Failing as a Web Designer? Specialize!

    June 18, 2003

Did you struggle to create your own business Web site, deciding along the way to become a Web designer? Or did you plan on becoming a Webmaster from Day One? Are things working out as you’d hoped? If not, read on.

Mari Bontrager, a graphic designer, works with her husband, Will, a programmer. Most of their projects call for a team, and they prove a good mix. “I can’t imagine how one person could take on the complete design of a site: programming and the visual aspects, unless they were extremely multi-talented,”” she says. “If I were working alone, I would only be doing the graphics end of it, with perhaps some layout.”

Dean Maynard, one of the Internet’s top Web developers, says, “Many excellent technicians have no design sense whatsoever and produce poorly designed sites. Many excellent artists have no technical skills whatsoever and are incapable of putting together a web site.” Do you fit into one of these categories?

“A truly professional web presentation,” says Jeff Clark of Internet Brothers, “requires the skills of artists, designers, programmers, writers, copy editors, marketers and administrators. Since I am only professional at programming, it would be unfair for me to describe the activities of each, but suffice it to say that each is definitely its own specialty.”

Eva Rosenberg of I-Help Desk attended a conference of Web experts, and discovered that one of the most important ideas to came out of the conference was, “Focus – stop scattering your energies everywhere.” How, you ask, does that apply to Webmasters?

“Perhaps,” says Mari Bontrager, “the key to success is in not only recognizing one’s specific talents, but also one’s personal strengths. It has long been my thought that I am successful in what I do because I am teamed up with a topnotch programmer.” The Bontragers’ willingness to advertise their unique specialties has made William’s cup run over. In a recent newsletter, he asked readers to recommend programmers they’ve hired.

While some developers choose to work independently, others form a team atmosphere that allows all members to grow together in the industry, gaining experience from the other team members. Such is the case with the development team.

Linda and her partner have staff in Toronto, the Philippines, and the U.S. “Given the success of this venture,” Caroll says, “we anticipate taking on a couple of new staff members within the next six months.”

“It’s important for people to market their strengths,” says Vanchau Nguyen, CEO of “Trying to do things that are not natural for people will usually result in a lot of frustration and heartache.” Nguyen spent ten years building and operating BBS and online communities before he decided to form his own company. He learned that some of his natural skills went beyond technology: he also thoroughly enjoys motivating and empowering employees.

If you have have a variety of skills, have done a great deal of studying and intend to continue: excellent! If, however, you have an area or two where you are very much a specialist, and are weaker and less comfortable in all other aspects of Web development, you’re left with some choices. You can:

  • Start a business (or change the present one) to include other independent contractors as part of a team to help in the areas in which you are weak. You must be highly organized and have excellent communication skills for such a venture to work!
  • Begin by marketing yourself as a specialist in your field: programming, editing, graphic design, scripting, search engine optimization, etc. Your primary aim, then, would be to become a part of other Web development teams.
  • Try to run your business by yourself, aware that you do not have the necessary skills required of an effective Web designer, and pay for it by seeing yourself with little or no business.

If, in fact, you are extremely good at designing graphics, or scripting, or writing, or programming, or streaming media, or search engine positioning…but not comfortable with most of the others, why not make your specialty the theme of your business, and go after your share of the market? This doesn’t mean you can’t create and maintain sites for others. That’s your choice. It does mean announcing that you have a specialty and capitalizing on it.

Emphasize what you do best. Get out and network. Start a newsletter and give great tips…and mention your newsletter in your sig line. Give away great tips: the good you do in this area will come back to reward you. It worked for Will Bontrager: he has so many projects that he’s sending people to other programmers.

It’s time for you to do some serious promoting! You’ll work as hard to market yourself as a specialist as you did with your Web design business. The difference is that now you will truly love what you do. You’ll be surprised and pleased at the results. Focus, don’t scatter! Brand yourself.

Writer, copyeditor, and web developer Judy Vorfeld offers website makeovers;
small business consulting; along with website, document, and book copyediting.
She publishes two ezines, offers a grammar and writing resource section on
her site, and also offers a free text-only ezine template.
Vorfeld, who started her business over ten years ago, lives in the Phoenix,
Arizona area. Her companion site is Webgrammar: