Isn’t it interesting how skills developed in one field ultimately redirect you into a vastly different career? Some of The Freelance Exchange’s web designers and developers are prime examples of this phenomenon.
For instance, Brian White started building up expertise to support his skate company. After teaching himself logo design, White screen printed shirts, hats, and other clothes in his garage to sell around town. He got into web design and development so he could sell his wares online.
“I learned the basics and built a new site for my company every six months,” he wrote in response to a questionnaire we sent to all of FX’s web design and development members. “This taught me the skills to … do outside business, and I started making websites for other companies.”
The road to becoming a freelance web designer and developer began for Sarah Humphrey when she worked as an urban planning consultant.
Her company needed someone to create websites that supported its projects. She embraced the opportunity because it played to her strengths of writing and organizing information, and because it combined creativity with technical skills.
It was certainly not lost on her that she was also mastering high-demand skills.
But LuLu Cao might win the prize for the most unconventional path into freelance web design and development. With a master’s degree in philosophy from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Cao has taught college-level courses in her field.
The pivot to a full-stack developer seems like less of a leap when Cao explains her interest in philosophy, a passion she would pursue full time were it not for the real-world concerns of finance and employment. Philosophy, Cao wrote, cultivates critical thinking and challenges beliefs.
“It’s the most useful discipline in developing one’s knowledge and wisdom,” she wrote.
That sure sounds like a good underpinning for work as a freelance web designer and developer.
The field of web design and development has certainly changed through the years.
Our respondents noted a lot more drag-and-drop functions, the proliferation of do-it-yourself options, the emergence of mobile apps, and the explosion of e-commerce.
But don’t be fooled, they said.
Doing the work right takes skill and patience, Humphrey wrote. She advised web freelancers to use all the free and low-cost tools available online to learn new skills.
One of the most common misperceptions of the field, White wrote, is that the work is easy and anyone can do it. “There are things in this field that literally take five-plus years to learn.”
As Humphrey and Cao demonstrate, web work is not just a guy thing. That is a misguided belief that Cao would like to put to rest.
“I know many excellent female programmers who have expressed tremendous enthusiasm and shown great talents in coding, learning to code, and solving coding challenges,” she wrote.
Yet as technical as the skills are, succeeding as a freelance web designer and developer still requires old-school concepts of customer service and perseverance.
Think small steps and be consistent, White advised, and don’t think success will come overnight. Earning five-star reviews and referrals are the way to go.
“When people are ‘behind’ you, they will drop your name to others and the work will roll in,” he wrote. “This is the best way to build a business and takes time.”
Humphrey also noted that, while it’s important to stay up on the technological changes in the field, it’s just as important to keep the client’s needs in mind.
Remember, she wrote, “clients usually need one good solution for their digital marketing needs — they are more interested in making sure it achieves their marketing objectives than knowing it is the absolute newest way of doing something.”
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