Like most freelance web designers, I sort of fell into the profession.  I didn’t dream of being a web designer when I was a little girl. I didn’t study graphic design or computer science in college.  Instead, the whole idea of becoming a freelance web designer came to me as an A-Ha moment.

In 2016, I found myself at a professional crossroads.  I was 34 years old and was stringing myself along from one dead-end job to the next.  

Throughout my 20’s I spent my nights and weekends working as a professional singer (weddings and nightclubs, mostly) and my days working as a receptionist.  It was a fun life, but after a while I realized that it wasn’t really panning out into the kind of career I saw for myself.

I knew there must be some other option, but I also knew that going back to school to get a Master’s degree wasn’t going to be part of the plan.  Instead, I wanted to pivot and start a new career in a short amount of time.

Becoming a Freelance Web Designer:  One Woman’s Story

I Researched the Best Jobs for Adults Changing Careers

The first thing I did was research the best career choices for adults looking to change careers late in life.  Believe me, I now know that at age 34 I was nowhere near “late in life,” but I did feel like I was getting a late start on building a long-lasting career.

Most of the recommendations I found were not appealing to me, though.  For example, I didn’t want to be a massage therapist, personal trainer or dental assistant.  I’m certainly not knocking those professions, but they just didn’t call out to me.

Freelance web designer, on the other hand, did.  So my search continued.

I started to get really specific about searching for the right kind of environment for me to start studing web design.  As a California Bay Area native, I was well aware of the young, hoodie-wearing male culture that seemed to dominate anything related to the tech industry. That environment made me feel really uncomfortable and isolated even thinking about trying to put myself in that sort of space.  

Eventually, I started looking for tech courses that specifically marketed to women, and my Google search rabbit hole led me to find Skillcrush

What set Skillcrush apart in my eyes was the simple fact that they positioned themselves as an online school that wanted to encourage women to break into tech.  The CEO and most of their instructors and students were women. That made me feel more welcomed and included.

I learned the basics of coding HTML and CSS

I started by enrolling in Skillcrush’sWeb Developer blueprint, where I learned HTML and CSS from scratch.  The courses were totally manageable, which I loved.  I could easily move at my own pace for an hour or two after work.  Overall, the blueprint took three months to complete.

Back when I worked as a singer in San Francisco, I had my own WordPress website to promote my gigs.  At the time, I didn’t build it myself, but eventually I got pretty comfortable adding and updating content.

At Skillcrush, I learned so much more about what you could create simply by writing out a few lines of code.  They showed me the best practices of writing elegant code, and how to code a website simply by looking at a Photoshop mockup.   

My biggest takeaway from studying HTML and CSS with Skillcrush is that you don’t have to know it all before you start taking action.  I learned that most coders use Google to answer their questions, or they get support and advice in online communities like Stack Overflow.

After a few months of courses, I felt confident that I could build a website from scratch using only HTML and CSS.  I also realized that I was actually having fun building websites, which made me feel like I must be on the right track.  

I learned the basics of visual design

Now that I had learned how to code a website based on an existing design, the next step on my journey to becoming a freelance web designer was learning how to design the sites that I would eventually build.

So I went back to Skillcrush and enrolled in their Visual Designer blueprint.  This time I would work through modules about User Experience (UX), color theory, logos, icons, and the fundamentals of Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.  

I had never touched anything in the Adobe Creative Suite before starting this blueprint, and again, I discovered that I absolutely loved it!  Playing around with different techniques and tools was another outlet for creative expression.

This blueprint was also a three-month time commitment, which was a very reasonable investment for someone like me who was trying to move quickly.

After taking courses in both web development and web design, I realized that I not only wanted to do both but that I actually could do both.

I learned WordPress

One of the cool things about studying with Skillcrush is that they offer webinars and online summits that feature women working in tech.

That’s how I discovered Shannon Mattern of WP-BFF.  Shannon was a guest speaker at a Skillcrush summit about freelancing, and she talked about using WordPress to build websites.

While I already knew how to build websites from scratch using HTML and CSS, I also already know that most websites are built on Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress or Squarespace.  So I was curious about what Shannon Mattern had to say about building websites on WordPress, especially because that’s what I had used years ago for my old website.

Shannon’s signature course is the Free 5-Day Website Challenge. where she teaches online business owners how to build their own websites in just five days.  I was totally intrigued and signed up immediately to see what this challenge was all about.

It was absolutely empowering to get a refresher on how to work with WordPress, and I loved Shannon’s teaching style.  

There was something about using WordPress to build a website that clicked for me, too.  I dabbled with Wix in the past, but I didn’t find it as user-friendly or as intuitive as WordPress.

So now thanks to Skillcrush and WP-BFF, I had some coding skills, some visual design skills and some WordPress development skills.  Things were coming together slowly but surely.

I learned how to run an online business

Okay, so there’s another essential component to becoming a freelance web designer, and that’s learning how to be an entrepreneur.  

When I first started studying coding, I wasn’t really sure where I wanted it to take me.  By the time I decided to start my own business, I realized there was so much that I didn’t know about what was involved.  

You can build all the websites you want, or design all the graphics and logos you want, but if you don’t know how to market yourself or manage clients you will struggle.  

And the struggle is real, honey…

Luckily, I had all of the resources I would need to build a solid online business when I enrolled in WP-BFF’s premium Web Designer Academy.

This program taught me how to market my business, build my email list, price my services, work with clients and manage my projects.  I also got access to group coaching calls and a private Facebook group of alumni. These resources have really come in handy when I’ve needed support with the various questions and challenges I’ve encountered while running my business.

I took imperfect action

The biggest obstacle I had to overcome as a new freelance web designer was Imposter Syndrome, which was a limiting belief.

Since I had learned so much in such a short period of time, I hadn’t had much time to put it all into practice before I opened for business. I just jumped in head first.

I realized that the only way I was going to get any business at all was to promote myself.  No one else was going to do it for me.

So I started calling myself a web designer when people asked me what I did for a living.  Not a “new web designer”, but simply “a web designer”.

I started attending networking coffee chats and events so I could surround myself with like-minded creative entrepreneurs.  

I started blogging on a weekly basis so I could share what I learned with others, which also showed me how much I had retained from all those months of study.  

And most of all, I started marketing my business on social media.  That was the scariest part for me, because it meant that people from my personal life would know I had  changed careers. That doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal, but it was. Over time, I’ve learned that lots of people feel this way when they change careers later in life.  

Putting it all out there on social media can make you feel vulnerable or like you’re opening yourself up to criticism and judgment.  In the long run, though, if you don’t put yourself and your business out there, you will be missing out on some great opportunities to get clients and make lasting connections with other online entrepreneurs.

Final Thoughts

If you are considering becoming a freelance web designer, you should absolutely pursue it!  It takes time to grow any business, but it’s totally possible. All you need is the time and patience to learn some new skills, and the confidence to share your services with others.

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