Just for a minute, get a picture in your mind’s eye of a librarian. What do you see? Probably you see someone in rather out-of-date dress, hair pulled back in a bun, “grandma” shoes, and, of course glasses. This is a stereotype, and we are all guilty of having very biased “pictures” and beliefs about certain group of people. Jocks are usually dumb; preps are usually snobs; and math nerds wouldn’t know what to do if they were asked out on a date. There are also stereotypes about web designers and developers, some of which may be partially true, but many of which are totally false.
Common Stereotypes that Freelancers Must Fight
In the design and development industry, there are two major functions – the web designers who are the creative “artsy” people – the ones who come up with the creative ideas for theme, color, font, interaction, and marketing techniques, and the developers – the real nerds who have the programming and coding background to make sure that the design ideas are turned into reality and that the site operates well.
In reality, these functions overlap a lot and many very creative and smart people do both. But there are other stereotypes that may hinder the ability of the freelancer to get work. Being aware of them is the first important step in combatting them when you go after clients.
1. Designers and Developers Who are Offshore are Not as Good
This stereotype was born when the web was new, and many designers in India, Asia and Africa were not as well-trained as they are today. Many taught themselves and worked quite cheaply. Today, this is not the case. But, if your name is foreign, no matter how much training you have, there may be some of the old stereotypes lingering about, especially if you are a freelancer. In truth, there are great designers and developers all over the world, and there are also some pretty shoddy ones all over the world.
The Takeaway: Your portfolio and client references should speak for you. When you seek new business, your resume is not as important as your work product. Businesses are slowly coming to realize that, because of cost-of-living differences around the world, pricing on design and development can vary a lot. They are also coming to realize that an awful lot of phenomenal designers are self-taught, without degrees.
2. You Get What You Pay For
This may be true for many things – cars, jewelry, appliances – but in the design and development industry, there are no hard and fast rules. Many expensive design and development firms can produce work that is not of the quality that a freelancer may produce for a great deal less. Generally, pricing depends upon the customer demands for complexity and deadlines. As a freelancer who is hungry for clients, you may have to charge less than the “big boys,” but never let anyone tell you that your work cannot possibly be as good as someone charging a huge fee.
The Takeaway: You know what a reasonable rate is for the work that you will be doing. Charge it, and do not consider what others might charge. Again, your portfolio and your references are the keys to getting more business. And if you are just starting out? Offer free web design and development in exchange for the references. You have the luxury of doing these kinds of things that established firms do not.
3. Male Designers and Developers do Better Work
This is a holdover from the traditional and now-debunked notion that men are just better with all things related to science and math. And yes, computer science is a science and programming does involve math. Women are still in a minority in web design but they are also winning a disproportionate number of awards for their designs. Just as medicine and the law have been fully “crashed” by women, so is web design and development.
The Takeaway: Both men and women are ultimately judged by their work product. If you are a female in this industry, yes you many have to work harder and hustle more. Many women begin with a firm and then turn to freelancing, so that they have more independence and artistic license.
4. If a Freelancer is so Good, he Would be Working for a Big Firm
This is the age of the Millennials. They shun corporate bureaucracy, requirements that they be “tied” to their desks and computers 8 hours a day, and want to determine their own work and play schedules. Web design and development is a perfect freelance career, and the web is filled with the stunning work of freelancers.
The Takeaway: As a freelancer, you will have to work harder to find clients. But once you do, and once they are thrilled with what you do, they will recommend you everywhere. It only takes one or two successes to get you going. Offer your work free or really cheap in exchange for recommendations or introductions to other potential clients.
5. Designers and Developers Lack Social and Business Skills
So what? The fact is this: because of the work they do, many designers and developers work alone – they like it. So, they may have a tendency to be more introverted that those in sales, HR, marketing, etc. And they certainly may not own power suits, whether male or female. Have you ever seen Mark Zuckerberg in a suit and tie? Or anyone who works for him? And die Einstein really ever care about his appearance?
The Takeaway: Your workspace may be dis-organized; your clothes may be T-shirts and jeans; and you really do like working on projects in your own world or with a very small team. Embrace it all.
Using Stereotypes to Your Advantage
Certainly in some areas, designers and developers should fight some of the stereotypes that are damaging – that women are not as skilled or as creative as men, for example. Other stereotypes, however, can be used to advantage.
Your Physical Appearance
No one is suggesting that you look like a slob when you get a meeting with a potential client. But you should “look the part.” Just because a project manager or operations officer, or head of technology for a company will be in a suit and tie, you don’t have to be. If you arrive dressed like that, they may wonder where the artist is. You can be a little avant garde in your dress as a designer – you are sort of supposed to be. And if you are a developer, look the part. One developer bought a pair a plain glass glasses, just so he would look a bit nerdier. He also let his hair get just a bit bushy.
Designer Digital by gettyimages
Openly Embrace Being a Freelancer/You Get What You Pay For
Designers and developers work odd hours; they work when the creativity or the solution to a programming problem hits. You should address this with a potential client. Your workday is not 9-5; it is whatever is necessary to get the project done. And your less expensive fees are a result of the lack of overhead that a large firm has. Businesses that use a large firm are paying for that’s firm’s rent, clerical and administrative staff, benefits, and so on. As a freelancer you can produce stunning quality for less.
The Proof is in the Portfolio and the References
Your portfolio presentation should be digital – this is obviously the only way for a potential client to see all of the details of design and development – how it looks, how visitors can interact with it, the principles of your design and so forth. The client needs to have the same experience with the website that any user would have. Show 2-3 of your best that are a close match to the client’s “environment,” and refer him/her to your website for more.
If you do not have large enough portfolio, create your own web designs for fictitious companies and use them as examples of the phenomenal work you do. Be certain that there is enough variety to appeal to all company “cultures.”
Having the Creative Edge
As a freelancer, you have to work harder to be on top of the latest design features. This means your research never ends and that you must continually study not only new tools and apps but the creative designs of others to stimulate your own creativity. For some great new apps and tools, as well inspiration, here are three resources with which to begin:
- 10 Best New Web Design Tools in October @CreativeBloq
- 10 Ways to Rapidly Generate Creative Inspiration for a New Website Project @Designrfix
- The Top 50 Apps for Creative Minds @theguardian
Some of the damaging (and false) stereotypes will not be eliminated quickly or easily. Especially in the area or offshore design and development, early shoddiness on the part of inept people created a reputation that must now be overcome by consistently high quality work on the part of freelancers. As they make names for themselves in their own locales, individual reputations will win out. And as women continue to design and receive national recognition for their work, the barriers will break down. In the meantime, take advantage of the interesting stereotypes that endear and make you “credible” to the outsiders and be the creative people you are.
The structural inequalities in our society are so complex that they are under constant debate and scrutiny. Even just within the confines of our industry, we may never attain the idealistic meritocracy we claim to crave. This is an ongoing issue and everyone should do their part by acknowledging and understand the problem and implementing the proposed solutions to it. We must exhibit great inclusivity within our niche to serve everyone anywhere effectively.
Looking beyond stereotypes will enlarge the pool of potential web development candidates. Evaluating the work of the individual without viewing the individual through the lens of a stereotyped perception is the way businesses must handle procuring web developers and designers. Enlarging the pool of potential candidates by providing opportunities for those who could be overlooked due to stereotypes is one-way businesses can cost effectively meet their web development goals.