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December 06 2013


Levelling Up

Ashley Baxter recounts her experience of developing an app better suited to her customers’ needs, even though she isn’t a programmer. With a new year approaching as fast as the old one can carry it, get building.

Brought to you by Shopify, the fully customizable ecommerce platform loved by designers around the world.

December 04 2013


8 Awkward Questions Freelance Web Designers and Other Freelancers Face

We freelancers sometimes get asked the oddest things. Some of the questions are odd, and some are awkward to answer. You have to wonder what people are thinking.

The sad truth is that a lot of people don’t think. So, they blurt out awkward questions and leave us to respond.
young blond woman surprised expression close up shoot

In fact, it seems like I get odd and awkward questions nearly every week. You probably do too.

In this post, I’ll share some of those awkward questions with you. At the end of the post, feel free to share the odd things you’ve been asked, along with your response.

Question #1: What Do You Do All Day Anyway?

Ouch! That stings.

This hurtful question usually comes from those who mean the most to you, but still don’t get what freelancing is all about. Expect to hear this from your friends, random relatives, and neighbors.

The sad thing about this question is that some of these people will never understand. You could spend hours explaining your field to them and they would still think that freelancing is just your way of saying that you are unemployed.

If you get this from someone who should know better, someone who you’ve already talked to about your freelancing, it’s sometimes best to pretend like you didn’t hear the question. An alternative is to start listing every project you’ve worked on in the past three months, providing as much detail as possible.

Question #2: Can You Volunteer for [My Pet Cause]?

Yikes. This questions is even worse than the first one.

Your time is valuable and, in fact, spending your time on client projects is how you earn a living.

The people who ask this have already answered question #1 in their heads. They’ve decided that you aren’t really doing anything and should therefore be available for volunteer work. They may even think they are doing you a favor by getting you out of the house.

When I get this question, I usually don’t give many details. I just say something like:

“I’m sorry. I can’t help you because I have to work.”

If they are persistent and try to insist that I help them on a specific day, I sometimes add:

“I have a client deadline to meet on that day, so there’s really no way I can help.”

Since you’ve used the work lingo with them, that’s often enough to make them back off.

Question #3: Can You Review My Work for Free?


We joke about freelancing not meaning that we work for free, but there must be some people out there who really believe that it does mean that. At least, the inquiries I get about doing free work seem to indicate that.

These folks are often sneaky about their requests too. They often don’t indicate that they want free work in their initial contact, so I wind up treating them like a client. That means getting the details of the project and preparing an estimate (a process that can take several hours).

Usually, it’s only after I’ve quoted a price that they come back and say something like,

“I really don’t have a budget for this.”

Then they go on to give the reason why they think I should work for free:

  • Good exposure
  • To help a fellow freelancer
  • They’ll have work for me in the future
  • Their project is important

And so on, and so on…

Guess what? Every one of those reasons is bogus. What nerve!

This is where you have to stick to your guns about not working for free. (Unless, of course, it’s your mom asking for the free work. In which case, you might want to do the work anyway.)

Question #4: Will You Tell Me The Names of Your Best Clients?

The next sentence usually reads something like,

“I want to work for them too.”

When this first started happening, I couldn’t believe the nerve of some people. I always feel like saying,

“Find your own clients.”

Then I realized that so many freelancers are used to getting gigs from bidding sites and content mills that they think all freelancing work is like that. They don’t realize that most successful freelancers work for private clients who never use bidding sites or content mills.

In contrast to mills and bidding sites, most private clients don’t hire a small army of freelancers. At most, they need a handful. Many only hire a single freelancer.

Once in a great while a client will let me know they need an additional freelancer and they’ll ask me to recommend someone. When that happens (and it doesn’t happen often), I typically give the name of someone I’m very familiar with. I never give them the name of some random freelancer who contacted me out of the blue.

If you’re looking for work rather than ask a freelancer the names of their clients, try reading one of the many posts about finding work:

Question #5: Will You Hire Me?

Somehow, this question always comes from someone who I’ve never heard of.

The truth is that it’s pretty rare for me to hire other freelancers, web designers or otherwise. I’ve done it, but not very often. I’m not an agency, I’m a solo professional and that’s how I work on most of my projects.

When I do partner with another freelancer, I always turn to someone on the short list of freelancers whose work I am familiar with and who I trust.

If you’re serious about working with another freelancer, take the time to build a relationship with that freelancer first.

Question #6: Can I Promote My Stuff on Your Blog?


My first reaction is,

“You’ve got to be kidding, right?”

But they aren’t.

For some reason, people always want to announce their product/book/business on my freelancing blog. And they want me to do it for free. They totally miss the point that my freelancing blog has a purpose already, and that purpose is not to promote them.

There’s another word for promotion. It’s called advertising. If you want a freelancer to promote your product/service/etc. on their blog, the best way to ensure that happens is to buy an advertisement.

Question #7: Will You Review My Software/Book/Etc.?

This question probably should have been #1. I probably get more requests from people and companies wanting me to review things on my freelancing blog than anything else.

To be truthful, I do sometimes review things on my blog. They are mostly things that I am already interested in or things that I think will interest my readers.

There are many reasons why I don’t review things more often, though:

  • Time. It takes a lot of time to review something. If it’s a book, I have to read it. If it’s software, I need to play with it.
  • Popularity. Reviews tend to be unpopular posts. Even though I don’t accept money for them and always disclose any relationships, I think readers assume I’m selling.
  • Vendor demands. I tend to be honest in my reviews, and some vendors don’t like that. What they’re actually asking for is not a review, but an endorsement.

So, as you can see, asking for a review is a big deal. I can’t review everything I’m asked to review.

Question #8: What’s the Quickest Way to Start Earning Money?

Usually, the unspoken part of this question is,

“…without much effort on my part.”

The answer is not one that most of the questioners like to hear. There’s really not an easy shortcut to freelancing. It takes time and a lot of hard work to build a successful freelancing business. At first, you may not even be able to support yourself with your freelance income.

No matter how many times I get this question, the answer is always going to be the same.

Your Turn

What awkward questions do you get about your freelance business? Share your stories in the comments.

December 03 2013


How I Made Web Design Profitable by Not Doing Web Design

The first website I ever created for money was back in 1999. I earned $900. It was a flat-file database for an import/export business. After that, I made a $500 website for a Michigan-based cookie company. I was just in the last year of my high school career, so that kind of money was pretty sweet.

I formed a partnership with a high school classmate, and a web agency was born.

This business was a side gig throughout college, and wasn’t really amounting to much considering our focus on studies (and everything not related to studies).

Eventually, I turned this business into a very profitable venture that I sold last year.

Back to the story: When it was time to get real jobs after college, we decided that it would be a better idea to just skip the whole job application thing, and see if we could make it on our own. This was in 2005.  By this time, both of us were rather adept at design, development, and building a project from start to finish.

Over the next two years, our focus was on our projects. I loved the technical aspects. New innovations, design techniques, and tools.

Huge Problem

Except there was one big problem.

Our business was always redlining. Never enough clients. Never a big enough paycheck.

I received a brutal awakening in 2007.

I only had $3 in my checking account with a $5,000 credit card balance.

Oh yeah, and I was late two months on rent. And hadn’t paid my employees in a month.

It gets worse.

I had also accumulated $135,000 in debt with the IRS.

So what the #$&% did I do so wrong?

I focused too much on the technical aspects, and not enough time on the business side of things.

I loved web design. I loved creating websites. I loved indulging on big, fat technical books with titles made of acronyms. But this love was killing me like a barrel of fried chicken kills a man struggling with obesity.

My $3 checking account and huge debt was an awakening. It was the official letter from the universe saying I had enough.

Turning Point

Eventually, I was able to overcome this business crisis.

And now, in my work helping web professionals build successful businesses at uGurus, I ask a simple question: What is your greatest pain?

The answers I get can be summed up in these two problems:

  • I need more clients.
  • I don’t get paid enough.

The solution to these two problems is rarely a lack of technical prowess. Making the assumption that you are able to build a website, or that you can find someone that can, the answer to solving these two problems is learning how to do everything in a business except web design. These things are:

  1. Sales
  2. Marketing
  3. Operations
  4. People
  5. Money

I learned to prioritize these soft skills of building a company and to value them over the raw technical abilities required to execute a project.

The results were consecutive double-digit revenue growth, profits, and the start of a wealth-building future.

But when I look at what our industry prioritizes, it’s the technical porn all the way at the top.

When looking at the leading web design blogs, for example, you’ll find evidence that they are playing to our desires, and not what’s really going to move the needle in terms of our goals and aspirations.

Recently, I looked at the latest 50 blog posts from 5 design blogs. I counted the number of posts related to business. Here’s what I saw:

The number and percent of business-related posts out of 50 posts Designmodo 0 0% Sitepoint 3 6% Speckyboy 3* 6%* Six Revisions 4 8% Smashing Magazine 6 12%

*The posts I counted were "freelance" or "career" oriented, and strictly business-related.

It seems as an industry, we all overeat at the technical buffet.

Our desire tells us that if we just get one more font library, look at design inspiration galleries, or learn a new web programming language, we will be able to finally achieve that next level in our lives.

But there is one problem with that desire: There is not a single technical article on any of these blogs that is going to change your life. None of it will provide the deep nutritious value that will solve your greatest pains of prosperity: getting more clients and more value for your services.

Seeking Out Help

My first move at the depths of business failure was to reach out to a couple of mentors and ask for help.

The improvements started slowly, but getting a steady supply of nutritious advice brought life back into our operation.

Just like any positive change we undertake, after it starts to gain momentum, you can feel worlds better than you did before.

Eventually, I joined a business incubator called Accelerator to help fast-track my trajectory.

And this is when my life significantly changed. I found a nutritious regimen of business education and a valued network.

One of the first concepts I learned in Accelerator was Covey’s Time Management Matrix, or the basic four quadrants of prioritization.

Covey Time Management MatrixSource:

The graphic is somewhat self-explanatory, but the key area that Accelerator taught me to carve out time for is Quadrant 2. This is the space that I had never spent much time in. I was always at 1, 3, and 4. I was always solving the problem at hand, studying what interested me most, and allowing distractions to become priorities throughout the day.

Quadrant 2 requires that you stop doing busywork and stop moving from task to task. It requires you to create an empty void of space to focus on things that have no pressing value to your day, but rather, to your life.

I started to think about these priorities regularly:

  • Vision: Where am I headed? What is my why?
  • Mission: How am I executing on my vision? Is it a mission others are interested in?
  • Core values: What am I not willing to compromise?

Crafting a vision for one’s life is a very important exercise.

A vision allows you to climb atop a mountain and look into the distance to decide what peak you intend to summit next. When you begin to craft a vision for your life and business, others will take notice.

People started hiring us because they understood we were forward-looking. We weren’t focused on building websites for bottom dollar, we were about helping our clients find their way to success; online businesses just happened to be the medium.

Five Areas of the Business to Focus On


If you can’t make money doing something, you aren’t going to be doing it very long. Figuring out your sales problem is priority numero uno.

If, when talking to a prospect, you can’t navigate from A to Z in order to structure a deal, then this is a big problem.


A lot of people think that they have a sales problem, when in reality, they aren’t having enough conversations with enough people.

Getting in front of more prospects is a critical part of growing your business.


What happens once you have business will decide whether you get future business. If you want to expand through word-of-mouth marketing, then making sure your projects flow through a stress-free process is critical. Your clients (and your sanity) will appreciate refined processes.


If you ever plan to grow past a single freelance operation, then you must learn how to hire, fire, and contract. The people conversation goes beyond those basics, into things like culture, learning, growth, and career path, but just delegating that first task to someone besides yourself is a huge leap for most.


This is one topic I rarely see early stage web professionals spend any time on. Getting an understanding of your basic cash flow situation is imperative.

Then, if you want to grow, you need to line up some capital. Either by socking away your profits, establishing a line of credit, or getting some investment. Rarely have I seen businesses able to grow without being able to first spend money.

A Process for Business Growth

It’s hard to sit down and spend a week sorting out your business in terms of sales, marketing, operations, people, and money, but if you spread these activities out, you’ll find sustained long-term results.

I suggest you try what I did:

  1. Spend a quarter of the year (3 months) focused on one of the areas above (sales, marketing, operations, people or money).
  2. Dedicate 1 day every 3 months to tackle that aspect of your business. In your early days, this process might be something as simple as reading a book on the subject and taking notes on how these new ideas could affect your business.
  3. Each month, spend about half a day refining what you implemented from your daylong session.
  4. Every quarter (3 months), rotate to another area of your business.

A Healthy Business Forthcoming

When I consult with web professionals, we almost never talk about the technical issues with building sites. It’s always about the big picture.

I find that most of us aren’t spending enough time on the big picture. So that is why I’m a strong advocate for all of the above. I want to help web professionals build a great business.

Just like working on your personal health and fitness, the improvements in your business will take time. You’ll need to stick to this regimen for years to come. But, just like eating healthy, you’ll notice benefits right away, like having more energy.

Getting out of the business — to focus on the business — is important.

Related Content

Brent Weaver is the CEO of uGurus, a knowledge-hub helping web professionals become more profitable. For the last sixteen years he has dedicated himself to selling websites and online marketing solutions. Follow him on Twitter: @brentweaver.

The post How I Made Web Design Profitable by Not Doing Web Design appeared first on Six Revisions.

Tags: Business

December 02 2013


Limited-Time Holiday Offer: Save $30 on a Vandelay Premier Subscription

Do you want to make more money from your business and save time while doing so? You can do this by purchasing pre-made, professional resources that can be customized to fit the needs of your business. Vandelay Premier offers a wide variety of such resources that can save you time and increase your efficiency including pre-made graphics, html templates, and even legal forms and business documents. While all Premier files are available as one-time purchases, more often than not, a Vandelay Premier subscription–which gives members unlimited access to our entire library of high-quality resources–ends up being a better bargain for most. And this holiday season, you can get an even better deal on Vandelay Premier. Right now, save $30 on an annual subscription to Vandelay Premier. So you can enjoy the entire Vandelay library for a full year for as little as $49.


So what’s included with a Vandelay Premier subscription? We’ve been updating and beefing up our library this year, so now our library is packed with well over 8,000 files that if purchased separately, would be worth over $3500. It now includes art inspired by the latest design trends out there including sleek badges, trendy flat and long-shadowed icons, and we’ve even added several UI kits too! So as a member, you would enjoy unlimited access to this entire library, plus we’re adding new items each week. All Premier graphics are royalty-free and are available for use on an unlimited number of commercial projects–even on products for sale like website templates.

You get all this for one low price–only $49 for a full year during our holiday special. Here’s just a small taste of what a subscription to Vandelay Premier includes:

Freelance Starter Kit
The Freelance Starter Kit provides a set of invaluable resources that help with many aspects of a design business. This kit includes important items such as contract templates, complete identity sets (letterhead, invoices, proposals, business cards), vital documents, marketing brochures and email newsletter templates, print templates for portfolio books, and much more. All of the items in this kit help you run a more efficient and profitable business.fsk

Menso Light UI Set
Our most popular UI set, the Menso set includes 4 PSD files packed full of important elements for your next website design–all using a beautiful, but simple, color scheme that make this kit versatile for creating many stunning designs. Also available in various color schemes including Metal, Colorful, and Dark.


Wireframe Pro
An essential for web designers, the Wireframe Pro includes over 400 UI elements that can be used to create your own wireframes and mockups. This set include items such as navigation menus, buttons, sliders, dividers, forms, ribbons, ratings elements, and much more! Chocked full of valuable resources, this mega pack includes a total of 33 PSD files.


Flatty Mega UI PSD Kit
This new Flatty Mega UI PSD Kit is filled with everything you’d ever need when it comes to user interface resources and app design. Included in this Mega UI PSD Kit are over 200 different user interface elements on five fully layered .psd files. This kit is $29 by itself, so a Vandelay Premier subscription gets you this, plus so much more!


Vandelay Premier also includes several other UI kits including:
Pistachio Flat UI Set

Retro UI PSD Kit

Light UI Set

and much more!

Our most popular items are the essential web contracts. Included with a Premier subscriptions are a Web Design Contract, Graphic Design Contract, Social Media Marketing Services Contract, SEO Services Contract, and more!

As a freelance artist, you need to be able to sell your designs, so at Vandelay Premier, we offer templates for presenting your work to clients. Here are just a few of our top picks.

Poster Mockup PSDs

Logo Mockup PSDs



Colorful Resume template

Identity Set Mockup

And that’s just to name a few.

Vectors and Icons
A Premier subscription includes hundreds of icons and vectors to plug into your designs, and we even offer complete logo templates as well.

Simple Icon Buttons

Minima Icon Set

Logo Badges








Several logo templates including Vintage Co. Logo Template


And many many more to choose from.

To offer even more value for our members, we’ve gathered some of our top resources together to create mega bundles filled with brushes, textures, and more–all of which are included in a Vandelay Premier subscription.  Here are a few of these mega bundles.

Premier Photoshop Brushes Bundle 2: The bundle includes 19 sets of premium Photoshop brushes, totaling 270 individual brushes.

Premier Texture Bundle: A huge bundle of 125 high-resolution (up to 4000 pixels by 3000 pixels) textures that offers a variety of types of textures in one mega pack.

You’ll get all of this plus sooo much more when you become a Vandelay Premier subscriber. So why not treat yourself this year to something you KNOW you’ll put to good use? (trust us–you’ll thank yourself next year).

Save $30 on a Vandelay Premier Subscription
Want to see more Premier graphics? Browse the Vandelay Art Library


November 29 2013


How to Handle Your Unhappy Client in 5 Easy Steps

Most freelance web designers dread the unhappy client. Yet, eventually most of us will have to face one. Maybe that’s why there are so many posts out there about bad clients.

After all of your hard work and attempts to meet your client’s demands, the last thing you want to hear is that the client isn’t happy with the fruit of your hard work. You may even fear that the client won’t pay you.


Is there anything you can do about an unhappy client?

Yes, as a matter of fact, there are some steps you should take when your client is unhappy. In this post, I share five steps that you can go through to find out whether you can “fix” your relationship with an unhappy client.

Step 1: Review Your Web Design Agreement

Your first step is to look at your contract or work agreement. Review it carefully, paying extra attention to the scope and terms.

Situations like this are one reason why having a contract is a good idea. To learn more about web design contracts, read the post 5 Things to Include in Your Web Design Contracts.

As you read the contract, make sure that your completed web design actually meets the original scope (description of work) defined in your work agreement. If it does not, make a careful note of where the variations are.

Next, compare the reasons why the client is dissatisfied with the actual scope. Are they asking for new features? Again, make a careful not of any differences.

Finally, review the terms of the agreement. Did you meet the stated deadlines? Did you deliver the work in the manner specified?

As you review the agreement, also look at any phrases that the client might have misunderstood. Make a note of these too.

After you’ve completed a careful review of your work agreement, you’re ready to move on to Step 2.

Step 2: Admit Any Mistakes


If you did notice some areas of the scope that you did not fulfill, part of the problem may be yours. Don’t beat yourself up if this happens. Instead, stay calm. Everyone makes mistakes once in a while.

If the mistake was yours, admit it to yourself and to the client as soon as possible. Offer to fix the problem and do it quickly. If you’re gracious about it, most clients will understand.

However, if you’re sure that you didn’t make a mistake with the project, then you need to move on to Step 3.

Step 3: Point Out Changes

It’s not unusual for some clients to change their mind about what they want during the course of a web design project. The client may not even tell you that they’ve changed their mind until after you’ve turned the project in.

Sometimes the changes a client wants are minor and easy to implement. Other times they take a significant amount of time and effort. While you may be willing to make minor changes to a project, you should charge extra for large scope changes.

Now is the time to pull out your original agreement with the client and your notes. Point out what you both originally agreed to and mention the difference you discovered.

Here are some tips to help you approach the client about scope changes:

  • Stay calm. Don’t approach the client in an angry or upset fashion. Refrain from name-calling and accusations. If you are upset, don’t contact the client until you can do so in a professional way.
  • Listen carefully. Make sure that you have a clear idea of what the client actually wants and needs. You don’t want to make changes that aren’t really needed or wanted and you don’t want to misunderstand the client.
  • Don’t assume the worst. The client isn’t necessarily trying to rip you off. The problem may simply be that the client doesn’t realize how much extra work it will take to make the requested changes.

Once you’ve discussed the changes with the client and you’re sure that you understand them, you’re ready to discuss the cost of those changes

Step 4: Ask for Additional Money

American Currency, American Dollars.

The client should expect to pay additional money for a large scope change to a project. I usually insert phrases in my work agreements like, “additional work will be billed at $xx.00 per hour” and “this quote only includes one round of minor revisions.

Even without those phrases, you should still ask for more money. As long as your contract had a detailed description of scope of work and the client is clearly asking for things that are not included in that scope, you should be in a good position to negotiate for more money.

After you and the client agree on the cost of the changes, you should redo the contract or create a new one. Treat very large scope changes like a new project. Create a new contract listing the new scope and terms and get the client to sign off on it.

Step 5: Some People Can’t Be Pleased

If you’re sure you didn’t make any mistakes and if you’ve handled the matter as professionally as possible, things should go smoothly. Your relationship with the client is probably “fixed.

However, there are always a few clients who won’t negotiate. Here are some possible reasons why:

  • They could be accustomed to dealing with salaried employees. They don’t understand how important your time is or why you have to protect it.
  • They could be embarrassed and not want to admit that they’re wrong. Some people have to always be right, even when they’re wrong. Such people are always hard to do business with.
  • The may have misunderstood the original contract. In my profession, I’ve even dealt with a few clients who didn’t bother to read the contract before they signed it.
  • They might really be trying to take advantage of you. They’re in the minority, but such people do exist and sometimes they hire freelance web designers.

Whatever the case, know that you’re not the problem. They are. Some clients can’t be pleased no matter what you do.

It may be time to cut your losses and fire the client.

State firmly exactly what additional work, if any, you’ll do for them. If you haven’t been paid, emphasize that you expect to be paid according to your original agreement. Repeat this as often as necessary until you get paid. Then, refuse any future projects from that client. In the long run, you’ll be better off.

Your Turn

How have you dealt with unhappy clients? Share your tips and suggestions in the comments.

November 27 2013


Basic Accounting Tips for Freelance Web Designers

How do you feel about accounting? How much do you even know about what kind of accounting records you need to keep?

If you’re like most web designers, Bookkeeping isn’t your favorite part of freelancing. But keeping accurate records is an important part of running a business.

It’s so important, in fact, that keeping good accounting records sometimes means the difference between freelancing success and freelancing failure.

A large amount of bills spread all over the place

Taxes are another reason why you need to keep good accounting records. If your records are sloppy, tax time will be a nightmare. (And you could wind up owing a lot of money.)

In this post, I share basic tips that freelance web designers and other freelancers should know about accounting. I also list five accounting packages to help web designers organize their bookkeeping tasks.

(Note: This post should not be considered specific accounting advice. The post is based on common United States accounting practices. If you have a specific accounting question about your own freelancing business, be sure to contact an accounting professional.)

Track Your Income

You must record all freelancing income, no matter how small. When it is time to pay taxes, you need to report all income, even if you don’t receive a 1099 form from a client.

Most freelancers who are sole proprietors (the most common form of freelancing business) will record income as they receive it. This is known as cash-basis accounting.

The alternative to tracking income on a cash basis is to track it on an accrual basis. Under an accrual basis, you recognize income as soon as you complete a project and bill a client. The income is considered accounts receivable until the client pays your bill when it is added to your cash account. (However, do not recognize income a second time when the client pays you.)

The most important thing to know here is that you must pick one method or the other and stick with it. If you recognize income on a cash basis one month, you can’t recognize it on an accrual basis the next. Very large businesses must use the accrual method.

If you are confused about which method to use, your accounting professional can help you choose the method that’s right for your business.

Track Your Expenses


As a small business owner, you must also record all expenses related to your freelance web design business. Record expenses on either a cash (as you receive the money) or an accrual basis (as the expense is incurred). You must use the same basis to record expenses that you used to record income.

Some freelancers are confused about what expenses they should record. A good rule of thumb is to record every expense that is specific to your freelancing business .

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but some of the expenses you should record include:

  • Advertising
  • Computer
  • Dues for professional organizations
  • Health insurance (for some freelancers)
  • Mileage for business-related travel
  • Office supplies
  • Software
  • Telephone expenses

You need this information to determine whether you earned a profit with your freelancing business. You will also need the information (along with the income you received) for Schedule C of your tax form.

Set Money Aside for Taxes

One of the biggest surprises new freelance web designers face is the tax bill after their first year of freelancing.

If you’re coming from traditional employment, you may be used to having your employer withhold part of your pay to cover your income tax liability. This does not happen for freelancers. Not only that, the tax liability for freelancers also includes self-employment tax.

For the unprepared freelancer, the tax bill for the first year of freelancing can be in the thousands of dollars. That’s enough to put some new freelancers out of business.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way. Freelancers should arrange to pay estimated taxes quarterly to the IRS and to any local tax authorities. This divides what could be a huge tax bill into four more manageable pieces. Even if you end up owing at year-end, your tax liability won’t be as huge. Here’s a link to the IRS’s quarterly tax form for 2013. (You should also get quarterly tax forms from your state and local tax authorities.)

Of course, there are some deductions and credits specifically designed for the self-employed. For example, freelancers may also be able to take a home office deduction, which is capped at $1500 for the tax year 2013. If they have no other means of obtaining insurance, freelancers may also qualify to deduct health insurance premiums.

What If You Hired Someone?

Many freelancers hire other freelancers to work on specific projects during the year on a temporary contract basis. For example, a web designer might hire:

  • A virtual assistant to catch up on routine office tasks
  • A freelance writer to help write web copy for a large client
  • Another web designer to help them meet a tight deadline

As a small business owner, carefully track the amounts that you pay to others. In January, you will need to send out a 1099-Misc form to each independent contractor who received more than $600 from you.

Of course, if you hired employees during the year, you have additional responsibilities. You will be responsible for sending out a W-2 to each employee. You will also need to withhold payroll taxes during the year. If you hired employees for your web design business, I highly recommend that you get professional accounting advice.

Accounting Tools for Web Designers


Does keeping accounting records for your freelance web design business sound like a lot of work? Well, it is.

Of course, you could use a spreadsheet to do your bookkeeping or even rely on pencil and paper to keep your records. But those methods leave a lot of room for error.

Fortunately, there are some tools that can help you keep up with your accounting tasks and still have time to run your web design business. Here is a list of relatively inexpensive accounting packages that freelancers may find useful (many offer a free trial):

  1. FreeAgent. UK-based accounting software launched in 2007. It does have a mobile app.
  2. Freshbooks. This is cloud-based accounting software was founded in 2003. There’s also a mobile app that will work on iOS or Android devices.
  3. LessAccounting. This is an accounting tool designed specifically for small businesses. They do have an iPhone app.
  4. OutRight. There is a free version of this accounting tool and a premium version. The company was acquired by GoDaddy in 2012.
  5. Xero. Xero is SaaS accounting software. It was founded in 2006 and is based in New Zealand.

Your Turn

How do you handle your accounting tasks?

November 26 2013


10 Ways to Say “No” to Bad Clients (How to Refuse Bad Projects)

We freelancers are well aware that there are bad clients out there. There have been plenty of posts describing how to identify a bad web design client or a bad web design project. We’ve even mentioned bad projects on this blog in this post for new freelancers. There are also plenty of posts encouraging freelancers to say “no” to bad clients.

However, there aren’t too many posts that explain how to turn bad work offers down. And turning work down is harder than you might think (as any freelancer who has ever accepted a bad project will tell you).


For one thing, we’re not used to turning work down. Everything about our business is geared towards finding clients and bringing them on board. Also, if you are accustomed to working in a traditional corporate environment, you’re probably not used to having the freedom to say “no” to a client or a project.

In this post, I provide ten ready (and truthful) responses you can give when you’re asked to do a project that’s not right for you. (Because, after all, you don’t want to spend too much time on projects you aren’t going to work on.)

Response #1: I’m Too Busy

Have you ever accepted work you shouldn’t have even though you’re already too busy? I know that I have.

It’s easy to say “yes” to a project when you should say “no” when you’re busy because:

  • You may not take the time to really think about the project.
  • You may not research the client.
  • You may be feeling overly optimistic about your business.

If you’re busy, avoid answering an inquiry too quickly. Try to put the prospect off until you know you will have time to really consider what they are asking of you. Try saying something like:

“My schedule’s pretty full for the rest of the week. Can we discuss this on Monday?”

If you’ve had time to really consider the prospect and their project and you feel it isn’t for you, remember that being busy is a legitimate way to turn a project down.

Response #2: I’m Not the Best Freelancer for the Job

Sometimes you will be asked to do work outside of your freelancing specialty. It may be work you don’t know how to do or work you don’t have any interest in doing. You may be tempted to accept the work just to keep the client or prospect happy.

Don’t do it.

Almost every time I’ve accepted a project outside my specialty, I’ve regretted it. The best way to handle this is to let the client know that you don’t do this type of work. You can also use Response #6 and refer them to another freelancer.

Response #3: I Never Accept a Client without a Contract

NO sign painted in yellow on a the asphalt. Toronto, May/2010.

This statement weeds out a lot of bad clients right away. You should make it a practice never to do work for a new client without a contract or work agreement.

If a prospect refuses to put your agreement into writing there’s usually a reason for that. 9 times out of 10, that reason isn’t a good one.

Response #4: I Never Start Work without a Down Payment

New freelancers are sometimes hesitant to ask a client for money before a project begins. However, there’s really no reason not to ask for a down payment. Professionals in many fields (including web design) already ask for prepayment.

When combined with a contract, a prepayment is nothing that a client should be afraid of. A prepayment shows good faith on the client’s part. I also make the prepayment one of the terms of my contract–as in, the work can start when the prepayment is received.

Having this policy also tends to weed out a lot of bad clients. If they hesitate to make a prepayment, they may not really be committed to the project. They may even be planning to rip you off later.

Response #5: I Charge (Ridiculously High) Amount

Personally, I don’t recommend this response. However, I’ve seen it discussed in blog posts and on forums. So, it is worth mentioning.

The main problem with this approach to saying “no” is that the client might agree to pay the ridiculously high amount. If they do, then what will you do?

Before using this approach, ask yourself if the additional pay is worth taking on a potentially troublesome project. If it is, at least you’ll be well compensated.

Response #6: Refer Them to Someone Else

It’s a good idea for freelance web designers to build a network of freelance professionals whose skills complement your own. That way, when a client asks you to write web copy you can send them to a competent writer. Likewise, if they need some programming done, you can point them to a good programmer.

Ask your contacts in related fields whether they would mind if you occasionally sent work to them. Also ask them whether they would mind referring any clients who need web design work to you.

Response #7: I Never Work for Less than $X


This is another response that tends to filter out the bad clients. In particular, this eliminates those who are trying to get by with paying very little.

Using this approach is simple. When you quote a price to this client, they typically respond by trying to get you to quote a lower price. That’s when to say:

“I never work for less than $X”

End of story. Then, it’s up to the client to decide whether they want to pay you what you’re worth.

Response #8: What You’re Asking For Isn’t Possible

You’ve probably been asked by a client to do something that really can’t be done. There are typically two reasons why something can’t be done:

  • The tools don’t support it. For example, a client may ask you to design a website and request that the website users smell fresh-baked cookies each time they access the site. With current technology and tools, this isn’t possible.
  • There’s a legal or ethical problem with doing it. For example, a client may ask you to design a social media platform exactly like Twitter. Well, of course there’s a legal problem with making a site that duplicates another site.

Either way, you need to be honest with the client. If tools don’t support what they are asking, let them know. If there’s likely to be a legal problem, they need to understand that as well.

Response #9: No Response

What most freelance web designers don’t realize is that no response can be a way of saying “no.”

Typically, I respond to all serious requests for projects. But some requests seem a little spammy to me. The sender may address me generically (as though they have sent out a bulk mail) or the request might seem a bit like a scam.

I tend to ignore spammy or scammy inquiries, and you can do the same.

Response #10: I’m Sorry, I Can’t Help You

Don’t forget that you don’t have to give an elaborate reason for saying “no” to a prospective client.

You may be going through a personal crisis that you don’t want to share, but that will keep you from working. Or, it might be too inconvenient to draft a longer response (such as when you’re traveling).

One of the perks of freelancing is that you can say “no” to work that you don’t want to do, so don’t be afraid to exercise that perk.

Your Turn

Have you come up with another way to say “no” to web design projects you don’t want to do? Share your responses in the comments.

November 25 2013


Making Yourself Redundant


Can you imagine your company having a chief electricity officer? Seems ridiculous doesn’t it, but many large businesses did when electricity first started to power the industrial economy.

Electricity is such an integral part of our working life that it is impossible to imagine life without it. Companies just couldn’t operate without power, but it wasn’t always that way. Many business leaders failed to grasp the full potential of electricity after it was first introduced. Over a decade after introducing electricity, they were still building factories by water, despite no longer needing it to power their machinery. These business leaders needed help integrating the new technology into their thinking and that is where the chief electricity officer came in.

Grasping The Potential Of The Web

Although we may scoff at the foolish industrialists with their shortsighted vision, most companies are making exactly the same mistake today with the Web. They are failing to grasp the potential of the Web to revolutionize every aspect of their business. Instead, many have reduced the Web to a marketing tool.

What organizations need is the digital equivalent of a chief electricity officer. They need somebody who will champion digital across the organization until it is as ubiquitous as electricity in the modern work place. Many organizations require a digital evangelist sitting on the board (even if only in a non-executive and part-time capacity) so that digital is fully utilized. However, this should only a temporary requirement.

Our Role As Web Professionals Should Be Temporary

As I have already pointed out, we don’t need chief electricity officers anymore. Once electricity was fully integrated into the organizational processes and culture, their role became superfluous. The same should be true of us as Web professionals.

The Web has much more potential than most of us tend to believe. All you need is to take a closer look. (Image credits: opensourceway)

Whether part of an internal Web team or an external developer, our eventual aim should be to make our role redundant, once digital is a part of daily working life. Once that happens you would no longer need a digital team in the same way as we no longer need a chief electricity officer.

I am aware this may sound like a rather extreme position. It is hard to imagine a world where this is a reality, but I believe we may one day get there. Whether we do is not really the point. The point is that the way we perceive our job is so important and that at the moment the emphasis is slightly wrong.

We Shouldn’t Remain The Owners Of Digital

At the moment, most Web professionals see their job as executing some form of digital strategy. It falls to them to build, maintain and run digital assets from websites to mobile apps. Sometimes we facilitate the contribution of others through the use of a content management system, but ultimately we feel we should ‘own’ digital.

In fact, I have heard many argue that internal Web teams don’t have enough ownership over the Web (something I have written myself) and that external teams are seen as implementors rather than providing more of a leadership role. I have also heard many argue that organizations need a digital strategy and that digital teams should be more empowered within organizations.

All of these arguments I agree with, but feel that although true, they miss the point. Yes, right now we need a strong digital team. Yes, organizations should use external contractors as more than implementors and yes companies need to think about their strategy towards digital. However, these are all transitionary principles. They are merely stepping stones towards a greater aim, which is to make digital ubiquitous within the organization. In the end, we need a business strategy that includes digital, rather than a separate digital strategy.

Our Primary Role Is Knowledge Transfer

If we believe our objective is to make digital ubiquitous, then our primary role as Web professionals is knowledge transfer. It falls to us to teach those within the organizations with which we work, about the potential and power of digital. Ultimately is not our job to own digital or just to build digital assets. Our job is to teach others how to own digital and put in place the assets they need. In the short term this may involve us leading by example. We may need to set a strong digital direction and take ownership over digital as a chief electricity officer did, but eventually we will need to let go of the reins.

Furthermore, if we see our role as educators, facilitators and evangelists then we approach things with a different attitude. Its not about building our digital empire within an organization and wrestling control from the ignorant colleagues that “don’t get digital”. Equally as an external contract our aim is not to ensure a long term revenue stream from clients by making them reliant on our services. Instead it is about facilitating others through improving their understanding of digital.

Digital strategy always requires focus on the essential — on what matters most. (Image credits: opensourceway)

Don’t get me wrong. Many organizations need strong central leadership over digital and the Web team is the place for that. Equally, I have no problem with agencies who work in long-term partnership with clients if that is what is right for the client. However, ultimately we need to be willing to step aside when we have become a bottleneck and when the organization has reached a point when digital is deep rooted across the entire company.

Are You Building An Empire Or Facilitating Change?

It’s time for you to honestly ask yourself what your agenda is. Is it to help organizations facilitate their use of digital or are you more concerned with securing your own position? If it is the latter I would challenge you to think again. By facilitating others and focusing on knowledge transfer you will become the go-to person for innovation and the next big thing. Become so concerned with your own job and you will be the roadblock everybody has to work around to get things done.

Even after 20 years of the Web, we are still at the beginning of a transformation from an industrial to digital economy. Adapting to this change is a huge undertaking for most organizations and we can either be facilitators of that change or we can isolate ourselves as some kind of digital elite.

I know which I choose. What about you?

Editor’s Note: Paul Boag is writing a new Smashing book on “Digital Adaptation” with guidelines for adapting a business for the digital economy. Coming out in March 2014. If you like, you can subscribe for email updates to be among the first ones to know!


© Paul Boag for Smashing Magazine, 2013.


5 Options to DIY

Are you independent? A self-starter? Do you love to be in complete control of your projects?

If you just read that and you thought “yes…yes…yes,” then you have a lot in common with many other freelance web designers.

We freelancers are known for our independent ways. We tend to be self-starters. And one of the big pulls for many of us is the chance to exercise more control over our work.

That’s why a lot of us tend to do almost everything ourselves.

Do-it-yourself can be a good way to run a freelancing business…for a while. But eventually, there will come a time when you can’t handle everything you have to do. This post will help you deal with that time.

In this post, I’ll explain when you need to look into getting some help. I’ll also discuss the pros and cons of five alternatives to doing everything yourself.

When to Get Help

There are times when you can’t do everything yourself. It may go against your natural inclination, but you know it’s time to get help when you:

  • Consistently have more work than you can do
  • Don’t have the skill set to do all or part of project
  • Face an unexpected crisis
  • Need to schedule time off, but can’t due to your heavy workload
  • Could accept more work, but don’t have the time to do it
  • Would like to grow your business larger

If you can relate to one or more of the previous bullet points, it may be time to move away from doing everything yourself. It may be time to get someone to help you with your web design business.

No matter which help alternative you choose, it’s a good idea to formalize your agreement with your helper in the form of a written work agreement or contract. Make sure to spell out who is responsible for what and how finances (and in particular, pay) will be handled.

Option #1: Find a Partner


The first option to doing everything yourself is to find a partner. You can team up with another freelance professional on a long-term basis, or you can team up for a project or two. (The first choice involves changing the structure of your business.)

There are several advantages to working with a partner:

  • It provides another set of eyes to review work.
  • The partner’s skills may complement your own.
  • Now two people are marketing the business.
  • It expands your professional network.
  • There’s increased accountability when someone else is involved.

However, you also need to consider these potential problems with having a partner:

  • Your partner may disagree on major issues.
  • The partnership work may not be shared equitably.
  • Circumstances may change for one or more partners.

When partnerships work well, they can be wonderful. At the same time, when they fail it can be devastating for both partners. Nearly everyone knows some friends who got along great–until they started working together.

Option #2: Outsource It

A partnership is not the only way to go if you are thinking of sharing some of your workload. Outsourcing is another alternative.

Here on Vandelay Design Blog, we’ve discussed the pros and cons of outsourcing in detail in the post titled Pros and Cons of Outsourcing.

A few additional points to consider if you decide to outsource all or part of a project include:

  • Price the project high enough so that you can afford to hire someone else.
  • Allow yourself time enough to manage the project. This includes answering questions from both the client and the worker you hire.
  • Select your workers very, very carefully. Review their portfolio and any testimonials they have.
  • Thoroughly review all work before you turn it over to the client to ensure quality.
  • Pay enough for the project to attract quality workers.
  • Turnover tends to be high among those who do outsourced work, so plan on hiring fairly often.
  • If you go through a job board to find your candidates, remember that some boards charge a percentage to applicants.
  • Depending on how much you pay your contractor and where you live, you may need to send out a 1099 form at the end of the year.

Option #3: Collaborate

Another alternative to doing everything yourself is collaboration. With collaboration, you work closely with another professional in your field to complete a project.

The other professional may be someone selected by the client, or even one of the client’s employees.

For collaboration to work smoothly, be sure to clarify who is responsible for each aspect of the project before your start. Communication is key to collaboration. So make sure to communicate with your collaborator(s) clearly and accurately. You may also need to schedule some additional time for group meetings.

Here are some advantages of collaborating:

  • A good team may come up with better and more inspired work than an individual.
  • The right collaborators will stimulate each other’s creativity.
  • There are many great tools out there to make collaboration even easier.

A couple of disadvantages to be careful about:

  • Personality conflicts
  • Who gets credit for the work
  • Getting stalled

Option #4: Hire Someone

Conceptional chalk drawing - Help needed

A more permanent solution to not doing everything yourself, is to hire someone (like a virtual assistant) to help you. This is a good idea if you find yourself bogged down by routine tasks.

Here are some advantages to hiring an employee:

  • Frees you up to work on higher level tasks directly related to your profession
  • May increase your freelancing income as you take on more billable hours
  • Allows you to spend more time on personal projects or with friends and family
  • Can provide you with peace of mind that tasks you dislike are getting done

However, there are some disadvantages:

  • You’ll need to pay an employee even when things are slow.
  • In the U.S., you’ll have to deal with some tax issues (such as withholding tax and sending out a W-2 form).

Option #5: Give a Referral

A final option to doing everything yourself is to refer some work to other freelancers. This is a particularly good option if you are asked to do something outside of your field.

The advantages to giving a referral include:

  • Maintains good will with a client or potential client
  • The other freelancer may eventually return the favor

Of course, the disadvantage to sending work elsewhere is that you do not typically receive any income from work you refer to others. For that reason, many freelancers are hesitant to do it. (Rarely, one freelancer may pay another a small finder’s fee for referred work.)

Your Turn

Are you a DIY freelancer or have you turned to others to get help? Did I forget any advantages or disadvantages?

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

November 22 2013


13 Side Projects for Fun and Profit

As web designer, you already work hard. You may feel that you’re doing all that you can possibly do. And that’s perfectly all right.

But many freelancers are taking on side projects–sometimes for fun, and sometimes for money.


Besides the obvious opportunity to earn extra money, there are several reasons why you might want to start a side project:

  • Gives you something other than your work to think about
  • Helps you meet people with similar interests
  • Keeps you busy during the slow periods
  • Provides the opportunity to learn new things

We’ve discussed side projects here on Vandelay Web Design blog before. We’ve talked about how to make them successful and explained why they might not succeed.

In this post, we’ll describe thirteen side projects you might want consider starting. These are all projects you can work on at your own pace. Put as little or as much effort into them as you wish.

Project #1: Write an eBook

Many freelancers choose to write an eBook. This especially true for web designers who also have some writing ability. Or, you can hire a professional writer to help you put your ideas in book form.

If you write an eBook about web design, it could help your freelance business by:

  • Enhancing your authority in your field.
  • Connecting you with colleagues.
  • Bolstering your online reputation.

You may choose to sell your eBook, or you may wish to give it away as a free premium on your website in order to build your mailing list. If you want to publish your eBook on Amazon, you’ll find The Ultimate Guide to Publishing Your eBook on Amazon’s Kindle Platform from Paul Jun on CopyBlogger to be helpful.

Project #2: Sell a Premium Theme

Creating and selling premium themes puts your web design skills to use and can earn you some extra money. This is a very popular side gig with freelance web designers.

The main advantage is that you create a high quality premium WordPress theme once, and it has the potential to earn you money for months (although you may need to upgrade your theme from time to time). This is especially true if your theme becomes popular.

The disadvantage, of course, is that there are already a lot of premium WordPress themes on the market. Your theme may never get noticed.

You can sell your WordPress theme from your own site, of course. Or you may want to use a popular marketplace like ThemeForest or MojoThemes. If you use a marketplace, be sure to read the fine print. Most WordPress marketplaces take a percentage of your sales income.

Project #3: Serve as a Coach or Mentor

Coaching can be side gig, or even an alternate career path. Many entry-level freelance web designers are looking for someone who they can trust to get their careers started.

If you have years of successful experience as a web designer, you may be able to help someone who is just getting started in the field by serving as an official or unofficial mentor.

Coaching or mentoring can help you meet others in your field. It can also help to build your authority as an expert in your field.

Project #4: Give a Webinar or Training Session

If you like helping others, you might also wish to consider giving a webinar or training session. Online training sessions are popular, and many freelancers are willing to pay to enhance their skills.

You might even be able to develop a course and sell it over and over again. And of course, training others enhances your own professional reputation as an expert in your field.

Some tools to help you present a webinar include:

Project #5: Start a Subscription-Only Site

One way that some freelancers earn extra money is by starting a subscription-only site. Members pay a small monthly amount to access premium information like training, interviews with experts and other high-quality resources.

While owning a subscription site may seem like a good way to earn extra money, keep in mind that you need to provide value to sell memberships. Consider carefully what information and services your site will provide for members. Make sure to allow yourself enough time to maintain and update the site.

Project #6: Start a For-Profit Blog


If you love blogging and are willing to update your blog often, you may be able to start a for-profit blog.

The truth is that most for-profit blogs are owned by organizations that can afford to hire a team of writers. Most blogs do not earn a profit. However, that does not mean that it’s impossible to make a profit from blogging.

Blog owners typically earn money through selling advertisements on their blogs. However, you must have a fairly large reader base to attract advertisers. They can also earn money by selling products through their blog (affiliate sales).

Keep in mind that there is more to blogging for money than just updating your blog with new information. You must also promote your blog. This likely means having a very active social media presence. You may even need to advertise on other blogs or submit guest posts to popular blogs to attract a larger audience.

Project #7: Buy and Sell Collectibles

Many freelancers love to collect things. Buying and selling can make a great side gig, especially if you’ve studied and know which pieces are valuable and which are not.

The choice of what to collect is almost unlimited. For example, all of the following are popular with collectors:

  • Antiques
  • Coins
  • Rare books
  • Stamps

The trick is to specialize mainly in one type of collectible so that you can learn all about it.

If you decide collectibles will be your side gig, be prepared to spend some time at thrift stores, swap meets, and garage sales. You can also look for deals online on sites like eBay.

Project #8: Make and Sell Crafts

You’re a web designer, so you’re probably pretty creative.

Do you also make craft items? If so, you may be able to turn your creations into extra cash. Handmade crafts are popular gift items.

Two sites that are popular with crafters looking to sell their artwork are:

Project #9: House-Sit for Friends

This is a side-gig that takes practically no effort on your part. It’s also ideal for single freelancers or students who live in a small apartment.

Many vacationers prefer to have someone stay in their home while they are gone. This discourages break-ins and the house-sitter can also pick up the mail and make sure that routine maintenance tasks (such as watering houseplants) are done.

All you need to do is let your friends and family know that you are willing to house-sit while they are on vacation or traveling. If you’re serious about house-sitting, you can sign up with a service like HouseSitters America or MindMyHouse.

Be sure to specify that you must have access to an Internet connection. It’s up to you to decide if you are also willing to watch the homeowner’s pets while you are house-sitting.

People are often willing to pay a daily amount to make sure that their property is safe while they are gone. Just be sure to get any agreement between you in writing.

Project #10: Raise Animals

If you love animals (and have the space), you may want to raise animals on the side.

Which animals you decide to raise is totally up to you. If you have a lot of outdoor space (and if it is allowed where you live), you could raise farm animals such as chickens or even horses.

You could also raise pets. For some animals, such as purebred dogs, you can also show your animals in competitions.

If you choose this side gig, be sure to check the laws where you live. Many areas have restrictions on the number of animals that can live at one location.

Project #11: Start a Garden


Freshly grown produce is a great way to enhance any meal. Imagine your favorite recipes, with fruit and vegetables you grew yourself.

Or, you may choose to grow flowers.

Many people also claim that gardening reduces stress.

Project #12: Take Up Digital Photography

Do you love to take pictures? Are people always complimenting you on your photographs?

Digital photography might be the side gig for you. You may be able to sell your photographs through your site, or even sell products (such as tee shirts and mugs) that feature your photographs.

Just remember, digital cameras are extremely popular. So, if you are trying to earn money by selling your photographs, expect the competition to be fierce.

Project #13: Volunteer for a Cause

You won’t earn money through volunteer work, but you can get a non-monetary reward from knowing that you did something to make a difference in the world.

Volunteering is also a great way to build your social network.

Your Turn

The important thing to remember about a side gig is to pick something you enjoy. That way even if you didn’t earn much, at least you had fun.

Do you have a side gig? What is it?

November 14 2013


The Habits Of Successful New Web Professionals


Starting a position in an organization, especially if it is your first in the industry, can be as nerve-wracking as it is exciting. Practices that seem like common sense to those of us who have been in the Web industry for some time might not be as obvious to designers and developers without the benefit of our experience.

Part of our responsibility as veterans in this industry is to mentor new team members and share with them the knowledge that we know they will need to succeed.

The expert in anything was once a beginner.
As President Rutherford B. Hayes once said, “The expert in anything was once a beginner.” (Image source: opensourceway)

I recently published an article here on Smashing Magazine titled “Lessons Learned in Leading New Web Professionals.” As a follow-up to that piece, this one looks at the other side of the team leader-new employee dynamic. We’ll cover the practices that I have found are consistently followed by employees who excel in their new role and grow in this industry.

Embrace The Company’s Culture

Every company is different — with policies, procedures and a culture unique to it. While much attention is given to ensuring that new employees understand these policies and procedures, understanding and embracing the company’s culture is just as important to long-term success. One way to embrace a company’s culture is to get involved — both in and outside the office.

If your company is holding an event or activity for employees, make it a point to attend. It could be a full-blown company party or a small after-hours get-together of only a few employees. Either way, it provides an opportunity to socialize with your new colleagues and begin to build relationships with the people you work alongside.

In the office, look for projects that interest you and that you feel you can contribute positively to. These could be normal client engagements or even side projects driven by small teams in the organization. By asking to be included in these projects, you’ll get time to work hands on with your colleagues and show them the value you bring to the team.

Now, the challenge to participating in these activities is that new employees often feel like outsiders, and many are reluctant to join in on the company’s planned events. The irony, though, is that participating in these company events is one of the best ways to feel like part of the team and to break down that outsider status.

Respect The Client

Complaining about clients is a practice that has been around as long as clients themselves, but it has no place in the Web industry, whether you are a new professional or a seasoned veteran.

Clients can be challenging, but remember that when they stop calling you with questions or with work to be done, that is the day you no longer have a job. We are here because of our clients, not in spite of them.

Does this mean that the client is always right and that you should take whatever they dish out at you with a smile and a nod? Of course not. No one should ever suffer a client who disrespects them professionally or personally, but an abusive client who must be fired is very different from one who simply asks a lot of questions because they recognize that you are the expert. Yes, clients make poor decisions at times, and some of their questions will seem obvious or silly to you, but your answers and advice are why they hired you in the first place.

Respect clients — they keep you employed — and refrain from the bouts of unnecessary complaining that others in the organization might engage in. If others are complaining and trying to rope you in, politely excuse yourself. Nothing good will come of those negative conversations.

Ask Questions

As a new employee, you will undoubtedly have questions — a lot, in fact. That is OK. In fact, it is expected. You might feel like you are bothering others, but asking questions is how you learn and how “tribal knowledge” is passed from veterans in an organization to newcomers.

When you join, a company will likely give you some kind of orientation and show you the ropes, but only so much information can be conveyed in an orientation or in training. So much of what you will need to know is picked up on the job, by actually doing the work itself. When you hit a roadblock, look to others on the team for help. They will often have encountered the issue before and have set a precedent for dealing with it — the aforementioned tribal knowledge. Gaining that knowledge through experience and by asking questions is how you will grow in the organization.

It is OK to ask questions but be sure to try to solve the issue first
Asking questions enables you to learn and acquire team knowledge, but try to solve problems for yourself first. (Image source: Tim O’Brien)

Now, there is a balance to be struck. Throwing your hands in the air and yelling “Mayday!” every time you hit a bump in the road is too much. Try to solve a problem for yourself first, so that when you ask for help, you can show the person what you’ve tried so far. Over time, you will find the balance between exploring solutions on your own and asking for a hand.

Teach Me Something

I am constantly reading articles with new tips, techniques and best practices in our industry, and I spend many nights and weekends outside of normal office hours working to master these new techniques. When I discover an article or idea that I think is valuable, I always share it with the rest of my team. And I love it when others on the team return the favor.

When a new employee shares a worthwhile article or an approach that I had not considered, they demonstrate their passion and their dedication to growing in the industry. It also shows that they are willing not only to learn, but also to teach others.

Check Your Work

I appreciate when a team member completes a task quickly, but speed doesn’t trump accuracy. Too often, in an attempt to impress their manager, new team members will race through a task to show how efficient they are. They submit work before really going over it to make sure that all of the tasks have been completed correctly.

Checking your work before submitting it to a manager for review probably sounds like common sense, but it’s one of the biggest problems I hear about from other team leaders and managers. Work that is missing key elements or that has little errors (spelling mistakes are common) or whose functionality hasn’t been fully tested (broken links, forms that do not submit properly, etc.) are major headaches for many team leaders. A manager would rather the person finish the task a bit more slowly if the bulk of the errors could have been caught by a more thorough review.

Before you submit work as being complete, give it a once over to make sure that everything works as intended.

Mind The Clock

Web design is not a 9:00 to 5:00 job. Sometimes, inspiration or a breakthrough strikes at the end of the day. If you punch the clock exactly at 5:00, you could lose any momentum or spark of creativity you may have had, when instead you should nurture the moment. Other times, a deadline is looming that requires extra hours in the office. You need to accept that the day doesn’t always end at 5:00.

It goes both ways, though. An employee who is willing to stay late and put in extra effort when needed will be recognized and appreciated, but don’t stay at your desk 12 hours a day, only to go home and do more work there.

Working late every night will not allow you to properly balance work and life
Minding the clock means not working late every night. (Image source: abdallahh)

Minding the clock means balancing your professional and personal time. Don’t burn yourself out by trying to be a superhero who does nothing but work. The most successful colleagues I have worked with over the years have found and maintained a work-life balance.

Work On Your Communication Skills

Responding to questions and requests from clients can be a full-time job. In fact, on some days I feel like all I’ve done is answer emails. Managers want to be able to offload some communication responsibilities to others on the team — but they need to know that the communication will not suffer from a lack of skill.

Whether you are answering questions from clients, presenting design concepts in a meeting or brainstorming with colleagues, communicating your ideas in a way that meets your company’s expectations is important. This skill will increase your value to the team and set you up to take on more responsibility.

Join The Community

The Web community is amazing, and you can participate in it in a number of ways. Depending on where you live, you might have access to meetups, networking events, conferences and other gatherings. We all have opportunities to share our experience, knowledge and passion for this industry.

Participating in these events will make you feel like a part of the Web community, help you make connections with peers and reflect well on your company. With limited time to attend such events, leaders appreciate when other team members take the initiative to get out in the community and represent the company.

Stay Positive

This tip might sound easy to follow, but keeping a positive attitude and demeanor is more challenging than it seems.

As a new team member, you will undoubtedly have times when you are unsure of what to work on next or of how you are performing. This uncertainly can be stressful, and stress can eventually lead to a negative attitude. Fight the urge to give into that negativity — stay positive.

Saying that everything is easier with a positive attitude might sound like an oversimplification, but it’s not. A positive attitude makes challenges easier to face, and it encourages others to come to your aid. After all, no one is excited to work with someone with a negative attitude.

Have Fun

Many years ago, I had an employer who, whenever my job got stressful or challenging, would say, “Well, that’s why we pay you to be here. If it was fun, it wouldn’t be work!”

I don’t agree with this sentiment. Yes, most of us wouldn’t show up for work every day if a pay check wasn’t waiting for us at the end of the week. However, just because we have to work doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy where we work.

The most successful employees I have had the pleasure of working alongside over the years have enjoyed their job and where they work. Life is too short for anything else. So, have fun at your job — and if you can’t, consider getting another.

Staying positive and having fun at your job are two overlooked yet incredibly important elements of success.
Staying positive and having fun at your job are two overlooked yet incredibly important elements of success. (Image source: opensourceway)

In Summary

Joining an organization can be stressful. Hopefully, the tips presented here will help you make the most of the opportunity and relieve a bit of the stress. Here are the do’s and don’ts we’ve covered:

  • Do embrace the culture, and participate in company events.
  • Do not let the feeling of being a newbie keep you from participating in events.
  • Do not engage in pointless complaining about clients.
  • Do respect your clients and recognize that they are the reason you have a job.
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions; that’s how you learn.
  • Do try to solve problems on your own before asking for help.
  • Do share helpful or interesting articles that you come across.
  • Do not submit work before having checked it for accuracy.
  • Do strike a balance between your professional and personal time.
  • Do work on your communication skills, and understand what the company expects from your communication with clients.
  • Do look for opportunities to participate in your local Web community.
  • Do stay positive, even when you feel uncertain or stressed out.
  • Do have fun at your job and enjoy where you work.

What About You?

What habits of successful new team members would you add to the list? Feel free to share in the comments below.

(al, ea, il)

© Jeremy Girard for Smashing Magazine, 2013.

November 08 2013


Building A Successful Product: Start Small And Listen


Developing a product is one thing, bringing it to market is another. In this article, Rachel explains how to start with a new product, develop and support it over time. Interested in learning more? Rachel will be hosting a full-day Smashing workshop on “Shipping Your Product” in Berlin, and she has contributed a chapter on customer support to the brand new upcoming Smashing Book #4 (to be released in late November). —Ed.

“The goal of a startup is to find the sweet-spot where minimum product and viable product meet — get people to fall in love with you. Over time, you listen to your customers, make improvements and raise the bar on what viable means — making it more expensive for competitors to jump in.”

John Radoff

If you are launching a bootstrapped product, then your aim should be to ship something that people are happy to give you money for as quickly as possible. This means launching with the minimum that will make your product something that people would be happy to buy. You can then begin to develop additional features based on what customers actually want and need, rather than on what you think they want and need.

In this article, based on my own experience, I’ll describe how it is possible to launch with a really small product and grow from those small beginnings by listening to your customers.

How To Decide On Must-Have Features For Launch

You might be starting small, but you need to draw that list of features that will make up your small but perfectly formed product offering, something that people would be happy to pay for because it brings them value as is. To get your product to launch, I suggest that you consider two main things:

  • Who is my target customer?
  • What problem(s) will my product solve?

For my own product, our target market was design agencies and freelancers. It’s a CMS, but we were not interested in making it a website-building tool or in appealing to non-coders. The customers we had in mind were the sort of people we were already working with: small agencies and designers who know how to write HTML and CSS, who don’t need a website-building tool and who want to manage content. This was an audience we knew well and importantly where people knew us. I would always recommend that if you are developing a product you target a market you already are well known in; it will make it far easier to spread the word, and for people to have trust in you. We also intended to appeal to people who develop relatively small-scale websites. We were not creating a Drupal competitor. So, our ideal customer is a designer, either freelance or in an agency, who knows HTML and CSS and has to develop smallish websites.

We wanted to solve two problems with the product. First, we wanted it to be really quick and easy to deploy. A small website doesn’t justify days of creating a theme or template. Secondly, we wanted to provide a solution that does not add any unwanted markup, CSS or JavaScript to the website. The designer should have control over everything the CMS outputs.

That was it. As we started to develop, a million ideas came to mind. We thought of so many features and possibilities, but we kept that simple use case and that ideal customer in mind and ruthlessly trimmed features until we had something that felt complete yet was about as small as it could be. That initial version of Perch took about four weekends to write — we were still a consultancy working with clients at the time. We spent about the same amount of time building the marketing website and the infrastructure to deliver the product.

Launching With Confidence

With your product developed, you should launch with confidence. You might have had a million features listed that you wish your product had, but your customers don’t know that. If your ideal customer exists and has the problems that you’ve identified and your product solves them, then you should be able to sell it to them. An advantage of getting to launch quickly is that you can test whether all of those things are true before spending any more time.

According to John Radoff, you have to take your time to listen to your customers, make improvements and raise the bar on what viable really means.
According to John Radoff, you have to take your time to listen to your customers, make improvements and raise the bar on what viable really means. (Image credits)

Don’t be apologetic about the small feature set. Market and sell the product as it is now, making sure that you are accurate in presenting the scope of the product and what problems it will solve. Assuming that people do buy and start to use it, you’ll soon start to get suggestions and requests for features, and you will probably be surprised by some of them. Some of the things you have already identified will likely come up as requests; but in my experience, customers will have needs that you didn’t even know exist, and they will be very happy to tell you about them.

We heard no outcry from customers who felt shortchanged by our tiny product, because we were selling something that does what it says on the tin; our marketing and sales were aligned with the product itself. We found, however, that those initial customers were delighted as we started to add new features based on their feedback, and many people who use the product today and have developed a large number of websites using it were among that first group of customers.

Listen To The People Who Are Willing To Pay For Your Product

I opened this article saying that getting to the point where people will pay for your product is important. There will be no end of people who are keen to tell you exactly what you should build them for free. Getting to launch means that you can start to hear feature requests and ideas from your paying customers. Requests from people who are happy to pay for your product are far more valuable than requests from people who are not. Paying for a product changes a person’s relationship to it and to the company behind it. The person becomes a customer and feels reasonable for asking for the service and features that they would expect as a paying customer.

Doing The Things That Will Make The Most Difference To The Most People

If you successfully launch with a tiny feature set, then you will quickly start to get feature requests. This is great! But it can feel overwhelming. How do you even start to provide all of these new features, and how do you explain to customers why their pet feature will not be immediately added?

Prioritize the feature that solves a more general problem and is useful to enough people to warrant the investment of time required to develop it.
Prioritize the feature that solves a more general problem and is useful to enough people to warrant the investment of time required to develop it. (Image credits)

We have always been very clear to our customers that we prioritize those features that would benefit the largest number of users. We collate requests that people post in our suggestions forum, email to us, tweet or tell us in person. We also look for the hidden feature demands that can be found in what people are trying to do with the product. Sometimes we can see someone doing something very complicated to get around the fact that something is not possible out of the box. If we see a number of customers doing that, we can infer that a feature is needed there. The things that would help the most people soon rise to the top. We have always found that as soon as we have picked off the most requested feature, another comes along as the new top request!

Getting Good Use Cases

To add a feature to your product, you need to be able to define a general use case for it. You can’t add a feature as you might for a bespoke build for a client; the feature must solve a more general problem to become useful to enough people to warrant the investment of time required to develop it. We often ask our customers to explain the use case for a feature they are asking for. We want to know the general problem they are trying to solve, rather than how they think their particular problem should be solved.

We often find that by exploring the use case a little with the customer — and in the forums, other customers with similar requirements often pitch in — we start to open a narrow solution into something more generally useful. Once we do that, then the feature becomes far more likely to be one we consider.

That being said, every so often a customer asks for a feature that doesn’t compromise the core use case and is fairly specific but very quick to develop. In that case, we do enjoy being able to quickly pop it into the next dot release and letting them know it is there. One of the best things about working on your own product is being able to delight people and do those unexpected things that help people out.

Looking After The Happy, Silent Majority

We’ve built a product based on speaking with and listening to our customers, but remember that the customers you hear from are probably the minority. If statistics are a part of your customer-support system, then look at how many of your customers ever come to you for support. In our case, it’s about 25%. We hear from only 25% of our customers. So, 75% are quite happy with how our product works — happy enough, at least, not to feel the need to ask us anything or suggest a feature.

Keeping that ideal customer in mind also really helps here. We have on occasion told people before purchase that we were not sure the product was a good fit for them, but they bought a copy anyway. They then spent a lot of time declaring the deficiencies they saw in the product — for example, complaining that it doesn’t come with themes or that they are being asked to write HTML. While these customers can be frustrating, you just have to step back and remember that they are not your ideal customer. The product isn’t really for them, so resist the temptation to add things for people who are not your target audience.

Even within your core audience, a few noisy people can make you feel as if all of your customers are asking for a particular feature. If that feature would take the product in a new direction or change a workflow, then getting opinions from the silent majority would be especially worthwhile. We have found that posting on our blog, talking on our podcast and mentioning a possible feature on Twitter does cause people we never see in the support forum to talk to us. If your usage statistics or sales data are broken down by user, then you can always use that to identify customers who you never hear from but are very active. Customers who like your product will generally be happy that you have asked them for feedback.

Twitter may also be a useful platform to collect short feedback from customers.
Twitter may also be a useful platform to collect short feedback from customers. (Image credits)

When asking customers for feedback, ask specific questions, rather than just what they think of your product. If you are proposing a major change, explaining the change and asking whether they foresee any issues in how they use the product can be enlightening.

Protecting Your Core Use Case

Clearly understanding your core use case — the initial problems your product is intended to solve — is vital to deciding which features to add to the product. We are over four years from launch, and yet the basic way people use our product has not changed — despite it being well into version two and far more full-featured than the tiny product we brought to market.

If a feature will complicate that basic use case, there would need to be a very good reason to add it. Sometimes we find another way to solve the same issue, which is where those general use cases from customers come in handy. You need to be happy to tell customers, however, that the feature they are asking for wouldn’t fit the product, and recognize that some of those customers might go elsewhere. Pleasing everyone is impossible, and your ideal customers wouldn’t want you to try.

New Features Rarely Spike Our Sales

It took me a long while to learn that adding new features is not a huge marketing win in itself. We’ve added some huge and much-requested features to Perch over the years. Many of those features took as long to build as developing the initial product did. However, launching a new feature has never made a blip in our sales figures. Our graph moves upwards at a fairly steady rate, with no evidence that any period of growth was caused by a particular feature.

That is not to say that adding features is not important. As mentioned, existing customers appreciate new features: They can see that the product is actively being developed and is evolving to meet their needs. However, pinning your hope of acquiring new customers on some new headline feature is not realistic in my experience. Instead, focus on marketing activities and on finding new customers and users, in addition to developing new features.


Starting small and focused, with a clear idea of who your ideal customer is and of the core problems that your product solves, is a great way to get a new product to market. For bootstrappers, it not only means bringing in much needed cashflow quickly, but also means that any new features you develop will be useful to your audience.

As your product matures, keeping your ideal customers in mind and speaking with them will help to ensure that you continue to serve your target market, rather than attempt to please everyone. By adding features deliberately and thoughtfully, you will delight existing customers and make the product useful to a wider market, while staying true to your goals.

Interested in learning more? Rachel will be hosting a full-day Smashing workshop on “Shipping Your Product” in Berlin, and she has contributed a chapter on customer support to the Smashing Book #4 (to be released in late November).

(al, vf, il)

Front page image credits: Dave Gray.

© Rachel Andrew for Smashing Magazine, 2013.

November 07 2013


How to Evaluate Prospective Clients and Choose the Best Ones


You want good clients and not bad clients, but how can you tell the difference?

If you’ve been a freelance web designer for a while (and especially if you have a strong online presence), this has probably happened to you. Out of the blue, you get an email asking about your web design services from someone you have never heard of working for a company you have never heard of.

Yay! You might think it’s time for a celebration. But as an experienced freelancer, you know to be careful. You know that it’s important to evaluate prospective clients. You shouldn’t agree to work for every single prospect who contacts you.

First of all, you want to make sure that their inquiry is legitimate. And you should also consider whether they are the right client for you.

In this post, I’ll list five steps to help you evaluate a prospective client. At the end of the post, share your tips about how you evaluate clients.

Step 1: Know Your Ideal Client

It may surprise you to learn that the first step to evaluating a client is to know your own business goals better.

If you haven’t already done so, you should build a profile of the type of clients you prefer to work with. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do I prefer a laid-back client, or a more formal relationship?
  2. Are my clients my collaborators, or do I prefer clients with a more hands-off approach?
  3. Is my ideal client technologically savvy or do they need some help with technology?
  4. Is there an industry that I usually work in?
  5. What type of web design do I typically do (and what type do I prefer to do)?

Once you understand what type of client you prefer to work with, you can take steps to target that type of client in your marketing. Most importantly, you can use your ideal client profile to evaluate potential clients.

Step 2: Check the Social Profile

One of the first steps I always take when someone contacts my about my freelancing services is to look at their social media profiles. While it’s true that once in a while you’ll encounter someone who has no social media presence at all, most people do have some sort of profile on one or more of the social media platforms.

Here are the social sites I look at and what I look for:

  • LinkedIn. You can learn a lot about a prospect by looking at their LinkedIn profile. You can tell what their area of expertise is, what their past employment has been, and even what their skills are. I recommend also looking for recommendations.
  • Twitter. If the person has a Twitter profile, I look to see whether the profile is filled out. Do they have an image with their profile? Does their profile link back to their website? Finally, I look at what sort of tweets they are sharing. Are the tweets professional?
  • Google+. Google+ is known for a more technical audience, so a presence here could indicate a more Internet-savvy prospect. Again, I look to see if the profile is filled out and whether it links back to a website. It’s also important to look at what the prospect is sharing.

If the person’s social media profiles or shares are unprofessional, that can be a red flag about doing business with them.

Step 3: Check the Existing Website


If the prospect passes the social media hurdle, it’s time for me to look at their website. Since you’re a web designer and presumably the client is interested in hiring you to change their web design, you don’t necessarily want to be too critical of their current design. In fact, they may not have a website yet.

If the client has a website, here’s what I look for:

  1. Domain. Does the client host the website on their own domain? It’s a huge red flag if the client website is hosted on someone else’s domain like WordPress or Tumblr.
  2. About page. I always read the About page of a prospective client’s website to learn what the client thinks is important about their business.
  3. Blog. If they have a blog attached to their website, I read a few of their most recent posts.
  4. The rest. You may also want to read about the company’s product or service, any executive bios they have posted, and anything else on their site that catches your attention.

As you can see, a client’s website can tell you a lot.

Step 4: Check the Online Reputation

Another step you can take to check out a prospective client is to find out what others are saying about their company. Your first line of defense is the search engine. I typically type in a phrase like:

“Complaints about [company name]“

“Review of [product name]“

Even though the results will indicate what clients think of your prospect’s company, they may indirectly indicate how the company will treat a freelancer. After all, if they don’t treat their own clients well, how likely is it that they will treat a freelancer well?

Here are some other places to check:

  • Better Business Bureau. In the United States and Canada, the Better Business Bureau maintains a directory of accredited businesses and charities. They also keep a listing of complaints against businesses. While not every business is listed here, many are.
  • Google Apps MarketPlace. If the company creates software applications, you may able to find customer reviews on the Google Apps MarketPlace.
  • GlassDoor. Officially, this site is for potential employees of a company. However, if they treat their employees badly, how might they treat a freelancer?

Step 5: Ask Questions


The final step in evaluating a potential client is to ask questions about the project. You may even wish to schedule a phone call or (if you live nearby) a face-to-face meeting. An advantage to doing all the homework in Steps 1 to 4 is that by now you already know a great deal about the prospective client.

If you still have questions about the client, it’s important to ask them before you start to work with them. Naturally, you want to get all of the specifics about the project you will be working on.

To get an idea of how the client works, you can also ask the following questions:

  • Do they prefer frequent progress updates, or will you work mostly independently?
  • Will they be available to answer questions?
  • What is their preferred method of communication (IM, phone, or email)?

A final filter to help you determine whether a client is a good fit is prepayment. I always recommend that freelancers require a new client to pay some or all of the project fee upfront. Most good clients will have no problem doing so.

Your Turn

How do you evaluate prospective clients?

November 05 2013


Know How to Recognize Scam Jobs as a Freelancer

Photo Credit: Ivy Dawned via Compfight cc

For many freelancers, especially beginners, a very real fear is to fall victim to a scam job. Once you have been around awhile, you automatically can recognize scams. In fact, freelance graphic designers and web developers can get to a place in their career in which they acquire most of their work by referrals, and the freelancer is almost the one who does the "interview" to see if this is a client worth their limited time.

However, you could be a seasoned freelancer whose client list has become stale, which finds you looking for jobs to bid on in the marketplace – you may have forgotten what scam jobs look like in this case. And, of course, for very many graphic design freelancers new to the business, scams can be quite common.

It happened to me when I was an inexperienced freelancer. Twice. By the same company. The business contacted me asking for a quote and plan of action on an SEO/ guest article campaign. So I gave them a quick run-down. Then they asked for more details. I should have known that they were just using me, but I was naive and gave them the answers they needed. I never heard back from them even though I sent multiple follow-up emails. Then, about a year later, the company contacted me again, this time asking for a quote on website content. Again, I started with a very brief plan, they came back with questions, I gave more details, and they never responded to any of my emails after that. I didn’t even realize it was a scam until months later. I kept wondering what I had done wrong to make the company lose faith in my skills, while they made off with an excellent plan of action that they probably incorporated on their own.

The best way to arm yourself against a scam is to know the different types that you as a freelance web designer, graphic designer, web developer, or really of any field may encounter. Then, know what actions to take to make sure that, even if you do bite initially on a scam job ad, you can recognize it before getting in too deep.

1.) Spec Work

Now not all spec work is a scam. You may just have some creative projects you enjoy working on in your spare time, and would like to try to sell them for some extra cash. This is perfectly fine and normal. However, spec work can become a scam when you are required to create a design, put the full resolution and all of the elements of the design on the page, and no terms of use nor any kind of protection is provided. Why would you ever provide the full resolution before payment? And almost no designer provides ALL of the elements of a design. No Terms of Use statement on the website is also a no-go. Too many people will just assume that your work is free to use and distribute as desired.

If you do get involved in spec work, make sure to check out reviews of the site first. Then check out their Terms of Use and their policy on preview resolutions. Never agree to anything that makes you uncomfortable. And, really, if you can’t come to terms with the possibility of someone using your spec work without due payment, then don’t get involved in spec work.

2.) Gathering Personal Information

Some "fake" clients out there simply post jobs on popular freelancing sites to acquire personal information. Some even contact the freelancer directly, under the disguise of a potential client needing your design expertise. If the client starts asking for personal information fairly early in the relationship, beware. The scammer may even make up a personal story to draw you in ("My grandma lived in that city! I used to visit her all the time when I was young. What neighborhood do you live in?").

If you have been working with a client and gradually get to know each other, questions and stories like these are nothing to fear. But if this is occurring in the first couple of emails before you have even signed a contract with them, then you probably have come across a scam artist. Some information is never necessary for a client to know (driver’s license, bank account numbers, social security, etc.), unless you are agreeing to contract work with a legitimate company that you have researched and you are filling out a W-9 or 1099 for U.S. taxes.

If you ignore their questions or explain that you are not comfortable revealing such information, you will know for sure if the client is legitimate or a scammer, since a real client will respect your privacy but a scam artist will keep probing or disappear.

3.) Contests

Many contests are absolutely real and a great way to get some experience and exposure as a freelance graphic designer. However, there are many fake contests on the web that are there only to get free work out of a crowdsourcing scam. The first way to tell if a contest is legitimate or not is to research the organization. Is it a well-known company? Do they have a reputable business and customers?

The second way to recognize a fake contest is with the rules. If they require you to sign over all rights immediately upon submission, then this is a sure sign of a scam. Real contests will ask you to sign over permission for them to display the submission on their site but not to sign over all rights.

4.) Payment Required

Photo Credit: jDevaun via Compfight cc

Never pay for a job that YOU are completing. For instance, the client may accept your bid, then at some point in the project ask for a high-end font insisting that you cover the fee. Or a client may ask that you complete a design for a campaign, pay a fee for distribution, and offer to pay you royalties on the sales. There are many more examples of scams that slyly hide a required fee behind grandiose promises or even the simple tug of obligation they know we feel in completing a job.

This is one scam scenario in which a contract comes in handy. If the client is asking for you to fork over money, then you can calmly point out that this is not in your contract. The bottom line: if you have to pay to complete a job out of pocket with no possibility of including that cost in your bid, then run far away. It is definitely a scam.

5.) Samples for Free

One of the problems that can occur when you start freelancing is having a limited portfolio. However, even a small portfolio shows the quality of work you can provide. If a client asks you to send them a sample of what you can do for them (such as what happened with me), then politely guide them to your portfolio. If they press you for more information or a detailed layout of a design, then ask them to sign an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement). If they refuse, then you know you just avoided a scam.

6.) Limited Project Description

Some designers and developers may just chalk up this example to bad client status. Some "clients" may request a project but withhold the details, and then once you are deep into the work, they suddenly start adding lots of extras that they need included. They may even try to make you feel guilty or stupid for not assuming this is what they wanted, "Designers I’ve worked with in the past always threw this in for free."

This is another instance that you can easily avoid with a contract that clearly outlines the work you plan to complete for the client. Your contract should also make note of "add-ons" and that these will require a new quote/contract with extra costs.

7.) Future Payments of Profits

Another common scam is the requirement for design or development work in exchange for future profits once the company "takes off". If you have a contract that specifically outlines what this point looks like and how much you will get paid, then this kind of agreement is perfectly fine – if immediate payment is not important to you, that is. However, if the client does not provide a contract and just leaves your payment to when they become "successful", then you are better off walking away. More than likely, they will always be eternally greatful but never willing to send you any money, or at least not enough to ever be worth your time.

8.) Final Tips for Uncovering Scams

Last of all, there are a couple more tasks you can complete to scout out a scam. One way to check out a company is to look them up on the BBB or their local Chamber of Commerce. You can also search online for reviews of the company. Another red flag is that if a job just seems too good to be real, then your instincts are probably right. Freelancing takes hard work, and if a potential client is offering to pay you way more money than normal for an easy project, then they may be worth checking out first. And remember that a detailed contract will take care of most of these types of scams.

As freelancers, we often work with companies that we never set foot in and individuals who we never meet face-to-face. This puts us at the disadvantage, since it is much easier to tell if someone is lying when they are standing in front of us. Many scam artists are cowards given false bravado when behind a digital mask. So as a freelancer, do your research, require contracts, and most of all spread the word if you run across a scam to help your fellow freelancers avoid falling into the same trap.

On this note, do you have a scam experience you’d like to share? If so, be sure to leave your story in the comments below.

October 31 2013


17 Most Effective Examples Of Startup Landing Pages

For today’s round up, we thought to compile some interesting and creative examples of startup landing pages. Startup pages need exceptional designs to grab the attention of the target audience as well as to compete with millions of other websites. There has been a trend of focusing really heavily on the design of startup pages in order to succeed. Though, this trend is still being followed but some creative geniuses think out of the box and create great designs while keeping the designs simple but of course, appealing.

Skillfully designed and thoughtfully crafted startup landing pages can go long way in hooking up your audience attention for the longer period of time. Below, you will find 17 examples of creative and appealing startup landing pages. We hope that you will like this collection and find this collection useful for you. Enjoy!












Done Not Done


Study Tube

Launch Key


We Heart Designers


Why Your Design Work Is Making You Sick and What You Can Do to Feel Better

Could your profession as a web designer be making you sick?

You may not realize it, but your work habits can make a big difference in how you feel. If you don’t believe me, think about how much time you spend at work.

If you work full time, you probably spend at least eight hours a day, five days a week on your web design projects. Add it up and that’s a significant chunk of time.


Bad work habits can lead to poor health. Poor health can hurt your profitability. If you’re not working and you freelance, you’re not earning money. So, the best thing to do is make sure that you don’t have unhealthy habits.

In this post, I’ll identify seven common health problems many web designers and other freelancers face and explain how you can safeguard your health (and your business) against each one.

Note: I am not a doctor. This post should not be considered medical advice. If you experience pain or health problems that will not go away, you should see a physician.

Health Problem #1. Poor Posture

Do you sit up straight at your workstation as you work, or do you sort of slump over your keyboard?

Most of us do not sit properly while we work. That means that we spend eight hours a day with our spines misaligned and that can do a lot of damage.

If you have shoulder and neck pains or lower back pain and you can’t figure out why, your work posture may be the culprit. If you don’t watch out, you may find yourself shelling out big bucks to specialists to relieve the pain and repair the damage.

The fix:
Improve your posture by making sure that your office is ergonomically friendly. How to set up an ergonomic workstation from Sharon Vaknin writing on c|net explains how you can make your office more comfortable to work in.

Health Problem #2. Eye Strain


Most of us work at the computer all day. That means we stare at a monitor, likely one that’s backlit, for periods of up to eight hours or more. Staring at the computer can lead to eye strain.

You could be suffering from eye strain and not really even realize it.

Here are just a few common eye strain symptoms:

  • Blurred vision
  • Dry eyes
  • Headaches
  • Redness
  • Sensitivity to light

While eye strain may not cause permanent damage to your health, it’s uncomfortable and can certainly slow you down. It’s worth it to change your work style to avoid any eye problems.

The fix: John Soares, writing on Productive Writers, has some specific advice to help you overcome eye strain in his post How Writers Can Minimize Eye Strain at the Computer. (Although directed to writers, the advice will work for anyone who spends a lot of time at the computer.) A few of his suggestions include changing the placement of the monitor, adjusting the brightness of your screen, and even wearing glasses.

Health Problem #3. Carpal Tunnel and Repetitive Motion Injuries

If you’ve ever suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome, then you know how very painful it is.

The pain is caused when the nerve near the carpal bone becomes compressed. The symptoms include extreme pain in the hand or wrist, numbness, tingling, or other weakness.

As a web designer, you may use a mouse or keyboard for hours at a time. While the evidence is not conclusive, repetitive motions like typing at a keyboard or using a mouse may make conditions like carpal tunnel worse. At the very least, carpal tunnel can make your work extremely uncomfortable.

This is definitely one health problem that you are better off avoiding if you can. If the condition persists and does not respond to more conservative treatments, surgery may be required.

The fix: Pay attention to your posture, and especially the position of your wrist. Take frequent breaks. Seek treatment early. An ergonomic keyboard such as Microsoft’s Sculpt keyboard or this one from Adesso may help.

Health Problem #4. Lack of Exercise

Another huge problem web designers face is that web design is mostly a sedentary job. Web designers (and other computer professionals) sit at their desks for long periods. Unless we make a concentrated effort to exercise, we probably won’t get any.

However, living a mostly sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy. Sedentary living can contribute to potentially serious health problems such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart problems
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Weight gain

The trouble is, we have to get our work done. So, sitting most of the day may seem inevitable. However, with a little extra planning you can work some exercise into your daily routine.

The fix: Some freelancers and web designers make use of a standing desk. Mark Lukach, writing on The Wirecutter, has published a good review of standing desks titled The Best Standing Desk. Another way to work exercise into your schedule is to adopt the Pomodoro Technique®, which alternates intense periods of work with short breaks. Just make sure to exercise during some of your breaks.

Health Problem #5. Poor Diet

Image Source: Lindsay

You’re busy. You’re rushing to meet a deadline. And you’re hungry. What do you do?

Do you sit down and prepare a nutritious meal for yourself? Or do you grab a convenient pre-made processed food from your refrigerator or pantry?

If you’re like many of us, you rely on the processed food. Unfortunately, there are many problems with processed foods, including:

  • Low in nutritional value
  • High in chemical content
  • High in calories
  • High in fat

Grabbing a quick bite to eat may sate your hunger in the short-term, but in the long-term you could wind up harming your health.

Drinking a soda is even worse. A soda is full of sugar and chemicals and empty calories. If you are thirsty, drink water.

The fix: Even you don’t have time to cook, you don’t have to rely on processed foods. Keep your pantry and fridge stocked with healthy alternatives. For example, fresh fruit can quickly satisfy your craving for sugar in a healthy way. Or, put together a nutritious sandwich alternative to junk food in just a few minutes with some cold cuts and whole grain bread.

Health Problem #6. Stress

Web design is stressful. If you don’t believe it, think of all the pressures you face as a web designer:

  • Deadlines
  • Client meetings
  • Collecting payments
  • Competitive pressures
  • Complaints and demands
  • Interviewing new clients

Stress can make a number of health problems worse, including Asthma, headaches, and heart disease.

Fortunately, there are many ways to alleviate stress. Here are few:

  • Dump your worst clients
  • Exercise
  • Take a break
  • Meditation
  • Spend time with friends or family

Of course, not every stress reduction technique works for everyone.

The fix:
The key is to find the stress reduction technique that works best for you and to start using it.

Health Problem #7. No Health Insurance

Some freelancers choose to skimp on health insurance to save money. Usually, this is a bad idea.

If you don’t have health insurance, you are more likely to skip going to the doctor until a problem is really serious. Since many problems can be nipped in the bud with early detection, you’re taking a huge risk when you avoid doctor visits. By the time you do decide to go, you could be facing something really serious.

We’ve talked about insurance before on Vandelay Design Blog. Deciding whether you will be insured is one of the decisions that every freelance web designer needs to make.

In the U.S., health insurance laws are in the process of changing under the New Affordable Care Act. Much of the act will take effect in January of 2014.

The fix
: Find the best health insurance option for you, depending on where you are located. Go to the doctor when you don’t feel well. If you live in the U.S., Mike Smith’s post on Guerilla Freelancing, How The Affordable Care Act Can Help Freelancers, provides some basic information.

Your Turn

What health problems have you faced as web designer and how did you overcome them?

October 30 2013


Selling Responsive Web Design To Clients


Designing and developing websites that work well on mobile devices is an important aspect of the work we do on today’s Web. This importance is reflected in the conversations I have with clients, almost all of whom list “support for mobile devices” as one of their top goals for a redesign — all except one, that is.

Late last year, I began a redesign project for a company that sells pressure-treated lumber products. Early on in our conversation, I turned to the topic of support for mobile devices and responsive Web design. Normally, this topic is met with enthusiasm, but not this time, as the client explained:

Our customers don’t use mobile phones to come to our website.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this comment from a potential client. I’ve had many conversations in which the company severely underestimates the number of people who access their website on a phone or other mobile device. Typically, a look at the analytics will open their eyes to the true impact that mobile is having on their website’s traffic. But when I looked at the analytics for this particular client, I was the one left in shock.

Two percent. That was how much of its traffic was coming from mobile devices at the time. That’s it!

Jumping ahead to the end of this story, I did end up working with this client to redesign their website, and that website is now fully responsive. The path we took to that point, however, provides an interesting glimpse into how we as designers can go about selling responsive websites, and when we should push for a solution that we know to be an important best practice and yet whose need is not immediately obvious.

Determine Whether They Actually Need A Mobile Web Experience

The title of this article, “Selling Responsive Web Design To Clients,” might sound like a shady salesperson attempting to convince a customer to purchase something they don’t need. That is not what I am advocating for at all. So, let me start by stating that the first step in this process should be to determine whether the client actually needs a given solution at all.

Make sure your solution fits the client
Make sure that the solution you are selling fits the client you are pitching it to. (Image: echerries)

When considering a responsive design for a website that doesn’t currently support mobile devices, begin by looking at the big picture. Do the traffic figures show that the client is attracting mobile users? If the mobile traffic figures are similar to those of this client of mine, then maybe they don’t actually need a mobile Web experience at this time — especially if the website has no other issues.

If a website is currently working well for the organization — meaning that it is converting visitors, features an attractive design, and has a high-quality user experience (for desktop visitors at least), while drawing an incredibly low percentage of mobile users — then redesigning or rebuilding that website only to make it responsive wouldn’t make financial sense.

You could argue that even a small percentage of visitors getting a poor experience is unacceptable and could be resolved by developing a responsive design. The designer in me can appreciate that argument, but I also understand the business side of the situation. Undertaking a responsive redesign to accommodate just 2% of the audience will be a very tough sell, no matter what company you are speaking with. This is why you need to look beyond just the traffic figures and think about more than just the design-related benefits of responsiveness.

Try To Solve Other Problems They Are Having

While support for mobile devices was not a compelling enough reason for our client to redesign their website, other concerns brought them to us in the first place. Two of these concerns were the visual design of their website, which was outdated and did not reflect their current marketing, and the lack of a content management system (CMS) or any tools to enable them to update the website on their own. So, I focused my proposal on solving these problems.

A redesign would bring the look and feel of the website in line with the rest of the client’s marketing, while also improving the overall aesthetics and usability of the website itself. We would bring the website up to current standards and integrate it into a CMS (in this case, ExpressionEngine) — which would solve the second problem of being able to update the website.

As I discussed with the client this proposal and the process we would follow, I mentioned that we would make the website responsive as we rebuilt it. As expected, the client questioned whether this was necessary or added cost to the project — which, of course, it would have. The key here is that I was now able to steer the conversation towards the benefits of responsive design above and beyond the support for mobile devices.

Focus On More Than Just Phones

When we talk about responsive design, we often focus on phones. This makes sense because smartphones are most unlike the type of devices that we’ve designed for in the past — that is, desktop screens. Creating one website to be marketed and managed and to deliver a high-quality experience to all devices, from desktops to smartphones, is an excellent way to demonstrate the flexibility and power of responsive design. But for this client, phone users were seemingly not a factor. Luckily, responsive design is about so much more than phones.

The devices we are designing for today are a variety of sizes
The devices and screens we design for today are a variety of sizes. (Image: Edwin Torres)

In speaking with the client, I discovered that a complaint they often receive from customers is that the website appears “small.” The reason is that it had been designed to a fixed width many years ago — so long ago, in fact, that it was built for an 800 × 600-pixel resolution. When a user on what is now a typically large desktop screen visited the website, they saw a very narrow column, with a lot of unused space on either side. Yet, the company still had a number of other visitors on old desktops and laptops with low resolutions. So, merely making the website bigger wasn’t the right solution. The company needed a website that would work well both on large screens and on old small screens. This was a problem that could absolutely be solved by a responsive design.

Instead of focusing on phones and small screens, I explained to the client that a responsive design would enable us to effectively present a layout for today’s large desktop screens and also reflow to accommodate laptops and old desktop monitors that don’t have a high resolution.

As we demonstrated a responsive website for the client using a large desktop screen and a much smaller laptop, they got excited and told us that they had hated the “smallness” of the website for years, but their previous designer explained to them that, to support visitors with old computers, they had no choice but to design for this “lowest common denominator.”

Responsive design would solve this problem, and by this point our client was pretty much on board because they saw that it solved a problem they had (the “smallness” of the website), without addressing a problem that they didn’t think needed to be solved (support for mobile devices).

Build For The Future, Not Only The Present

When I discuss responsive Web design with my clients, I rarely use the term “mobile support” because it makes those clients think only of phones or, perhaps, tablets. I instead prefer the phrase “multi-device support,” which better encompasses the wide range of devices and screen sizes we are really designing and developing for these days.

One of the advantages of responsive design is that it doesn’t focus merely on the devices and screen sizes out there today. Because a responsive website reflows to fit a screen of any size, with an experience and a layout suited to each, the approach is very future-friendly. The prospect of having a website that continues to work well into the future, even as new devices and screen sizes come to market, appealed to our client. We further explained that, even if the website didn’t draw a lot of mobile visitors today, it might in the future. A responsive approach would ensure that those mobile visitors get an experience optimized for them.

The client remained skeptical that they would ever attract mobile visitors, but they were sold on responsive design because of the other problems it would solve. Additionally, because we were rebuilding the website anyway, making it responsive at the same time made financial sense. Trying to strap responsiveness onto an existing non-responsive website can be daunting and expensive, whereas incorporating responsiveness early on in the design process is much easier, especially if it is a core part of your process and you’ve developed a workflow for it, which we have. That workflow helped us to make this approach both technically and financially viable for our client.

Moving forward with the project, we knew that we would have to keep an eye on traffic once the website went live to prove our theory about the lack of mobile traffic.

Future tunnel
Looking to the future will help us to build websites that work well even as new devices and screen sizes come to market. (Image: Joe Penniston)

Break The Cycle

Two percent of traffic from mobile devices is so low a figure that, when I first saw it, I questioned its accuracy.

This particular company does not market or sell to the general public. It is a B2B company that works with a relatively small group of distributors and contractors from a defined geographic area. The client attributed the low mobile traffic to this demographic, which would access the website from an office desk, not on the road with a phone.

I agreed that mobile figures would likely be lower for this demographic than for a typical audience (for the websites we manage, 30% of traffic comes from mobile visitors, although some websites get over 50%) — but not this low. I felt that something else was happening here, and my gut told me that part of the reason was that the website worked so poorly on mobile devices. I suspected that the lack of a mobile experience kept mobile visitors away.

I did not share this theory with the client at the time, but in the year since the new design went live, the mobile traffic figures have climbed, from 2 to 17%. Granted, that is still lower than what many other websites get these days, but it is a sizeable jump and cannot be ignored.

The only reason we can point to for this jump is the website’s responsiveness. Neither the demographic nor the market has changed. The only difference is in how the website works on mobile devices. The improved experience has increased traffic. This was one of the reasons why I pushed for responsiveness, even when the traffic figures suggested otherwise.

Solving Problems

Part of our job as Web professionals is to solve problems for our clients. But we have to solve not only the problems that the client tells us about, but the ones that they do not even know they have.

All problems are opportunities in disguise
Our clients’ problems are opportunities for us to provide high-quality solutions based on our experience and expertise. (Image: Donna Grayson)

With the redesign of the website, our team was able to solve a number of problems that the client brought to our attention, including the outdated design and the absence of a CMS. And our solution to the problem that they weren’t aware of — a lack of mobile visitors due to a lack of support — validated our responsive approach, even when the traffic figures did not show the need for it. We knew that a responsive design would fix the layout on large desktop screens as well as on small old monitors, but would also help turn around the website’s unusually low traffic from mobile visitors, and we were proven correct.

We knew that part of the rise from 2 to 17% could be attributed to existing customers who had been sticking to a desktop computer out of obligation but were now switching to a mobile device. Those users are now able to access the website’s content on their preferred device, confident that they will get an experience suited to the device.

Another reason for the increased mobile traffic is undoubtedly new business. The movie Field of Dreams is instructive here: “If you build it, they will come.” If a website does not support mobile devices, then a mobile visitor will likely leave immediately upon noticing it, never to return. This was part of the reason for the low numbers. But the website no longer turns mobile users away, and the users in turn will not leave as soon as they arrive. Rather, they will find the information they are looking for and might visit again or point other people in their organization to the content. Mobile support encourages mobile use.

By addressing the customers’ problems, including ones that the client was not aware of, we were able to sell a responsive approach. The improved experience has boosted the mobile audience, as well as boosted the leads that the company is getting from the website.

In Summary

Selling a responsive design is no different than selling anything else. It all starts with solving problems.

For this project, we highlighted the benefits of a responsive approach beyond the familiar benefit of support for mobile devices that we normally mention to prospective clients. Here are some of the key points we made in discussing the value of a responsive approach for a website without an obvious need for mobile support:

  • We would be supporting a variety of screen sizes that aren’t typically considered when discussing responsive design, including large new desktop monitors with very high resolutions and old small screens with correspondingly low resolutions.
  • The website would scale into the future as new devices and screen sizes come to market and as mobile users begin to visit.
  • We would save time, money and technical complexity by doing this work now, as part of the redesign process, rather than trying to cram it in later when the website is set.

(al, il)

© Jeremy Girard for Smashing Magazine, 2013.

October 29 2013


A Guide to Passive and Recurring Income for Designers

There are a number of different ways to earn a living as a designer or developer. Of course, you could work as an employee for a design studio, you could work as an in-house designer for a company, you could freelance, or you could start your own studio or agency. While those are the most common approaches, they are not the only options. With loads of competition for client work, a growing number of designers are actually using a combination of a few different sources of income in order to earn a living.

You may have heard or read about earn passive income as a designer. In this article we’ll take a detailed look at the opportunities to use your design skills for passive or recurring income.

What is passive income for designers? Well, there are a lot of varying opinions and different definitions out there. For the purposes of this article we’ll be looking at things aside from client work or work that you would do as an employee.

With client projects, whether you are charging an hourly rate or a flat fee for the project, you are essentially exchanging your time for money. The amount of money that you can make will be limited by your rates and the amount of time that you can work. The approaches that we’ll be looking at in this article are not passive in the sense that they require no work, but the amount of money that you can make is not limited to the number of hours that you are able to work. In most cases you’ll be putting in the majority of the work upfront, and then you’ll (hopefully) be able to continue to make money from that work well into the future. And you may be able to make money repeatedly for the same work, which is where the recurring aspect comes into play.


If you’re looking for an easy way to make money as a designer, this is not really the answer. However, if you’re looking to use your skills in a smart way that may pay off quite well over a period of time, read on.

Why Recurring/Passive Income is Great for Designers

So if passive income for designers isn’t 100% passive, what’s the point? Well, these options do require some work, but there are still plenty of benefits of these types of personal projects.

Reduces Your Dependency on Clients

Most of the freelance designers that I know would love to be able to reduce their dependency on client work. Sure, client work can be extremely rewarding, but there are some significant benefits in not being 100% dependent on it.

One of the frustrating things about being a freelance designer is the need to constantly find new clients and new projects. You’ll need to dedicate time to communicating with potential clients and drafting proposals or quotes. If you go through a spell where it is difficult to find potential clients or to secure the work, your income can suffer. If you have some other income aside from client work it can make these times more manageable.

Some designers choose to pursue streams of passive income to provide some extra stability for times when client work may be slow, and others choose to work towards getting away from client work altogether.

It Works Well as a Supplement to Client Work

Although the potential to earn a living from passive and/or recurring methods does exist, what is more realistic for most designers is to simply use it to supplement their client work. As I mentioned in the intro, many designers are earning a living from a combination of different sources of income. You may make half of your income working on client projects, and the other half could come from things like stock graphic sales and freelance blogging. Earning a living strictly from client work is a real challenge for many freelancers because there is so much competition out there, but earning a living from a combination of several different sources makes it a lot more achievable.

Diversifies Your Income

By establishing some alternate sources of income you’ll add some diversity, which should provide a little more stability. That stability could become important if your client work slows down, or if you need to take an extended amount of time away from work.

High Income Potential

Not every designer who pursues the types of projects that we’ll cover in this article will make huge amounts of money, but some designers are able to earn much more these approaches than they would be able to achieve with client work. If you write an e-book that becomes a top seller or if you achieve a great deal of success with designing and selling stock graphics, you’re likely to make a lot more money for the time that you invested as compared to what you would have been able to make by investing the same amount of time into a client project. It’s certainly not the case that every designer can make more money this way, but the potential is higher.

It’s Fun!

When you’re working on client projects, or working as an employed designer for that matter, you won’t usually have the privilege to work on things of your choice. You’ll be working on whatever the client or your employer wants. It may or may not be something that interests you.

One of the great things about these side projects for passive income is that you can choose what you work on, so you can focus on something that you will enjoy. Not only will that make your work more enjoyable, but many designers also find it to be a lot of fun to work on their own projects knowing that the sky is the limit and what they get out of it is totally up to them.

Develop New Skills

These types of side projects are also a great way to develop new skills or to improve your existing skills. You can work on things that you wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to work on otherwise, and if there is a new skill that you want to develop it’s likely that you can find a way to incorporate it into your project. The skills that you develop on these side projects could come in handy for future client projects or in your own projects.

You Can Work on These Projects in Your Down Time

Another major benefit to side projects is that you can typically fit them into your schedule when you have some down time between client projects. For example, image that you have a client lined up for a new project but they have been slow at making the upfront payment and signing the contract. Rather than wasting the time while your waiting for them you can use that time productively to design some new stock graphics to sell. Or, if you have a slow period between clients you can use that time to work on designing some templates to sell. Whenever the client work picks up again you can put your side projects on hold until you have more time available.

May Offer a Flexible Schedule

If you’re working towards the point of getting away from client work altogether, or at least primarily relying on these passive sources for the majority of your income, you may find that your work schedule offers more flexibility. Instead of needing to be reachable during normal business hours you’ll have the option to work evenings and/or weekends instead, and it also may be easier to travel and work on the move.

Editing on the go

Photo credit: Portrait/Wedding Photographer

Different Ways to Earn Recurring/Passive Income as a Designer

Ok, so we’ve looked at some of the reasons why you might want to pursue passive income as a designer, but how do you do it? Here are a number of options that many designers are having success with right now.

Hosting Reseller or Affiliate

All of your web design clients will need hosting of some kind. It’s possible that they could be hosting the site on their own server, but if you’re working with small or medium sized businesses this is pretty rare. And for you, it can be easier if all, or at least most, of your clients are using the same web host. One of the easiest ways to make some passive income is to sign up as a hosting reseller or affiliate. Almost every hosting company has an affiliate program, and as an affiliate you’ll earn a referral commission every time you refer someone who signs up for hosting. With most hosting companies you’ll earn an upfront payment of $50 – $100 just for referring a client who signs up for a simple shared hosting account.

If you’re looking to make some recurring income from hosting, consider signing up as a reseller. Many hosts offer reseller accounts. Typically, you’ll purchase the reseller hosting and pay a monthly fee like you would for any other hosting account, and then you’ll be able to sell hosting to your clients. As a reseller you will usually have control over some of the details, like the price you’ll charge the clients. If you have a number of clients purchasing hosting through you this can add up to a significant amount of money each month. The down side is that resellers are typically responsible for supporting their own clients, so you’ll probably need to factor in some time for providing that customer support to your clients.

CMS Reseller or Affiliate

Many hosted content management systems (CMSs) will also offer options for affiliates or resellers. In some cases it will be private labeled, so you would be able to use your own branding and sell it to your client as if it were your own product. This will typically include hosting, so it would work as an alternative to being a hosting reseller or affiliate.

A popular option for designers is LightCMS. With LightCMS you can re-brand it as your own CMS and use it to power websites for your clients. The clients will get a powerful CMS that allows them to manage your own site, and you’ll be able to make some extra money each month from the hosting fees (in addition to whatever you charge the client for your design services). We’ll look at some other options in the Resources section at the end of this article.

Write an E-Book

Many designers turn to books and/or e-books when they want to learn something new. Creating your own e-book is not that complicated or costly, and so it can be a great option for the designer who wants to make some money by teaching others. There are countless e-books available on topics related to design and development, and there are always opportunities to capitalize on current trends or hot topics in the industry by writing your own e-book.

You don’t need to have an established audience or strong name recognition in the industry in order to have success at selling your e-book, although that certainly wouldn’t hurt. You can publish guest posts at various design blogs and promote your e-book in the author bio, offer an affiliate program so others can promote your e-book for you, or run promos at deal sites targeted at designers (see the Resources section at the end of the article for some helpful links).

Design Stock Graphics

Stock photography sites typically sell graphics and illustrations in addition to photos, and you can apply to sell your own designs at these stock marketplaces. In addition, there are some stock graphic marketplaces (see the Resources section) that are also great places to sell your work.

Things like logos, vector illustrations, UI sets, textures, icons, print templates, and PSD files are all possibilities. Getting started with stock can be challenging because most of the marketplace sites present stiff competition, but there are plenty of examples of designers who are making good money with this approach.

Website Templates

HTML/CSS website templates are in high demand. There are plenty of designers and websites offering them for sale, and those that appeal to buyers produce a lot of revenue for the designers. You could design and sell templates at your own website, or you could sell your templates at a stock marketplace (see the Resources section).

There are a lot of benefits of creating and selling templates aside from the high income potential. First, you could use your templates in client projects, so they can potentially help to speed up your workflow and allow you to offer lower-priced options to clients with limited budgets. Also, working on templates will allow you to continually improve your skills by staying on top of the latest developments in the industry. You can choose to create a template for something that you would like to work on, rather than only for the type of client that you currently have.

WordPress Themes

In addition to HTML/CSS templates, you can also design/develop templates for specific content management systems. WordPress themes are the most popular, but you could also develop for another CMS or e-commerce platform. Top WordPress themes bring in huge amounts of money for their developers. The down side to both HTML/CSS templates and WordPress themes is that this is likely to require more time from you for customer service as compared to selling stock graphics or e-books.


Starting a blog is also another option. There are already countless blogs in the design/development industry, but new ones are still able to have success if they can stand out. With a successful blog you can make money from things like advertising sales, affiliate programs, and creating and selling your own products. The down side to building a blog is that it is very likely to take a considerable amount of time before it is making any kind of significant revenue. Also, with so many blogs already existing it is possible that you’ll never reach the level of traffic or income that you would like.

Membership Websites

Creating and running a membership website is another option that some designers choose to pursue. Your site will need to offer some type of content that people are willing to pay for on a monthly or yearly basis. Some options in the design industry include tutorial sites, online courses, stock graphics, template/theme clubs, etc. Much like blogging, starting a membership site will require that you’re willing to put in a lot of work up front and you may need some patience before it starts to produce much revenue.


Now that we’ve taken a look at some of the options for earning passive/recurring income as a designer, here is a list of resources that can be extremely helpful in your own pursuit.

Freelance Designer’s Guide to Multiple Income Streams – This e-book is available for free to anyone who subscribes to our newsletter. It covers some of the same topics as this article, but in more depth.

Bluehost – Bluehost is a leading web hosting provide that offers reseller plans as well as an affiliate program.

HostGator – HostGator is another leading hosting company that you can promote as an affiliate or reseller.

MediaTemple – MediaTemple hosting is especially popular with designers. They don’t offer a specific reseller hosting plan, but you could use one of the DV plans and resell it to your clients. They also offer an affiliate program.

LightCMS – LightCMS is a very popular CMS that you can re-brand as your own and sell to your clients. The clients will get hosting, a user-friendly CMS, and even basic e-commerce functionality. You’ll be able to set your monthly price and make money each month from the markup.

Shopify – If you create e-commerce websites for your clients Shopify can be a great option. They offer a partner program that allows you to make recurring income by referring your clients to Shopify.

Highwire – Highwire is another hosted e-commerce platform that also offers a partner program where you can earn recurring income.

BigCommerce – Like Shopify and Highwire, BigCommerce can be used to power e-commerce sites for your clients and you can make money as a partner.

Simple Content Management Systems – There are a few different CMSs that are ideal for small websites and can be re-branded as your own. You can then charge your clients a monthly fee for the CMS, and you can package that together with re-seller hosting if you’d like. The leading options are Surreal CMS, Pagelime, and CushyCMS.

Creative Market – Creative Market is a great place to sell your stock graphics. You can sign up to create a store, upload your products, and set your own prices.

Envato Marketplaces – Envato runs a network of popular marketplace sites including ThemeForest, GraphicRiver, and CodeCanyon. These sites are all great places to sell your templates, themes, graphics, and plugins.

Mojo Themes – Mojo Themes is another popular marketplace for themes and templates. Mojo Marketplace also sells things like graphics and scripts.

Easy Digital Downloads – If you’re interested in selling your own e-books, templates, or stock files from your own website or blog, Easy Digital Downloads is a free WordPress plugin that makes it possible.

DPD (Digital Product Delivery) – DPD is an excellent option for selling products from your website. They will host the shopping cart so you don’t have to worry about those security issues, and they’ll also handle the automatic delivery of digital products to your customers. It comes with other features like an affiliate program that you can use to increase sales.

E-Junkie – Like DPD, E-Junkie will offer a hosted shopping cart and will handle product delivery. E-Junkie also comes with affiliate functionality. E-Junkie is a good option, just not quite as user-friendly as DPD in my opinion.

Selling Stock Graphics: An Interview with Ryan Putnam – At Vandelay Premier you can purchase this interview that covers the topic of how to make money by selling stock graphics. Vandelay Premier members can download it.

Deal Sites for Designers – Sites like MightyDeals, AppSumo, InkyDeals, MyDesignDeals, and Webmaster Deals can also be great resources if you are looking for help with selling your ebooks, templates, or stock files.

Tags: Business

Measuring design’s return on investment

How do you measure the success of a design project? That’s an occasional inbox topic. Relevant, too, when companies often see design as an expense and not an investment.

It can be part of a designer’s job to talk about the benefits, and on that note here’s a report that might help with your client/designer dealings.

Design ROI

It’s the result a Finnish study carried out between September 2011 and September 2012 with the aim of developing a model and a set of metrics for measuring design’s return on investment.

I looked at it from a brand identity viewpoint, and thought that metrics such as user satisfaction, desirability, and aesthetics were appropriate. They could be measured with customer surveys. Then there were quantitative metrics like the number of new customers, mentions and “fans” in social media, and the number of website visits or registrations.

If as a designer you’re to give your client a full report you’ll need to track those metrics before and after (or ship the task to a company that specialises). The longer spent on the “before” section, the easier it’ll be to measure the impact of “after.” Granted, not all clients will have the time or the budget to do this properly, but it’s worth talking about during an initial designer/client chat.

Design ROI
Design ROI framework (from the report)

There’s a lot to take in (143 pages), and it won’t give all the answers, but as mentioned on the Moving Brands blog, it’s an interesting first step in trying to make sense of the concept.

View the full report here.

October 21 2013


A Comprehensive Guide to Effective Portfolio Websites

The web/graphic design industry is highly competitive. With so many designers out there competing for clients it can be difficult for freelancers and independent designers to find enough work to stay busy and to pay the bills. The level of design ability and experience doesn’t always correspond with the amount of success in running a freelance business in the industry. There are plenty of talented designers that struggle to find enough clients. Likewise, there are plenty of freelancers with lesser design skills that are more effective at running their business.

One of the keys to success for most freelancers is their portfolio website. Most potential clients will visit the website of a designer before hiring him or her, and often times the portfolio site is actually how the client finds the designer in the first place. Essentially, the online portfolio acts as a salesperson for the freelancer. An effective portfolio site can be invaluable to a freelancer, so it’s important enough to warrant plenty of time and attention for designers who are looking to be able to land more clients.

In this article we’ll take an in-depth look into the topic of portfolio websites. We’ll start by looking at keys to effective portfolio sites. Then we’ll move on to look at the options for creating your own portfolio site. And we’ll finish by providing some tips for getting more exposure to your portfolio site. If you’re interested in getting more out of your own existing portfolio site, or if you’re planning to create your first one, the details covered in this article should be able to help.

Keys to Effective Portfolio Websites

Simply having a portfolio site where you show off your work is not enough. In fact, even having a great-looking portfolio site isn’t enough. In order for the site to be effective it must bring in new business. Simply looking good is nice, but looks alone will not produce any revenue. So with that in mind, let’s start our journey into the topic of portfolio sites by first discussing what will actually determine the success and effectiveness of the site.

Clear Purpose

Not every portfolio site will serve the same purpose. Some freelancers use their portfolio as a way to get attention for design agencies with hopes of landing full-time employment. This can be a very effective approach for finding a job because a well-designed portfolio site is a great advertisement for your skills. Other designers, however, will use the portfolio site to land new clients. Most portfolio sites would fall into this category, and we’ll be approaching this article to provide information for designers that fall into this category.

It’s important that you consider your purpose before creating your own portfolio site, because it should be a driving factor in decisions that are made throughout the design process. If your purpose is to use the site to land more clients you want to be focused on creating a site that will do just that.


Shows Only Your Best Work

Your portfolio site doesn’t need to include work samples from every project that you have ever designed. In fact, it should only showcase your best work. If it is early in your career you may have a smaller number of items to showcase, but that is ok. As your skills develop and improve the quality of your work has also improved, so those projects from a few years ago may not be the most accurate representation of your current skills.


You also may want to leave out projects that show design trends that look outdated. You may have had a client a few years ago that wanted a particular style that was trendy at the time, but now it looks dated. If that is the case, avoid showcasing this item in your portfolio.

If you’re coming across the problem of not having enough work to showcase in your portfolio, which is a common issue for new designers, there are a few options. First, consider showing more details from each project. For example, if you are a web designer, instead of simply including a screenshot of the homepage from your best web design project, include multiple images. Use a close up to show a section of the design in full size. Show other pages from the site in addition to the homepage. If you also did a custom logo, icons, or other custom graphics for the site, showcase these in detail as well. By showing more detail and a broader view you can showcase only a few projects and it will still give the visitor a good idea of your quality of work.

Another option if you’re struggling with not having enough work samples would be to do some design work for fictitious businesses. You can demonstrate your skills by designing something that isn’t intended to actually be used in the real world. I would recommend mentioning in your portfolio that it was just a personal project and not for a real client, and I wouldn’t recommend taking this approach at all unless you don’t have other ways to get items for your portfolio.

An alternative to creating something for a fictitious business would be to offer your services at a discount or for free to an actual client for the purpose of having something from the real world that you can use in your portfolio. And one last option would be to design a template or theme that you can sell. This way you would be getting something that you can add to your portfolio, but you could still make some money from it by selling it at a marketplace like ThemeForest or Mojo Themes.

Includes a Call to Action

If you want your portfolio site to be effective at helping you to land new clients you’ll need to lead visitors to take action. Usually this will involve encouraging visitors to contact you through a form on the site. Some designers and agencies entice visitors by offering a free quote or estimate. The visitor then enters some information about their project into the form, which is a great lead generating system for the designer.

Make sure that when you are designing your site you consider how you will include the call to action. Some designers use a button with a call to action that links to their contact page or to a page with a free quote request form. Other designers will include a small form right on the homepage somewhere. And other designers will come up with a creative way to lead visitors to the action that they want.


Easy to Navigate

Usability is important for any website. If you want visitors to be able to check out your work sample, find information on your services, view testimonials and case studies, and fill out a form to contact you, they need to be able to easily navigate the website. Many designers want to create a portfolio design that is truly one-of-a-kind, something that will really stand out to visitors. Unfortunately, sometimes this leads to navigation that is difficult to use. You certainly don’t have to avoid creative designs for your portfolio site, but make sure that you are not sacrificing usability in the process.

Is Seen by Your Target Audience

A portfolio site can look great, include all the relevant information, and have a really effective call to action, but if the right people aren’t seeing the website it really won’t matter. The ideal visitor for your portfolio site will be someone who is looking for the type of services that you offer. Most designers love to browse portfolio sites for ideas and just to see what other designers are doing. There’s nothing wrong with have other designers as visitors to your portfolio, but ultimately you’ll need to get the right visitors as well if your site is going to be effective at helping you to land new business. Later on in this article we’ll go into more details about some specific things you can do to get more exposure for your site.

Includes Testimonials or Case Studies

Testimonials from past clients can be very effective at encouraging visitors to consider hiring you for their own project. Gathering testimonials from your clients is a good habit, even if you don’t use them all on your website. Every time you end a project with a happy customer be proactive and ask if they would be willing to provide a testimonial for you. Keep them all somewhere handy, and when you’re working on your portfolio site you’ll always have some testimonials available. If you haven’t made an effort in the past to keep track of testimonials, take some time to go back and contact a few of your past clients to ask for a testimonial. When you’re displaying on your portfolio site in can be especially helpful if you can include a photo of the client along with their testimonial. The photos help to make the testimonials feel a little more real and personal to most visitors.

In addition to testimonials, another option is to include more detailed case studies. Instead of just showing the visual design work that you did for a client, a case study will provide some context and details of the project. It may include information about the client and the challenges that they were facing with the project. The case study will show how you approached the project, your solution for the client’s challenges, and the end result. The most effective case studies can show how your work directly impacted the clients. Ideally this will be something measurable like a percentage of revenue growth or traffic growth through the redesign of their website.


Shows Your Unique Skills and Abilities

One of the problems with portfolio websites is that there are just so many of them. There are countless designers out there, and in order to get a potential client to contact you about their project you will need to stand out from the crowd in one way or another. The most effective way to do this is to communicate the skills, abilities, and experience that make you a great choice. Simply offering the services in need isn’t enough. There has to be some reason that the visitor should contact you instead of just moving on to the next portfolio.


There are countless different ways that you can go about accomplishing this. The case study approached mentioned above is a great option. If your work has had real, measurable impact on your clients that is a great selling point. If a potential client feels that your work will have a positive impact on their bottom line you’ll have a much better chance at landing the project.

Options for Creating a Portfolio Website

Now that we’ve covered the keys to having an effective portfolio website we’ll move on to talk about the different options for creating your own portfolio site.

Custom Design

If you offer web design and development services, chances are you will probably design your own website. It just makes sense that a web designer would design his or her own portfolio. However, not all designers do web design. So if you mostly design logos or for print you may need to hire someone if you want a custom design.

Custom designs are preferred for a few reasons. One of the most important is that your portfolio site will need to represent you, and many portfolios showcase the creativity of the designer through the design of the portfolio site itself.

The downside of custom designs is that they take time and/or money. A lot of designers wind up neglecting their own site because they get busy with client work and don’t have time to work on their own site. But if you’re looking to get more business out of your portfolio site you may have some down time in your schedule until you’re able to build up that client work.

Customized WordPress Theme or Template

Another option that many designers choose is to use a template or a WordPress theme as a starting point for their portfolio site. If you’re using a template it’s possible to customize it to give it your own touch so that it has a unique look. Starting with a template can drastically reduce the amount of time that you spend on the site when compared to the time requirements for a custom design. And for designers that don’t offer web design services or that do not do their own coding, templates may be necessary.

There are a lot of good options out there, especially when it comes to WordPress themes. If you’re looking for quality portfolio themes the first place I would recommend is ThemeTrust. They have a number of different themes available for portfolio sites, and they all look great. They typically use an elegant minimalist style that works great for portfolio sites. This style is also a good choice if you plan to customize the theme because it serves as a nice starting point.

Here are previews of a few of the themes from ThemeTrust:







Another quality option is the Genesis framework from StudioPress. It’s general in nature and not geared towards portfolio sites, but it is an excellent framework that will give you a solid foundation that you can build on. Many designers use Genesis as a framework for all of the client sites that they design. There will be a bit of a learning curve if you haven’t used Genesis before, but once you get some experience with it, Genesis can prove to be a very valuable resource in your own work. One of the great things about Genesis is that the license allows for unlimited use, so with a single purchase you could use Genesis for your portfolio site as well as for an unlimited number of client projects.

ThemeForest is a popular marketplace where you can find hundreds of different portfolio themes. As a word of caution, the quality of coding and customer service that you will get from a purchase at ThemeForest can vary drastically from one seller to another. Be sure to do some research before making a purchase. You can read comments left by other users to see how responsive the seller is to customers.

One of the reasons that a lot of designers are choosing to use a template, or at least to start with a template and customize it, is that you can buy a high-quality template for less than $100, and in many cases less than $50. When compared to the amount of time that you would need to spend on a custom design of your own, a template can make a lot of sense financially.

Hosted Options

Aside from a custom design or a template, another option is to go with one of the many different options that offer a hosted portfolio. Each of these options is a little bit different in terms of the specific features, but typically you will pay a monthly or yearly fee that will include web hosting and you’ll either be able to choose one of their templates or they’ll provide some system for designing your own site. Here are a few of the leading options.

Behance ProSite

ProSite from Behance costs $11 per month or $99 per year. They’ll host your site for you and you can use their drag-and-drop editor to create the design of your site. Or, if you prefer you can code the HTML and CSS for the site.



Dunked is a new option that just launched within the past few months. You can create a site with limited features for free, and paid plans start at $49 per year. With Dunked you won’t create your own design, but you will be able to use one of the professionally-designed templates that they offer.



Virb will host your site for $10 per month. You’ll be able to choose from their selection of professionally designed templates, and you can customize some elements of the template to suit your own needs.


Getting Exposure for Your Portfolio Website

After you’ve got your portfolio designed and online the next step is to actually get it in front of people. This can be the most difficult part of the process, so we’ll cover a lot of details in this section with tips and suggestions for getting your portfolio site noticed.

Create a Quality, Unique Design

If you have a portfolio site that looks great you can get a lot of traffic and links as a result. There are countless web design gallery sites out there (examples: CSS Mania, Best Web Gallery, SiteInspire, CssDsgn) that exist for the purpose of showcasing great web design. You can submit your site for consideration and if it gets approved you can get instant exposure and links. The traffic that you get directly from these galleries will mostly be other designers who are browsing the galleries for inspiration. Despite the fact that these visitors don’t fall into your target audience this can still be a helpful thing because it can be a way to get valuable links to your site that will eventually help for search engine optimization. Also, many of the sites that get showcased in these gallery sites will also be showcased on various design blogs as a result, leading to even more links and traffic.

In order to get links and traffic from gallery sites and design blogs you’ll need to create a design that is very high quality. So take your time and don’t rush the design. When it comes to submitting your site it can be a time consuming process to find the various galleries and to fill out the submission forms. If you don’t mind spending a few dollars to save many hours of your own time you can pay for a service like GalleryRush or the CSS Gallery List.

Daniel Filler

Include a Blog

One of the best ways to get traffic to your site is to include a blog. If you’re using WordPress as your CMS the blogging functionality will already be included, so it doesn’t need to require a lot of work to get it set up. Blogs are great for building traffic from search engines and also from social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

If your approach with the blog is to use it to attract clients you should consider the types of keywords and phrases that your target clients will be using for searches. Then you’ll want to write blog posts on these topics and include the keywords and phrases in your page titles. For example, if you offer blog theme design services you could write blog posts with titles like “how to start a blog”, “how to build a blog”, and “how to find a blog designer”. Since this is a very popular and broad topic there will be a lot of competition for the top search rankings for these phrases. You may want to consider blog posts that target specific industries or niches. Blog posts like “how to start an online jewelry shop”, “characteristics of good church websites”, and “examples of good travel websites” may not reach as large of an audience, but you may be able to achieve higher search rankings while attracting some very targeted visitors. Of course, somewhere on these pages you’ll want to include a call to action for the visitor to contact you.

Blogs are also great for building traffic because they tend to attract links. If you make an effort to publish content on a regular basis to your blog you should be able to attract a decent number of links over a period of time. You can include social sharing icons and buttons on your posts that make it easy for readers to share the link through their social profiles. The are also several design-oriented social networking sites where you can submit your links. Some of the best of these sites include The Web Blend, Design Bump, Design Float, and Design Newz.

Each blog post that you publish will have the ability to attract new search engine visitors. Most of the visitors that reach your website will not enter directly through the homepage. If you have an active blog on the site most visitors will arrive to a specific post, either through a search or a link from another site. While not every post that you publish will be a big hit that brings floods of traffic to your site, with some consistent effort you can certainly build up a blog that attracts more visitors than your portfolio site could without the help of a blog.

Write for Other Blogs

In addition to publishing blog posts at your portfolio site, you can also get some exposure and links by writing posts for other blogs. Many blogs accept guest post submissions in exchange for an author bio that can include a link to your own site or blog. This is a good way to gain exposure in the industry and to start to build some links to your site. The links can lead to some click-through traffic to your own site, and they can also help for SEO if the links are coming from blogs that have some authority.

You can find plenty of blogs to write at simply by visiting a directory site like Alltop or by doing a search for design blogs. Many blogs will have a link in the footer or sidebar that says “write for us”, “contribute”, or something similar. Always look for these pages first before filling out a contact form as they may give you all of the information that you need to submit your blog post.

By writing for other design blogs your writing will mostly be seen by other designers, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t help you to land more clients. The links that you build through those guest posts can help to improve the search engine rankings of your site, so they can indirectly help you to reach more potential clients through better search rankings.

Another option aside from writing for other design blogs is to write for blogs in other industries. For example, you could pick a specific industry and write and article that would be relevant to that audience as well as to the services that you offer. You can write a blog post of tips for non-profit organizations on how to have an effective website even with a limited budget. That post might be published by a blog that covers topics related to running a non-profit organization. It would be a good fit for the blog’s audience and would allow you to reach an audience that might lead to some new clients. Another example would be if you write a post for a photography blog about how to sell photos online. Some of the photographers reading the article may be interested in selling their photos from their own website, and they may contact you to inquire about your services for helping to accomplish this. There are all kinds of possibilities, but you’ll need to use your creativity to think of some ideas for good posts that could help you to reach the right audience.

Build it to be Search Engine Friendly

When it comes to search engine optimization, I tend not to obsess over the countless factors that play into the rankings, but I do aim to create websites that are search engine friendly. Your site should make it easy for the search engines to crawl the site and to know what your site is about. Using clean code is a good first step. In today’s environment you’ll also want to set up a Google+ account an incorporate Google authorship into your site’s coding. You’ll also want to use effective page titles, and use subheaders correctly.

Link to Your Portfolio from Your Social Media Profiles

Social media and social networking sites can be a great source of traffic for your portfolio site and your blog. The first step is to make sure that you have linked from your social profiles to your site. Most social networks allow you to link to your site from somewhere in your profile, so take advantage of this opportunity. You probably already have several social profiles, and you can always create profiles at other sites as well.

In addition, you can share links to your blog posts and to new portfolio items through your social profiles. For example, whenever you publish a new post you can tweet a link to the new post, and also publish it to your Facebook profile or page. You can encourage visitors to share your posts by including buttons and widgets on your blog posts to make sharing easy.

Offer Free Resources

Another way to gain some exposure and to build some links to your site is to offer free resources to other websites. This is especially popular in the design blogging industry. Many design blogs give away free resources that their readers can download. This includes things like icon sets, vector sets, Photoshop files, website templates, textures, and more. If you’re willing to use your skills and your time to create some free resources you can contact some blogs to see if they would be interested in publishing your free resource.

This is another approach that will mostly put your work in front of other designers, but it can help with building links to your site. Again, you can customize the approach to get in front of a more targeted audience if you’d prefer. As an example you could create a basic template/theme for a photography website and offer to give it away at a photography blog. Some of the photographers that download the template/theme may want to hire you to customize it, or they may want to hire you to create a completely custom design for their own site.

Pay for Advertising (AdWords, Facebook)

So far we have mostly looked at approaches to get exposure without spending any money. While they may not cost you financially, they will require your time, which is also highly valuable. Another option is to pay for some advertising. When going this route you’ll want to be very careful. Set up your campaign so that it won’t spend more on a daily basis than you can afford, and also do plenty of testing and tracking so you’ll be able to know which advertisements are working and which ones are not bring in any business.

Two popular options are AdWords from Google and Facebook ads. Both can be effective even with very limited budgets, and you can set up the campaigns to target very specific audiences. For this reason they can be good options for designers who don’t want to break the bank. You can also start and stop your ads, so you can run them when you need some new clients and then pause or stop the campaigns when your workload picks up.


The portfolio website is one of the most important assets for any freelance or independent designer. Take your time with designing and setting up your portfolio because it could pay huge dividends done the road. With the right approach you can get enough exposure to your portfolio that most of your work will come from clients that are contacting you, meaning you won’t have to do any aggressive selling or chasing of clients.

If you have any tips of your own regarding effective portfolio sites, please feel free to share in the comments.

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