Freelance web designer and how I became one?

Unusual word – freelance – don’t you agree? I can understand the free and the lance words, obviously, as separate entities, but collocate the two and you have an odd term: freelance.

Free, I get. 

Above all, you’re free from bosses, petty hierarchies and that addiction to a poor monthly wage. You have freedom – which can excite and alarm in equal measure.

Lance to me connotes some dodgy drug using cyclist who gamed the system. Or if I take my Tour de France lycra and sunglasses off, some medieval jousting weapon. I know, I know: lance is used as a verb too. You can lance a boil, as well as a common noun and proper noun as in Lance Armstrong. But it is a weird term when the two are melded into one.

Freelance for web design

This epic blog post is not going to descend into a Poundland Stephen Fry tribute act.

One where I discuss connotations and semantics, until you all click away, saying “God, he’s boring.”

No what I want really want to talk about is the three keywords stamped in the title and throughout this tome: Freelance Web Designer.

It’s what I primarily am now.

My past

Let me take you on a voyage back in time first though – bear with me for my mawkishness and indulge me.

I was always destined to become a teacher, an English teacher, from the age of four. Not because I was incredibly precocious – no it’s because reading and writing thrilled me. No joke. 

Growing up in Doncaster

Most children in 1969 were happy in Doncaster with a Billy Casper type existence. I grew up on a council estate in Thorne, that was slightly similar to Hoyland in Barnsley, without the air pollution. It was a childhood of trainspotting, fishing and mainly reading. I devoured books on a daily basis – and I was lucky enough to have parents who’d take us to Thorne Library once a week and indulge my escapism in reading. 

Long time ago, though that, and a lot of water has passed under many burned bridges since the 70s.

English studied, as web design did not exist

What I did, after modest success at A level, was venture north and east to Sunderland Polytechnic. Here I enjoyed three years of studying Literature, and , above all, getting drunk in the Royalty, the Ivy House, Museum Vaults and union bar at Wearmouth Hall.

I had polytechnic places offered too in London – and perhaps now I’d be a freelance web designer London, had I gone to Kentish Town or Tottenham? But, to be fair, I’ve since made Norfolk my home and am pleased with the work I get as a freelance web designer Norwich. 

I made many friends at Sunderland too. For example, Sarah Jarvis, Mary Meredith, Glenn Mower and Richard Walker.  I’ve only recently reconnected with on social media, after a 34 year gap.

Websites didn’t exist in the 1980s

Anyone who’s not a boomer reading this needs to understand that 1983 to 1986 was a technological desert. We queued at the halls of residence or public phone boxes to ring family and friends. There was no internet, no social media, no mobile phones. 

I realise that it’s probably unforgivable that 30 years passed before any communication was re-opened, but isn’t that normal? I don’t know. What I do know though is that I had the time of my life at Sunderland – despite its gammony, student-hating natives and the fact that Newcastle was my main port of call for retail and restaurants. It’s why I wanted my children to go to uni – meet new people, become independent and cut the apron strings with home.

Moved to Leeds

After Sunderland, I had a fairly miserable year on a PGCE in Horsforth, Leeds. Here I was placed in two of the toughest schools in the whole of West Yorkshire, which made me look for civility across the Pennines to Oldham, where I bought my first home at 23 years of age.

Enough you say?

This is reading like an obituary – without the relief of knowing you’re dead?

I taught English from 1987 to 2015 across Oldham, Manchester, Bolton, Stoke, Doncaster and Norfolk / Suffolk. Recently, I had a total breakdown with stress, anxiety and depression from 2013 to 2015.

Cheerful, I know.

But it’s what happened next that made me a freelance web designer or freelance web developer that I am today.

I had three stints in estate agency – the first was basically volunteering, when I look back; the second had more success in partnership and a third I abandoned as this business took off big time.

Friends in the property industry

Above all, what I know though is that those three spells in property paved the way for me designing websites for estate agents and property gurus. For example, Dewhurst Homes in Preston, Nest in Essex for Nick Cheshire, Michael Bailey, a leading light in Keller Williams and Russell Quirk. 

Russell was heading emoov when we decided to sell our lovely Edwardian villa and move to a new build to release equity.

I class Russell, Nick and Michael as real friends now – even though Russell is a Tory!

Nick has my sympathy too – as his MP in Rayleigh is Mark Francois, the deranged Brexiteer.

I’ve written for estate agents, sometimes openly, sometimes under NDAs, since 2015 and it combines that passion for property with the written word – so I am blessed.

I started Get Pro Copy in November 2015, expecting very little of it, to be honest.

My expectations were roundly met as its revenue in 2015 to 2016 was a woeful £6900 for the year! 

The real breakthrough though came in 2017 when I made it a Ltd Company and focused on growing the business. Then in 2018, when I had another separation. 

This divorce was from a web design partnership. I decided that I could do web design and copywriting and digital marketing single handedly.

In 2019, my revenue began to nudge the VAT threshold.

This year, it’s paying me record amounts as my network and business reputation has grown.

Freelance web designer is now my job title

I must admit here that I’ve no formal qualifications in web design. I’ve never been on a course, I’ve never paid anyone to train me. I am connected and friends with many freelance web developers UK and freelance web designers UK. 

I am teetotal and have been now since 2016 when alcohol began to control me, not the other way round.

That move to permanent sobriety accelerated the growth of this business. 

From actively pursuing web design work, I’m now comfortable and confident and often get asked if I offer freelance web designer jobs. The answer is always no, though.

Gradually, clients gave me access to their WordPress dashboards to add blogs or create new content. I realised from poking around others and improving this website from what was a 3 page brochure advert in 2015, that I had a talent and massive motivation for web design.

Why?

In some ways, the satisfaction stems from nostalgia. In the 70s, when you weren’t watching paedophile presenters on TV, I was fishing, trainspotting, reading or, when ill, instructed to do jigsaws.

Yes, jigsaws.

Swathes of sky and sea, dotted with yachts and boats in a marina, that looked nothing like the cut  (canal) in Thorne.

I had a method then for the jigsaw – as I’m sure everyone does.

The jigsaw and web design

I’d find the edges, the frame; I’d then separate colour blocks – like the blue sky and white boats.

Only then would I begin to create the framework from the edge pieces and fill in the centre, whilst laughing at Jimmy Saville et al.

I think this methodology has served me well with freelance web design.

It is nothing more than a big jigsaw – admittedly one where you often don’t have the benefit of a picture, the pieces or a plan from a client. 

You have to be creative and improvise to make this jigsaw of a website come together and flow cohesively.

The edges are the domain and hosting.

The picture on the box is the client brief and audience.

The middle is the copy.

Except, there’s much more to it than that.

What you see on a finished website, like a completed jigsaw, is not the full story.

Behind the website sits optimised metadescriptions, compressed images, a site map, alt tags and all manner of plugins and trickery to turn a £4.99 domain name into a fully functioning shop. It needs to be responsive too for smartphones.

Look at three I’ve designed – Naturally Vegan Food, a few years ago. And this year, two more wordpress Ecommerce sites for local businesses: Outer Limits GY in Great Yarmouth, my nearest town.

Local websites for local people

Secondly, Sustainability Station in the city centre, where I’m increasingly finding demand for my web design Norwich services.

All three have secure integrated payments, invoicing and ordering functionality, as well as stock inventories. There’s more to come too.

When someone gives me half or full payment and trusts me to deliver, I take the job very seriously indeed. I thrive on great feedback – just as I did as a child growing up in fantastic primary and middle schools in Thorne. I revel in the outcomes and am delighted that the order book for my freelance web designer services is bulging.

Success for freelance in web design

I’ve explained my journey from English teacher to freelance in web design, but how have I made a success of it, with working from home?

Firstly, it’s taken 5 years of persistent effort and research to get this business to where it is now: on top of Google for many good search volumes.

I don’t think I can overstate enough that time has been a massive factor.

If you look at the DA, or Domain Authority of any business here, you get a measure of the strength of a website’s presence. My domain getprocopy.com started with a DA of zero and five years later, it’s high. The traffic to my website has gone from 50 a month in 2015 at its inception, to anything between 2,000 and 5,000 per month now, according to Google Analytics. You can check the DA of your business and rivals here.

Okay, a lot of this traffic is from rivals twitching nets to see what I’m doing and ex-pupils, who are curious about how Mr Walton is coping, since being bullied out of teaching.

Active on social media

Still though, with active, indeed hyperactive, social media outputs, I’m really pleased with averages now of 150 visits per day to the website.

Talking of social media, I do use six channels but as an open book, I must say that LinkedIn is my favourite in terms of connections, discussions and conversions, followed by Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – which I don’t generate leads from generally.

This website though has been through three iterations and I’m planning, when time allows, to upgrade it further by embedding videos and animations on here to freshen it up.

I find web design incredibly enjoyable

It helps that I am a freelance copywriter too who can knock out words easily. 

That blue sky void of a jigsaw – the home page, about and services of a company – don’t daunt me and leave me wishing I’d never taken on the project. 

Unless the clients are bad – and my radar beeps, then I refund and move on.

What are the steps to take to become a good web designer?

Firstly, I’d argue, you need oodles of time. 

Because as with learning any trade, you need time to research, read and watch YouTube videos on WordPress, hosting, SSLs and logos etc.

Time was never an issue for me at the outset – I had acres of it as the business was still emergent.

What I did initially was watch some 90 minute long YouTube explainer videos, pausing and making notes as I went through each one. I began to understand how a domain name could become an attractive brochure website, with a place online.

Early stages of becoming a freelance web developer

Next, I learnt about domain names and hosting and for a 50 year old, my apprenticeship ran from 2015 to 2018 when I was pottering in the fringes of web design, by adding content to this website and to those of copywriting clients.

Finally, I became familiar with the WordPress dashboard and mastered adding elements and blocks to a site through the super-intuitive Elementor, a web builder I used for all sites initially. I have since moved away from using Generate Press and Elementor and now use a variety of page builders and templates to fit the project.

First steps into web design

My first forays into freelance for web design were simple landing pages, built for £200 with hosting and logo included, as I was naive and learning my craft.

Like a kid, starting off with a 10 piece jigsaw to use that extended metaphor again, I have developed into being able to build complex websites. Or 2000 piece jigsaws if you like the analogy.

I’ve mastered building online shops now for customers – and find them time consuming but again, I’ve totally learned the process. 

How much can a freelance web designer make?

To be honest, the truthful answer is I’m not sure as I’ve invested profits and time into marketing the business and on capital expenditure. 

The home office looks like an Apple version of “the Generation Game” and its 70s conveyor belt – with a lovely fast 32gb iMac Pro in Space Gray at its centre, flanked by dual HomePods, a 16 inch MacBook Pro, iPad Pros (yes two of them) and an iPhone 11 Pro. I’m aware of the locked down restricted nature of the operating system – but it is an opulent jail and, to be honest, Airdrop and iCloud syncing will see me remain, nuzzled in Tim Cook’s bosom.

I have superfast fibre broadband with Google WiFi forming superlative blanket mesh coverage from a router and WiFi point.

The 3rd bedroom is decked out in a fox theme – with Scion Mr Fox wallpaper, cushions and orange branded sofa to match the business branding and I sit on a superb Kab armchair that induces zero backache, even on 12 hour web design stints.

When you factor in this investment, and the average monthly cost of social media marketing of around £100 per month for my business, the profits are modest.

A web designer salary

What I’ve got though is a nice financial buffer to augment my freelance web designer salary.

In April 2020, I retired at 55 and got a nice lump sum and monthly pension, as reward for 27 years in teaching.

I do now charge VAT as my income exceeds £85,000 per annum, which is a brilliant leap from £6900, just five years ago.

Diversify 

I do think that if you want financial success (if money floats your boat), you must diversify.

Ostensibly, I have six main jobs:

  1. Retired teacher 
  2. Freelance web designer
  3. Digital marketeer
  4. Freelance copywriter
  5. GCSE exam marking 
  6. Educational consultancy 

The last two – in education – have been dropped this year, though I am grateful for the payments for services I carried out for schools locally and further afield. I no longer offer numbers 5 and 6.

Numbers 2 and 4 produce the most consistent rewards.

People’s biggest fear in life is not death, divorce or disease apparently – it’s public speaking. I find communication verbally or in writing a cinch, after standing in front of teenage audiences from 1986 onwards.

There’s not many copywriters who can design websites, and there’s not many web designers who can write.

The biggest bottleneck in web design is always the copy.

For instance, when clients don’t provide any content, a brief, or even bullet points of ideas, the design process slows to a crawl.

However, when someone like Steven Harris from King of Spades Ltd, sends me a list of what he does and where he serves, I’m like a seagull on chips.

I love writing, you see. I love reading and researching. Really, I do get a thrill from creating unique copy on a beautifully designed website. 

I think that’s why I’ve made this business such a success with fair charges.

You can read more about what does it cost to build a website in the UK here.

It does well for copywriting and managing others’ social media, but combining a triumvirate of: social media insights with SEO copywriting and web design, has been a compelling proposition from start ups to large businesses alike.

That ability, I believe, sets me apart, and the fact that I do all this: copywriting, creating social media pages and running them, with responsive wordpress web design has been a real USP.

Where do I find freelance web designer work?

Or, how have I marketed myself as a freelance web designer?

I’ll be very honest, as usual – three main channels have had the most success:

  1. Ex pupils have contacted me and had me design their websites as they trust me not to rip them off or let me down. I think I’ve designed about 30 websites for ex students of mine, who remember my funny English lessons with affection.
  2. This website. I’m top of the pile for quite a few long tail search terms with volumes of 50 or more per month. They drop me an email, a message on social or call me and many convert for web design, social or content writing.
  3. LinkedIn. I love LinkedIn. I love the network of real friends I’ve developed on there and I’ve got a decent following on there as I’m active and interactive and supportive (of many, not all).

Other social media serves me well too – but it’s the three above that have led to success, I guess.

What are my plans for this business?

There is that cliché that if you love something you do … and I am genuinely passionate about the business I’ve created. I don’t intend hanging up my mouse and trackpad for a good few years, as I enjoy the work too much. I have started some legacy planning though in that my son and daughter will take over the web design and copywriting business.

Both are very talented individuals.

James, our son, is studying English Literature and French at university in Cardiff. 

Ruby, our daughter, has started GCSEs and like mum and brother, is a very talented linguist, who plans to study languages at university, then buy a campervan to travel Europe whilst running Get Pro Copy. She can then conquer the search term, freelance web designer near me, with her nomadic lifestyle?

Pro-EU and woke, they make us very proud as parents. 

How to become a freelance web designer

After this detailed introduction, I now need to cut to the chase and explain in depth and with clarity, how to become a freelance web designer.

The first thing is to get someone to design your website. I know, I know, it seems counter-intuitive to ask someone in your intended industry to do the work you’re supposed to be doing. 

But hear me out.

Pay a decent web designer, like me.

I will set up your domain and hosting. I will install WordPress and the SSL.  Then I put the site on maintenance mode, or Coming Soon.

You can then log in via wp-admin and play around with templates and ideas for weeks until you get to grips with something that works for you.

When the website is ready – and it has to be impressive if you’re planning to sell yourself as a freelance web designer – launch it, promote on social media and start blogging.

Don’t restrict yourself to 300 words a blog once a week.

It’s far better, for search engines, to write one blog post of 1000 words once a month.

With blogging, you need to have a key phrase or long tail search term in mind. You must craft the title carefully. That way, you’ll get more clicks.

In terms of keywords, you’ve got to find out search volumes and competition. However, there’s many tools that can do this for you. I will gladly help out too as I have paid access to a premium SEO tool. 

Get the blog title right (and its URL)

Titles need to contain a balance of four types of words:

  1. Common words
  2. Uncommon words
  3. Power words
  4. Emotional words

Again, I can help. 

Firstly, a title needs to be the right length. Secondly, the keywords need to be near the beginning and within the URL and metadescription.

The blog post needs to be carefully structured with sub-headings ranging from H1 to H6. You don’t need to indulge in keyword stuffing – SEO writing has two audiences, Google and humans. 

Humans are more important. If your blog gets read and shared, Google will take note and accelerate your journey up page rankings.

If you can manage super detailed blog posts (like this one), so much the better. 

You should aim to use the Skyscraper strategy. This is where your blog post becomes the tallest and best piece of content to be found online. It must provide answers to those searching. Then, it needs to be submitted to Google Search Console, promoted online and on social media. It needs internal and external links to make it rank.

You should get someone to write blog posts for you. Or roll up your own sleeves metaphorically and dig deep and write regularly for your website.

Think of a new website as an empty vessel, like a bath. You need to pour content in before anyone will climb in and soak up your information. 

Writing, and writing well, takes time and discipline, 

Create backlinks

I can’t stress this enough. When your website is launched, you need to submit it to local and national business directories. Next, add to comparison sites, with a compelling summary and a link to your website.

As you become established, companies will often ask you to link their articles on the website. This is something I still do. If I read a great article, it inspires me to write. Then, I link to it and send the blog post to the author and ask for a link to mine. 

You get ignored many times. However, occasionally, you meet with a positive response. A link to your article is then embedded on a domain with high authority.

Use great imagery

If you can employ a local photographer to spend a couple of hours, do it. Let them takeheadshots, product shots, team shots, that is always money well spent. Factor into the cost the editing time your photographer will expend and don’t be a cheapskate.

For example, high quality non-stock photos will set your business apart.

You can also use sites like Pexels, Pixabay, Unsplash for free. Indeed, I have a monthly subscription to Shutterstock.  I have access to a premium compression tool that reduces a 2MB image to under 300KB in seconds. You need to do that too as web images slow down site loading, another SEO factor.  

Meanwhile, you need to add alt tags to images like this %name web design. Also add a title so Google and visitors know what the image is.

Is your SEO local, national, niche?

If I was based in Manchester, I’d optimise this site for freelance web designer Manchester. I love that city and have designed many websites for people like Steven Coleman of ESM, who used to head security at the Etihad and is now a global player in his industry. I’ve done websites too for Rob Kellock of Preston and Mick Addison and his GBR Solutions team in Ormskirk. 

Liverpool and Leeds

I’ve done a lot of moving around in my time and I’ve grown to like certain UK cities.

Liverpool has fond memories for me too from my 20s and I do get web design projects from there for Steven and Neil Jones even though I’m not a freelance web designer Liverpool. It must be my northern sense of humour that appeals?

Leeds is another city I like but haven’t visited for 15 years. Clients there, like Hogan’s Estate Agents, become friends and I’ve designed a handful of websites for clients in Leeds and Wakefield. But saying I’m a freelance web designer Leeds would be a bit disingenuous. 

There’s other cities too where I’ve done writing and web design for – Pav in Edinburgh, Nick in Glasgow, but I couldn’t class myself as a freelance web designer Edinburgh, even though we spent a week there this year. 

Another question I get asked is what do I charge as a freelance for web design?

Freelance web designer rates vary across the country. In my native Doncaster, I’m regarded as expensive.  After that in Norfolk and across Manchester and London, I’m regarded as cost-effective. My freelance web designer rates begin at £40 per hour (plus VAT). I know this is a lot more than minimum wage. However it is a fraction of the rates a web design agency will charge. 

UK web designer for hire

You can hire me.

However, you must be prepared to wait. Pay a deposit and wait. I do have a waiting list for my services now, as business  has grown. Being freelance for web design occupies most of my time now. It’s a full time job on its own, without factoring in digital marketing projects.

In conclusion, I do hope this lengthy blog has “added value” and if you need any advice on web design, copywriting, SEO or digital marketing, contact me.