It Can Be Tough Starting Out

In last week’s blog post, I talked about the learning curve designers go through when getting started.  The model shows the various stages on your path starting at ground zero building up to competence. If you missed last week’s post, you can catch up here.

My goal was to help new designers understand the path and stages to expect on their journey.  Having walked the conscious competency path myself, I know it can be tough starting out as a web designer.

Bracing as a beginner

In fact, it is usually damned uncomfortable to be a beginner and aware if it. And there’s no other way forward than to go through it. We have to be able to manage our beginner’s anxiety in order to power through the awkwardness to nail the education, experience, and feedback necessary for growth and improvement.

On a career path to become a professional web designer, you have to know what your end goal looks like and just as important, what you have to do to achieve it. Many people get stuck trying to create WordPress sites for clients without any idea of what is involved in building an effective site. You don’t know what you don’t know and you need to.

Not all skills are like this. For instance, when we envy people who dance well, we realize that skill requires taking lessons (lots of them) and practice, practice, practice.

But in website design, the path to competence is not so clear. Many different skills are required to create an excellent professional website. Since beginners don’t know what they don’t know, they have no idea of the breadth of what they have to learn.

It’s easy to get yourself stuck at the stage where you can make a website that looks good. But looking good is not good enough. The point of most business websites is to attract the right visitors and bring in the right type of business. Pretty or snazzy is not enough to gets results.

Pushing through mediocrity

If you lack the self-awareness to properly gauge your skill level and stay in a bubble not bothering to seek out opinions or advice from experts you will protect your ego, but never achieve true competence. In the case of a web designer stuck at this stage, your clients end up at best with a pretty but ineffective website or worse, having to ask your competitors to redo the site completely. That is not going to be good for your business.

It’s certainly fine to stay at the beginner stage if you enjoy dabbling if you don’t bill yourself as a web design professional. There are a lot of people out there that need a website on a shoestring, so as long as you don’t take on sites that are critical to the success of someone’s business then go for it.

The opposite bubble

I also have assessed the work of web designers with the opposite perception: being in a bubble made them underestimate their skill level. A woman from our Meetup community originally approached me for an opinion of the websites she had done. I was so surprised when I looked at the sites she had done. They were really good, not at all what I expected. It turns out that she was technically savvy, and had a good eye for design. She just lacked confidence in her work.

I asked her how much she was charging her clients for these sites. When she told me she had charged around $350 each, I gasped and forbid her from taking anything less than $1,500. She could and later would charge way more but I knew she needed to increase her confidence incrementally. Later, lucky me I hired her and she grew into knowing the quality of her work.

Measuring greatness, filling gaps

I believe there are seven core competencies that result in websites that work, and the aspiring web designer who steadily increases his or her knowledge of these areas will confidently move from beginner to pro. These areas are:

  1. Client and Business Management
  2. Usability and User Experience
  3. Design Skill
  4. Online Marketing
  5. Messaging and Content
  6. WordPress Skill
  7. Technical Expertise

To become a professional WordPress designer first assess your knowledge and competence in each of these seven areas. You don’t have to be excellent in every one; each offers paths for gaining knowledge and experience, which will lead to overall competence. If you rate yourself low in any of the competency areas, dissect why. Is it because of a lack of knowledge, exposure or experience in a particular area? Or is it a real fixed deficit?

If you have a fixed deficit, that’s ok. Just know you will have to create ways to compensate for your lack of skill in that competency area.

Here are some examples: You are color blind and have no sense of design, so you team up with a designer who can work with you to provide the logo, colors, and design of the site. You can handle the rest.

You are not good with people and would just as soon never return a phone call, so you realize it’s a bad idea to handle clients yourself. You find a partner who can deal with the business end of the work, getting and managing clients, which will allow you to play to your strong suit by working in the background.
If you can’t string a sentence together and grammar ties you in knots, you will have to require that the client provides you with every bit of content before you start or you can build the cost of a copywriter into the site’s budget. But compensating by hiring a writer doesn’t get you completely off the hook. You need to learn enough about messaging and writing for the web to distinguish good from bad when you see it, even if you can’t do the writing yourself.

An honest assessment of your knowledge and skill in each of these seven competency areas will provide you with a road map and a destination. Then you can get the education, exposure, and experience you need across these seven skill areas.  This will give you the necessary foundation to allow your work to improve and you become a web designer with loyal clients who advise their friends to work with you too. Competence and the results it produces creates its own buzz.

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