5 Web Design Skills I Learned the Hard Way

Posted by in Web Design

If you’re a newbie to web design then I’m sure you’re spending a lot of time scouring the internet looking for clues and tips on how to make a success of it. I’m nowhere near a professional. I doubt I even pass as intermediate. But I do know a thing or two about web design. I’m not going to show you how to do it right. That’s too easy. Instead, I’m going to tell you what not to do. Everything I did wrong resulting in a loss of money or just plain embarrassment will be declared right here. These are the stories I have never told anyone due to complete shame on my part. I want you to learn from these so that you don’t lose out on great opportunities or be taken for granted. So here it is.

1. Buy a Domain

Yes. Just purchase one. Even if you don’t know what you’re calling yourself just yet. If you’re advertising with a www.yourname.wordpress.com you’re going to bring doubt into your target audience, questioning whether you know your stuff. This mistake was made a year after I started out. I posted on a local Facebook page advertising my work. Setting up a website was easy-peasy. In my mind I figured that if I’m targeting people that know nothing about websites then it was okay to advertise under a domain such as the example I gave. I was wrong. So so very wrong. An older woman called me out. She noticed my weird link to my website and said: “Aren’t there websites that people can visit to build their own website for free?” She wasn’t wrong. Anyone can build their own website if they applied themselves and spent a few days searching for sites that explained how to build a business page. But I’m not a fighter. I wasn’t going to waste time arguing my side of the story. Yes, anyone can build a website. But not everyone has the time or the interest. That’s who we go after.

Needless to say I deleted my post out of shame and bought a domain and learned how to install WordPress immediately. Best. Decision. Ever.

2. Yes, You are a Skilled Enough Web Designer!

I don’t care how long you have been doing this work. You CAN do anything you put your mind to. Cheesy line, I know. But it’s true. You can’t let anyone dictate to you how much you should charge for their site just because you have never done a trailers-for-hire website before. You know what? Google. That’s right, folks. Everything I know I learned from Google. From how to purchase hosting to setting up an online store. And you know what? It’s easier than you think.

I had done many business pages and portfolios for photographers but had yet to put together an online store. I had a friend who recommended me to some of his own friends who wanted an online store for their goods. Awesome. I love taking on new challenges. However, the condition was that I had to charge about a tenth of what an online store usually cost. Know why? Yup. Because I had never done one  before (his words). The money was rubbish for a crazy amount of work that took me over a month. So why did I agree to do it? Two reasons:

  • An opportunity to create an online store and add it to my portfolio
  • Reputation

I saw these reasons as valid because they were beneficial for obvious reasons. But I will never let anyone dictate to me how much I will charge for a website ever again. Granted, my friend does know a considerable amount about web design and he is an SEO specialist and he has taught me a lot, but never again will I let anyone tell me that I am not skilled enough to do something. At the end of the day, that online store is one of my favorite websites and I’m proud of it.

So I will reiterate: Do not let someone tell you that you are not skilled enough to pull off a job. And definitely do not agree to a price that you feel is unfair.

3. Make it Clear that Websites may Appear Different than on your Portfolio

This might be a strange one to consider. But hear me out.

A few years ago I created a website for someone who wanted to have a booking feature on her website for holiday makers to book a unit. Super easy. Website was built and deployed into the live environment. It worked well. I handed over the website to the client and gave them their login details. I added the website to my portfolio and a link to the actual site. Some time had gone by and I thought I would just check out the website out of interest. What I saw… I died. The client had changed the text on all the pages to COMIC SANS. If you are not an artist for Cyanide and Happiness then you know that Comic Sans is a definite no-no. I face-palmed hard and promptly removed her site from my portfolio.

So I made mention somewhere on my page that websites in my gallery may appear different to the live sites due to clients having control over them. You may have already discovered, or yet to discover, that some clients will want to have full control of their own website. Totally okay with me. But then make sure that everyone else who visits your website knows this important fact so that your butt is covered.

4. Confirm, Confirm, Confirm!

A client responded to one of my advertisements looking for an online store to sell her books in PDF format. I could do that. Never done that before but I was sure I could do it. This took place shortly after I got into web design. Anyway, I asked her for specifics and went ahead and bought the domain. Bad move. When she found out she wasn’t happy. She wasn’t ready. I was so sure she was ready because the back and forth emails were really enthusiastic from her side. I had to cancel the hosting. Fortunately no money was lost. But the work was lost. I never heard from her again.

What I’m trying to get at is that you should never start the process without a confirmation. Makes sure there is a record of the client saying something along the lines of “yes, you may go ahead/proceed/begin/start”. Without that confirmation email you should not do a damn thing. I repeat: DO NOT DO ANYTHING!

Also, figure out the deposit thing. I work on a 50% deposit before I even think of which hosting provider I will use and the rest after it’s complete (before it goes live).

So before even thinking about your clients new website, make sure you have these two things:

  • Confirmation email
  • Deposit

5. Remind Them to Update

This is probably one of the most frustrating things that I come across repeatedly. Clients don’t usually know that in order for their website to be functioning optimally they need to update WordPress AND their plugins. I have once or twice logged into a clients WordPress account and noticed they had missed two updates. Either they forget or they are expecting you to keep their site running. This should be clarified at the beginning. When the site is handed over make sure they realise that in order for their new website to remain stable they must check in every now and then and update. If they really don’t want to do that then either sign a contract of some sort stating there that you will do check-ups once a week/month/decade for a fee… or no fee. What ever blows your hair back.

I haven’t got an embarrassing experience of a client losing it because their site is not doing what it is suppose to do. But I have had instances where something stops working or displaying correctly on a clients page due to old versions. They call me up and freak a little and then I fix it. For free. Why do I do that? No clue. But in the beginning of my web design journey I failed to include terms and conditions in the beginning of the project and then also once I handed it over. Years later I’m still fixing old sites for free because I feel obligated to as I did not state the T’s & C’s from the start.

Don’t be put in awkward positions. Be smart and add the terms and conditions.™