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  1. #1
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    Question A couple of job-related questions for seasoned freelancers..

    • What are the advantages and (possible disadvantages) of having actual company experience in your background?
    • What educational degrees or knowledge has helped you to become successful at transitioning from a company worker to a freelancer and then back to a company worker in 2006 when a newer, more financially stable internet company begins to hire talent?
    • What can self-taught freelancers (those with limited or no previous company experience at all) do to help secure a paid entry-level position at a company while attending a media college, arts school, or pursuing a media related degree at a regular public university? (this is me)
    • A self-taught freelancer has a day job but also designs on the side and his technical skills are superb. But he/she hasn't worked as a design employee before so he's unfamiliar with the kind of teamwork and interpersonal skills used in a design studio. What educational classes are essential for learning these skills?
    • What exactly should people have in their job portfolio for the current web/graphic design industry?

    My backstory:
    During the late 90s, I was a highschool student who had an unpaid internship at a multimedia/graphic design studio in San Francisco. Absolutely loved working there, but I did not have enough time or skills to help guarantee a paid, entry-level position in the future. Also, my mentors told me the usual "you have to go to college first, develop your portfolio, etc". Isn't that crushing when they tell you that?

    Anyways, the company I interned at went out of business in 2001, and afterwards I began to learn that many people who previously worked there became self-employed, and were successful at being entrepreneurs. This motivated me to become self-employed because I had retained the skills learned from my internship, and so began my two years of providing a high-quality service for small businesses and friends in my community. The reasons I placed such a high emphasis on quality design and coding work were two-fold: Develop long-term working relationships with my clients and impress comeback studios interested in hiring new talent.

    This hasn't happened yet because: I still need to improve my technical and people/teamwork skills, complete college, complete more projects (3 are in the bag so far) and I am not focusing on web/graphic design as my sole career objective because I am a Business Major. It's frustrating to look on the Craigslist job boards and find that I can't yet qualify for most of the positions posted there. I don't have a BA!

    Thanks for reading this long post and I look forward to the suggestions you might have.
    Last edited by ses5909; May 17, 2006 at 20:15. Reason: removed html tags and replaced with bbcode

  2. #2
    SitePoint Wizard chris_fuel's Avatar
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    Well, here's what happened with me. Because of the way my job was treating me, and because my parents made enough that I couldn't qualify for financial aid, I had to drop out and work full time. This isn't the pristine cinderella story most people are used to. That said, I had major odds against me with regards to getting web related jobs. Here's some of what I did to offset that and get into the field:

    1) I STUDIED TONS. I looked over hundreds and hundreds of sites, learning more and more about all these technologies.
    2) I helped out with opensource development groups. There's your "experience" right there. Working with opensource development groups gave me the advantage of a) being able to qualify that I can work with a group of devleopers on a project b) proving that I had code avaliable to back my words up. People want action more than talk. If you can show them action, and that action is what they want, some people might hire you without a degree.

    So in the end I think that's what it comes down to. If you can't show them a degree, show them you, and what you can do in a simulated working environment.

  3. #3
    SitePoint Zealot buzza_gts's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chris_fuel
    If you can't show them a degree, show them you, and what you can do in a simulated working environment.
    Agree, I feel that if you have a strong portfolio you will get work quite easily, if theres plently of work in your area of course.

    As mentioned participate in open source projects or try and help out not for profit organiztions.

    Once you land your first job it is pretty easy to stay in the industry.

  4. #4
    SitePoint Zealot kobra's Avatar
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    What are the advantages and (possible disadvantages) of having actual company experience in your background?
    You learn the culture and process of the business you are in, then when you decide to start doing things by yourself you will have some ground work and don't have to start from the bottom.

    What educational degrees or knowledge has helped you to become successful at transitioning from a company worker to a freelancer and then back to a company worker
    Most of the time you don't have the choice, at least most of the people I know as successful freelancers didn't start freelancing because they wanted to, they did that becuase the got laid off and could find work right a way.

    What exactly should people have in their job portfolio for the current web/graphic design industry?
    You don't need portfolio with 100 projects. I'd like to think that if you have 5 quality projects in your bag you'd be OK. Also, if hiring freelancers employers are looking for references from past projects.

    But he/she hasn't worked as a design employee before so he's unfamiliar with the kind of teamwork and interpersonal skills used in a design studio. What educational classes are essential for learning these skills?
    Even though college classes could help a lot I don't think you learn the skills you listed at school you learn them in the real world. You can take as many simulations of certain situation as you want but that isn't 100% for sure that when you face it in the real world it would be exactly the same, you learn as you go.


  5. #5
    logologologooooo kosta's Avatar
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    In this case, being a freelancer, a great portfolio may be more valuable than a college degree. Your clients are only interested in results - and they need to know that you are reliable.

    That was if you want to go freelance. It's a bit harder to get employed without a degree, but if you show them your experience, and why they should hire you and not a college graduate (with maybe less experience), any smart man would employ you. One thing though - you have to actually be better than your competition

    Cheers!

  6. #6
    SitePoint Enthusiast willsmith727's Avatar
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    My personal experience (which isnt that much) is that your work speaks louder than any qualification.

    Im from the UK and i left college with A-Levels and decided to take a year out and put uni on hold to see if i could get a job without having to do a three year degree. I got accepted from my first interview as they loved my portfolio. Im totally self taught and passionate about design and thats what got me the job.

    Im now part of a small company thats expanding and im 'lead designer' if you will . Things have worked out pretty well - touch wood.

    In terms of freelance i did a little whilst at college to make some cash. I believe that people skills are important but as someone above said again example of work are invaluable. If someone can see evidence of skills and not a qualification on a bit of paper then i don't think they mind if you don't have a degree. Thats the beauty of web design...your work speaks for itself.

  7. #7
    Addict obliquegeek's Avatar
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    Assuming you have a decent portfolio, lie your pants off and/or sleep with the boss...

    But seriously, I'm in a similar position, no formal experience or training in web design, and I'm finding it very hard to get anyone to even give me the time of day when it comes to design jobs. Most graduates, obviously, have a relevant qualification and usually a decent portion of comercial work in their portfolio that has come from links the university has with outside companies. For instance a friend of mine worked on several websites for the BBC (here in the uk) as part of his course. Being able to put that on your cv could be a job winner, along with a brilliant portfolio of course.

    I'm at a loss to give you an answer to your problems, apart from hardwork and persistance. Get as much experience as you can, do work for anybody and everybody you can. Like others say, get involved with some opensource projects, non-profit organisations to build up your portfolio. I don't think a quilification is that important, it's more down to experience and/or quality of work.

    It's also good to remember it's not always what you know. "Networking" (I hate that word!) can help. If you can, get yourself out there, meet people. You may end up getting friendly with someone important/useful who would prefer to employ a designer they know that a stranger. It's how a lot of business is done.
    "Everything should be as simple as possible,
    but no simpler" - Albert Einstein

  8. #8
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    If you wish to be a freelancer, then yes, a portfolio will be more useful than any degree. However, if you want to get any further, you will need a degree. Yes, a good portfolio is all good and dandy, but if you've got a master's degree in something to pair that up with, you're in for a win.

  9. #9
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    I am a programmer working with an internet company and part time freelancer. To me, your work experience helps in freelancing.

    Being a full time freelance programmer has its own limitations. You cant take big, challenging projects unless you have a team to work. Also project deadlines and wrong estimates can be a real pain.

    Freelancing might work better for designers.

  10. #10
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    Getting on the ladder
    I went freelance after graduating from uni back in 2000. I found even with a degree, it was very hard to find IT work as a programmer/designer without actual real-world hands-on experience. I rang up tons of web design companies from the yellow pages in the hope I would find work, but nothing came of it (web design companies themselves were struggling at this time). I ended up doing temp work for about 6 months then got a call from one of those web design companies about 6 months later asking if I was still looking for work. It was my first job, which I blagged - I hadn't done PHP before (studied Java at uni), and it took me about 6 months to complete what was probably a 1 month project. But the guy I was doing it for wanted it on the cheap, so he didn't mind the delays and I worked my socks off it, ultimately I found that what I learnt through trial and error on this job was far more valuable than anything learnt on my degree.

    Once you have a large project like that behind your belt and you prove that you can perform to a high standard, getting work is as simple as visiting a few freelancers sites (freelancers.net is my favourite), and providing people with references. The approach I took was to give everything 110% and make sure that for the first 2 or 3 crucial jobs I had, I made sure the clients went away with more than they asked for. Word of mouth and glowing references will do far more for you in the freelance world than a degree (noone even asks me if I have one any more).

    Remember there are plenty of people out there like my first client (people/companies that need quality work done for very little money), and they will often give unproven people a shot if it means they pay far less. So if you are willing to prostitute yourself for those first few crucial months, in the long term it will pay off.

    Avoiding Pitfalls
    1. Be careful about promising too much and then under delivering

    2. Don't take too much on at once. You will find it very tempting when you start doing well to take on every single job that you get offered. Don't! You are far better concentrating on finishing one job to a high standard than tearing your hair out and working 20 hours a day to satisfy 3 hungry clients. You will also find that if you say I can't take this on for another month, you will gain more respect and repeat business as they will see you as someone who is in demand.

    3. Price your skills right. Starting out might mean prostituting yourself to build up that portfolio, but you can't live on a pittance forever. You will find that your old clients will come back expecting the same level of service for the same amount of money as when you first started out. Don't be afraid to say no or to ask for more money. Your clients are businessmen, just like you and will always try and pay less than you want them to. Be firm and fair, explain that you are not the same person that you were 2 years ago, and that you are in high demand now which means your time is more valuable.

  11. #11
    Web developer chrisranjana's Avatar
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    All of the above are Extremely valuable advice indeed.

    Building Trust is the name of the game, remember it takes months to build up reputation and a great portfolio and reference and it takes more effort to keep it that way.

    Always keep in touch with the client and explain genuine problems if there are, Most of the clients will accept a delay for valid reasons.
    Chris, Programmer/Developer,
    Laravel Php Developers, Ruby on Rails programmers,
    Moodle, Opencart, Magento, Geodesic Classifieds/Auctions,
    www.chrisranjana.com

  12. #12
    Once I was a Factory Worker goofy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bellybub
    Getting on the ladder

    2. Don't take too much on at once. You will find it very tempting when you start doing well to take on every single job that you get offered. Don't! You are far better concentrating on finishing one job to a high standard than tearing your hair out and working 20 hours a day to satisfy 3 hungry clients. You will also find that if you say I can't take this on for another month, you will gain more respect and repeat business as they will see you as someone who is in demand.
    I agree with this. Unfortunately I learnt the hard way and most of the jobs I was working on at the time went off the rails and everybody got cheesed off including me. I now only take on one job at a time and tell any new prospecting clients that I won't be able to start in x number of days or weeks.
    Goofy
    Life is what you make it!
    Follow your dreams!

  13. #13
    SitePoint Addict WillisTi's Avatar
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    Well im currently at Uni in the UK studying for BSc (Hons) in Multimedia Computing.

    While I was at college taking A-Levels I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to Uni, but trying to find a job in web/graphic design was proving impossible so I thought I would go to Uni develop my skills further and develop a good portfolio.

    Im now in the process of looking for an industrial placement for my 3rd year, one the main reasons I went to Uni. I have found this process to be very difficult. There are plenty of companies where I am looking in Bath and Bristol however many just do not have the resources to take me on. Have had many offers for freelance work and that is probably the route I will take for my placement.

    I think the most important aspect is to create a great *online* portfolio if you want to make a career out of web/graphic design and show off what you can do to potential employees.

    A couple of years ago I knew barely anything about web/graphic design but through self-learning I think I am now pretty proficient but there is always room for improvement. Especially in server-side programming where I am concerned

    Best of luck

  14. #14
    SitePoint Member NetAtom's Avatar
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    Exclamation

    Speaking from experience as someone that has been a FT freelancer, and also FT in corporate, you need it ALL when working for a large company in the US (most). Most corporations will not even look at your resume without a BA. Smaller companies it is of course different - they do not care as much about education or allow "BA or equivalent". You will need a great portfolio. You will need some kind of experience (the suggestions for university programs, open source, .org work is great for this). And, on top of this, many companies, especially if its one of the smaller ones, will also "tech you out" - ask you to use some of the software you say you are proficient with to do certain common tasks in the web design universe.

    So, for a smaller company, portfolio and experience and the ability to survive them giving you a test drive.

    For larger companies, I wouldn't even bother looking without at least a BA.

    //end opinion

  15. #15
    SitePoint Wizard mcsolas's Avatar
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    Whether you need a good employee or a good business owner, having the proper work ethic is essential to being successful at your profession.
    What educational degrees or knowledge has helped you to become successful at transitioning from a company worker to a freelancer and then back to a company worker in 2006 when a newer, more financially stable internet company begins to hire talent?
    6 years ago, I got a business administration degree with a marketting minor. It has proven to be a great background to designing cms systems to help people run their business more efficiently.

  16. #16
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    Non-profit orgs are the key. Build up a strong portfolio and gain experience by helping out Non-profit orgs. It's normally a good cause anyway. You'll be surprised how one job will lead to the other.

    <removed link - please use signature>
    Last edited by Varelse; May 19, 2006 at 04:06. Reason: removed link - please use signature

  17. #17
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    Well said. I can hardly find the words to add.

    To sum them up, your portfolio is pretty important because that will be a gauge of how good you have become in your field. Second, compete with yourself. Be sure to do your best every time. This will surely bring out your greatest potentials. Third, take care of your recor, it will affect your future employments.

    Freelance is pretty flexible. I love doing mine after my office work. Good luck to you!

  18. #18
    SitePoint Member SumixMedia's Avatar
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    Yep, i think so too. its all about the previous work and what you have to show..
    Haris Sumix
    Website: www.sumixmedia.com
    MSN/Email: SumixMedia@gmail.com

  19. #19
    Non-Member Gator99's Avatar
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    In the long term, would you rather be a failed freelancer looking for a job, or an employed web designer or developer thinking about starting your own business?

  20. #20
    SitePoint Wizard mcsolas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gator99
    In the long term, would you rather be a failed freelancer looking for a job, or an employed web designer or developer thinking about starting your own business?
    I would prefer to be a successful freelancer, working on starting yet another successful business

  21. #21
    Non-Member Gator99's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MCsolas
    I would prefer to be a successful freelancer, working on starting yet another successful business
    The point is that you need business experience before you become a freelancer. Unless of course you want to become a foreign provider to US bottom feeders.

  22. #22
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    "I still need to improve my technical and people/teamwork skills."

    A formal training is essential these days. I was shocked the other day when one executive browsed through my portfolio and looked at me squarely on the face:

    "now I want to see your professional qualifications?."

    Again, my decision is that one core competence is not enough but three or four related specializations, such as graphic-web design, plus a good writing portfolio and if possible to be familiar with one or two cms, erp or a certification?


    people/teamwork skills

    This is very important, if the person you are meeting as freelancer, especially for the first time have one, otherwise, there is no point.
    fash

  23. #23
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    With regard to people - teamwork skills, there are a special class of people who need extra help - (and I'm not saying anything about the original poster here - no such subtext intended)

    If you have tended to be picked on as a school aged child,
    If you have noticed that you don't seem to 'take' in social settings
    If you keep to yourself, in real life, because - really - what's the point?
    Or if you find that people get angry with you for no reason you can fathom.

    You know who you are .....

    If this, more or less, describes you, then you will have a hard go of it in business. I've been lucky professionally, to fall into situations where my technical skills, and ability to learn quickly, were valued above all - but I found that those opportunities were limited, and that my relative lack of social skill were killing my opportunites for success in alternate directions.

    I recently ran across this book:

    What Does Everybody Else Know That I Don'T?: Social Skills Help for Adults With Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (Ad/Hd) a Reader-Friendly Guide by Michele Novotni, Randy Petersen (ISBN: 1886941343)

    I happen to have the diagnosis in the title - doesn't really matter if you do or not. If general social skills are your downfall, get this book - it has information and exercises that I've never seen anywhere else. If I had this book at the beginning of my career, and really worked on these skills - who knows where I'd be today.

    Peace,

    Pauli

  24. #24
    SitePoint Wizard mcsolas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Edman
    If you wish to be a freelancer, then yes, a portfolio will be more useful than any degree. However, if you want to get any further, you will need a degree. Yes, a good portfolio is all good and dandy, but if you've got a master's degree in something to pair that up with, you're in for a win.
    I have been making my living as a freelancer for 6+ years..

    When I think of how to "get any further" it is through joint ventures with my clients, trading work for stock or even better, trading work for land.

    Instead of spending my time maintaining a portfolio, I focused on my crmercado site and turned it into a nice source of passive income. Its also my most sophisticated site. Instead of showing them client sites, I show them mine, my best one. It has turned into the best sales tool I have ever had. Of course I can do that, look ..

    My point is that if you create a successful niche as a freelancer, the next step isnt always more school. I took a 4 year post high school dose and vowed never to return.

  25. #25
    SitePoint Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gator99
    The point is that you need business experience before you become a freelancer. Unless of course you want to become a foreign provider to US bottom feeders.
    This is utter nonsense in my opinion. A very high proportion of freeleancers (like myself), did not become freelancers out of choosing, but instead, out of necessity. I found myself fresh out of uni with a desmond (2:2), with good skills and an impressive real-world final project that blew everyone away and is still used by that particular business to this day. Could I find a job in the IT industry? No I couldn't - everyone wanted people with proven skills, a porfolio and 2 or 3 years experience. Perhaps had I been more dilligent I would have eventually found a 'proper job' but I know that tons of my mates that graduated that year took anything between 1 and 2 years to get the IT job everyone expects to pull the instant they graduate. Sadly, since the dotcom bubble popped, in the real world finding a nice stable IT job is no longer the piece of cake it once was.

    And so I became a freelancer, I worked for next to nothing for a year, I made lots of mistakes and to this day I would never look back. The thought of actually being employed by someone makes me shiver.

    I am not saying that everyone is cut the same way I am, and I'm not implying its easy to start from nothing with no formal experience, but it certainly isn't essential. When I started my first job for PHP - I had no experience in the language at all, I got by from posting in forums and chatrooms, by reading books and tutorials and making lots of mistakes.

    As mentioned in the prior post, social skills are essential, if not face to face, then at least on messenger. You need to be approachable, and you need to be the kind of person who wants to get things done. Pride in your work is essential if you want to get a good reputation - remember that a bad reputation spreads a lot faster than a good one, and it's not wise to go into the freelance world unless you really are prepared to give it your all. You will work longer hours than 9-5. You will sometimes do 2 weeks straight but there are also times when you can also say, hey I feel like not doing anything for the next 3 weeks.

    Other perks from freelance work are the people you meet. You will meet many businessmen with great ideas looking to exploit this new fangled thing called the internet, and if you are the kind of person who is always thinking of the next ebay, and if you mix in the right circles, you will find that those businessmen will have a lot of time (and money) for you and your ideas (providing your ideas are good of course). Be approachable, listen to them, ask them questions about their business, take an interest in them and don't see them as simply your client, but as someone who could potentially partner you on your next venture. If they like your ideas, and you do your homework and are able to bring skills and concepts to the table that are worth them investing in, you will find that those people may well be able to help you and your business grow.

    I am very lucky now to be able to say that after 4 years of very hard work, I actually only do freelance work now very rarely, and only for a select few clients, and always for a lot of money. I still work my nads off, but nowadays its on my own projects, all my income now comes from passive revenue that is generated from sites that I have built and own myself. I employ 3 other programmers, one who went to Uni with me and is my best mate - and yes he was in a dead end non-IT job when I offered him the opportunity to come onboard with me (2 years after we graduated may I add).

    And all this from a person who started in this game by taking on a challenge, biting off more than he could chew, and then reading furiously from a book called PHP in 24 hours

    The bottom line

    Don't let people put you off by telling you need 'business experience' before considering becoming a freelancer. These are generally people who are in a 9-5 jobs themselves and for various reasons aren't 'ready' or prepared to take the leap of faith that is needed to throw everything into the air and hope to god you don't end up having to remortgage your house.

    When the chips are down, whether you have business experience or you are fresh out of Uni flying by the seat of your pants, all you need are four very simple things:

    1. The desire to be your own boss
    2. To be committed and hard working and prepared to work all the hours god sends to be the best at what you do
    3. The ability to learn fast from mistakes
    4. An almost unstoppable will to succeed

    If you can honestly say that you have those traits then you can make a success of becoming a freelancer, despite your lack of experience, not because of it.

    Richard Branson and Donald Trump will testify to that.


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