Ask FreelanceSwitch: Hosts with Bad Design Services and Freelance Skill Levels
In this issue of Ask FreelanceSwitch, we look at boycotting hosts with automated design services and how skilled you need to be to start freelancing. Ask FreelanceSwitch is a regular column here that allows us to help beginners get a grip on freelancing. If you have a question about freelancing that you want answered, send an email to email@example.com.
I notice more and more web hosting providers offering services that compete (or at least purport to compete) with the services I offer.
Recently a host I’ve been using, and recommending for my clients, has started offering “free website designing” and super cheap identity design services. I’m torn, because I like this host; They’re tools work well, their support is good etc. But I feel like I’m supporting a company that is a competitor and that fosters low-ball pricing, antithetical to the health of the freelancer’s business.
So should we freelancers boycott web hosting companies that offer these low-ball services; services that devalue what we do. I’d love to see some discussion on this subject.
Also, what host should we support? Who is good and focused one serving freelancers not undermining us?
Personally, I don’t boycott hosts (or other business service providers) because they offer bad design tools. I know a lot of folks out there feel that a boycott is appropriate, but my sense is that a boycott isn’t going to send the right impression to the people we care about — prospective clients. Someone who is searching for a way to get a website up for their business (preferably quickly) isn’t going to ever notice an individual freelancer’s boycott.
The solution has to be two-fold. First, I would suggest contacting the host you’ve been using and laying out your concerns. There are a lot of ways that you can explain that it’s not in the host’s interest to offer these sorts of tools. After all, these sorts of tools can build a reputation for a particular host of hosting primarily badly put together websites. You can also offer to create a package deal of your services (maybe in conjunction with a few other freelancers) to provide good web design for the host’s customers at a special rate. You don’t have to offer a major discount or anything like that, but it’s important to offer something that’s specific to the host.
The other part of the solution is to think about the sort of people who opt for those free website designs. Most of them don’t know any better. They can’t quite put their finger on why the websites they put together don’t look as shiny as what other people have. But people will continue to use these services as long as they’re in a hurry and don’t see alternatives. So provide that alternative. Start educating people and provide a clear path in your services to come back from a bad website design. That will have a much bigger impact on your own business and your host’s than a boycott ever will.
I know that isn’t the popular response: it’s a lot more work than a boycott. But there you go.
As far as the best hosts for supporting freelancers, none of the bigger names come to mind. (If you’re reading this and you have a host to suggest, please add it in the comments!) I currently provide my own hosting, but until I bought a server, I had a very freelancer-friendly set up: I found a freelance sys admin who happened to provide hosting as one of his services. I paid a freelancer directly for my hosting and had access to better support than a lot of larger hosting companies can provide.
Generally speaking, how much experience does the average person need to freelance? I want to freelance in programming or web design down the line but I’m still just getting the hang of some stuff. Do I need to be fully fluent in as many programming languages as possible or can I get by knowing a bit here and there?
You don’t need to have a lot of experience to land certain types of freelancing jobs. Sometimes people just need help with very specific issues — as long as you can do a few things well, you can land some freelance work. There are programmers who essentially just go in and customize one software package over and over again. They basically know how to do one thing well and have made a career out of it.
However, you’re going to be on the lower end of the earnings spectrum until you start picking up more knowledge. The programmers and web designers who earn more tend to be able to take on a wider variety of projects, even if they actually focus on a specific niche. Many of the programmers who do well customizing specific software packages have learned how to trouble shoot or even rewrite the whole software package if it ever comes down to it.
So go ahead and get started, but make sure to keep picking up more skills and knowledge as you freelance.