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Is it better to have a degree, or is it better to be self-taught? Which is more important: a formal education or on-the-job experience? This is an often-debated topic within the computer science field. In this post, I want to mention the common arguments for and against getting a formal education.

Proof of Character

Please understand that I’m not saying that people with degrees have better character or anything like that. All I’m saying is that some employers will look at a résumé that includes a college degree and will think, “This candidate finishes what he starts” or “This candidate will be able to handle a long-term project.” This is similar to the way an employer may react when she sees that an applicant used to be in the military. The employer may assume, “This applicant is disciplined.” I’m not saying that it’s an accurate assessment; I’m just saying that some people will judge you based on your education. In this way, a college degree can work in your favor. Does that make it worth spending tens of thousands of dollars on tuition costs? Maybe, and maybe not.

Lacks Real-World Experience

If you decide to take the tradition 4-year college route, this means that you will likely be out of the work force for four years while you are getting your degree. Instead of adding entry level work to your résumé, you will be adding an education. Some employers will accept one as a substitution for the other, while others will demand that you have several years of experience, regardless of your education level, before they will hire you. On the other hand, some employers will not promote you unless you have a degree.

Extraneous Information

If you check out the course catalog for any bachelor’s degree, you will see a ton of courses that have nothing to do with computers. Even if you’re looking at a computer science degree, you will still need dozens of credits in general education subjects. You will end up taking advanced math courses, learning about computer networks, and maybe learning programming languages that you will never actually use. Some people view this as a waste of time and money because not all classes will directly translate to the workplace. Others view it as an opportunity to get a well-rounded education.

Outdated

Throughout the course of history, technology has changed—from the wheel to the written alphabet to computers as we know them today. The rate of growth in the computer science field is greater than in any other field.Because of this, computer science degrees can become outdated rather quickly. It’s true that this happens in other fields as well. If a doctor has been out of medical school for 30 years, he will need to catch himself up on new developments in the field. A teacher who has been teaching for decades will periodically need to learn about new methods of instruction and assessment. Likewise, after receiving a computer science degree, a person will need to be diligent about staying up to date on new technologies. Having a degree on your résumé, especially if you have been out of school for a while, is not proof that you have current knowledge.

Despite any of the arguments for and against formal education, there are opportunities for you either way. If you find that you are really not a school person, that’s okay. There are companies who will hire self-taught web designers. Just make sure that your skillset shines through. This means you will need to have a stellar résumé and an impressive portfolio.

3 Things you have to learn by yourself about freelance web designing.

As I’ve said before, I’m an independent web designer. I went to school specifically for web design, and it did a pretty good job of preparing me for the technical demands of my job. However, there were some things that school didn’t prepare me for, and those are the things I want to talk about today.

Competition

Sure, I know how to design a web page. I’ve been doing it for decades. But that doesn’t necessarily make it easy to get work. There are so many options out there for people who need a web designer. There are beginners out there who will design a web page for cheap because they are in the “building a portfolio” stage. There are websites with names like cheapwebdesign.com (That’s not a real website—yet.) who have prices I cannot compete with. I’ve had to learn to set myself apart in other ways. It’s kind of like being a custom quilt maker. Why would someone buy a $300 quilt from me when they can get something similar from Walmart for $30? I’ve got to price myself right, and I’ve got to make my work worth the price.

Difficult People

I’m sure you’ve heard this expression before: “I’d love the job if it weren’t for the people.” Web design is an overlap of two fields that we think of as being very solitary—art and computer science. Depending on where you choose to work, that may be somewhat true, but there’s always the client, and there’s sometimes also the supervisor. Even if you strike out on your own as a freelancer, you’re still doing work for someone. You’ve got to know how to communicate with people, even difficult, demanding people. I’ve posted before about the complaints that I get from clients. That is my least favorite part of the job, but it’s something that I’ve learned to deal with because I love what I do.

Balance

As an artist, you’re a free spirit. You don’t like to follow rules. You want to catch people’s eyes, astonish them, and make them feel something. What you don’t want to do is organize a task list and plan out your workweek in 30 minute increments. Am I right? I know, because I’m like you. When you turn web design into a career, you’ve got to learn to do the bigger picture, organizational things. There is value in the ability to stay on task. You’ve got to organize your electronic files and make sure they’re backed up. You’ve got to be a reliable employee; after all, the job market is tough for a web designer. Don’t think that you’re escaping this requirement by being a freelancer. That will put even more demands on you. You will need to be your own CFO, keeping track of invoicing and more.

I don’t say any of these things to scare you. Heck, if I wanted to scare you, I could’ve written about my beginnings in tech support. Talk about difficult people! But, I digress. The point of this post was to teach you some of the facets of this career that you may not have considered before. These things completely caught me off guard, and I’d like to preparemy readers for the possibilities.

I still firmly believe that web design is an incredible career. I am passionate about my work, and I get to create new art all of the time! There aren’t many careers with steady income for creative types like us, and I feel lucky to have tapped into this particular market. The technology of our time has created a necessity for us, and we should be grateful for that.

Working with a designer for the first time is a complicated process for many people. Anyone who wants to take in web designers for their project is usually curious about their work process in coming up with a design. So what steps should you generally expect your web designer to follow? Here are some crucial steps that you should keep an eye on when searching for a good web designer;

Research

This should be the first step that you should expect from any designer worth their salt. Any designer who simply jumps into the whole work is simply not doing their job properly enough. There are many clients who have no clue about what their site should be like and depend on the kind of recommendations that their web designer will issue. Therefore it is quite important that all designers be in a position to research everything about the brand and how to position it well amongst its competitors online.

Site overview

The next thing that you should expect is an illustration of the site on a site map. This pretty much shows you where all the site’s elements will fit into the overall web design. It is an organization of how the development work will be done. There might be changes during the whole development process but these should only be minor modifications on the overall site map.

Wireframes

Having organized the whole website through the use of a site map, the next part is to organize each page using a wireframe. These wireframes are more like the blueprint of each page. However they need not be followed strictly but just give the designer the overall understanding of how to code the whole site. They also are not necessarily implemented on all types of sites depending on the type of content. More complex sites need to have wireframes in the design process but simpler sites need not have one.

Mock-up design

This is generally where the client is given rough graphic overviews of how their site will appear when complete. This is done with the help of Photoshop. At this stage you should expect to be given a variety of designs of how you would want your site to look like and then get to choose one. It is therefore important that you completely tell your web designers exactly how you picture your website being like. This way they can give you 3-4 variants of how they can implement your idea.

The coding part

After selection of the mock-up design that best suits you, the development phase starts off. In other words the HTML and CSS bits are now hard coded in creating your website. This phase also involves having to check on how well the site can render in different devices (cross-platform responsiveness).

At this point your site will be up and running. However, one vital thing you should also expect is the support from your developers when anything happens. This can be discussed whether it is included in the original package or additional fees apply.

As a right-brained person, I’m great at tapping into my creativity. I’m the type of person who can dream up strange and beautiful things, and then I can express those imaginings through my designs. This is strength of mine, but it comes at a cost. When I am asked to perform left-brained activities (basically anything having to do with math or being organized), I draw a blank. This can be problematic for my freelance business, so I’ve come up with some guidelines to help keep me on track.

What’s more, these guidelines can apply to you whether you’re a freelance or a full-time employee. Whether or not you’re your own boss, you still need to know how to organize your time, back up your work, and communicate with the person giving you orders.

Here are my tips for managing your caseload and keeping your clients (or your boss) happy:

  • First in, first out (sort of) – Ideally, you’re juggling multiple jobs at one. Some jobs you will enjoy more than others. Some jobs you will absolutely dread. It happens. It’s totally normal. But, whether or not they are your favorites, all jobs should have the same priority. The reason for the “sort of” at the end of this bullet point is that each job will include several steps and communications from the client. Your strategy should not be to complete an entire job from start to finish, including all revisions, before moving on to the next client. Rather, each time you hear back from a client with new instructions, that client’s task should be added to the end of the queue.

(Note: The only exception to this, in my opinion, is when you are doing a job for a client who is particularly valuable and will provide you with a lot more jobs in the future.)

  • Back it up – Have a reliable back-up system. Back up your work every day. If you work as a fulltime employee, your company may already have a back-up process in place. If you’re on your own, it’s up to you. Make sure you save your work in more than one place. Some people back up to external hard drives, while others back up to cloud storage services. I don’t really care what system you use, as long as you’re using it regularly. You can save yourself a lot of trouble by taking a little extra time to back your work up.
  • Calendar – Personally, I get stressed out if I have too many jobs hanging over my head. Keeping a detailed calendar helps me focus on the task at hand. If you’ve ever been to a barber or a hair salon, you’ve seen an appointment book. Even though I don’t actually have appointments or meetings, I keep my own electronic appointment book. I estimate how much time each job will take, and I block off the hours I will need. When in doubt, I overestimate. Keeping my time organized in a calendar helps me keep my brain free of clutter, allowing me to be more creative.

This can also help if your client is asking for an estimation of when you will be finished with a particular project or task. If you are following a “first in, first out” policy and you’ve just received a new task, you can look at the next few days in your calendar, see that they are booked with other tasks, and you can estimate that it will be at least 4 days until you are able to complete the new task.

  • Communication – Your organizational strategies can help you and your clients. When a client gives you a new project or task, take a look at your calendar, and give the client an estimated date of when you will be finished. Again, when in doubt, overestimate. You never know what might come up.

I have also found it helpful to communicate with the client as I am making progress on a task. While I don’t want to inundate the client with minor details, I try to send a daily report to my active clients, at least to say that I’m running on schedule and what still needs to be completed. This doesn’t have to take long. In fact, I have a few templates that I use, which makes it even faster.

I hope that these tips will help all of the right-brained designers out there. You can manage your time and your business. It just might take a little extra effort.

Sometimes people ask me how they can get into freelancing, or better yet, how they can turn their existing freelancing efforts into a success. There’s not one easy answer that I can give. And it’s really not about how good your designs are. What it comes down to is who you are as a person and what your financial needs are.

Below, I’ve listed the five biggest things to consider when deciding whether or not freelancing is right for you:

1.     Entrepreneurial spirit

I’m hoping that, at this stage in your life, you know yourself pretty well. From what you know of yourself, would you call yourself a goal setter? Do you have a thirst for knowledge? During your first few years as a freelancer, there’s a lot to learn. Are you the type of person who wants to learn those things?

2.     Self-motivation

This goes hand-in-hand with having an entrepreneurial spirit. Are you willing to go it alone? If you’ve ever had an office job, consider what you do when no one is watching. When the boss is out of the office, do you buckle down and get your work done, or do you goof off in the break room? In order to succeed as a freelancer, you’ve got to be self-motivated. You’ve got to work with no supervision. Some people thrive in that environment. Others do not.

Consider how motivated you are, all on your own. Are you the type of person who will stay up late nights to get jobs done?

3.     Business savvy

As a freelancer, you’ve got to have a handle on your own finances, and you’ve got to be able to negotiate on your own behalf. There is no buffer between you and your client. At some point, you may want to expand your team, but at least initially, you are on the front lines, and you’re also doing all of the background work.

Are you comfortable with figuring out how much to charge a client? If a client is not forthcoming with payment or is asking for more than what you’ve agreed to, do you think you can be your own enforcer? Or would you rather work in an office setting where someone else takes care of these details for you, allowing you to focus primarily on actual design tasks.

4.     Time and dedication

How much time will you be able to put into freelancing? If you’re just doing it casually, your client base is not going to grow. Remember that, as a freelancer, you are a one man show. You’ve got to market yourself through social media. You’ve got to drive traffic to your website through SEO marketing. You’ve got to take care of your own invoicing and client communications. This, of course, is in addition to completing design work.

If you’re thinking of doing freelancing as a side gig while maintaining another full time job, you will probably never get your freelancing business on its feet. If you’re wanting freelance to be your full time job, you’re going to have to commit some serious time to it. Are you willing and able to do that?

5.     Your immediate and long-term needs

When I decided to strike out on my own as a freelancer, I was single and childless, and I made sure I had saved up enough money to pay my bills for 12 months. I didn’t want to have to depend on my freelance jobs for income because I wasn’t sure how quickly I’d be making decent money as a freelancer. Until I started bringing in a livable wage, I ate frozen burritos every night for dinner. I was determined to cut out extraneous spending until I was sure that I actually could afford it.

It takes a while to build up a client base. If you’re not financially stable and/or prepared to live on ramen noodles for a while, freelancing may not be for you.

There you have it: the reasons why you should (or shouldn’t) give freelancing a try. Personally, I have no regrets. I love my life as a freelancer. I work hard, but I also get to work wherever I want, whenever I want. It’s called freelancing for a reason.