By Carl Heaton on

In the story “Little Red Riding Hood”, the little girl notices many things about her Grandmar and asks her how those aspects help ‘Grandmar’ hear, see and finally eat her. However in our story we use Grandmar’s features to explain what skills you need as a freelance web designer.little red riding client and freelancing grandmarIn the story “Little Red Riding Hood”, the little girl notices many things about her Grandmar and asks her how those aspects help ‘Grandmar’ hear, see and finally eat her. However in our story we use Grandmar’s features to explain what skills you need as a freelance web designer.

Essentially you need to be a Jack of all trades to be a freelance web designer. You are the designer (front-end i.e. designing web pages), developer, online marketer and graphic artist (just in case Mr Client needs a logo). This article covers 10 skills you need to be a successful freelancer.

1. Why Grandma What Big Ears You Have!

why grandmar what big ears you have

All the better to listen to your design and functionality requirements my dear.

The first skill is that of listening, I cannot stress this enough. When discussing what the client wants, you need to listen to two things.

Listen to What The Client is Saying

“I want the site to be quick and simple, use our corporate colours and here are a few websites I really like”. That is the easy part as you simply jot everything down and make sure that you use the client’s language when writing the proposal.

A proposal should contain everything that the client requested, what you will do, what he needs to do and especially what you will not do. Make sure you also put in what happens if things change last moment, i.e make sure you look after yourself and explain that any additional work caused by indecision will be charged extra. Be sure to add your processes, payment schedules and of course the price.

Expert tip: Put in a discount in the first proposal. This stops them haggling over the price later as you can always say “there is already a discount”.

Get What You Need to Know!

  • What is their budget and timeline?
  • What sites he does not like?
  • What functionality is required?
  • Customised theme or custom design?
  • Do they want to manage the site themselves and who will manage the site when it is complete?
  • Do they have hosting / domain?
  • Do they have content prepared?
  • What are their competitors doing / not doing?
  • Do they have budget for marketing?

If your client will not give you a budget they have in mind then politely explain that you will not be able to work together. This comes from personal experience: Any client hiding how much they want to spend is expecting “the Moon on a stick” i.e.they will want everything for nothing. Press them to give you a number and explain that this number simply tells you how much time you can spend on the project. More time equals a more comprehensive website.

2. Why Grandmar How Inspiring You Are!

why grandmar how inspiring you are

All the better to build you a website inline with your brand and customer requirements my dear.

There are three types of people, creative, creative as a particularly boring rock and those who are creative when required. Whoever you are, creativity will always be part of being a freelancer. You will need to learn how to take a clients idea and come up with a solution. Even if the project is purely programming, you will still apply creativity in the ways you get your functions harmonized or objects oriented nicely.

How do you learn creativity? Look around the internet, hit the CSS Galleries, read the Web Design Blogs, feed off the RSS and ramble around the image repositories. As you wander around the web, look for the creative solutions or designs that others have put into the current page and the website as a whole.

Now, stop reading this article for a while and try looking around these sites:

Did that help? Now for anything you found that resulted in a spurt of inspiration, take a screen shot, write some notes and put it in a folder inside the project folder for your client labeled Inspiration.

3. Why Grandmar You’re On Page 1 of Google!

Why Grandmar You're On Page 1 of Google!

All the better for using semantic HTML and Optimising the Site for Search Engines my dear.

HTML is easy to learn but applying semantics is where a freelancer can really give value to a client. By using clean semantic code you will deliver a site that Google will want to be constant friends with, and if the client is managing the site himself/herself then it will be easy to work with your code.

Get your headings correct so that you tick off the accessibility checkbox, right tag right place so you tick off the web standards box and clean laid out code so that you can quickly identify what is what and where any potential errors are.

Just remember that it takes quality unique content to be the top of Google, so make sure the client knows where the content will be coming from.

A last note on semantics. It is eze 2 white like ziz, hooever it iz arder 4 ppl to undderssatand. When you use semantic code it means that you talking to search engines and browsers in the best possible way. If browsers and search engines understand what you are trying to say it makes life better. Thus semantics = happy client.

I implore you to <!– use comments –> as this will help not only you but the next designer who works with your code.

4. Why Grandmar What Style You Have!

why grandmar what style you have.

All the better for making your site easy to mange, accessible and fast to load my dear.

CSS is an essential skill, you cant make sites without it. There are two applications of CSS:

  • Creating sites from scratch and getting them to look as you designed
  • Altering existing CSS styles to suit your design / interactivity requirements

As a web designer you will never stop learning CSS, it is a continual process and with CSS3 you can do some amazing things.

I also recommend you start learning mobile design skills based on responsive design with CSS.

5. Why Grandmar What a Lovely Home You Have!

5. Why Grandmar What a Lovely Home You Have!

All the better for hosting your site my dear.

Hopefully you will get to choose the hosting provider, but if you dont it is important to have the skills to know what to look for. For example, if you are installing WordPress, you will need to find the MySQL control panel and the PHPMyAdmin. Then there is setting up emails, backups and permissions.

Hosting platforms can be so wildly different that it makes your life so much harder. Be prepared to advise a hosting change as a good hosting package. It’s just $95 for a year with unlimited everything these days.

With hosting you will need to know the following:

  • How many databases can you create
  • Setting up FTP accounts
  • Email accounts, and keep an eye out for MX Records if you want to install Google Apps to manage the clients emails, calendars and documents etc.
  • Automated backups
  • Addon and Sub Domains
  • Chat support and / or tickets?
  • Finally a good host will give you tools like Fantastico to allow you to install the popular CMSs and applications with a few clicks

For more advice, check our hosting advice article

6. Why Grandmar What Well Defined Variables You Have!

6. Why Grandmar What Well Defined Variables You Have!

All the better for programming your site’s functionality my dear.

Now depending on what type of freelancer you are i.e. are you a programmer, designer or a bit of both? My advice is this:It is important that you know how things work and are not afraid to get your hands dirty in the depths of faulty functions. Remember youll need to be a Jack of all trades.

Start by learning PHP and JQuery. These two languages make you very powerful with regards to changing functionality (PHP) and adding interactive front-end interfaces e.g. rotating banners, light boxes and animations (JQuery).

With PHP you will be able to go into the code of any WordPress / Joomla theme and modify how things appear or add your own functionality to enhance the site. PHP is easy to learn and opens a lot of doors, for example creating your own wordpress themes and selling them.

JQuery has a plethora of tutorials helping you along the way. Once you get the hang of the four stage process (1. download plugin folder, 2. copy into your site folder 3, Add the <script> and CSS links to your <head> and finally 4. add the hooks e.g. rel="lightbox") you can start modifying the code yourself and creating some really amazing effects. Did you like our rotating banner on the Web Courses Bangkok homepage?

What if you dont like programming? Well then find yourself a person to outsource projects to and work as a team!

7. Why Grandmar What Nice Invoices You Have!

7. Why Grandmar What Nice Invoices You Have!

All the better to track my tax, expenditure, profits and sales with.

Okay I admit, this one does not sound quite right, but there is a theme here as you can read.

A big part of being a freelancer is that there is no accounting department sending you your salary each month, working out the tax and even putting some aside in a pension fund, this is all up to you.

A typical invoicing application will help you with a number of things:

  1. Creating invoices and tracking payment
  2. Providing payment methods
  3. Tracking expenses and profits
  4. Calculating tax which can be submitted to the Tax Man (handy!)
  5. Time tracking, now this one is dam useful as you can see how much time you spend on each project and work out profit margins

I recommend Freshbooks and then connect up to Xero for some serious finance control. Also, as these two are very popular, you can hook these up to a number of other services like Google Apps, WordPress and services like Mailchimp.

8. What Big Eyes You Have Grandmar!

8. What Big Eyes You Have Grandmar!

All the better to double check and test your site with my dear.

I am admittedly terrible at this so I have a couple of friends who I send stuff to check spelling, grammar, links and overall functionality. I advise you to do the same as even the most fastidious of us can miss things.

There are a number of tools to:

  • Check spelling
  • Check all your links
  • Check site speed ( consider minifying your JS and CSS files)
  • Check your code, HTML and CSS
  • Check your SEOing

9. What a Big Mouth You Have Grandmar!

9. What a Big Mouth You Have Grandmar!

All the better to communicate with you through out the project my dear.

Clients are much more forgiving if you let them know things are taking a little longer. They also feel like they are part of the project when you send a progress update and the love it when you keep emails to the point. Communication is an essential skill you need a web designer. If you communicate better with a client, you are more likely to get repeat work or recommendations.

Communication has always been my strong point and that has helped me land bigger and better projects and deal with any problems as they arise. I understand you want to

“get your head down” and get it done. However, disappearing for 2 weeks as you either design, develop or implement the website can only lead to problems. What happens if they dont like the design after 2 weeks pixel pushing? What if the site is missing some crucial functionality because they needed to see something working that they can touch, feel and click? By giving regular updates and being clear about what you are doing, will do and have done will help make your projects a success.

Word of warning: Put in your proposal that changes to agreed designs and functionality or changes to how the site needs to be implemented will enure an additional charge. Setting this boundary early will stop arguments later.

10. Why, Grandmar What Big Teeth You Have

10. Why, Grandmar What Big Teeth You Have

All the better to scare you off, you crazy client!

You do get them! Some clients are just more trouble than they are worth. Even when you try and educate them to what and why you do things (and that those things cost money) they still refuse to understand. These types of clients are a massive drain not only for your work load but you personally. So dont be afraid to stand up for yourself, show your teeth and say no to projects showing any of the following warning signs.

  • Un-realistic deadlines and feature request
  • Unwillingness to tell you their budget
  • Asking for work to be done for free e.g. “show me a design and if I like it I will hire you”
  • Not listening to your processes and wanting things done their way
  • Not willing to sign a contract or agree milestones
  • Have little web experience in general and think that it is all magic
  • Design by committee

I want to ask a personal favour…

Clients from hell

When working for anyone, make sure you take care of your clients as they will in turn take care of you. Choose your clients wisely and don`t turn into a Wolf in disguise but stay more like a warm friendly Grandmar.

How To Become Freelance Web Designer

Now you know the skills you need to become a freelancer, so it is time to get learning. Start with our Beginners Web Design Course and get to grips with how the net works, planning a site and then the valuable skills of PSD to HTML. Then it’s time to master a CMS with our Intermediate Web Design Course, finish that off with some private tuition on what we discussed above and you will be ready to live and work the dream of being a Freelance Web Designer.

Good luck!


About The Author


He is our senior instructor and originally from Manchester UK. Carl teaches our Web Design and Online Marketing Courses.

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