Get It Right – Offering Web Design

offering-web-design

As we grow our businesses we often look at various ways to increase revenues by tapping into the various markets surrounding our industry, one of the most common of which is Web Design. HTML, CSS and Javascript are probably the easiest programming languages on the planet which is often the cause for a lot of techs to take it up and offer it out professionally to individuals and businesses. But regardless I still find that a lot of techs jump into this area a little blindly with little thought for the page and graphical design aspects often resulting in some poor work. This appears to be a growing epidemic in my area in the UK so wanted to offer some guidelines for all those considering Web Design as the next step forward in their business and ultimately how to get it right with your own web design offerings.

Look at Your Competitors

Before you even get started it would be wise to check out your competition particularly in the local areas, you may find it quite a eye opener. Generally speaking I find they’ll either be really good or really bad, the really good being dedicated web design businesses whilst the bad seem to squeeze the design in between every other tech job going. As well as providing some insight to the issues that plague the web design industry it will also help you set your own benchmarks and help give you the ideas to stand out amongst your peers as well as provide you with an understanding of what you should be charging.

Have You Got The Time?

Look at your current situation and consider whether you even have the time to get web design in and around the rest of your business operations. One of the biggest mis-considerations is the time that a website can take to get going from the ground up. Consultations, building the design, editing graphics, client not liking the design, redesigning, it all takes up precious hours and usually a lot of them. It’s particularly harder for one man/woman operations so having the ability to delegate certain tasks will make your life much easier.

Outsource

If you find that time is a cause for concern you might still be able to outsource particular parts of the process. It quickly became apparent for me that I’m certainly no graphic designer. If I can’t find anything in my image stocks or online stock photography websites then I’ll outsource the work to one of two graphic designers I have on my books. Be honest with yourself, if there’s a particular part you know you’re not good at then find someone who is. Your websites will benefit and will set you apart from the competition.

Can you use PhotoShop?

Even if you do outsource graphic based work like me it’s still strongly encouraged to have some sort of grasp on the basics of graphic manipulation. If you (or your client) later decide on a small color/size change on the logo then having the ability to quickly make that change yourself will save you both time and money. After some experience working with your favorite graphics package you may find yourself outsourcing a lot less as well as getting much more efficient at the overall design process.

WYSIWYG or Notepad?

If you’re new to the game then you’ll be using a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) design editor, although not an exceptionally accurate acronym with the growing number of browsers and devices accessing the Internet it still holds the basic premise. You draw pretty boxes in a window and the background coding is done for you. Having said that it’s important to know the coding and using either notepad or at the very least the coding view of DreamWeaver for example will help develop your understanding of the underlying code. The more experience you have doing this the better a designer you’ll be as you’ll be able to identify problems more quickly and streamline your coding to remove the “fluff” which is often the result of the WYSIWYG.

Design For Your Client & The Browser

Its all very well designing a site for your client but it’s becoming increasingly important that all your websites display accurately across multiple browsers and devices as the browsing habits of the average user continue to adapt and change in the browser and particularly the mobility markets. It may look fantastic on IE 9 but the likelihood is that if you haven’t been checking, it will probably look disastrous on your iPhone. “Design for FireFox, fix for IE” was the guidelines a couple of years back, but with the recent browser and devices releases this term now feels somewhat obsolete. Just “Design for Everything”, keep checking randomly throughout the design process to save yourself a very big headache towards the end.

Website Templates

Template discussions will often bring in two conflicting views consisting of those who love them and those that wouldn’t touch them. In truth I find myself somewhere in the middle of that. Templates do have their place and for small businesses its often a necessity to have some of the ground work in place to either save time or at the least to kick start the creative process. I’m happy to admit that a blank page will often leave me deflated and I’ll find it hard to drum up the encouragement to tap out all the boring basics of HTML tagging structures. Templates for me are very much there to kick start me creatively and if it doesn’t look completely different shortly after starting then its time to go back to my trusty notepad. The big NO for template use is the creation of duplicate websites from one template. I mean that if you’re just changing the images and text for every new client but leaving in the exact same web page structure then its likely you’ve not listened to your clients needs and is just bad industry practice. If your clients get wind of the fact that their website looks exactly the same as various other businesses in the area then they may well be within their rights to ask for their money back? I await your comments ;)

Affective Pricing

Your pricing will ultimately depend on your commitment to the web design work that arrives at your business and the competition you have in the area. As a guideline my competition are charging up to £500 for every website they make, they generally consist of a few pages and they’re all the same as each other except the odd logo change and image swap. Given that all my clients receive an exceptionally unique design with bespoke graphics and photography where necessary £500 would be a base price growing to £1500 for PHP coding work for small online shops.

Template Websites

  • www.solucija.com
    Solucija.com produces a nice handful of free templates which have provided a nice basis for a few of my past designs. For those starting out with web design it demonstrates clean coding techniques and provides some great CSS use particularly with menus.
  • www.freecsstemplates.org
    A good collection but will require sifting through some of the rubbish.
  • www.dreamtemplate.com
    A subscription based access site which may work well for you if you’re doing a lot of website work.

Stock Image Websites

Just a few of my favorite stock image sites.

Have A Contract

You might have said to your client that you will create this many pages, to be completed on this date for this price. It may seem fairly black and white but there are many more issues you need to sort out before you start work such as:

  • What sort of fee structure are you going to use? A percentage before and after completion or outright?
  • Are there any late fees if the client doesnt pay on time?
  • When is the content for the website due? There have been many horror stories of clients holding up projects for months because they dont get the content to the developer
  • How many design revisions are included in the initial quote? Again, there have been many horror stories where the client expects unlimited design changes to be included in the original cost
  • Who owns the rights to the graphics and code?

Technibble’s own Computer Business Kit has a web development contract that covers all these clauses and is worth checking out.

The above tips and guidelines I hope will offer up some areas of thought which may guide you through some of your future web design offerings, especially if you’re considering to branch out in this area in the near future. If you have the time and inclination then web design can be great fun and an excellent way to increase your income. Of course web design opens up additional opportunities down the line, SEO and email/web marketing and hosting to name but a few. Are you offering web design to your clients? If there’s one piece of advice you could offer readers considering web design what would it be?



Ric Chapman

About the Author

Ric has been in the IT support business for 12 years driven by his love of tech and passion to help others. Ric carries several certifications from both Microsoft and CompTIA and worked in a myriad of support environments, that experience he now puts into developing his own IT consultancy business.

Comments (12)

  • tf76 says:

    Very good insights!

    A contract is a must!

  • Jim says:

    This will most likely anger the code junkies, but joomla and wordpress are great ways to dip your toes into web development segment. With templates available from places like rockettheme, joomlart, and elegantthemes you have 1000s of possibilities. Modular CMS systems also give you a edge when you can add special features such as robust project management, help desks, stores, etc directly into their site with point and click ease. This also allows the customer to add their own content easily. OK guys let me have it, lol

  • Eddie says:

    Honestly, I was bored with trying to learn HTML years ago, as well as Java. I really like the results of using Java, but I was just more interested in repairing and building computers. I’m in my mid 50′s and I know if I was young today, I would of motivated myself more to learn it. I see how computer technology is changing (or turning). HTML and Java are like the basics with webpages. I would rather get templates, being lazy about this stuff.

  • Scott Cairns says:

    I agree with Jim – when I started web design, I did static web sites. The main problem, though, was that I had to be responsible for all editing. With a CMS site, though, the client can do their own editing and content maintenance. Another big plus, anyone can make changes without special software – you simply login from any browser and edit ‘live’. The content is not what my clients are paying me for – it is the design. Give a CMS site a try (there are MANY distributions out there)!

  • Craig says:

    Good article. I almost always start with a template or framework of some sort. There is so much stuff that it’s pointless to code every time just to call something bespoke. And without being a fairly exceptional designer what’s really bespoke anyway? Everything is just inspired by something else or follows best practice. People seem to get hung up on bespoke, I’d rather make something that works well.

  • Brian King says:

    Having nearly completed the re-design of my own website, I just had to add a comment to this very useful article by Ric. I am currently re-building a new site using Dreamweaver CS5, but am endeavouring to use coding and css techniques in order to produce a site that is hopefully built to current web standards, and I am learning more every time I add a line of code.

    Ric is quite right, my core role is to provide IT Support to small business’ and the domestic environment in Enfield North London, which keeps me very busy on a daily basis. As a result, it has taken me since before Christmas to have a site that is anywhere ready to replace the ageing one currently in existence. OK I have hand coded a substantial drop-down menu and created a fairly complex PHP based contact form, but as Ric says it all takes time, and every interruption causes yet another delay.

    I have even had to have my current site moved from a Microsoft based hosting server to a Linux one to ensure that the PHP part of the new site works.

    Ric raises a very relevant point, if IT Support Technicians are considering adding Web Design to their list of services consider the pit-falls, one of which is “Do you have the Time” to complete the projects and /or re-hash it because a customer is not happy with the design.

  • TechLady says:

    Jim’s right. I was doing web design before computer repair and I’m a big fan of WordPress now. Also, I think it’s worth noting that computer repair and web design really are two completely different animals. It may seem like “easy” money, but it’s not…not when you factor in cross-browser problems, new coding techniques that must be learned and mind-changing clients that are never happy.

    The main advantage is that you can yank the site if they don’t pay up, unlike a computer that you already fixed. (Though you are still out on your time in both cases, obviously).

  • Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy says:

    I have been able to fill the majority of my clients website requests with an installation of WordPress and a theme from a library that fits their needs. Most of my brick and mortar small business clients don’t need anything more complicated than a clean website with a few pages, a logo, and a contact form. I’m able to provide this for a low price because it literally takes 30 minutes to set it up.

    My website work has actually been increasing lately as more businesses seek to establish, or improve, their presence on the web.

    Matt
    http://www.yfncg.com

  • Momg says:

    Great post!
    I have several websites of my own, but designing for a client is totally different.. and takes SO much more time. I offer some website “coaching”, but I don’t really feel experienced enough even for that. Coaching implies that the CLIENT is doing most of the work.. as it should be, if they want to really realize all it entails.
    Best to do what you do best.. and keep it focused.. (or referred!)

  • Ludovic Bezy says:

    Content management system is I think the way to go. Joomla, Drupal are two main platform that can be used. With some time and learning you can built an efficient web site with many templates and extension available to make your site look very professional.

  • Andrew says:

    Webdesign involves combination of artistic and technical skills with the technical skill being the easiest to develop.overnight success. It takes months if not years to develop those creative skills

    What most beginners fail to realize is that developing artistic and design skills is not and. In other words everyone is not born a Picasso out of the womb . I will agree with the individual who posted above that webdesign and computer repair are two different animals and it is not really for the uninitiated

    I remember from my own experience trying to get a website off the ground. The technical aspects came easy such as learning to code in (html,Java Script,Java, and CSS,)plus learning the operations of graphic design programs such as Paint Shop Pro and Photo Shop was not difficult to pick-up at all and that’s Because of all the amount of tutors and books that they offer online and offline.

    The challenging part was the creative process of actually trying to come up with a unique logo and web design scheme for my pages so people would actually want to a least take a look at what I was offering.

    I think the solution for any company trying to add webdesign as offering is to maybe look into hiring someone who’s highly skilled in that area as a full timer or par-timer or contracting that work out. Because at the end of the day anyone can put a webpage up by submitting to a Web server, but making it at least decent or appealing is to eye is the trick of the trade to master and not everyone is artistically inclined to accomplish that.

    To make a comparison Its almost liking going to the Barber Shop for a basic haircut which could have be done with some basic clippers and mirror in other words something that individual could have stayed at home and did, Yet the professional Barber is their to enhance the hair cut just like the professional web designer is their to bring web page out to make it appeal ing to a particular audience

  • Mike Smith says:

    I think a visit to theoatmeal.com is in order for aspiring web designers ;-)
    http://theoatmeal.com/comics/design_hell

    I really recommend that you look at a wordpress or drupal or joomla site for your clients. Pick a theme and let the client add content so they feel a part of the site. When they want to refresh it, just pick a different theme and wha-la, it’s like getting a new stylin suit.
    Frankly, learning one of those amazing CMS apps is going to be a huge benefit for you in your own practice. For example, there is an awesome “spaces” based team site built on drupal called Open Atrium. Blog, notebook, events, ACLs, searchable and more. It’s free and very useful for keeping records and such. You might not even recognise that it’s drupal. The lulabot guys have a video of how they cloned Basecamp in drupal in 48 hours. Very cool, very flexible, and very robust.
    When you get more advanced with a CMS, you can build up very different sites from the same CMS quickly and will only need some themeing.
    An additional benefit, is the maintenance. There are thousands of people fixing things for you, and a team devoted to packaging fixes up for you in easily installable updates. It will even email you when there are updates available.