The lifestyle of a Web Designer

A day in the life of a web designer

webDesignerWorldI looked at Quora.com this morning and there was a question about getting into web design just sitting there waiting to be answered.  I got the assumption that the person asking the question figured it was an easy life, easy job.  I want to put that notion to rest.  It isn’t easy and it isn’t very profitable either.

I have been using the Internet or some resemblance of the Internet since the mid 80’s.  Yes, that was last century.  In those days we had bulletin boards  Green text on a black screen, no pictures.  Why would you do that you ask?  Because my first computer was a Radio Shack TRS80 and the shack wanted a small fortune for memory cards.  So you installed a modem and bought parts from people that posted on the boards.

I used that computer to start my first business, not a web design company.  One day a salesman came to my office and told me about a company called CompuServe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CompuServe), an information service all but forgotten these days. I signed up for it and from there came another upstart call America Online (AOL).  After which came college courses at UMass in 1994 and my first real introduction into the world-wide-web without a club pass.  So before you start to think you can just jump into this business realize you will be competing against many, many people that have a lot of experience!

Here is what it takes to be a web designer in today’s market.

  1. First you need to learn HTML5, yes there were many versions of hyper text before the current version.
  2. Then you need to have some people skills because in order to make a living you must sell services, so take a sales class or two on top of everything else.  You may need to go door to door too!
  3. Then you need to learn about styling a page.  That means you need to learn CSS3.  It also means you need to learn about block elements, pixels, fonts, rems, ems, and font weights, line heights, and what color goes with another and floating these things on a monitor.
  4. You need to learn Content Management Systems too.  Joomla, WordPress, Drupal, and anything else that will be thrown at you.
  5. You need to learn Ecommerce and that means Virtuemart, WooCommerce, Shopify, PayPal, and a lot of others too.
  6. You better know what to do in the Control Panel as well.

confusedOkay, let’s say you did all of this – it used a good portion of your life to learn it but you did it.  And THEN…

  1. Then someone from a country that has a poor economy undercuts your price.  Believe me when I tell you that is going to happen because these people from poor countries may be poor but they do realize a great education is going to lift them to a respectable situation in life and $300 to them is like $3 to you. Chances are you will work for less than you deserve.
  2. You talk to your client and he or she wants your work but got a price from the poor smuck from whoKnowsWhere and wants that price.  You say no.  The customer buys from the poor smuck.
  3. Two months later the same customer is calling you to fix what poor smuck did because it is now broken and smuck won’t respond because there is no money in it.  You feel obligated and do it.  Submit the invoice and it is questioned.  You just learned the “value of  services” are a lot less once the service has been rendered.  You are tempted to go back and remove your work.  You can’t, you are legally bound, even if the customer doesn’t pay you.  You learn to get your money upfront and write stronger contracts.
  4. You work on getting more paying customers only to be told any 15-year old can make a web page.  You feel like Rodney Dangerfield.  No Respect!
  5. You join TeamTreeHouse, Lynda, and Codecademy to keep your skills sharp.  Learning IOS, Desktop, Mobile, Apps, Java, Scripting Languages, and PHP all take up free time.  You wonder if it is worth it, these things cost money and I haven’t even begun to factor in equipment, creative cloud and artwork yet.
  6. You produce a beautiful site and one in ten customers love you for it.  Those are the good ones and there are a lot of people that don’t understand what they want.  Once a guy told me he wanted a website when he wanted SEO.  I made that website for him and he loved it.  I got paid $350 and he wanted his money back because he really wanted SEO and to come up on the first page of Google.  FOREVER!
  7. You usually can set your own hours and bosses are pretty liberal.  I suppose that is one thing that is great about it.

My advice… Don’t start your own business.  Get a salaried position in the largest firm you can.  That is the good life.  So if you are the person that posted to Quora.com, don’t think about being a web designer unless you are willing to put up with a lot and make less than you think.  People won’t appreciate your work and will never understand the education it takes, the time involved or that you might need to work pixel by pixel on some images.

I started too long ago to change now.  21-years in web design and nearing retirement age…

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