EDITIONS

Choosing a Career Path: Freelance vs. Website Design and Development Companies

Nowadays, digital agencies either have in-house design and development teams of people or rely heavily on outsourcing and freelancers. The market demand for web designers and developers is constantly growing so you’re bound to work as a freelancer and for an agency as well at some point in your life.

Natasha Lane
23rd Aug 2018
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Somewhere over a decade ago the web was simple. When you needed something delivered for the web, you’ve contacted a webmaster - a single person who could design, develop, optimize and maintain a single web solution from its initial stages. A single person doing all that.

Back in those days, the technology stacks and resources were limited. Most of the world still ran on the sound of a 56k modem. Flashy design and complex functionalities weren’t supported by the devices at that time. Some dinosaurs, like this one, from the era of webmasters, can still be seen alive and kicking, God knows how.

Development of new technology stacks, devices, and web standardization have led us to the point where a single person can no longer manage a full-scale web project. Digital agencies today either have in-house design and development teams of people with various specializations or rely heavily on outsourcing and freelancers. The market demand for web designers and web developers is constantly growing so you’re bound to work as a freelancer and for an agency as well at some point in your life.

Working in an agency environment

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A job in a digital agency is something we all dream of at the start.

My dream was to work in an agile environment where people with different specializations brainstorm, prototype and build great web products. An agency that doesn’t consider a project delivery to mark its end but to constantly work on its improvement. An environment where there’s no such thing as a template and work methodology is constantly improving and adapting.

These types of digital agencies are rare. As a fresher, you might end up at the start in an agency where teams are clustered and most often don’t have this kind of cooperative methodology. In the example, I’m going to run you through the website design and development timeline.

The client requests for proposal. The sales team sends out a templated offer and confirms on the job start. The client discusses the project with a project manager (if present in an agency) and the first part of the project is set - the website design. After this part is finished, the development team gets to work. And it’s most often the case that they get a deliverable from the designer, confirmed by the client that is just impossible to develop or work around. The project goes back and forth several times and the competition time takes ages. This type of work environment and methodology isn’t scalable meaning, bringing more people in won’t improve the efficiency of it. The learning curve is steep at the beginning as you will be bombarded with a ton of tasks for which you’ll need to find a solution for and various tools you’ve never had a chance to work with. However, after a short period of time, it gets low and stable. You’ll reach a point where there’s nothing more to learn and you’ll get sucked into a 9 to 5 routine.

A piece of advice:

Just because you have it steady running for you doesn’t mean it makes you happy. You would be amazed just how much you can learn by pushing the constraints of your work environment. And if that work environment is ready to make a few sacrifices in order to improve and adapt to the people willing to learn new things, you’ve found your career path. So don’t rash out with a decision but research and test everything. Start off by making a search for a well-established website design and development agency - look for reviews from their clients and their previous employees, check out their portfolio and company culture. Just keep your options open.

Working as a freelancer

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There’s no doubt that in some point of your life you’ve done some freelance work. Whether it was a simple logo design, an HTML/CSS page template or even a whole web copy. I started out as a freelancer while in college. It gave me an opportunity to make money on the side while practicing my work on projects of my choosing.

There are numerous platforms today on which you can find work as a web design/development freelancer like Upwork (formerly known Elance and oDesk), PeoplePerHour, 99Designs etc.

As a fresher, you won’t be getting as many jobs at the start but if you are consistent and good at what you do, you’ll build up your profile with positive reviews and work your way up.

Your work time will be a blessing and a curse for you. Even though the idea of being the master of your own time, escaping the 9 to 5 routine sounds extremely tempting, the way of achieving this is hard. As a freelancer you will constantly have to look and bid for jobs, analyze the job postings and people behind them, assessing the profitability outcome of the same and constantly work on improving your knowledge and skills in order to get hired.

A piece of advice:

Specialization will be the death of you. As a freelancer, your learning curve should be much steeper than of a person working in an agency environment. Test out new tools, learn new techniques and connect with people. Being a freelancer doesn’t require you to constantly look for new clients - you should look for a few good clients whom you can cover a lot of work and have them stick around. To this day, I still have some clients whom I started out with a simple page template design and now I run their whole website maintenance, design marketing collateral, make improvements to existing layouts and develop certain functionalities when necessary.

A key takeaway

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I consider myself a jack of all trades when it comes to the web. I started out as a freelancer, made my way to an agency and left it shortly after to pursue my freelancing career path. The freedom you have as a freelancer is huge but often lacks structure. My idea is to return to an agency environment someday, I just don’t find it tempting at the time. So here’s my advice to you:

No matter the career path you take, be vigilant and do your research, be ready to learn, be willing to test and never ever specialize. Because those are your key takeaways to success in the web work environment.

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