FreelancerPro Interview: Trevan Hetzel, Creative Youth
At FreelanceSwitch, we get plenty of mail from teen Web designers that want to be featured on the site. It’s hard to weed out who has something valuable to say, because we like to interview people with experience and wisdom to share — at that usually comes from having a few years of professional experience. But when we heard from Trevan Hetzel, we knew something was a little different about this “kid” from Iowa.
This 20-year-old has a flawless eye for design, a knack for doing business — and even his own office space. Read on to learn more about how Trevan does business. We think you’ll be inspired!
Tell us how you got into design.
I’ve always had a creative personality. I remember as a little kid playing with Legos nonstop. That’s what my parents used to ground me from when I got in trouble! It may be a bad example, but I really do think those types of toys foster creativity in kids. I actually got into Web design my freshman year of high school when I took an elective class on Web design and loved every minute of it. There were no boundaries to what you could create, and I just loved how there were endless opportunities to learn more.
I spent probably a year tinkering on my own personal project (www.hetzelracing.com) and then got asked to design a site for my school’s elementary sports program. I guess you could say the rest is history! I then got into logo design and spent my study halls and after school hours learning Web and graphic design because it was so much fun!
So you just got your Associate’s degree. Tell us how college helped and how you stay on top of the latest advancements in the design arena. Do you plan to go back to school? Why or why not?
I actually just graduated this past May with my A.A. in business, a year after I graduated high school. I opted out of a design degree because I took a few graphic design classes at the local college when I was still in high school and, honestly, I probably could have taught them!
Nothing against the instructors though, I had just learned so much on my own as a hobby that those classes weren’t really beneficial to me. So college mostly helped me learn more about running my own business. I was planning on going back to get my Bachelor’s degree in marketing, but if this summer is any indication as to how my freelancing career will go, I’m not yet sure if I will.
Staying on top of the latest advancements in design is critical for any designer because standards change so much. I’ve learned almost everything I know through design blogs and tutorials, and I check many sites (including FreelanceSwitch!) daily to stay on top of changing trends.
Why did you decide to start your own business as opposed to working for another design firm? Did you have some money set aside or just jump right in? What aspect of business planning was key for you?
After I graduated high school, I did start working for a local design shop making T-shirts, vehicle vinyls, business cards… the whole nine yards. I learned quite a bit about Illustrator working there, but people kept coming in and asking if we did websites. The owner would say “Well, Trevan here does,” so I started getting more freelance business.
Eventually (and I don’t think most bosses do this), the owner of the shop basically told me I’d be stupid if I didn’t open my own web design business for all these local clients I was getting. So I joined the chamber of commerce, met some influential people, and landed a sweet deal with an insurance agent who had an open office for rent. I jumped on it and opened the doors to Hetzel Creative this past February.
I didn’t have much overhead other than my office rent, business cards and flyers and such, so it wasn’t too hard on my wallet to get started. To be honest, I didn’t really have much of a plan other than to dominate the area in web design. I was young (well, I’m only 6 months older now…) and didn’t have much to lose so I just jumped in with both feet. I told myself that if it didn’t work out I could always go get a job with the portfolio I had built up.
You’ve gotten some impressive clients and local businesses really seem to take to you well. How do you attract and secure clients?
Just starting out, I’ve had a pretty steady flow of clients and people are beginning to recognize me as the “go-to guy” for web design in my community. But now that some of my original clients are taken care of, I’m starting to have to get out and sell myself.
I’m a firm believer in letting my work speak for itself, and it does, but around here in Southwest Iowa there’s not a huge demand for businesses wanting websites. So I have to not only sell my web design services, but also sell people on why they need a website. That’s not my ideal situation, but I have to build up my portfolio first before I can go after the big clients.
What’s the creative process like for you…when someone comes to you and says they need a website, how do you come up with the idea and layout? What programs do you use?
My initial visit (or phone call if the client isn’t local) is what I call the “creative consultation”. That’s where I get inside the head of the client and learn all about their business, their goals, how they wish to be perceived and what their current brand image is. Then I design a mock home page and internal page layout in Photoshop, referring to the information I gathered from the creative consultation.
Once the client approves and signs off on the basic design and layout, I build the website in HTML and CSS (I use Dreamweaver for this, but hand-code everything from scratch). In the meantime I request that the client starts sending me content. Once all the content is received, I piece it all together (usually in WordPress, where I build my own custom theme from the files I coded). I let the client see my progress on a test server. Once they approve of everything, I transfer it over the live server, train them on how to edit the site, and check their stats using Google Analytics.
What do you think is the best-kept secret about creating effective web design?
I can only pick one? Man, that’s hard! I would say either creativity/imagination or simple user experience.
What has been your biggest challenge in starting your own business–how have you overcome it?
The biggest challenge has been finding clients that know the value in a good website design. As I mentioned, a lot of my clients are local businesses, but that’s not necessarily my target market. It’s tough to charge what I’m worth to local clients, because they just don’t understand the value and importance of a good website. So I’m really trying to build my image and credibility online to attract larger clients that already know why they need a website and just need someone to design it for them.
You’re very young and I imagine some people may see that as a hindrance. How do you prove them wrong?
It’s funny because I actually just wrote an article on my blog about this topic. You’re right, though, some people get a little leery if they find out how old I am. Others think it’s great because I’m young and have a fresh, unique and creative eye for design. I usually prove the leery ones that I’m the real deal by showing them what I’ve already done. Once again, I let my portfolio sell for me! I also just portray professionalism and act like I know what I’m doing (because I do).
What advice do you have for other young designers? Do you think they should have some traditional, professional experience first or is diving in best?
My advice for young designers is to just know that it is indeed possible to start and succeed at freelancing if they really want to. But they have to be willing to work for it and put in 80 hours a week if they need to get started. And even though I haven’t worked for a web design agency, I would say that it wouldn’t hurt to start off their career by doing so (unless they’re like me and have a huge entrepreneurial spirit). “Impossible is nothing” is what I live by, so always keep that in mind!
What are some of your professional goals?
My ultimate goal is to be the executive creative director (isn’t that what owners/founders of big agencies call themselves these days?) of a successful firm that helps companies build their brands through the digital medium. I would also very much like to partner up with some great people and build some sort of website or application that changes and simplifies the way people live their daily lives.
Thanks so much, Trevan. We wish you the best!