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Employed or Freelance?

Which route is right for you?

If you’ve always thought you’d like to become a web designer or developer, but you’re not sure whether to take the employed or freelance route, then read on to find out what’s really involved with freelancing...

To be employed…

Web designers employed by a larger company may be part of an in-house communications or web team, or be the entire team in a smaller one. The role is generally to look after the visual appearance of websites, to create pages, and perhaps to manage sites once they’re built. If you’re working for some flavour of design agency, then you may work on many different projects for many different end clients.

…or to go freelance?

A freelancer, on the other hand, works for him or herself. They are their own boss, effectively running their own web design company, even though there may be only one member of staff – so as well as rewards, this can bring additional challenges.

Not only will you need to master your craft, so you are proficient enough at web design to be able to offer solutions to different customers that they will be happy to pay you for, but you’ll also have all the other complexities of running a small business to think about – from keeping the books to selling your services.

Train for success

If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll want to get some solid training under your belt, and try to build up a portfolio of work you can show to potential clients, even if you start off donating some time to worthy causes. Make sure you’re familiar with the tools of your trade, such as Adobe Dreamweaver and Photoshop, and develop your skills in HTML and CSS.

You may also want to broaden your web design skills so you can build interactive or content-managed sites; you might want to learn a little about scripting, and how dynamic sites work, for example. Many customers like to be able to update their own sites, so it’s certainly worth thinking about whether you’ll be able to offer them that ability.

It’s all learnable

Like the web design skills, the business skills you’ll need are learnable too: there’s plenty of information and advice out there to help you set up on your own, and many people have launched their own businesses before you.

Freelancing isn’t for everyone, but many people who work for themselves say they could never go back to having a boss; there’s no one to answer to but yourself, you can decide your hours, work from home – and listen to whatever music you like while you’re working!

There can be downsides about freelance working, though: it can be lonely, with no one to bounce ideas off or share decisions with; you have to find solutions to problems on your own; and you’re responsible for everything, like maintaining your computer and ordering supplies. And the bottom line is, if you don’t sell enough of your time, you won’t have enough money to pay yourself.

So it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons very carefully before taking the plunge. Ask yourself if you’re the sort of person who could make it on your own. And, crucially, have you got what it will take to sell?

Do the groundwork

You can get started by putting together a business plan, however brief, before taking the freelance plunge. There are plenty of online resources to help you think this through. Here are some points to consider: 

  • What you are actually going to offer?
  • At what price?
  • Who will you sell it to?
  • How will you communicate your offer to them?
  • How long will it take to deliver?
  • How many of these do you need to sell to cover your costs – and keep you in the style to which you’ve become accustomed?
  • How much time will you allocate to business areas like marketing and finance, each week?
  • Do you have a market niche?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • What do they offer, and charge?
  • Where do you see yourself in five year’s time, and how will you get there?

In addition, the UKWDA always advises anyone thinking of setting up as a freelancer or starting their own business to take appropriate advice from a qualified business advisor.

Cushioning the blow

Sometimes the figures can seem harsh in the cold light of day. But there can be ways to ease the transition between receiving a monthly pay cheque and having to fend for yourself. For example, could you start off going freelance for just one or two days a week? Could your current employer become a client? Who else do you know who might want to buy your services?

Have you got what it takes?

To be a freelance web designer you’ll need both the skills to create great sites, and those that will help you run your business. But above all, you’ll need the personal drive, passion and motivation to succeed. And if you can put all this together, the rewards can be great.

Next: How to write a CV

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