In this exclusive interview with Chris Ouellette, a freelance web designer based out of Lewiston, Maine, he shares his experiences with LoveToKnow Web Design readers about what it's like to run his web design business in today's economy and also offers a few tips for any programmers interested in freelance web design and who are new to the business.
Building a Successful Freelance Web Design Business
Aside from the romantic notion of freelance web design, the reality of the web design business is that it is very competitive, and successful freelancers learn quickly that the way to succeed is to develop a niche and maintain an edge in your particular market. In this interesting interview, web design freelancer Chris Ouellette outlines his own experience in building his work-at-home web design business while occasionally being forced to weather the ups and downs of local freelance markets and at the same time balancing a happy and healthy family life.
About Web Design Freelancing
LTK: What initially made you decide to get into the web-design field?
CO: I originally had been working as a retail manager for 11 years. That type of career choice is not really for very many (long hours, weekends, holidays, etc.,) and it is not conducive to a healthy family life. Needing a change, I began working for a small marketing company as a Marketing Exec and was quickly converted over to doing the company's web sites. I was really intrigued by how much had changed in web development since 1995, when I was studying computer science. That new found interest got me caught up in the field.
LTK: Do you have a programming language preference when it comes to website scripting, for example Flash, Java, etc?
CO: I really don't have a preference of language. I have a friend of mine who develops for a company in New Hampshire that swears by the .Net platform, but I never found that I am more willing to use one over another. I can definitely say that I am not a fan of Flash. I just find that there can be instances where it can be more busy work than what it is worth. I will say that no matter what language is used, I find that Java will most always play a part in the grand scheme of things. It is flexible and powerful, can be referenced from a different file or written in the page code. Java is like the Swiss Army Knife for developing, it has a tool for everything.
LTK: How do you manage to stay on top of the latest technologies, do you read books, take classes, etc...?
CO: As you can imagine, in the past 15 years, a lot has changed in the way web pages are written and how the software is developed. I really had to rely on textbooks to catch up on the current information. In order to look deeply into keeping up with the rapidly changing technology, I have found the web to be the best resource. Everything from forums and blogs to studying open source software code can keep an individual on their toes. Although, reading 70 pages of code can feel like a night of reading a German dictionary, you know you will learn something, but to get that information, you have to pay close attention to each word.
Exploring the World of Freelance
LTK: What do you like the most about freelance work like doing web-design for clients?
CO: Doing this type of work never gets old. I don't feel as if I am stuck in some monotonous routine. One project can be flashy, flamboyant, animated, and then the next can be white, starched, stiff. It is always changing, just like the faces you are working for. A huge plus is - even with a deadline, the hours are mine to do with. I can spend time with family or friends, go golfing or hunting as long as the deadline is met.
LTK: What do you like the least about doing freelance work?
CO: Time can go by where there isn't any work or where you are beat out by a web design company because of their extensive portfolio. It can get discouraging at times, but the best thing to do is to keep a backup plan in case things go soft. I can say that that is the one thing that I dread, and if there is anything that can be learned by this - it is to keep a back-up plan. The current state of the economy can put a freelancer in this situation more often than not. If at all possible, stagger multiple projects with different deadlines to give you time to find the next one, knowing that you currently have definite work going on.
Projects and Advice
LTK: Out of all of the projects you've done, is there a favorite that you like to point to as some of your best work?
CO: This one really kills me. The only one piece of work that I was proud of, had a lot vested in, and talked about constantly was the last project I was on. It started as an information portal and blossomed into an elaborate site with social networking, business directories, dining guides - it was to be a one stop shop of information that was cross compatible with mobile technology. It is 4 months from release, and the bottom fell out of the company's finances. So it is sitting on a hard drive waiting for either the company to find the cash to finish or to say they are completely out. Such is life working with new companies. They either make it or they don't. One I kinda liked but it had a tight deadline and they were very specific on what they wanted, so my hand were tied on a lot of the decisions, was TP Maine. I kinda hope I get to do this year's updates for them.
LTK: What advice do you have to other web-design programmers out there who want to start their own freelance web-design business?
CO: I can give two pieces of advice. First, start it as a part time career move, handing out freebees as much as possible in the beginning so you can build your own personal portfolio. That way when you do bid on jobs, you have works that are in place and usable to show your potential clients. Second, remember that there are a ton of designers/developers out there, so find a way to set yourself apart from the rest and network, network, network. Get your name out there both for potential clients and for "friends" you can call for advice, tips, and tricks.
Community of Freelance Web Designers
While Chris represents the growing community of small business freelancers that work to enhance their family life by working from home, Chris also outlines the many ways that individual web designers can establish themselves in this exciting and competitive field.