For the last two years, I’ve done a virtual guest lecture to Jeffrey Brown’s class in Maryland. Both times, I talked about how the skills they are developing with the web don’t lock them into any one particular career. There are lots of ways to make money on the web. I felt somewhat qualified to talk about that, since I do a lot of them myself. Here are some of them.
Do what your parents did, get a job sir!
The most obvious way to have a career on the web is to get a job doing it. I think most high school and college kids, when they imagine themselves in the future working in web, imagine themselves at some kind of web “job”. I begin with this, because it is the most obvious and definitely a solid path to consider.
At an agency
If you are a designer, put a portfolio together. Meaning, a website that is well done and showcases only your best work, and send it to agencies. Send it to agencies that say they are hiring as well as ones that don’t. Get creative with the email that you send.
At a web company
It’s not just agencies that hire web designers. All kind of companies have in-house web teams. This could be a “glamorous” fancy web 2.0 company, or it could just be the furniture warehouse off I-5 that is expanding its web presence.
How to find these “jobs”
One cool part about the web community is that we like to build our own tools for stuff. This includes exclusive job boards. If you are looking for a web job, might as well browse the places that solely list web jobs. Check out Authentic Jobs, Smashing Jobs, the 37 Signals job board, or Design Jobs on the Wall.
Some call it irresponsible to jump right into freelancing after college. They think working for an agency first is a better route, as you’ll learn the ins and outs and fine tune your chops before trying to stake out on your own. I’m not sure I have that strong of a view. If freelancing strongly appeals to you, you have the drive and motivation to get better on your own, and you already have decent, well-rounded chops, then go for it.
This has been discussed a million times a million ways, but it is important to consider all the advantages/disadvantages to freelancing. With a job you get a steady paycheck, benefits, retirement, and a sizeable buffer from the nitty gritty details of buisness. With freelance, it’s you and you alone in the trenches. Writing estimates, talking with clients directly, trying to get people to pay you on time, doing your own taxes, getting your own clients. Once you factor everything in, the glamour of freelance fades and the scale is a bit more evenly balanced. It will come down to personal/life factors more than anything else.
After you’ve launched a few eCommerce sites for clients, it may dawn on you that all this money that they are making, you could be making, if only you had something to sell. If you DO have something to sell, by all means harness your web skills to build a kick ass store and start selling it. There are some pretty designer-friendly design tools to help you through the stuff you wouldn’t want to write from scratch, like processing credit cards.
Sell a product
Know how to make something? Know how to get something cheap you think you can sell at a higher price? Or know anybody you can partner up with who does either of those things? Sell it!
Sell a service
Outside of the web, people make money all the time with services. People will do your taxes for you, walk your dog, clean your house, just about anything. On the web, you need to find another need that people have and target that. If the need is strong enough, you can have them pay you to do it. This may be something distinctly webb-y like, host a website or manage your accounting, or something cool the web is particularly well suited for like connecting people to trade items or sending a fax. The sky is the limit here.
Writing / Blogging / Advertising
In the greater scheme of things, this is a pretty small niche. For most people, including myself, it’s more side income than something a full-blown career. But certainly, there is money to be made through writing/blogging, via either just getting paid to write or through advertising.
The cool thing here is that the topic could be anything. You could start a blog or find a site to write for on just about any topic. Like to travel? Be a travel writer. Love World of Warcraft? Write about that. Know your geckos? Be a lizard blogger. I enjoy the story of Chloe Spencer who was barely a teenager and making huge bucks through Google AdSense blogging about Neopets, which I still have never heard of outside of her story.
I recently spoke at Herzing College to Michael Freiman’s class and to Jeffrey Brown’s class at Damascus High School. I’m sure both of them would agree that there needs to be more people like them. They teach students practical skills using today’s methods. Certainly there are academic institutions out there that want to stay or get more cutting edge with their web curriculum. You could be their ticket!
This was a great article, I have thought lately about doing freelancing, but that would be taking time away from my kid things in life.
I was in the same situation about 3 months ago. I decided to start my won company doing freelance work and it has in fact been stressful. But the flexibility is great and the results are verr rewarding. I would suggest at least giving a run at it!
Great write up, although I from my recent personal experience I would add:
Get Laid Off/Start Freelancing Again
It’s done wonders for me!
Great article. I also purchased ‘Digging into WP’ and must say I think it’s a job well done.
One thing I must say is ‘Chatman Design’ could def do with a redesign.
Nice one. Come to London I’ll buy you a pint.
I am at the end of my college time (successfully enough I hope ;) ) and not really sure what direction to take. This article cleared some things up, so thanks Chris, I really appreciated this post.
Don’t give me ideas…
As a qualified college lecturer, I can definitely say that your screencasts are a very good form of teaching – you seem to intuitively follow many of the (teaching and learning) techniques that I have spent several years reading about and practicing.
I always direct my web students to your screencasts. Keep up the good work!
I have been enlighten even more and i think that i will certainly employ some of the methods you described to make me self some money. Thanks Chirs (0:)
Just a side note, it might be better to say “demonstrable” rather than “demonstrate-able” — but great article, I just have a habit of nit-picking at the most insignificant things.
demonstratable is the correct word.
As an example no one ever says
“This effect is demonstrable by combining A and B”
It’s almost always said
“This effect is demonstratable by combining A and B”
I really like your simplicity. You get straight to the point and offer good information. Sorry this is a bit off topic but I just wanted to give you some good feedback :)
It’s nice to hear others write up all the things I usually have circulating in my head. Now the real question (that I know is on everyone’s mind) is the income potential to offering these services?
This post gives me a lot to think about as I begin thinking more about marketing and growing my business. How hard was it to start selling advertising on your websites? Did you already have a large following that drew advertisers in?
It was a very slow and natural process. At first I had zero advertising (well, I had some lame and useless attempts at using Google AdSense). Eventually advertisers started contacting me and it grew from there, to the point that I now outsource it to BuySellAds to save to loads of time it takes to manage that stuff by hand.
I think, in general, 15k-20k pageviews a month is a good target to wait for to begin advertising.
Chris, what was the problem with adsense? Was it not profitable?
Basically, plus it’s ugly.
Adsense is really really slow to start working in your favor and every month your inevetably making a business loss due to web hosting charges and domain registration.
I agree with Chris, some things from Google are good and well worth using like feedburner and adWords, but other like adWords are sometimes best avoided unless you have years to work on it full time and even then its not a good return on investment.
Learn by doing; teach by sharing.
One of the biggest “sellers” on the web are affiliate programs.
Anyway, selling anything, on the web or off, requires good marketing skills. So if anyone is thinking about combining their passion for design with actually selling something, anything, then they cannot go wrong by taking marketing classes too.
Nice article Chris, I think you covered your points well.
Well, looking at these options, and the number of things that you have tried, I can bet – You must be making lot of money.
Very good and informative article. Thanks Chris.
love the Big Lebowski img/quote. now all i wanna do is listen to bowling on tape and drink white russians.
good points all around.
yeh I had a laugh when I saw the Big Lebowski img as well. An excellent article though with some good points.
Agree with most things ;) But for an beginner freelancer i would say don’t quit your dayjob!
Thx for the article Chris.
Thanks for the great advice! I really like the idea of emailing agencies if you are looking for work, great tip!
Great advice Chris. I actually learn how to to code and create websites from your tutorials. After watching your videos and sticking with design I’m finally on that road to commitment.
This post is very inspirational! Bookmarked :)
Nice tips, Im currently lazy right now lol . This words of yours make me jump and start working again.
After I graduate , I will read this article of yours again.
Chris. I definitely agree with you in regards to the Freelancing out of college. I actually started to do freelance work full-time while still in college. Its a nice way to set your own schedule around school and build your portfolio and make money at the same time, however like you mentioned you do need quite a bit of motivation and resources to get started.
Although it may be ideal to get a job at an agency first, many designers would be lucky to do so in this economy with such a competitive job market. So don’t be afraid to start driving your own business and even work towards that dream job.
Another terrific and helpful article! Where are you keeping all of these? :)
very nice thanks chris.
been following you for quite a while now, you consistently put out useful articles.
keep up to good work. the good work.
Nice preview, thank you for this. I work in a company in Macedonia as PHP developer, i make HTML designs work, but all i get from the designers are layouts with tables that suck so much and i have such a big vision and love for the web that they are destroying it with every design they give me to work on. Sometimes i wish i am back to free lancing, cause it is much more freedom than being conditioned by some web dinosaurs that have no sense nor knowledge for the modern web standards and live with their heads in the 90’s.
Keep up the good work buddy…
I think working for a web design company and taking on side projects would be ideal to start off with. Later on, when you have sufficient experience and the know-how, then decide if you have what it takes to drop your full-time job and work for yourself. It is definitely no easy task speaking from firsthand experience.
Great summary of the real life situation on making money on the web Chris!
Yes, indeed you teach with your blog article and screen casts and we all consider you as our teacher :) Really liked the post a lot and I believe I have never seen a post on this topic with such precise points.
Nice, concise article with a lot of solid information in it. Get a job, you say? Imagine that.
thank you very much. one of the coolest advice i ever came across.
I have a question. For someone who needs freelance work from time to time, is there a way to work for one of those flat rate psd to html sites?
I’m pretty fast so it seems like a decent idea, plus I wouldn’t have to hunt through freelancing forums, bid with other people who are willing to work for peanuts, or wait for a client to get all their ducks in a row.
The problem is, every time I go to one of these sites there’s never any “work for us” link. Is it because they’re probably doing all the work in-house or outsourcing it to an agency in India?
Any suggestions would be helpful. I would make my own site for this kind of thing, but my availability for this kind of work is pretty sporadic, so I it doesn’t really seem cost/time effective to do so.
Absolutely I agree with you. After completing my graduation in cse I joined in a local web development company and now I am doing freelancing with 4 years of experience as a web application developer.
I am one of Mr. Brown’s Advanced Web Development students. I wanted to start out by saying thanks again for talking to us. I read your article and answered a whole bunch of questions I had and didn’t know who to ask lol =] well thanks again and take it easy
Hey Mark, awesome, I’m glad it was interesting enough to even have questions, and that they are now answered!
Great article Chris! I work as a FT developer, but am always trying to build up my portfolio and get freelance gigs. Thanks for the tips!
Honestly, i think i may just get a ‘regular’ non-web job and just experiment with web technology in my my spare time.
Props to anyone who can generate income as a freelancer, because it’s a lot of work!
Thank you very much.. This is very good advice for me XP