Contact a Local Organization or a New Business
There’s no shortage of demand for web design skills, even for beginners. Every business and organization has a need for a website, from the world’s most valuable companies to local volunteer groups. Smart business people and organizers know that a great website could be the difference between swift failure or wild success. Many of these organizations are just getting started, so even though they might understand the critical importance of creating a web presence, they might not have the money, time, or skill to make it happen.
That’s where you come in. If they don’t have a website or their existing site doesn’t look very good, contact them and offer your skills. When you talk to them, be tactful. The people you’re contacting might take a lot of pride in their current website, so try asking if they’re looking for web design help without offering any critique. Explain to them you’re trying to build your portfolio. If they don’t accept, you’ve at least introduced yourself. Networking could potentially lead to a gig later on.
You may also consider charging a small fee, even if you’ve earned money for your work before. This will help you gain experience negotiating and creating a freelance contract. A little cash can also keep you motivated when frustration hits. Some small businesses may choose to barter and spread goodwill, especially if they’re new. Sometimes this is annoying, but if you’re still gathering experience, trading might be a nice bonus for your time. For example, I was once offered weekly beer deliveries in exchange for ongoing site maintenance. Now that I think about it, I probably should have taken the deal.
If you’re having trouble thinking of an organization to contact, here are a few more ideas:
- Farmer’s markets
- Local clubs and meetup groups
- Volunteer organizations
- Independent artists and musicians
- Church community groups
Gain Experience by Building a Web App
Nearly a decade ago, I first learned how to write PHP because I had an idea. Things didn’t go the way I planned, but it was a great experience. Learning with a goal in mind helped me focus on the right things. It was also a powerful motivator because my desire to complete my vision helped me push through frustrating bugs and problems.
The experience was valuable because I had a complete piece of work that could demonstrate my abilities to potential employers. When I went to interviews, I brought my code with me in case they asked for a sample of my work.
Building an entire web app by myself also helped me gain a better perspective of how the disparate components of a website work together. This was valuable experience to draw upon once I was working inside an organization with other team members because it made it easier for me to interact with specialized job roles. I’ve designed and developed several more small applications since and it’s always a helpful experience.
Create a Personal Website
If you don’t feel confident enough to contact a local business or build a web app, build a personal website first. Whether you want to be a designer or a developer, you’ll need a portfolio of work. In fact, this is exactly what I teach in the Treehouse course How to Make a Website.
If you don’t have anything to put in your portfolio yet, you can omit the portfolio portion of the site or fill it with related content. For example, maybe you’ve done graphic design work and you’re making the switch to web design. Alternatively, you could save the portfolio site for another time and just create a personal site to showcase a hobby or talent that you enjoy, such as photography or baking. This is a fun way to get started because the focus is on you and your own personal expression.