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Can anyone be successful freelance web designer? What about you? Let’s suppose that you do believe that you can be freelance web designer and not starve to death or having to take second job. In this second part we will discuss another three tips that will help you get momentum and make a name for yourself. What will we discuss today? First, we will focus on how you can get attention by helping other people. After that, we will discuss what kind of work should you share on social media and finally what is the best strategy to shamelessly promote yourself. Let’s begin!
Tip no.1 – 2: Successful Freelance Web Designer – 5 Tips to Get Momentum Pt1
Tip no.3: Be helpful
In the previous part we focused on ways how you can build your personal brand as freelance web designer, find your core values and craft your USP. We also discussed what projects should you focus on. And that you should always tailor the content of your website or portfolio to your clients. In other words, first part was more focused on yourself and your potential clients. Please, don’t get me wrong. It is important to take care about yourself. However, there are a number of huge benefits you can get when you decide to switch your focus from yourself and start helping others.
From student to teacher
One relatively easy way in which you can start helping other people is teaching what you already know. Sharing your knowledge is a very good idea for couple reasons. First, it is great opportunity to test your own understanding of the subject. There is one saying that “those who don’t know teach.” My opinion is that this saying is completely wrong. The reason for this claim is that in order to teach something you have to able to explain it. However, how do you want to explain something you don’t understand? That doesn’t make any sense.
Therefore, we can safely say that you can’t teach something you don’t understand. If you try it, you will not be able to teach the subject properly. Meaning, no matter how hard you try, people will not be able to understand you. The only way to avoid this is to know the subject you want to teach other really well. This means that you have to put in the effort and time and learn as much about the subject as you can. Then, no matter what question will people ask you, you will always know how to answer because you will have sufficient amount of knowledge.
From teacher to expert
The second benefit of teaching other people things you are interested in is that it can help you become know as expert in your field. It is one thing to say that you know this or that technology. However, it is something completely different when you demonstrate your skills by teaching. This might be surprising for you. There are a number of clients who will hire you or at least contact you because they saw some tutorial or presentation you did. I speak from my own experience.
During the last year I received significant amount of job proposals from various companies, mostly over LinkedIn, based on my blog articles, example on Codepen and also repositories on GitHub. This is another example how some dots that are not directly related to your business and work as freelance web designer can connect and lead to unexpected results. I should also mention that I re-post all of my blog articles on LinkedIn. It’s not that I just sit on butt and wait for others to find me. One more thing … Always provide your educational materials with examples.
Teach it to remember it
The third benefit of teaching others is that you will actively practice the knowledge. It is undeniable fact that when we don’t practice our skills, they will start to deteriorate. The same also applies to our knowledge. If we don’t use it, we will soon lose it. From this point, teaching others can help you stay up-to-date and practice your skills. Therefore, even if you don’t use certain skills as freelance web designer or developer on a daily basis, the probability that you forget this knowledge will be significantly lower.
Teaching as a way to grow and progress
Let me tell you about one more reason why every freelance web designer should think about teaching others. It will help you grow your skills and move forward. Teaching can be also great opportunity for you to expand your skill set. Is there anything you want to learn? Is there any technology you are curious about? Well, what about using teaching as a way to finally learn that topic? Meaning, instead of just burring yourself under pile of books and spend hours in solitude, you may to share your process with other people.
The majority of books on programming and some books on design contain small exercises and tutorials. The reason for including these exercises is not to add couple of pages to the book so they can increase its price. Well, there might be some exceptions. Anyway, in most cases, the reason for this practice is quite simple. Authors of these books know very well that the best way to learn something is to try it on your own. Think about the last time you learned about something. Which approach helped you acquire the knowledge faster, was it reading, listening, watch or doing?
From consumer to creator
If you are like most people, your answer is that doing was the number one approach that helped you acquire new knowledge faster. So, should you improve your skills as a freelance web designer by working on these exercises and then posting them on your blog? Not exactly. Working on exercises and tutorials from books you are reading or courses you are attending and posting your solutions is a good idea. However, we can take this a little bit further. How?
Instead of posting only your solutions to these exercise, you can do practice your new knowledge. Meaning, you can create your own variations of the exercises and tutorials on the topic you are currently learning and post these. Then, you can let other people solve exercises created by you. You can also show people how to solve these exercises with higher efficiency and in shorter time. Then, you will not only teach others new things, you will also help them improve their skills.
Being a giver instead of taker
The last point I want to mention in this section is that teaching others what you know can also have positive effect on your level of happiness and satisfaction. When you work for yourself, whether it is as freelance web designer or any other job, there will be moments when you will feel that you are not contributing to the community around web design or the industry itself. At least this is what I experienced a lot of times before I started regularly posting on my blog and working on couple projects such as EtherCSS and CSSDojo.
According to couple of studies, contributing and being active member of some community are important elements for happiness and well-being. This is also why many people are participating in various open-source projects such as Wikipedia, Quora or jQuery. All these people are spending significant amount of hours without getting paid for it. So, if you feel that there is some empty space inside you, it might be this need or desire to contribute. Teaching what you know and sharing your work may be one of the ways to fill this emptiness.
Another ways to start small
I believe that the benefits why every freelance web designer should start to teach are quite significant. Still, everyone is different and some freelancers may not like the idea of starting their own blog. The idea of writing either long or short articles regularly can be scary or uncomfortable. For this I want to mention another smaller and easier approach you can use to share your knowledge. It is simple. You can start answering questions on forums and similar websites build around certain interests and skills.
Reddit, Stackexchange and Quora are all great places for you to share your knowledge and also build your expertise as freelance web designer. The only thing you have to do is to create your account and look for questions you can answer. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I think that there is really no approach that is easier and less demanding than this.
Every freelance web designer should give it a try and teach his skills and knowledge other people. I believe that this is one of the best ways to achieve couple of goals at once. First, it will help you establish yourself on the market as someone who actually knows his craft. As a result, this can help you get attention of potential clients. Second, it can help you train and polish your skills. Third, teaching can also help you learn new skills and acquire new knowledge. Remember that the best way to learn something is by teaching it.
Fourth, when you teach what you know, you are immersing yourself in practice and rehearsing your skills. As a result, the probability that your skills will deteriorate or that you will forget something you’ve learned a long time ago will decrease. This will help you as freelance web designer remain competitive. Otherwise, you might slowly start to lose your current position or rank. Lastly, the act of teaching can be a great way to contribute to community around web design and the industry itself. We all want to contribute to the world. Why not to give it a try and start teaching?
Tip no.4: Have a place to show your best work
Every freelance web designer should have his portfolio. This is your home base and also a way you can demonstrate your skills to potential clients. When it comes to portfolio, there are a number of questions you should ask. First, should you have your own website and domain or should you use alternatives such as Behance or Dribbble? My suggestion is that you should go for both because both of these options have benefits.
The upside of online galleries and portfolios
First, online portfolios and galleries such as Behance and Dribbble are well-known and established. They have solid reputation and potential clients and companies often use them to find new talents. In other words, there are millions of people visiting these platforms every single day. Therefore, if you are just starting out as freelance web designer, these platforms can give you significant advantage in the form of wide audience. As a result, this already built audience can help you accelerate your career in a way your own website is not capable of, at least in the beginning.
The downside of online galleries and portfolios
Despite all the positives, there are also some negatives to having all your work posted on third-party portfolio or gallery. I think that the biggest downside is that you don’t have, and will never have, complete control over your portfolio. You may argue that there are clear terms and conditions and other documents ensuring that whatever content you upload is only yours. Yes, you are right. You own the content. You can also delete any piece or the whole account if you want.
However, this is not what I mean when I say “having full control”. Having full control over your portfolio means that you can manipulate with both, the content and also the website itself. In other words, not only you can add, remove, sort or style your content you can also completely customize the website. This is what many galleries and portfolio platforms often don’t offer, at least not for free. Yes, not every freelance web designer needs to have self-hosted website. Let’s assume that you may not need to have your own website to show your potential clients your work.
What will happen if the portfolio platform you use will be closed, acquired or something else? What I mean is that, aside from having no control over the website, you also have no control over the platform itself. Meaning, unless you are the biggest stakeholder, you can influence the decisions owners of these platform will make. When they decide to do something, you have only two options – accept their decision or leave. Sure, you can try to protest, but your chances are low.
The upside of having your own website
On the other hand, when you have your own website similar situation can never happen. Sure, your hosting or domain provider can close his business. Still, when this happens, you can simply take “pack” your website and move it to someone else. In most cases, you will not lose any data. Well, you should do regular backups just for case. Anyway, another important point is that when you have your own website, you own it, literally. When your hosting or domain provider will try to force you into anything, there are a number of other providers happy to take you under their wings.
Another reason why every freelance web designer should think about having his own website is related to branding. If you are lucky, you can get domain for your name. When you manage this, your personal brand will become more flexible and less dependent on your current skills. Meaning, it can happen that being freelance web designer will no longer suit your plans for the future. Let’s say that one day you decide to do only design, development or something completely different.
When you decide to make a pivot, and change what you do for living, you only need to change the content of your website, adjust your USP and branding strategy. That’s basically all that’s necessary for doing this quick switch. Position of your website in search and the credibility it gained through the time will be preserved. You can think about it as changing car paint. You change how your ca looks from the outside. From the inside, it stays the same.
The downside of having your own website
The biggest downside of having your own website is probably another additional expense that you have to pay every month or year. This problem doesn’t exist if you use any portfolio platform, unless you decide to use paid account to get more features or control over your portfolio. In that case, the costs are probably very similar. Next downside that’s significant enough to be mentioned is the necessity of maintain your website. This is something every freelance web designer has to keep in mind. Once in a while you will have to do some spring-cleaning.
There is another potential downside when you decide to present your newest work. You will have to do little bit more than just upload the shots and create new case study like you would on Behance for example. Chances are that you will either have to code everything in HTML and CSS, if you have static website. In case you are using WordPress or another CMS, the work is less time-consuming, but it will still take some time. We should also don’t forget that you will have to think about what the main localization of your website will be.
The problem with languages
If you are freelance web designer working in global scope, you will probably choose English as the primary language of your website. However, you may also decide to include secondary, and maybe even tertiary language, used in the country you currently live. This is also why my website (feedback is welcomed) is localized into two languages. I chose English as primary language as it is one of the most popular languages. The secondary language is Czech because it is the language of the country where I live and chances are that some potential clients will be Czechs.
If you are living in country with English as official language, this is nothing you should worry about. If you are freelance web designer living and working in country where English if not the official language, you have to think about what market do you want to enter. Meaning, what language are your potential clients using. Still, if you choose English either as primary or secondary language, you will probably cover sufficient number of potential clients.
The dilemma of portfolio and what to show
The last thing that is related to both, being freelance web designer and having your portfolio, we should discuss is what work should we present. There are three general rules or practices we can use. First, we should always present only our best work. We have to remember that every piece of work we present can either help us or harm us. Every great example of our work has the potential to attract attention of potential clients. On the other hand, bad examples can dissuade clients.
This means that every freelance web designer should carefully consider which examples he or she will present in the portfolio. One challenge may be if you don’t have wide range of examples to show. For example, let’s say that you have only two or three designs. Two designs are above the average (7 out of 10) and one is exceptional (9). In this case, I would encourage you to present all of them. One thing … Rating of your examples has to be based on feedback of other designers.
What if the examples you have are average at best (5 out of 10)? Then, I would recommend that you don’t show any of them. As freelance web designer, you have to remember that potential clients will often base their decisions on the first impression they will get from looking at your portfolio. It takes only fraction of a second to form an impression and we will usually not get another chance. We should do our best to increase the probability that these impressions will be great. Therefore, we should present only the top one percent of our work.
Keep your portfolio fresh
The second rule or practice is that every freelance web designer should regularly update his portfolio. We should regularly add fresh examples of our latest work. This is our opportunity to show improvement of our skills. Unfortunately, it is also one of the things web designers often delay. Let’s be honest. For me personally, this practice is probably the most challenging at this moment. Although I have pile of work on my HDD, my website and portfolio on Behance is quite outdated, not to mention my Dribbble that is almost empty.
This is opportunity for every freelance web designer to take me as an example of how not to promote yourself. Set aside some time every week or month, depending on the speed of your work, and use this time to update your portfolio(s). This may look like a waste of your time, but trust me that it is not. Your portfolio works as your business card. When you set your portfolio in the right way, it can bring relatively steady flow of new clients and work opportunities.
Do regular relentless reviews and cleanups
The third and last practice I would recommend for every freelance web designer is to regularly review and cleanup your portfolio. It’s great that you add fresh examples every month. Along with that, you should also regularly review the examples already presented in your portfolio. This review process can be quite simple. First, create some type of a rating system to rate examples of your work. Second, apply this rating system to every piece in your portfolio. Third, at least in the beginning, consult your rating system with other web designers to make sure it is objective.
Fourth, take your rating system and set lowest (aka highest) standard of quality every example has to meet. Fifth, remove every example that doesn’t meet this standard of quality. Remember that everything in your portfolio is showing your skills and promoting the services you as freelance web designer provide. Therefore, be relentless and get rid of everything that doesn’t show you, your skills and abilities in the best light.
Every freelance web designer should have some place where he presents his work. There are two options. First, you can buy your own domain and setup self-hosted website. Second, you can present your work on galleries and platforms such as Behance and Dribbble. Both options have their pros and cons, so think about it and decide for yourself. Speaking about portfolio, there are three practices you should remember and also apply.
Practice number one is to always present only our best work. If it is not exceptional, don’t post it. Remember that you are freelance web designer. Your portfolio is your business card. It looks like I will have to small cleanup. Practice number two is to regularly update your portfolio and add fresh work examples. Practice number three is to regularly review and cleanup your portfolio. Create rating system and review all your work. Everything that doesn’t meet your standards of quality (set them high) has to go. Keep in mind that your work is presentation of your skills. So be relentless.
Tip no.5: Be everywhere
The last tip for you to get momentum as freelance web designer is to share your work on multiple channels. In short, you should be everywhere where you think you can find potential clients. Sharing and promoting your work on social media should be part of your workflow. It should be something you do automatically. Let’s say you just finished another web design that is really great. First, create number of great and eye-catching shots.
Second, upload these shots on your portfolio. Remember, your portfolio has to stay fresh. Third, if you have portfolio on Behance, create brief case study about your work and publish it there. Fourth, choose the best shot, customize it for different social media networks and share it on networks you like to use. When you share your work on social media make sure to include link either to your website on portfolio on Behance, Dribbble, etc. Also, make sure to use the most relevant hashtags to categorize your post and make it more visible for the right people.
Shameless self-promotion and sharing of your work
There is one common problem you may face as freelance web designer related to sharing your work. This problem is that you don’t want to promote yourself or your work because you don’t want to be sellout, spammy or whatever you want to call it. Let me give you a couple of tips for handling this. First, you can think about sharing your work as a way of getting feedback. Seriously, as for feedback in the post. Second, share your work to inspire other web designers and allow them to learn from your work.
Think back to your latest project. Did you use work of other designers to fuel your own inspiration and creativity? We all are doing that. So, why don’t you add your bit to this ocean of inspiration? In this way, you can provide a value to people in web design community by sharing your work. Third, keep in mind that when we don’t share and promote our work, nobody will know about it. It doesn’t matter how famous are you. Nobody will discover your great work unless you share it. This also applies to potential clients. Do you want to starve yourself to death or make money by doing what you love and providing great service and value to your clients?
Make it part of your workflow to share examples of your work. When you finish something upload it to your portfolio to keep it fresh. If you have portfolio on Behance, create brief case study and publish it. Then, create short post about your work including the best shot and link to your portfolio and share it on social media networks you like to use. Remember that the more channels will you use to share your work, the higher the chance that potential client will see it. We have to keep in mind that when we don’t share and promote our work, nobody will know about it.
Closing thoughts on being successful freelance web designer
This is it. The remaining three tips on how to get momentum as freelance web designers and improve your chances of success. Let’s quickly recap what we discussed today. First, you can position yourself as an expert and build your brand by being helpful. Give it a try and teach what you know other people. If nothing else, you will at least practice your skills and prevent them from deteriorating. You can also use this approach to learn something new by teaching it.
If teaching is not interesting for you, you can still share your knowledge and help others by answering questions on forums and websites such as Quora, Stackoverflow and Reddit. The second tip we discussed was that every freelance web designer should have some place to show his work. You should either buy your own domain and setup self-hosted website or show your work on galleries and platforms such as Behance or Dribbble. Consider all pros and cons and decide what option is the best for you. Next, present only your best work. If it is not exceptional, don’t post it.
You should think about your portfolio as your business card. It must be perfect. Also, make sure to regularly update your portfolio and add fresh examples of your work. Lastly, regularly review and cleanup your portfolio. Every piece that doesn’t meet your standards of quality has to go. The fifth and last tip was to be everywhere. This means that you should not be afraid of sharing your work on social media. Remember that when you don’t share and promote your work, nobody will know about it. So, get rid of the “I don’t want to be sellout” crap.
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