For freelance web designers, change is a way of life. Tools and technologies come and go, as do design trends. If anything, we may be better equipped to handle a rapidly-evolving world than most.
Take, for example, the COVID-19 pandemic. Chaotic as it has been, it’s led to some important realizations. Perhaps the biggest one is that we are indeed essential workers.
Not on the front line, mind you. But our expertise has played a vital role in helping our clients adjust to a new “normal”. We have also served as liaisons, spreading important information to the masses.
One could argue that web designers are as relevant as ever. Still, that doesn’t mean that individual freelancers are immune to the ever-shifting landscape. Long-term survival in this industry is not a guarantee.
As someone who has spent over two decades freelancing, I do see some potential threats ahead. That said, I also believe designers can prepare for them. Here are a few items to watch out for, along with ways you can mitigate their effects.
The Growing Complexity of Building Websites
Building a custom website is becoming more difficult. The development techniques behind the latest functionality trends are vast. In addition, the expectations from clients have also grown.
But, aren’t things supposed to be easier as technology improves? Well, yes and no.
WordPress is a prime example of this. The Gutenberg block editor has evolved to the point where crafting a custom page layout is relatively simple. Thankfully, extra plugins and hard-coding theme templates are no longer 100% necessary.
Then there is the whole concept of the “headless” website, where a content management system (CMS) feeds into a static HTML front end. Both the setup and maintenance processes are a whole new ballgame for many web designers.
You can still achieve quite a lot using visual, no-code tools. But going fully custom means digging deep into code. Understandably, that’s not everyone’s strong point.
How to Prepare
Experiment with different technologies and find ones that will benefit your business. That will be the key to providing your clients with cutting-edge service.
Another benefit: the more you know, the more you can charge! The ability to take on complex projects is a great way to boost your bottom line.
Web design is an ultra-competitive marketplace. Yet, it seems like there has always been enough work to go around. That’s a comforting thought.
But it ultimately depends on the types of clients you want to work with. For a certain level of clientele, a niche freelancer is becoming a less attractive option. Why? Because we don’t do “everything”.
Some organizations see a benefit to having all of their needs taken care of by a single provider. That means their web, print, and social media are in the hands of a one-stop agency.
The appeal is understandable. Instead of having a web designer over here, a graphic artist over there, and an SEO expert somewhere else, one company handles it all. Ideally, an agency will have a single point of contact and a more cohesive strategy.
When, for example, it’s time for a rebrand, the agency is there every step of the way. Even if the cost is higher, the ease of management may be worth the premium.
How to Prepare
Short of expanding your offerings and hiring additional people (thus, becoming an agency), competing in this area is difficult. However, there are some things you can do to stay in the game.
The first is to focus on clients who don’t require an all-encompassing level of service. There are plenty of organizations out there that will see the value in what you do.
You might also find an opportunity to work with an agency, as some utilize freelancers quite a bit. Coming on board means playing a key role in their projects. Plus, these types of gigs can become a source of recurring revenue.
Poor Business Habits
While outside threats get all the publicity, nothing can sink a freelance design career faster than poor business habits. They can lead you to lose money and, ultimately, your business.
There are several things here that can spell trouble, including:
- Spending too much money;
- Reliance on a single, large client;
- Charging too little;
- Failure to be thorough when creating project estimates;
- Providing poor customer service;
- Leaving yourself open to legal liability;
Quite often, it’s not a lack of talent or even a saturated market that kills a web design business. Rather, carelessness can be the biggest culprit. The seemingly small details of running a business mean a lot.
How to Prepare
Running a freelance web design business requires a lot of discipline. Therefore, it pays to be organized and develop processes for every aspect of the job.
In practice, this means accurately keeping track of finances, staying on top of ongoing projects, effectively communicating with clients, and general awareness of where your business stands. This will keep you vigilant and less likely to be taken by surprise.
Control What You Can
Some threats to freelance web designers are beyond our control. Market trends and the whims of clients are chief among them. Add to that the ever-growing complexity that defines what a website is and should be. Here, all we can do is try and keep pace.
However, there are many things we can control. We can choose to learn new skills that keep us on par with industry standards. This ensures that we won’t fall behind the curve when it comes to top-notch design and functionality.
In addition, we can run our businesses like a well-oiled machine. Doing so will allow us to stay organized and make the most of the opportunities that come our way. We may even recognize new ones that we wouldn’t have before.
Most importantly, we can choose the direction we want our business to go. This means further developing a niche and recruiting clients who fit our vision. The idea is to find clients who will benefit from our expertise and help them grow.
Yes, there are some existential threats to freelancers lurking out there. But with the right approach, they’ll end up as little more than bumps in the road.