5 Insightful Lessons For New Web Designers


Ever have those thoughts where you go “If I could just do it all over again, I would…” and then you come up with some Einstein-level idea that would have made your life so much better if you only did that thing when you started?

Well today, I had that thought.

I thought to myself “If I could go back to 2001 when I started making website, I would of…” and then I came up with five things I want to share with you.

If you’re just starting out in web design or you are even thinking about getting involved in this field, pay attention the words below.  I could of avoided many headaches and made a lot more money if I knew these five simple tips.

Before you read the items below I should mention that these are not “5 Insightful Lessons On How To Design A Website” these are “5 Insightful Lessons for New Web Designers”, the difference in words is subtle yet important.  The former tells you to push down on the clutch to shift the car from first gear to second gear… the later tells you to avoid driving into a tree.

This dog is my spirit animal.

1 Get The Money First

Ask any “lady of the evening” what the first rule of working the street is, and she’ll tell you those exact same words (if she’s any good).

Most people you deal with in business (and in life) are good and honest and will never intentionally screw you, however “most people” are disorganized, flaky and above all do NOT have YOUR best interest at heart.  Don’t ever forget that.  Consequently they let “life” happen and you don’t get your money… and then they give you some BS excuse as to why your bank account didn’t grow today.

Here are some of the better ones I’ve heard (in no particular order):

  • “I’m just waiting for my client to pay me, then you’ll get your check.”
  • “It’s in the mail.  What, you didn’t get it yet?  I’ll have my secretary look into that, gimme a few days.”
  • “It’s the summertime and my kids are off from school and we are going on vacation next week so I’ll send payment next month.”
  • “This weekend I was hiking in the woods, I fell down some rocks and I’m now in the hospital with post-concussion traumatic brain injury syndrome.  I’m not sure when I’ll be out.”
  • “Oh, I’m sorry but Mr. [NAME HIDDEN] passed away last week.”

Yes, a client really did die… and no I never got my hosting money that month.

What a jerk.

Ok, I guess that last one is the only valid excuse someone can have for not paying their bills on time.

So, what can you do?  It’s simple to avoid all of these issue by doing the following:

  1. Don’t ever start a website until you get your initial deposit.
  2. Don’t ever launch a website (or send your client their login details) until your get your remaining balance.

For those of of you who are super ambitious – the best case web design billing scenario is when you get your clients credit card details so YOU can bill them whenever you want to (via Stripe, PayPal, etc…).

THe floor is lava level: Expert

2 What Your Client Wants In A Website… Might Not Be What They Really Need In A Website

People are easily impressionable. Good, intelligent business people I know browse the Internet, see something cool and want it on their new website.  It’s like the more times they click their mouse the lower their IQ gets.

It doesn’t matter that their industry is completely different, it doesn’t matter that the cool feature they want is on eBay’s website and eBay is a billion dollar company… and they are a two person landscaping company… they want that incredibly complex amazing feature.  Really?

While you absolutely should find out what your client wants their website to look like (use the documents from the Toolkit for this) YOU as the web designer should design the functionality and features that make sense for your clients customer (website visitor).  The customer is the one who pays your client, so the website you make needs to be all about (and for) them.

Don’t let your client post a photo gallery of their fishing trip to their insurance website.  Don’t give your client a chat room for their pizza place website.  Don’t add a section of sortable recipes from the owner to a bowling alley website (true story) no matter how bad the owner wants it. These things are irrelevant and not useful to the customer – on an insurance website the customer needs to get insurance quotes, on a pizza shop website the customer needs to order pizza online.

Of course if your client pushes back on their ridiculous “wants” hard enough, just give them what they want but let them know that it is not in their customer’s best interest.

Some people are determined to watch their business burn, don’t stand in the fire.

Kids Gotta Learn Early Not to Fall Asleep at the Wheel

3 Don’t Reinvent The Wheel

The only thing you have to sell is your time… so manage it wisely.

Repetitive tasks eat away at your creativity time and should be avoided, outsourced or automated as much as possible.  One aspect of web design is customer service… specifically answering emails from clients.

If it takes you 4 minutes to type an email with the same answer that you typed last week to another client and you repeat this task each week for a year, you’d have wasted 3.46 hours.  Times that by the 15 years I’ve been making website and I would have wasted 51.9 hours if I didn’t make a change… and that’s only ONE repetitive email.  Imagine if you answer 6 repetitive emails each week how much time you’ll save?  I’ll let you do the math.

So what can you do?

The simple answer is to build a FAQ section on your website with commonly asked questions and instead of retyping (or copy and pasting) the same information over and over again… email your client the link to their answer.

This will actually accomplish two things 1) it will cut down on your time answering email and 2) it will start to train your clients to search your FAQ BEFORE they write to you which will cut down on emails over time.

Here at the Web Designers Academy we’ve put together a ongoing series of Copy & Paste Web Design FAQs that you can (as the name says) copy and paste and put into your website.

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4 A.A.F.R.T. = Always Ask For Referrals & Testimonials

I can’t express in words how I wished this acronym was A.F.A.R.T., that would’ve made this post so much more spectacular.

The technical aspect of creating a website (setting up hosting, installing WordPress, customizing a framework, installing plugins, etc…) is the easy part and as you go along you’ll get faster and smarter until you get to the point where you don’t really have to think about it anymore.  Getting people to give you money in exchange for that service will be the difficult part (at least when you are starting out).

However when you do finally reach the golden peak of your first paying client, don’t just take the money and run.

Turn that happy customer into MANY happy customers by doing two things after every website you launch and that is to get a testimonial (which is just some words or better yet a video about their experience with you) that you can show to future potential clients and those people are the referrals (other business people your client might know that could use a new website) that you’re going to ask for.

BONUS TIP 1: Even if your client is too busy to give you a referral you can always DIY it.  For example if your client is based in a strip mall go to the other businesses in that strip mall and show them your client’s new website and say that you are offering a special for business in this strip mall.  If your clients doesn’t have any neighbors you can always contact the organizations / associations that your client is a part of and do the same thing.

BONUS TIP 2: See the previous point about not reinventing the wheel and create a few pages (with forms) on your website for clients to type in their referral and testimonial information so you don’t have to retype what you want in an email each time.

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5 Your Computer Will Eventually Die

This is a law of life that you need to really learn now.  No matter how awesome the RAM, no matter how amazing the graphics card, no matter how big the screen size is… at some point your computer… will… die.

When your computer dies you can be sure that all of your client files are going to be dead too and this is going to be a major problem.

You need to make sure that your client files are organized and backup to the cloud so you can always download it to a new computer.  The easiest way to do this is with Dropbox.  I’ve been using Dropbox for years and every client file I ever make is stored in Dropbox so if (when) my MacBook Air shits the magical Apple bed I can buy a new one and get all my files back.

Make sure that your passwords are NOT saved locally on your computer… I use a special Google Docs file so that not only will it never disappear, it’s also in the cloud so I can access it from anywhere.

Plan for this type of disaster now so when it happens it won’t screw your business.

TIP: And for fucks sake do NOT under any circumstances name your password document passwords.docx… make something up that has nothing to do with sensitive information… like lunch-recipes.docx OR italy-vacation-planning.docx OR mr-fluffy-doctors-visits.docx.

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Follow These Five Things, Or Not.  Whatevs.

I’ve created a good life for myself and family by making websites for clients but these five lessons (if I would have known and followed them from the beginning) would have made my life so much easier and more profitable over the years.

If you’re just starting out in this business these five lessons will make your ride a lot smoother as you go along.  You’ll avoid headaches, you’ll avoid chasing people for money, you’ll avoid disasters because you are prepared for them before they happen.

Of course you could ignore all these things and learn them for yourself the hard way, but why?  Learning from other people’s misery is always the right decision, that’s why I wear dark pants on taco night.

Your friend,
Ian Robert Anderson