Being a web designer is a bit like being a famous basketballer. There are so many people looking at your work, pointing out your flaws and following your every move. But unlike a basketballer, our profession is constantly changing. We have new technologies, trends and fads to follow. And in this fast paced environment it is easy to make mistakes.
In this article I am going to show you the five worst mistakes that web designers constantly make. Some of them are to do with designs and coding and other are to do with networking and branding. Avoid them all equally. They could come back to haunt you.
NOTE: If you can think of any others please drop a comment and let us know. It might really help someone out there.
- 1. Having a poorly defined brand
- 2. Making clients' sites load slowly
- 3. Not delivering your product when you said you would
- 4. Not organizing your time properly
- 5. Not giving your clients enough advice
1. Having a poorly defined brand
What is your brand? Can I discover what your brand is within the first five seconds of visiting your website? Do you constantly reinforce that brand or are you always parting from it? The worst mistake that a freelance web designer or web design company can make is having a poorly defined brand. It will spell the end of your career.
Why is it important?
So why is branding so important? It is simple. It differentiates you from the rest. And we all know how important differentiating is. There are literally millions of web designers out there - you need a way to stand out or you will be just another dope in the crowd who will get overlooked every time.
What are you offering?
Branding is also about knowing who you are and what you are offering. Are you designing $5000 professional websites for up market companies or are you using templates to give people a website for $400? Do you promise two week turn around times or will you take six months? If you don't have a well defined brand you will not know what you are offering and that will make it almost impossible to sell.
If you don't believe in your brand, how do you expect other people to? If you don't even have a brand... well, what more do I need to say?
An example of a well defined brand
A classic example of a well defined brand is Nike. Of all the brands ever created I am of the opinion that Nike is the best. Their logo (the swoosh) is synonymous with success and "correct answers" and their three word catch phrase "just do it" evokes emotion and imagery extremely well.
When it comes to Nike gear you don't care what the price is because you automatically know it is what you need. It is endorsed by the Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Roger Federer, all of whom reinforce in your mind that Nike is what you need to be the greatest.
If you want to be a successful web designer you need to solidify your brand as if your life depended on it. Make sure you know who you are, what you offer and why you are different from the rest. Without this concrete grounding your business will be forever shaky.
2. Making clients' sites load slowly
I love images. I love big, unique, professionally taken photographs. I think they make a website come alive. But initially I used these images poorly and as a result my client's websites loaded slowly. This had an impact on my business. Let me tell you how.
A story about loading times
One day I got a call from a person who had been referred to me via a friend. They wanted a website for their perfume shop and so we met up for coffee to chat about their options. The cafe had wireless internet so I could show them my portfolio. The problem? All of the image based sites I wanted to show them failed to load. The mixture of slow cafe internet and badly saved images meant that it timed out. I didn't get the job.
People are fickle
Take a look at how you react when you visit a website that you've found on Google. If it takes longer than about three seconds to load do you click "back" and go to another site? I know I do. You need to remember this when you design a site for your clients. Make sure it has a fast loading time and doesn't take too long to browse between pages, bring up images, etc.
How to make websites load faster
This is an article in itself so I want to keep these tips brief. If you want to make sure your websites load fast you need to:
- Save for web and devices
Make sure you save your images in Photoshop using the "save for web and devices" function and setting the appropriate level. If you use the regular "save as" function the images will be too large.
- Reduce unnecessary code
Part of the reason the web design community hate the old school tables commands is because they create a lot of extra code. Always find a css solution and keep your web page files to a bare minimum. Its only a small thing but it makes a difference, especially on more robust websites.
- Simplify your designs
You need to reduce the amount of different files that you have on your website. If your website is calling up images, flash, java, html, sound files, css, etc. your site is going to load slowly. Keep the design simple and clean and reduce all these requests.
I think that slow loading times is one mistake that beginners constantly make. It might seem like a small issue but in reality it will annoy your clients and your client's customers. Make sure that website loads like a rocket.
3. Not delivering your product when you said you would
At Taplin Web Design we take the mildly brave step of giving our clients a "post-production survey" which asks them what aspect of our service they were happy/not happy with. Something that has come up once or twice is that delays are super annoying.
Why delays suck
Now, let me be clear. My company normally has a very fast turn around time. But on the odd occasion when our coder has been sick or our servers have been down we have had to unleash a website a day or two late. And the client hated it. Every time.
This is understandable. The client has worked themselves up into a mini frenzy waiting for that website. If you are a good salesperson you have probably pitched it to them such that they now really believe that they need it up and running as fast as possible. So when you turn around and say "it is going to be a day late" they get upset. And they pass this information on to their friends. The last thing you need in a fast-paced, highly competitive business world is a reputation for being tardy. It just won't do.
The one saying to live by
I grew up in family of very successful (non internet based) business people and they often gave me pieces of advice on how I should run my web design firm. The one saying that has stuck with me all these years is:
"Always under promise and over deliver."
Now, this does not mean you should down talk your product and undersell your skills. That is not the point. The point is to avoid making promises that you can't keep and always attempting to surprise your clients by exceeding their expectations.
How to under promise and over deliver
If you have a client that has asked you to upload 100 images to their website you should explain that this is a time consuming process and that it could take up to a fortnight. Then make sure it is done within 24 hours. Send them a nice SMS or email letting them know that you value their ongoing business and as such made it a top priority. This is how great relationships are built. They will recommend you to everyone.
4. Not organizing your time properly
If you are a freelancer you will undoubtedly be a very busy person. Most freelance web designers have five to ten projects going at one time and, if you don't organize your time, you will get lost.
For example, you might have three web design clients, two content creation clients and some images that you need to edit for your own websites. Now you get a phone call from a new client and begin work on their project straight away. After a week you realize that you are behind schedule on the other three web design clients and the content creation is just never going to get done. Not only will you lose your clients, you will not make any money.
How to organize your time better
It is vital that you create some sort of system for organizing your time. Everyone is different so make sure you experiment until you find something that works for you. Here are some basic things that every designer should do:
- Keep a diary
Keep a comprehensive diary with dates clients called, dates you need to finish designs by and so on. Refer to it everyday.
- Write daily lists
Everyday before you start your work spend five minutes itemizing the day. Write down everything you need to do and the order in which you need to do it. Put the most important items first, not the easiest ones.
- Take organized breaks
Don't break when you feel like it, break when your schedule says so. One of the biggest differences between successful web designers and unsuccessful ones is how disciplined you are with your daily routine. Regular breaks will refresh your day, but only if you actually do work in-between
The stress of looming deadlines is horrible. It can make your work feel like a real drag and end up leaving you stressed, depressed and anxious. If you manage your time you will avoid these feelings as you will constantly reassure yourself that you are on top of all of the tasks. Organizing your time well is the first step to creating a very fruitful career.
5. Not giving your clients enough advice
This last point goes against a lot of the current wisdom out there which states that you should always do what your clients wants. Not so. Your client is not the expert. You are.
The doctor and the patient example
Would you ever go to your doctor with a painful lump in your neck and then tell him/her how to do their job? No. You wouldn't. You would listen to the advice and take it on board.
The same is true for web design.
You are the doctor, the client is the patient and the painful lump is the website that they really need to get built.
Now, one thing about the doctor and patient example that is also important to notice is that the doctor will always listen to the patient's symptoms, feelings and fears before making a diagnosis. You need to do the same. Find out what they want, when they want it by and what they need it to do. But don't be afraid to tell them if they are making a mistake or if there is a better "treatment" out there. For example, I will always advise my clients against a Flash website if they are trying to sell a product and rank well on Google. Almost all of the time they take the advice and their business is better off for having done so.
Again, the goal here is not to bully the client into doing what you want. Rather you are trying to do the best by them and giving them advice that you think will help them succeed. Don't advise out of laziness. Do it to help.
The web design industry is a very volatile one and mistakes will be made. Do your best, however, to make sure the above five are not on your list of failures. If they are, pick up the pieces and make sure they don't occur again. That way your mistakes become lessons and allow you to grow as a designer. After all, isn't that what we all want?
Have you got any other mistakes to share? Remember, they might really help someone out there.