So you're currently working 9 to 5 or exploring different jobs and their perks. One thing is for certain that this isn't the job for everybody. If you're the type of person who likes to work fixed hours on a fixed salary then this isn't for you. If you're a dedicated professional who spends time valuing their work and clients then perhaps you should read on.

I was recently asked via email what the necessary skills are to become a web designer. I was asked a few questions such as if having qualifications would increase the chance of attracting customers, what the hours are like, how long it takes to complete a typical project, do I work alone, how I communicate with clients, what the money is like and any other advice I may have so I will try to cover as much as I can.

The Freelance Lifestyle
The freelance lifestyle is a very flexible one. You're the boss and you make all the decisions. You decide when you work, what you work your own design on and how much you charge. As a freelancer; you're the brand and the business. The two most important factors that you need for the kind of career is focus and strategy. You should be able to avoid bad habits and set times where you can work without disruptions in a calm environment. You should be able to set yourself goals and have some experience of being able to market and run a business.

Personally, I love the lifestyle, I can easily balance my work and social life so I never feel overworked but you should put in just as much hours as a 9 to 5 to focus on your work. You also get the opportunity to learn a lot as there are amazing communities that support people like us with their blogs and articles which help us learn as we work like Smashing Mag which I rely on all the time. In fact, this is how I managed to learn everything I know about web development and it's what makes the Internet great, having the ability to share your knowledge with the world!

What Skills You Need to Start and How to Avoid Legal Issues
Well, if you're looking to start learning web design and development you should probably start off with some books. I started off with HTML for the World Wide Web many years ago by Elizabeth Castro. One thing you should know about the web is that technologies change on a daily basis should you should keep up to date using the blogs and don't rely on the books. This is why there is no single qualification you can obtain to become a web designer, because by the time you could finish a 2 year course on web development, so much would have changed that you'd have to do the course again!

Once you've mastered basic website coding like HTML you may want to go on and learn things like JavaScript which allows you to create nice animated effects in your work; learning to use a framework such as jQuery makes it easier to do the things you want and code it as well. If you want to get into hardcore development you should learn to create online databases and server side coding with PHP and MySQL which is the most popular open source database on the web. You can also use these ready made frameworks such as WordPress and other content management systems which make use of server side coding and have a back-end (an admin interface) already in place which allows you to easily manage a website and all you need to do is built your theme on top of the framework.

So that's the development side covered. Regarding legal issues, it can differ by country. But if you're living in the UK like me the only thing you will need to worry about is registering yourself as self-employed which is a very simple process and can be sorted with HMRC. Apart from that you will just need to make sure you pay the right amount of tax each year, if you're smart enough to do this yourself that's great otherwise you can use an umbrella company which manages your accounts at a low cost and take care of all tax issues for you.

Other Things You Will Need to Know
Okay, so you're a certified developer, you've got your clients lining up, legal problems out of the way and you're ready to go. But how's this all going to work? You need to know if you're going to be doing the designing as well, if you're not, it can cut quite a bit of your net home pay because you would have to hire a professional to do this work for you.

This can work the other way if you do the designing yourself and hire a developer to code it so have a mix of design and development will allow you to take on whole projects yourself. Learning design can be done through practice. But you can do a course at university in graphics design which will definitely make you more employable and attractive to potential clients (also known as leads). In terms of what you need to perform this kind of work, you'd probably want a high performance Mac desktop or laptop if you need to travel around a lot to see clients. This is especially useful if you're prepared to travel to different countries for your clients because this is an international game and is not just restricted to your local areas.

Finishing Touches
When you think you're ready you start proposing to potential clients and build up a portfolio, a website which is essential for showcasing your work and explaining yourself to leads. Your work should be able to speak for itself and eventually the clients will find you. Getting yourself familiar with marketing techniques such as SEO (search engine optimisation), social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook and paid advertising will all help get yourself out there.

For your rates, you should charge how much you think your work will be worth, you can base this by project or as an hourly/daily rate depending on how long you believe the work will take to complete once broken down. As you build up your portfolio and improve with your skills and experience you will be able to charge more. It is a competitive market so you will need to stand out from the crowd to attract customers. Depending on the client, you should arrange meetings at different stages of the project if they're local or phone them regularly if they're international. Some clients may be too busy to be updated by phone all the time so it can also be useful to communicate only via email. It's your business, you decide.

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