Are you the very best designer you could possibly be at this exact point in time?
Most of us wish we could answer that question with a resounding YES and the workflow and client roster to back it up. Some of us actually can do that.
For the rest of us, don’t lose hope. It’s never too late to start being the best possible version of you, and that includes the “you” that’s a designer.
Web design is a skill set that must be acquired at some point – you may have an inborn design “instinct” but you don’t have an inborn ability to use Photoshop. And because it’s a creative venture in addition to a skill-based one, there’s never a limit on just how “good” you can be.
There’s always a next level, a new horizon, a future goal you can strive to hit.
This is amazing! But maybe, depending on where you are in your career, it can also be a little bit intimidating. (If that’s how you feel, then take a step back and focus on where you are right now. Chances are, you know what you need to do next. Give yourself permission to do it…and then commit!)
Generally speaking, when it comes to being a great web designer, there are a few areas you need to have under control. You need your skill set, obviously – the technical abilities and design know-how that butters your bread.
You also need to be effective in dealing with your clients. They’ve got wants, needs, and expectations, and they don’t always know how to express them. The better you are at helping them, the better you’ll be as a designer.
And finally, you need to have your work systems (and your business systems, if you’re a freelancer) down pat. You can be the best client-whisperer with the greatest skill set this side of the Mississippi, but if your business has sand in the gears, you’ll shoot yourself in the foot every single time.
With all of that said, here’s my take on how you can be the best designer you can possibly be, from soup to nuts…or from skills to systems, as it were.
Keep your skills sharp
You obviously need top-notch design skills if you’re going to be a great designer. This is one of those neverending frontiers that you can spend the rest of your career exploring and developing.
Always be learning. Read design books. Check out the portfolios of top performers in your field. Make notes about neat design elements that you see and love. Go to conferences to pick up new ideas, new contacts, and the latest information about what’s going on in your industry.
When you aren’t working, practice something new. Because design is creative, you need to have a way to spend time that feeds your creativity. It could be something tangentially related to design (like hand lettering or learning a new platform) or fairly unrelated (like cake decorating or knitting). There’s no “wrong” creative pursuit – the only way to do it “wrong” is to not do it at all.
Practice great customer service
Your job as a web designer is to deliver a beautiful, effective website that meets the goals and expectations of your client. Every client will come to you with what they think they want or even need, but more often than not, they won’t really be able to express what they actually need from their website.
It’s your job as the designer to listen to the customer and tease out what it is that will make this site effective and functional. You may need to learn “business-speak” and marketing language to do so, but the sooner you’re able to start hearing your clients, the greater your designs will be.
One key to “hearing” your clients is to work with the right ones from the start. Focus on finding the right clients for you, getting familiar with their needs, and – this is a big one – treating them right.
Web design is expensive, and many people are afraid when they hire a web designer that it’ll be all crickets and then a giant thud when the final product is delivered. Don’t be that designer. When you can get clear on expectations right from the start – both hearing them and setting them – and then you consistently deliver, you’ll be an absolute rockstar.
Protect your bottom line
If you can’t keep the business side of your business running, you’ll have a hard time being the best at anything…no matter how well you do everything else. There are a few business basics you’ll need to master to truly start humming at a high level.
First, get your pricing right. Perhaps the most common refrain in freelancer-land is “Charge what you’re worth!!” While this is excellent advice, it’s also tricky to put a price on that. Be aware of what your peers are charging, and make sure you aren’t falling behind the 8-ball on your rates. Consider different pricing models and, when the time is right, raise your rates. This is where it’s extremely helpful to have a robust network of web design colleagues who can freely discuss issues like rates and pricing structures with you.
If you aren’t a freelancer, this step isn’t as critical, but also be sure your current rates are fair! Don’t be afraid to have a nerve-wracking conversation if it means you’re being compensated fairly in the end. It’s always a good idea to have a network of colleagues, no matter how you get your work.
Take a look at your work processes. Are they (for lack of a better term) optimized? What are some repetitive tasks you do that can be automated? Is there some drudgery you can outsource? Does your workflow need an overhaul? Are you constantly chasing down the same information from every client? Does your office facilitate your ability to work, or does your workspace need a shake-up? Take stock of what works and change what doesn’t.
Finally, look for ways to scale your business. One of the most talked-about ways to do this right now is by selling digital products, particularly courses. If you’re at the top of your game (or getting there), you’ve got a lot of knowledge you can share with up-and-comers who are eager to learn.
One of the less frequently discussed perks of moving into selling info products is that it broadens your skill set, brings you more in touch with your clients (who are most likely also trying to sell something), and gives you an up-close look at marketing and how your design fits into it. You can begin to understand your business clients so much more deeply because you’re sharing their pains, obstacles, and goals. By essentially becoming your own client, you are leveling up as a designer in every way.
What else are you doing to be the best designer you could possibly be? Share your tips in the comments so we can help each other level up!