According to a recent article by businessopportunity.com, there are an estimated 18.3 million home-based businesses in the United States, and the number of households in the United States that have a home-based business exceeds 12 percent. Based on these statistics, if you haven’t already started a home-based business, then chances are that you will soon consider jumping on the bandwagon.

One of the most popular freelance businesses is web design. If you have some experience in building your own websites and think you’ve got what it takes to build them for others, there couldn’t be a better time than now to get started. But to be a truly successful web designer, you will need to have a well-rounded set of skills, probably more than most other freelance jobs.

So here’s what I consider 5 basic skills for being a successful freelance web designer – a list of skills that you will need to use during the course of your work. You will want to make these skills a “second nature” so that you can access them on short notice when you’re working with clients and their websites.

1. Customer Service

A Web Designer, and any freelancer for that matter, will always need to have great customer service skills – period. In fact, I’m finding that many independent contractors are severely lacking in this area – and although those who lack in these skills can still get hired – chances are that they’re not getting the most enjoyable projects or clients. Word-of-mouth gets around fast when it comes to bad service, and if a contractor doesn’t have a good record, he/she may soon find themselves spending all their time searching for work.

Don’t let this happen to you!

Instead, make it a point to visualize the process of how you will interact with your clients. What will you say to them when they first consider hiring you for their website? What kinds of things do they need to hear in order to feel comfortable with you as a contractor? How will you handle the situation if you get hired, but your client is indecisive when it comes to choosing design options?

I will discuss customer service in upcoming articles on this website. Please stay tuned.

2. Writing Skills

As you get further into developing your web design business, you will soon come across a client that has no idea what content they want to display on their website. Most clients will have an idea as to the general areas they want on the website, but they may depend on you to write the original content. If you haven’t worked many design projects, this can be overwhelming.

So how do you approach a project that requires you to write all the content from scratch? There are probably many ideas out there that claim to make you a better writer, but I’ve found that getting content on the page is most important, even if it’s not your final idea.

I say this for a good reason. Have you ever had to write an important paper and you just stare at a blank page for an hour? That’s right – you had writers block and it’s a waste of time! Over the course of many projects, I’ve found that a website is constantly changing anyway, and goes through many stages of editing before it is finalized. So I always make it a point to “create now, make judgements later”. By doing so, you will find that it’s easier to “edit” what’s already there, and sooner or later a new idea will blossom. You will not only reduce the stress associated with writer’s block, but you will also find yourself coming across great ideas more often! Learn to trust the process.

3. Coding Skills

If you’re ever going to get hired for any serious projects, you will need to have a familiarity with all types of coding used in building websites. I’m not saying that you need to have a grasp on all the languages before you start, but the more coding skills that you have in different situations, the easier (and more fun!) your projects will be. Here’s some comforting news – if you choose to focus on one type of framework for building websites (i.e. WordPress or Joomla), then you can narrow the focus of your expertise to just a few programming languages. For example, I primarily build WordPress websites on all my projects, so I focus primarily on my HTML and PHP skills.

And I will say this – learning programming from generic programming tutorials won’t likely be enough to make you great – you need to go and find working examples of real-life coding problems, which require creative thinking and focused problem-solving. Generic examples will provide the “what” of coding, but website forums like Stack Overflow provide the “why”. Also, they post helpful solutions to real-life programming problems on their website for you to see later when you need help with the same type of problem.

4. Design/Organization Skills

Design/Organizational skills are a MUST for web designers. There’s a world of difference between this less-appealing website (Click Here), and this more organized one (Click Here).

And don’t rely on the templates that your client purchases to take care of design for you, because in some cases it can even be more difficult to customize a template to meet your client’s needs when they go outside of the box. Make sure you take the time to learn how to design the most practical elements of the websites you see. Then you should be okay working on a majority of your projects.

And when you do get stumped on a particular area of a website project (and it will happen!), take the time to draw some sketches on paper to visualize your ideas. Also, consider the functionality that you will need. Will you be using a slider that requires a lot of custom programming, or would it be more approriate to keep it simple with a static image? By working through these problems on paper, you can then go and find help on the Internet for those tough situations. With a little persistence you will find the answers you need and you can move on.

Remember, time if of the essence when you are working on your client’s projects – don’t waste your time and your client’s dollars because you don’t understand what should be basic design concepts. (Btw, client’s don’t pay you for figuring out the things you don’t understand, and you need to do that on your own time.)

5. Business/Finance Skills

In most cases, having business skills won’t directly affect your everyday work, although I consider it a bonus when trying to improve my own business, or even when working with clients on their projects.

During my high school years when working with small businesses owners at a small accounting firm, I had the opportunity to reconcile bank accounts and see how a business worked from the inside-out. It didn’t take long for me to see the differences between employees and business owners. Business owners always seemed to be cautious of spending money because money coming in for them was a luxury, while employees sometimes didn’t think twice about spending money because they had a secure job. I eventually began my own businesses and now I understand the reality of some of those old accounting clients. In short, I now understand better what business clients are trying to accomplish.

As a web designer, this realization may not make much difference to you, although when you’re talking with middle and upper-level management about their projects, you will be able to serve those clients better because you understand the motivation behind any type of goal that they’re trying to accomplish.

Although I didn’t take the time to dive into each of the skills above, I will be taking a deeper look into them in future articles. I hope that something in this article has helped you think of things differently in your business. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions that you have about your experiences.


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