Starting Your Own Web Design Business

I saw that godaddy.com had an article about some steps to a successful web design business. Being a freelance website designer, I had to look.

They say there are nine steps:

  1. Lay the groundwork.
  2. Create your community.
  3. Handle HR and legal concerns.
  4. Establish facilities.
  5. Get your IT in order.
  6. Set up finance and accounting systems and processes.
  7. Dive into marketing and advertising.
  8. Plan for sales.
  9. Set up systems for productivity and quality control.

Since I don’t do web design full time (and have no desire to), I don’t see you as a threat. Click that link above for more details, but here are just a few personal comments on some items on their list.

With all the free and easy to use websites that allow you to set up a basic website, a lot of people who would have needed a designer probably can go at it alone. Still, I find a good number of people who are still technophobes or just know that they won’t do it or maintain a site and want a service. I understand that. You can probably cut your own lawn, so why do so many people have a service to do it?

Groundwork covers a lot of ground. Sart with you really being able to build sites. Just knowing how to use some free sites or a bit of HTML is not enough for what most people want and certainly not enough for what even a small business needs. You may need to take some classes, workshops or online seminars. They suggest Lynda.com as one place to try.

There are lots of books about freelancing, and about web design if you can learn that way. There is also a lot of free info online.

Identifying pricing options was harder than I thought it would be. My first freelance gigs were for friends and I tended to underprice my work. You can have a pricing model of hourly vs. project-based billing. I find that people like project-based because they know the cost rather than seeing the hours pile up. But for my own work, I find the hours are often less than I estimated. You get better at this as you do a few jobs. I use a estimate spreadsheet to formulate a dollar or hours amount.

Don’t forget to build in meetings, travel, and revisions. I also calculate some third party costs that don’t go to me, such as buying a domain and web hosting which I will do for the client. Add in your time to do this administrative work.

My ideal clients are people I know and projects I am interested in doing. Web design is not a full-time gig for me so I can be selective. You may not be so lucky.

You may also be able to offer some other related services. If not, have some people you will recommend that may then recommend you for web work. I do some social media, photography, graphics and video work too. For many others, I refer them to people I know who have that expertise or companies that handle it. That can include branding and PR specialists, hosting, domain registration and email and more professional photo and video work (such as catalog and online store work).

I am a sole proprietor and have an LLC to protect my personal assets. These things vary by where you live and you may need to talk to a lawyer to help you with the necessary paperwork and/or use an online service such as LegalZoom.

Those business expenses can run from a lunch check with a potential client, to mileage, to setting up an office and buying hardware and equipment. Learn about what is legitimate as an expense with the IRS before you file for year one. I have a separate business bank account with its own associated debit and credit cards.

Yes, people do operate out of the local diner or coffee shop, but that won’t work for all clients.

I use a higher-end laptop and Adobe Creative Cloud for almost all my work. I backup all my work in two places -one on a drive in the office, one in the cloud.

I have made up my own invoicing forms and bill like many contractors with a portion to begin and the balance after launch. No payment, no launch.

You certainly need your own website before you take on clients. I have several that I use so I can demo different options and designs.

If you plan to do social media work, or just to promote your business, have some business social media accounts, and consider whether you want business profiles separated from your personal profiles onFacebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

Get some business cards and start promoting yourself!

More at Running a successful web design business – The Garage

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Better Blogging

laptop writing

Over the 12 years that I have been blogging, I have read about the rise of the blog and the fall/end of the blog several times. As I watch blogging go through the “hype cycle” (that branded tool created by Gartner), what remains consistent is what makes a good blog and blogger.

That cycle is said to be:

  1. Technology Trigger
  2. Trough of Disillusionment: a time of some disappointment
  3. Slope of Enlightenment: it becomes more broadly understood and used
  4. Plateau of Productivity

I would say that blogging has been through all 4 and has returned to 2-4 again. Right now, it sits on that Plateau of Productivity. They are used for personal and business reasons.

What makes a better blog? The so-obvious-it-is-overlooked key to a good blog is that it has good content. I would overlap this with having regular content.

If you don’t have something useful to say, don’t post.

I schedule my posts so that there is regular content. On one of my blogs, that means 2 or 3 posts every weekend, but on others that means one per week. I am blogging several times a day, but not on a single blog, but across them.

When all this Web 2.0 began, one of the things that was appealing about writing a blog was that you could have subscribers who could follow your posts and receive them through email or a reader app. This ability (via RSS) gives you a powerful push technology that had previously been something only the big media newspapers and magazines could use.

But you won’t hold onto followers (“subscribers” seems to have fallen away – perhaps because it implies payment) if they don’t get something on a regular basis to read.

When your blog has some readers and a decent archive of posts, you can start to get a sense by looking at the analytics about what posts get the most attention and what search queries brought them to your blog. Does that mean you should change what you write based on those stats? It depends.

If your blog is about hiking the Appalachian Trail but the greatest attention goes to posts about equipment should you turn it into an equipment blog? I wouldn’t. But I would consider having regular equipment posts and perhaps working equipment into other posts.

Include images in your posts. They do attract attention. Make sure you have the rights to those images. The best thing to do is use your own, but otherwise use images from some of the royalty-free sites (Pixabay, Pexels and others) and Creative Commons.

This is also true for videos. Use your own or embed ones from YouTube and Vimeo or any site that allows this.

Social Media is required. All your posts should be shared on multiple social media platforms available. This can be your personal social accounts, but I would advise creating new ones for the blog, especially if it is a project or business. If I follow your blog on Twitter but many of the posts are about you, your family, your politics etc., I will unfollow you. My blog, Endangered New Jersey, has its own Twitter account separate from my personal one.

My blog analytics show me that besides Google searches most of my traffic comes from Facebook and Twitter with a bit from LinkedIn.

 

Some bloggers send out a newsletter, but I’m not a fan of them. You can share the best content of the week. MailChimp is a popular way to do that and it is free for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month.

You should always use categories and keyword tags on posts. As the blog grows, people will often follow a category or tag, and it’s great to be able to find other related content with a click.

 

 

Don’t ignore word-of-mouth for your marketing. It is powerful. You might want to have guest bloggers write occasionally. “Experts” attract attention and add authority to your site.  You might also be a guest blogger on other sites.

Comments are controversial. I have blogs where I had to shut off commenting due to the amount of spam that hit. If your blog doesn’t get a lot of traffic, you can probably set comments to be approved before they post. I do that on several blogs. WordPress is quite good about snagging blatant spam and it doesn’t take long to approve the comments I do get. Comments are a good thing, when the comments are good.  Engagement with your readers is very good.

 

Web Design ‘Mistakes’

GoDaddy.com posted a list of 15 website design “mistakes.” Of course, some mistakes are not mistakes in some situations.

Here is their list of 15 (details on the full post) which are certainly all things to take into consideration with you website’s design.

Above-the-fold.
Speed.
Responsiveness.
Intuitiveness.
Navigational simplicity.
Readability.
Scannability.
Cleanliness.
Elegance.
Branding.
Contact info.
Search.
Timeliness.
Annoyances.
Error handling.

It is pretty much accepted that having the name of your business and purpose of your website immediately visible on your landing page “above the fold” without scrolling is a rule. “Above the fold” is an old media term from newspaper publishing where that space was what was displayed when a newspaper was stacked on a newstand.

The author lists as annoyances pop-up menus, autoplay and using Flash, but you’ll still find situations where these features play an important role. A pop-ups can be used to capture newsletter signups, for example. But if users are blocking all of them, have you planned for an alternative?

Adobe Flash has gone from being the hot feature for animated banners and menus to being a web design negative. Why? Besides pressure from Apple devices not using it, it is a closed, proprietary system in an increasingly web of open standards. It also is often hacked and it is a heavy draw on mobile device batteries.

Gaming Social Media Algorithms

Social Media networks use algorithms. Recently, there was news about changes to the Facebook News Feed algorithm. Those algorithms – processes or sets of rules to be followed in calculations – are not made public and business users are always trying to figure them out.

If you knew the way Instagram or Facebook programs their feeds, you could “game the system” to have your content featured prominently.

Those networks would tell you that they are programming to get the best content in front of people. You can find articles that try to break down the factors that determine your content’s ranking, but remember that those algorithms are always being tweaked and often in ways to best display advertising.

I doubt that anyone but Instagram knows exactly how their algorithm works, but one post I saw listed these seven key factors.

  1. Engagement: How popular the post is
  2. Relevancy: The genres of content you are interested in and have interacted with
  3. Relationships: The accounts you regularly interact with
  4. Timeliness: How recent the posts are
  5. Profile Searches: The accounts you check out often
  6. Direct Shares: Whose posts you are sharing
  7. Time Spent: The duration spent viewing a post

Engagement is the obvious part of any social algorithm. Consideration of likes, comments, views, shares, saves, story views, and views of live and posted videos all drive content to the top of feeds.

Perhaps less obvious are things like profile searches, which are when you search multiple times for particular profiles. That interest in someone not in your feed would then rank those posts higher on your feed. Instagram says that when they experimented with this in a new algorithm, the number of searches went down, which they took as a sign that users no longer needed to search on their own.

Social Media and Democracy

pexels-photo-607812.jpeg

It seems clear now that social media is changing democracies around the world. When I was teaching social media courses in 2010 and 2011, there was a lot of discussion about the role of social media in the “Arab Spring.”  The Arab uprisings started a debate over the role and influence of social media. Did Facebook and Twitter power the ousting of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the imminent overthrow of Mubarak.

The perceived Facebook and Twitter revolutions seemed to be centered on young protesters mobilizing on their feet and on mobile devices. Some called this “citizen journalism.”

My students, like many critiques, felt social media was a democratizing tool. But in the years since, opinions on social media and democracy seem to have turned the other way towards it as hurting democracy.

For example, Facebook has had to look at its impact it has on the democratic process after receiving much criticism for content on the platform during the Clinton/Trump campaigns. Facebook actually said it could no longer guarantee that social media is beneficial to democracy. That is a surprising admission.

For example, Facebook has had to look at its impact it has on the democratic process after receiving much criticism for content on the platform during the Clinton/Trump campaigns.

Facebook actually said it could no longer guarantee that social media is beneficial to democracy. That is a surprising admission.

One critique of social media is the ability to create echo chambers — online spaces that only surround users with like-minded people and ideas.

Soledad O’Brien examined how social media is impacting democracy on her program Matter of Fact.

Harvard professor Cass Sunstein studies this effect in his new book Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media. Sunstein talked with O’Brien to discuss the pros and cons of social media and why the ability to filter out opposing views is a threat to our democracy.

There’s another phenomenon at work: “group polarization” which says that when you are in an echo chamber, you can become more extreme and intolerant.


 

Learning Experience Design

I have been teaching since 1975. I have done instructional design (ID) since 2000. The job of an ID was not one I knew much about before I started managing a department tasked with doing it at a university. I hired people trained in ID, but I learned it myself along the way.

As others have said, the job of an instructional designer seems mysterious. One suggestion has been to change the title to Learning Experience Designer. Does that better describe the job and also apply to people who work in corporate and training settings?

I have taught courses about UX (user experience) which involves a “person’s behaviors, attitudes, and emotions about using a particular product, system or service” (according to Wikipedia). Part of that study involves UI (user interface) which “includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects” of the interaction as well as “a person’s perceptions of system aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency.”

UXWith more online learning and also blended online and face-to-face learning, there is more attention being given to the learner experience (LX). How students interact with learning, seems to be more than what “user experience” (UX) entails.

UX was coined in the mid ‘1990s by Don Norman. He was then VP of advanced technology at Apple, and he used it to describe the relationship between a product and a human. It was Norman’s idea that technology should evolve to put user needs first. That was actually the opposite of how things were done at Apple and most companies. But by 2005, UX was fairly mainstream.

Learning experience design” was coined by Niels Floor in 2007, who taught at Avans University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands.

I wrote earlier here about how some people in education still find the job of an instructional designer to be “mysterious.”  But call it UX or LX or ID, customizing learning, especially online, is a quite active job categories in industry and and education. Designers are using new tools and analytics to decode learning patterns.

In higher-education job postings and descriptions, I am seeing more examples of LX design as a discipline. That is why some people have said that Learning Experience Design is a better title than Instructional Design. It indicates a shift away from “instruction” and more to “learning.”

Originally published at Serendipity35