Valerie Mates
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The Web Design Business

I've been a free-lance web developer since 1996. This page describes how I got started, and how my business works today. This page is intended to be useful to people who are interested in becoming free-lance web developers themselves, and people who are interested in any kind of free-lance work, and also possibly interesting to my customers.
When I first wrote this page I wrote:
My main piece of advice is that if you are at all adaptable to learning new things, the economy is good right now, and the web is an area of huge growth, so the thing to do is GO FOR IT! I was amazed at how easy it was to get started as an independent consultant.

The economy today isn't nearly as good as it was when I first wrote that. But I still think it's a wonderful time to be an independent consultant. There's plenty of work out there, especially if you do work related to the web. The web is going to be around for a very long time. Companies are always going to need good people to work on their websites.

Table of contents:

Here's what I did:

  1. These things are not needed for writing web pages, but I got a computer science degree and worked as a programmer for 8 years. I do both web page design and also programming, especially CGI programming. (What's a CGI program? That's where a web page runs a program, for example an online shopping cart system or database.) There are a lot more people out there who write web pages than people who program, so it's nice to have an extra skill that is in demand.
  2. I accumulated enough savings to be able to eat for a few months, but probably not nearly as much as I should have. It would probably have been smarter to have saved up more first. But this worked out fine anyway, so I have no regrets.
  3. I quit my old job.
  4. I told everybody I know that I was going to be doing free-lance programming and web page design.
  5. For my first few months, I had little work to do. So I spent my time intensively reading tutorials on the web about HTML and anything else that I thought would be useful. (Back then, before Google made search engines easy to use, you needed to know what you were doing to find things with a search engine. So this was another skill I sharpened then.) With a search engine you can find excellent tutorials on-line, free, on any topic you want information about. Some of the tutorials are a lot better than others. If you don't like one, you can always go read someone else's tutorial instead. There are usually several tutorials out there on whatever topic you want to learn about. I also continued telling everybody I knew that I was now doing web design and programming. The page I learned HTML from is NCSA - A Beginner's Guide to HTML. Learning HTML took an afternoon. They've revised the page since I learned HTML from it, but it's still a good place to get started.
  6. At some point, someone who knew a lot of the same people as me started asking around for a web page designer. He talked to three of the people who I had told I was getting started, and they all told him to talk to me. It sounded to him like I had to be the logical candidate, so he hired me for my first web design job. From there, I had a much more "real" portfolio, so it's been easier to find other clients.

Tips specific to Web Design:

If you're planning to do free-lance web design, here are some tips:

Finding Customers:

Educating Yourself:

What to Charge:

It's hard to say how much to charge. Here are some different ways to figure it:


Miscellaneous Tips:

Finding Business Advice:

When you run into a question that you don't know the answer to, there are lots of places to turn.

That's everything I can think of right now. Good luck to you in your future pursuits!


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Valerie, January of 2023
Valerie - January, 2023