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How to get started in web development and design

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If you’re looking to learn how to get started in web development and design or if you’re seeking a way to level up your abilities, read on to find out the ways to gain the skills you’ll need to succeed.

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Although many companies hire web developers as direct employees, web development is equally popular as a freelance career, perfect for those who work unusual hours or prefer to work from home.

Web design and development are growth markets offering many opportunities for employment, contract and freelance work. There are almost 29 million web developers worldwide, and the number is predicted to grow by a further 16% by 2032. 

The market is growing for a reason. The web is a vital tool for business, offering the potential to connect with over 66% of the world’s population. It is also a hotbed of innovation. Businesses that do not take advantage of the latest web technologies will fall behind the curve. 

Businesses need the web – and they need good web designers.

What is web development?

Web development is the process of creating the websites and services that make up the Internet. It involves a mix of coding and user interface design, as well as the ability to understand and interact with the underlying technologies that power the web.

Although many companies hire web developers as direct employees, web development is equally popular as a freelance career, perfect for those who work unusual hours or prefer to work from home.

What can you earn as a web designer?

Web design and development rates are highly variable and will largely depend on your route into the industry – whether you are looking for employment or to work on a freelance basis – and your level of skill.

Expected pay for web development and design

Web developers and designers can earn good pay – though not always. The average base salary for a web developer in the UK, based on a survey of 2,500 salaries, is £31,897.

Larger companies or those in higher-rate regions typically offer a salary closer to £40,000, and specialist developers with knowledge of niche technologies can expect to earn a lot more, perhaps twice as much in some cases.

Beginners are unlikely to earn quite as much. The average base pay for a junior web designer is between £20,000 and £28,000.

Freelance web designer rates

Rates as a freelancer are highly variable depending on the experience of the individual, the demands of the task, and the budget of the commissioning company. 

Freelance web development work is typically charged at an hourly or daily rate. Recent job vacancy statistics suggest a median daily rate of around £413 and an hourly rate of around £52, though charging a slightly lower fee when starting out may net you more business. You can plan to raise your rates as your reputation grows.

Ensure you are managing your money well and saving enough to pay tax and national insurance contributions if you are working on a freelance basis. It may be beneficial to set up a business bank account, which in some cases includes accounting and invoicing tools, and then draw down a salary from this.

Should you charge a flat rate for web design?

If you feel you will be able to complete a job quickly, a flat fee may prove to be a profitable charging structure. However, a job that takes longer or requires repeated revision may cancel out the benefits of a flat fee. As with any freelance work, use your judgement and prepare to be flexible. 

Prepare, too, for lean times: clients can be sluggish to pay. Ensure you are clear and strict about payment terms, but if your business is suffering from a cash flow gap you could consider invoice finance, which uses unpaid invoices as security for business loans.

Overheads of web design work

Solo web developers have very few overheads to consider:

  • Hardware: Web development is not a processor-intensive task, and can be performed on a cheap laptop if your budget is tight – though more advanced design tasks may be easier with a stronger PC or Mac

  • Free software: Many key development tools are completely free. Try an application like Visual Studio Code for programming tasks, or the web-based tool Figma for design prototyping

  • Paid software: Depending on your client, you may be required to use licensed software such as Adobe’s XD, Dreamweaver or Photoshop. An Adobe Creative Cloud subscription can be very expensive at around £57 per month, but subscribing to individual apps could save you money

Those are the basics, but you may also wish to consider the following if they help you work more efficiently:

  • Office space, or a desk in a shared work environment

  • Web hosting for testing your designs online – this is not explicitly required, but it can help clients see your work in progress

  • A portfolio website to demonstrate your abilities to potential clients

  • Training costs if you are looking to become certified or need additional help to learn skills

Most of these costs will be covered by an employer if you are working full-time but will remain your responsibility if you opt to work on a freelance basis.

How to get started in web design

Web design and development have no real barriers to entry. You do not need access to a web server or any paid software, nor do you need pre-existing coding skills. A basic computer is enough to start building, testing, and experimenting with websites, and you can learn skills as you go.

Choose your path

Whether you are looking at web development as a career, a hobby or a side job, it is worth deciding which specialism suits you best at the beginning of your journey. There are three main pillars to consider:

  • Web development: Web developers tend to work on the back end of websites, in the code hidden behind the scenes. This aspect will suit those with a background or interest in coding, systems engineering, or even pastimes like solving puzzles.

  • Web design: Web designers create the look and feel of websites' visible parts, otherwise known as the front end, the part that the user interacts with. While there is an obvious connection to artistic pursuits, web design tends to be slightly more complex than simple user interface design, so web designers will not be able to avoid coding.

  • Full stack: Full stack developers bridge the gap, performing some web development and some web design. Their broad abilities and knowledge of how development and design interact make full-stack developers an attractive prospect for many companies, particularly smaller operations. 

In truth, all web designers and web developers will need some full-stack ability, though it helps that many of the latest back-end tools simplify the process of both design and development.

What to know as a web developer

Web development is a constantly changing field. Web designers need to understand coding, and have a rudimentary knowledge of fundamentals like HTML, JavaScript, CSS and responsive design. 

Today, developers are also sought based on their knowledge of specific web technologies and development languages – those with specialist knowledge will earn more on the job or in the freelance market.

Most importantly, you should pick the technology that best suits how you would like to work on the web. Consider investing time in learning currently popular free-to-use packages like: 

  • React: Developed by Meta, React’s large library of components helps build impressive user interfaces with minimal code

  • Angular: Google’s application design framework is helpful for building back-end tools and single-page apps

  • Vue.js: A fast, independently developed framework

  • Node.js: A popular, visually powerful library for JavaScript coders

Learning web design on your own

Creating a website for your business or personal brand can be simple with the correct tools. It is entirely possible to learn web design on your own – every code library worth its salt will include extensive documentation. Following tutorials is a fantastic way to create something impressive with little prior experience.

When it comes to paid work, however, web developers are expected to demonstrate a high level of coding skill. Employers and clients may offer intricate specifications that you will be expected to meet, which means that if you are a newcomer to the world of coding, there is a lot to learn – even if your skills lean more towards visual design.

Structured learning for web developers

There are plenty of ways to learn web development in a formal setting, many of which offer certification. Investing in your skillset can pay dividends in work down the line.

Free web development courses 

The web is a major source of learning, and many outlets offer resources that can help get you up and running free of charge. For instance, Harvard University releases the lectures and materials of its CS50 computer science course for free, and the follow-up web development module, CS50W, is a great way to build intermediate skills over the course of 12 weeks.

If you would prefer to learn more specific skills, FreeCodeCamp offers a catalogue of thousands of assessment-led courses, many of which focus on web technologies.

While proving one’s self-taught skills could be enough, employers and freelance clients will likely look for hard evidence of your abilities. Short online courses can be reasonably cheap, ranging from £12 to around £100. Look for those that offer certification and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points, that act as proof of your work.

Some larger web companies, like Google and Adobe, offer certified training through approved providers. While completing one of these courses may be more expensive, clients may look upon them more favourably than third-party courses.

Degree-level courses

If you have the time to spare, an undergraduate degree in web development will set you apart from others. Upwards of 15 UK universities offer such courses, lasting between two and four years. If you don’t have the time or money to leave full-time employment, the Open University also offers numerous part-time courses that can build towards a certificate, diploma or degree over two to six years.

Growing your web design business

Marketing and promotion are essential if you are looking to grow your web design business. While much of your work may come from word-of-mouth recommendations, it is also important to make the most of social platforms – particularly the likes of LinkedIn – to highlight your ability and body of work.

If you are an experienced designer or developer, it may be tempting to expand your horizons and start a web design agency. Being part of a collective of web professionals allows you to offer larger clients more complex sites, and potentially earn a lot more in the process. 

Setting up an agency is not a small task, but if you already have a strong portfolio and a contact book full of potential clients, consider whether a startup business loan might work for you.

These unsecured and secured loans could help you grow your business, cover running costs or even fund a new company.

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