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  1. #1
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    Mid-life career changes

    I'd be interested in hearing from others who have made the leap to web design and/or development later in life. I'm almost 45 and have been mulling over selling my web hosting business (which I've had for about 10 years now, but seems to be going nowhere) and taking the time to really learn and hone my web design skills as well as learning Flash, Actionscript, possibly PHP etc. I designed a few sites way back when WYSIWYG editors were just coming out, so I realize I've got a huge learning curve and alot of work ahead of me, but I really feel I need to make a change and now is the time. Anyway I'd appreciate any advice from others who've made this kind of leap into this kind of work later in life. Any regrets? Would you have done anything differently? Where did you begin with your training? How long did it take you before you were able to make any real money at it? Did you opt to go the design route or development route and why? Thanks in advance for any advice.............

  2. #2
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    I guess I'm the only old man on these boards looking to make this kind of change......

  3. #3
    Serial Entrepreneur
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    My wife just left her corporate marketing job to do just what you're talking about doing. Yes, there's a HUGE learning curve: HTML/CSS/XHTML/graphics/design principles/SEO/etc. She knows marketing at a large corporate level, but nothing for Internet, so that makes the leap really really large.

    Our plan for her was for her to take over marketing two businesses I already had that rely on internet-based marketing. That way she could start with something she already knew (marketing) and help her build the knowledge she needed of the businesses and the ways to market something. And that stretches her then into site design and SEO.

    When she thought about making this leap, she wanted to focus exclusively on web site building and graphics. I'm discouraging this, because I think that there are lots of people out there who can design a web site, but not a lot of people who can think through the marketing end of it, so she should play to her strengths and focus on having marketing as her message.

    We're too early in the process to know if anything is the right decision, so our only advice there is to remain flexible to opportunities that sound interesting.
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  4. #4
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    Thanks for sharing your wife's story. I think your advice to her about focusing on the marketing end of things is probably wise. I'm trying to look at this as a way to compliment my skills/qualifications for just about any work situation. I figure at the very least, I'll be the guy who knows the HTML, CSS, Actionscript etc. and these days, I think that adds value to a resume for just about any business on the planet. Sure, ideally I'll get to a point where I can do freelance design and drum up enough business to make some kind of living at it, but even if that proves too difficult, having this knowledge can only help.

  5. #5
    I Love Licorice silver trophybronze trophy Datura's Avatar
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    It is not so unusual to change your career later in life. I have changed mine several times and probably will again. I am over 60 years old. My husband did the same. It makes for an interesting life, constant learning, a never ending change. Keeps a person young
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  6. #6
    SitePoint Zealot Mitochondrion's Avatar
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    LOL, I made a change away from web as a career (still interested in web as an art form) and I was 31 when I made the decision. I had gotten one of those new interactive media degrees at the age of 28 (1999) and lasted in the industry approximately 3 years. Unlike most of the kids I graduated with I had actually gotten a corporate job designing web sites.

    Not only is web design a "huge learning curve" but it's a career of extremes. You're either an award winning designer or you'll be a hobbyist with no realistic opportunities to turn it into a career. Unfortunately, you have the master the problem-solving stuff (HTML/XML/CSS, advanced JavaScript, advanced ActionScript, PHP, relational databases, etc.) in addition to the pleasant stuff because few employers are stupid enough to pay you for drawing pictures in Photoshop.

    Euthanizing my interactive media career was like shooting a beautiful stag but the decision later proved to be one of my best. My last days as an interactive media designer were like Fuhrer's last days in his Reichstag bunker-surreal and schizophrenic and with a sense of impending doom. I would revise my resume for the 250th time and then apply for a web design position that was out of state. Then I'd dream about those people being so impressed by my new brilliant revised resume they'd actually give me a call and invite me to relocate. I made imaginary relocation plans. When it was over I felt like I had woken up from a bad dream.

  7. #7
    SitePoint Wizard gold trophysilver trophybronze trophy dc dalton's Avatar
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    HEY! What's this 'later in life crap!' Life just gets going at 40!

    I did exactly what you are talking about at 40 but I made an even more dramatic change. in 1999 I closed my auto repair shop. We got a 2nd mortgage on the house and I went back to school for 10 months to learn programing.

    I had had computer experience back in the 80s but it was doing CAD and wire frame modeling as a draftsman. I literally walked away from computers in 1991 and didn't even touch one again until 1999. I started taking on-line classes for Photoshop and HTML from ZDU (anyone remember them?) and had done some rinky dink sites but I wanted to 'play with the big kids' .. that's what lead to the decision to go back to school.

    Was it tough? You have NO idea. With a family and all the bills there were many a time where I was ready to give up. I even drove a truck 3 months out of the year to support us the rest of the year.

    Was it worth it? Yeah man! I have gone from the days of building $500 sites to what I am today with a lot of pain and persistence but I am damn proud of it and ANYONE that sticks with it can do it.

    But, with that said I have to question your idea of becoming a 'web designer'. Honestly, 'web designers' are a dime a dozen these days (and I don't mean that in a nasty way) and the money just isn't what it used to be. The web design market is flooded to the point of no return! Now with that said I would say if you are willing to study your butt off and become a web application developer you have a much better shot. Programming and being able to build the 'big kid sites' is where the money is at but you HAVE to be GOOD!

    When you are that good and people see it you can almost name your price. The customers that know what good is are willing to pay it!

    Good luck in whatever you decide but don't let this 'late in life' crap steer your decision cause it's total BS.

    Oh and for those that are just dying to know, I'll be 50 in January

  8. #8
    SitePoint Zealot Mitochondrion's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dc dalton View Post
    HEY! What's this 'later in life crap!' Life just gets going at 40!

    I did exactly what you are talking about at 40 but I made an even more dramatic change. in 1999 I closed my auto repair shop. We got a 2nd mortgage on the house and I went back to school for 10 months to learn programing.

    I had had computer experience back in the 80s but it was doing CAD and wire frame modeling as a draftsman. I literally walked away from computers in 1991 and didn't even touch one again until 1999. I started taking on-line classes for Photoshop and HTML from ZDU (anyone remember them?) and had done some rinky dink sites but I wanted to 'play with the big kids' .. that's what lead to the decision to go back to school.

    Was it tough? You have NO idea. With a family and all the bills there were many a time where I was ready to give up. I even drove a truck 3 months out of the year to support us the rest of the year.

    Was it worth it? Yeah man! I have gone from the days of building $500 sites to what I am today with a lot of pain and persistence but I am damn proud of it and ANYONE that sticks with it can do it.

    But, with that said I have to question your idea of becoming a 'web designer'. Honestly, 'web designers' are a dime a dozen these days (and I don't mean that in a nasty way) and the money just isn't what it used to be. The web design market is flooded to the point of no return! Now with that said I would say if you are willing to study your butt off and become a web application developer you have a much better shot. Programming and being able to build the 'big kid sites' is where the money is at but you HAVE to be GOOD!

    When you are that good and people see it you can almost name your price. The customers that know what good is are willing to pay it!

    Good luck in whatever you decide but don't let this 'late in life' crap steer your decision cause it's total BS.

    Oh and for those that are just dying to know, I'll be 50 in January
    Pleasure to meet somebody who knows what the hell he's talking about. You should be in charge of a boy scout camp for the graduates of interactive media programs, websites design certificate holders and others. You'd be probably the first person to tell them the truth about the realities of the market. Their schools are just interested in increasing enrollment. My old alma ater just introduced a new Bachelor of Arts degree with a minor in video game design. It actually promises those kids careers in game design after half a dozen of classes or so. Ask somebody who's making good money in game design how many years it took him to get there. Sid Meyer has been in it probably since 1979 or so....John Carmack probably started in the late 80s because his resume begins in 1990 or 1991.

  9. #9
    <code></code><WoW></WoW> nukeemusn's Avatar
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    I'm only 26 and I find it interesting how my career thoughtedness has gone over time.

    9th grade - Computer Programmer

    10th-12th - Freelance Songwriter

    12th-about 2 years ago - Enlisted in the navy as a nuclear engineer

    2 years ago to now - While working on a b.s. in software engineering, got interested in web design and development in and of itself

    now - still in the navy, doing QA, IT services, and information security, still doing web design, providing web hosting, and starting a handful of niche community sites

    future - Continuing with IT, Web development, and possibly a career as a veterenarian.

    You never know where life might take you. It'll be interesting to see this list in 10 years and see what else I've added to it.

    I've got it! The best idea ever!
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    SCREW IT!
    Ahhhh... much better
    Rinse and repeat. That's how life works.
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  10. #10
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    I'm gonna have to disagree with some of the comments made earlier, that it may be hard because the market is flooded with web developers. It is true that there are ALOT of web designers but most of them don't deliver quality especially when it comes to design. Most of the times the sites are made in photoshop, sliced and pasted on the web without paying attention to the speed or even compatibility of the layout. There are a **** load of developers making crappy layouts but very few making some good sites that excell in all areas (looks, reliability, SEO, compatibility, etc). When ever I'm looking for a designer it takes me months, literally to find someone with the skills to make something profession, drop down to the sell template section and count the amount of high quality to low quality temps. you see there, you'll know what I mean.

  11. #11
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    I've got a colleague who is in his 50's who made the shift after many interesting career chioces ranging from business owner (getting kidnapped by Hell's Angels at one point, though only for a few hours until he fixed a bike) to delivery driver for one of the big companies. He loves working in IT as a web designer/developer but on the down side you have to constantly keep learning new things and he insists on using table based design for everything as he hates DIV tags ?!? It's a great career and a bad one all at the same time depending on your mood and your projects.

  12. #12
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy bluedreamer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by webatomic View Post
    I'd be interested in hearing from others who have made the leap to web design and/or development later in life. I'm almost 45 and have been mulling over selling my web hosting business ...
    I'm not far behind you in age I used to work for a large organisation doing iT related things and left to do freelance web design after it started to mess everyone around.

    Yes you can do a career change at any time, if it feels the right thing to do then go for it - if you don't try you'll never know!

    I have absolutely no regrets at all, and it's one of the better things I've ever done. Sure I don't have the nice salary any more but my freedom to work when I want to is worth more than just money

  13. #13
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    The thread is really inspiring, any changes are positive as they allow you to change those false conception about yourself, and the fact of competition can be also considered a plus.

  14. #14
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    Two days ago I was a public health nurse for a local county. Today I'm a public health nursing consultant and a web designer. I've been designing websites on the side for several years and have continuously improved my skills. I wasn't really tired of my job. I was tired of my work place. Fortunately, I love to learn new things and get bored if I'm not learning something new. There's a never ending list of things to learn in web design.
    One advantage of a career change is that you have connections with people outside of the web design business who might know people who need websites.

    I have a little financial cushion for a few months. If worse comes to worse and I decide I don't want to do this, I know someone retiring next spring in another county who has done the same sort of work I was doing. I'd have a good shot at getting her job. I don't have any second thoughts about my decision to leave my job, just some worries.

    As an aside, and I don't know if this is a good sign or a bad omen for my new career, had I not gone out with some co-workers on my last day at my former job on Wednesday night, I may have been on the 35W bridge when it collapsed. That was my route twice a day for the last few years. I'm feeling pretty grateful and lucky no matter what my future career holds.

  15. #15
    SitePoint Guru DCS's Avatar
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    I lost a nice secure job I had after 13 years. I was already working towards this anyway by taking some graphic design courses. I was 34 at the time and 44 now.

    I took a major change in the course of my life. Got divorced, moved away from where I was living and started my web design business.

    It took about 4 years to really start making some decent money. I now make 3 times what I made at the company I worked for, set my own hours and I am my own boss. The only drawback is I don't have the nice insurance benefits I had.

    It was scary and rough going at first. I lived on my savings for a while then I took a part time job washing dishes and then moved into the kitchen until my business got off the ground.

    After about 4 years of that I had built my business up and quit the restaurant. Ironically I now work again 2 nights a week in the kitchen at the same restaurant. I don't do it for the money, I do it for some social time with some good friends I made working there before and a chance to get away from the daily grind of web design.

    My wife is my business partner but she is 2 weeks away from completing her Master's Degree and considering getting her PhD., so she is in a change as well which may again change my business but we both enjoy the challenges and have no regrets, in fact we are looking at trying to move to Alaska for yet another life adventure.

    I say go for it, it makes life interesting.

  16. #16
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    Honestly, it makes no sense to me why you would not immediately begin to put to use what you do know, and apply what you learn (at a very fast pace), to your exisiting hosting service website. You will be killing to birds with one stone. Maintaining bread and butter on the table plus learning what you want to learn all at once.

    AND your existing and future customers will apreciate the attention to detail!
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  17. #17
    SitePoint Evangelist stef25's Avatar
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    i worked for about 5 years in biotech and at the age of 27 decided to finally "formalize" my up-till-then very mediocre (WYSIWYG) web design skills. i took a decent distance learning course and can now, finally, start working as a web developer.

    i was unemployed for about 3 months between the end of my course and finally landing a job - this went less smoothly than i anticipated. all in all i was without any kind of substantial income for about a year which is not nothing

    id say this lack of income while you are getting up to speed with things is the biggest obstacle. if you wont have these financial problems then making your decision is a no brainer - just do it!

    unless you are totally crap, work should start to trickle in eventually
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  18. #18
    SitePoint Guru marcel's Avatar
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    lately I was thinking of getting out of the whole web industry. Thinking of taking a sabbatical.

    nice thread

  19. #19
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    This has turned into a fascinating thread. Thank you to everyone for sharing their stories!

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by danjojo View Post
    Honestly, it makes no sense to me why you would not immediately begin to put to use what you do know, and apply what you learn (at a very fast pace), to your exisiting hosting service website. You will be killing to birds with one stone. Maintaining bread and butter on the table plus learning what you want to learn all at once.

    AND your existing and future customers will apreciate the attention to detail!


    It does seem to make a lot of sense, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it's just TIME to get out of this business. I've been doing it for too long and it's just not making enough money to justify the amount of work I put into it. Believe me, I've been trying with all my might to turn things around for the last year or so and it's just time to move on. But certainly I've learned alot and made enough connections over the years that it could only be an asset in any type of web design/development situation I pursue.

  21. #21
    SitePoint Addict agentforte's Avatar
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    Thumbs up How easy it is.. just make sure you have a plan!

    To start off with, I find one of the great things about programming is the instant gratification of getting a piece of code to work, while at the same time getting lasting gratification since progress is being made and something larger is being completed, like an entire website.

    Not many professions give you both instant and lasting gratification

    I wouldn't consider myself at a point "later in life" but I had a similar scenario. I'm 23 years old, but at the same time, I would consider it a bit late to get into web design considering all the people I know either started in high school (at 14 or 15 years old) or don't do it at all.

    Anyway, I had a great business idea based on a database driven website design. Instead of looking for work in the field I graduated in, I decided to pursue this for a while.

    So I took the leap and guess what? These days there is so much free advice, tutorials and examples online that it is a lot easier to learn than it used to be. I started with basic html.

    HTML is really simple to learn, it just takes some time to get good at it. There are tags you put before and after text to describe it and dictate how it should look or where it is positioned. A lot of the time you will use tags within tags. We will call a set of tags with content in between a "box".
    The WC3 schools (they have free online tutorials) help you do things the right way too.
    The WC3 validator is really helpful for catching mistakes. (Type WC3 validator in Google)

    Once you have a hold of HTML, you can learn to use stylesheets (CSS) that dictate the position and look of each box (backgrounds, fonts, etc.)

    hint: the first hit on google for "CSS" has a great tutorial showing you how to do almost everything you need to know when using CSS.

    To make database driven websites using PHP and MySQL, I recommend "Build Your Own Database Driven Website" by Kevin Yank and "The PHP Anthology" by Harry Fuecks. In less than three months I was able to make a good looking website that safely takes user input, stores it, and displays it anywhere I want on a website. My first working example was an online survey I made for my business. I even made a password protected page to view the results.

    The logic can be very basic, and it doesn't take too long to learn the syntax (especially with all the free examples online)

    In those three months, I also learned enough javascript to make forms more user friendly, for example the page can check if user input is ok before a form is submitted. if not, error messages appear beside the field rather than having an annoying alert message pop up. I even successfully made an ajax form (allowing a form to be submitted without the page reloading.

    Enough of what I learned. The point I am getting at is this:

    If you are interested in making websites or web based services, and don't mind a bit of tedious work (getting your code to work) you will learn quickly.
    As time passes you will catch your mistakes faster, and learn how to be more productive.

    As for the money side, please make sure you make a business plan
    It can be as simple as writing on a piece of paper:
    1) who your customers are,
    2) what can you provide them, or what are you learning to provide them?
    3) what do they want (do they want a website, or do they want something to help their customers learn about them and buy from them. Make sure you meet the need, not what you think the need is. That is how you will make money)
    4) How much do other people charge for similar services. and how much will you charge? DO NOT charge less! Customers will think that you are not providing good work if you are cheap.

    Look up "business plan" online and spend at least a day or two finding out what you can.

    One of my professors started the Second Cup chain in Canada, and their motto was "We will not be over sold"
    They charged the most for a cup of coffe, and people automatically thought "hey, this is better quality" even though there was nothing special about it. Now don't rip people off, just make sure they have high perceived value in your product.

    I hope this helps.

    -Frank

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    agentforte, that's motivating stuff. i'm thinking about jumping into programming, as i've always had a knack for it, but never did anything serious. my question has always been where to start, school? learn on my own? but your reply has given me a boost of confidence i might be able to do this on my own

  23. #23
    SitePoint Wizard gold trophysilver trophybronze trophy dc dalton's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mitochondrion View Post
    Pleasure to meet somebody who knows what the hell he's talking about. You should be in charge of a boy scout camp for the graduates of interactive media programs, websites design certificate holders and others. You'd be probably the first person to tell them the truth about the realities of the market. Their schools are just interested in increasing enrollment. My old alma ater just introduced a new Bachelor of Arts degree with a minor in video game design. It actually promises those kids careers in game design after half a dozen of classes or so. Ask somebody who's making good money in game design how many years it took him to get there. Sid Meyer has been in it probably since 1979 or so....John Carmack probably started in the late 80s because his resume begins in 1990 or 1991.
    Trust me I didn't just "stumble upon" these ideas, I have owned my own businesses since 1991 and you HAVE To learn to read the writing on the wall and re-access what you are doing all the time! It's the old 'evolve or die' .. and WAY too many people never seem to learn that lesson.

    I also taught programing and design at the college level for 3 years and I saw how many of those people actually got jobs in the market (about 10&#37; in fact). It's so bad that the school I taught at completely gutted their program and now they teach ....... ready for this?

    Massage Therapy!

    I 'evolved' just over 2 years ago when I sold my 'web design' company, dcddesigns ... I saw what was happening and got out while the getting was good. I now ONLY do web applications (and yes there is a major difference). I also sold my web hosting company, dcd hosting last fall because I saw what was happening to the hosting business (they are giving it away now)... you HAVE to keep on top of your game and on top of your marketplace or sooner or later the phones will stop ringing and then it's too late!


    Quote Originally Posted by thebillionaire View Post
    I'm gonna have to disagree with some of the comments made earlier, that it may be hard because the market is flooded with web developers. It is true that there are ALOT of web designers but most of them don't deliver quality especially when it comes to design. Most of the times the sites are made in photoshop, sliced and pasted on the web without paying attention to the speed or even compatibility of the layout. There are a **** load of developers making crappy layouts but very few making some good sites that excell in all areas (looks, reliability, SEO, compatibility, etc). When ever I'm looking for a designer it takes me months, literally to find someone with the skills to make something profession, drop down to the sell template section and count the amount of high quality to low quality temps. you see there, you'll know what I mean.
    Yes you are 100% right about all the hacks out there, any yo yo that gets a pirated copy of Photoshop and a cheap editor hangs out a shingle proclaiming themselves as a 'web designer' BUT you have overlooked THE most important 2 facts here:

    1. 90% of the clients don't know the difference between a GOOD web designer and a hack!

    And don't EVEN begin to tell me I'm wrong because it is a fact. All most potential clients see is 'the pretty pictures' in the browser.

    2. 90% of the people out there looking for web sites are driven by price and price alone!

    Once they see the 'pretty pictures' all they want to know is how cheap they can get it. You wouldn't believe the number of potential clients I laugh at when they tell me what they want to pay BUT this has come about BY the hacks ... the 'should be flipping burgers at MC'Donalds' people that will build (or attempt to build) a complete web site for stupid money. THEY are the reason the 'web design' market has turned to crap.


    I even rewrote all the text on my main site to scare these Walmart mentality customers away because I don't even want to waste my time talking to them.

    The unfortunate part is most of the clients will get burned and then have to pay someone else to fix it. Then the 'used car dealer' mentality starts getting applied to web designers (already has actually)


    Perfect example, I happen to know someone at the biggest photographer site on the internet (no names). They tried it 'on the cheap' and offshored it to a company that didn't have clue one but promised the world. After a year and a site that was slower than death (they were running 30+ queries per page) they yanked the job BUT DID THEY LEARN? Of course not, they then offshored it again to another company that took their money and screwed them over for another year and produced another horrific mess. So now here they are, they contacted a friend of mine (that is one of THE best db gurus in the US) ... he looked at it and told them it needed to be gutted and done over again from square one (and he gets $250 an HOUR!). Silly people, always thinking with their wallet, not their brain.

    So don't tell me there's a TON of potential in the web design business because between the hacks and the customers that wouldn't know a good web site if it slapped them in the face there isn't much hope.

    Yes there are smart customers but they are few and far between and usually find you by word of mouth from a satisfied customer (I get 99% of my work that way)

    If only that developer union had gotten off the ground.

  24. #24
    SitePoint Addict agentforte's Avatar
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    Where to start... That is probably the hardest part.

    start here:
    http://www.w3schools.com/html/

    Before you try to set fonts and colours and backgrounds inside the html, go here:
    http://www.w3schools.com/css/

    This shows you the proper way to do it. CSS will make it easy to try a lot of different looks for your site without having to go through and find every html tag to change fonts and colours.

    I think you will learn fast if you have a project.. like your own website.
    Then within a day or two you can have your first website done just following these tutorials. Yeah it seems too good to be true. Well I didn't say your website will look good or do everything you want.

    But once you have something, it is easy to make it better.. don't get too far ahead of yourself and start with a simple, one-page website for yourself (or a family member or friend). Then make a second page and put links on each page so they can link to eachother.

    In my case, it is one website for my own business that will offer a number of services. I wrote out a plan with the things I need before I can approach my first client, and the other things I need, but are not urgent. This would give me an idea of when I could start making money.

    I talk about what I am doing, and already 2 people asked me to make a website for them. So it helps to make a bit of money on the side.

    I will be away for a week, but feel free to email me.

    I actually spent about 3 years now developing my business plan and designing my site. (no programming until recently). But I did learn a lot about online business from seminars, and reading a LOT. I'm pretty excited since I am finally at a point where I can see a date for the launch of my website, and business.

    Don't let 3 years discourage you.. I was also earning my materials engineering degree and leading a snowboard design team at school.. so that kept me busy.

  25. #25
    SitePoint Addict agentforte's Avatar
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    One more thing,

    After reading some of the replies above I have to agree... web design won't make you as much money as you think, no matter how hard you work. Work smart, not hard.

    "Web services" or "web applications" are what you should look into. It can be simply helping a business keep track of their inventory through a database driven website (just make sure it's backed up properly and secure).
    If you can think of a valuable service that a computer can do better than what your market uses now, you can get multiple clients using that same service that you develop.

    If you are smart about it, you can probably make a good income with web design, just don't call it web design, and try to provide a service that does more than just design a website. If it helps a business make money, they can justify spending the money on your services.

    Another route would be providing "want to have" services and cater to the teenagers with a disposable income (they are much better at getting money from their parents than you are).


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