying to get design approval. Then I came along and was able to get signed-off in a single conference call. “Can you teach me how you did that?” he asked. I mumbled something about years of experience, but the truth was I didn’t have a clue. It just seems I can find design approval easier than most.