How to Start a Career in Web Design

What does it take to become a professional web designer?

Web Design
Bill Oxford/Getty Images

If you're going to make web design or development your career, there are many things you'll want to think about. It helps greatly if you know details like how much it pays, what the hours are, and what will be expected of you. If you then decide to freelance, you'll have to learn how to manage your business and finances. 

Let's take a look at what all of this entails and get your career started on the right track.

Where to Start

There are many different avenues you can take as a professional web designer. These include basic design or administration and programming or graphics. Some career paths give you a little of everything while others are more of a specialty.

You can also choose to freelance or work in a corporation. And being a webmaster isn't all fun and games; it's neither entirely creative nor technical.

Finally, getting certification or some other education is a great way to make sure you're prepared. It's also important to remember that the internet is in a state of constant change. If you don't enjoy keeping up with the latest and greatest and continually educating yourself, this might not be the right career move.

Finding Web Design Work

Finding a job is tough no matter what field you're in. The field of web design is particularly challenging because it's of interest to so many people. 

A number of designers and programmers choose to work for someone else when they're just starting out.

This can be a wise move, even if your ultimate dream is to run your own firm or work as a freelancer. The job experience can help you get a feel for the business, build a professional network, and learn tricks of the trade you can only discover through hands-on experience.

When you're scouring job postings, you'll find web work under a variety of titles.

These include producer, writer or copywriter, editor or copyeditor, information architect, product or program manager, graphic designer, layout artist, and digital developer. Of course, there is always the titles of a web designer or web programmer as well.

Look deeper into these job listings to find out exactly what the employer's looking for. If that matches your own skills, you might be a good match for the position.

So, You Want to Freelance?

If you don't want to live the corporate life, maybe freelance web design is for you. It is important to know, however, that this is creating your own business. That means that it comes with more responsibility and extra tasks that naturally occur in any business endeavor.

This may mean that you'll want to take some basic business classes. For instance, every business begins with a good business plan. This helps guide you through the structure, goals, operation, and finances that it will take to run the company.

You'll also want to get advice about finances and taxes. Many people choose to incorporate their one-person company and create a limited-liability corporation (LLC) to help out with these matters. Talking to a business financial adviser or accountant will help you decide what is best for you.

Within this business, you'll also need to do research on markets and pricing. Some designers work within their local market while others find a niche that they can offer to a broader, even international, market.

The key to either is your own marketing plan, which includes a great online portfolio of your work. You also need the desire to get out there and sell your services directly to potential clients.

Pricing and Legal Concerns

Freelance web designers really should work on a contract with every client. This clarifies the work you'll do and how much they agree to pay. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to have an agreement in writing. As many designers can tell you, it can be difficult to collect from some clients after you've put in the long hours to complete a job.

As far as what to charge for your services, that is a difficult question that requires you to answer many things.

You'll need to do extensive research to come up with competitive rates for the services you offer in your target market. Regardless, you cannot get any job without first understanding how to write a proposal that gets the client's attention.

As you work, you will also begin to understand other legalities that come with building websites. There are concerns with external links and copyright is always a matter of importance to any online publisher or producer. Understand these matters to protect yourself and do your best to stay on the right side of the law as well.

Web Administration and Promotion

The online world is a competitive one and it requires that you stay on top of the latest trends and best practices. Part of your services can be to offer website marketing and administration to your clients. This is slightly more tedious than the actual designing and programming, but they are all related.

Search engine optimization (SEO) feeds website traffic the majority of the time. When building and maintaining websites, it is crucial that you have a good grasp of the latest SEO trends. Without this, your client's websites will not be successful.

Web administration means that you find a host for a website and then maintain that site over time. Many clients do not want to learn any of this, so they will rely on you to take care of it. It's not the most glorious task, but it is essential to many successful web designers' businesses.