Whenever a company posts a job opening for a web design employee or freelancer, they typically include a set of hard and soft skills they’re looking for. Hard skills are design skills that are measurable and well-documented. For instance:
- A degree in a web design-related field;
- Aptitude with Sketch or Photoshop;
- Training in color theory and responsive design.
Your portfolio and résumé serve as proof of hard skills. Soft skills, on the other hand, are non-design skills that make you a good person to work with, but aren’t as easy to verify. While an employer might list out the qualities they’re looking for, they’re often subjective or vague, like:
- Meets deadlines;
- Team player;
It’s easy to dismiss these kinds of soft skills because they seem arbitrary. Of course I have them, you think. The truth is, real soft skills not only help you stand out from other web designers, but they affect how successful you’ll be in running your own business. Let’s take a look at what the most important of these non-design skills are and how they’ll help you go farther in your career.
[pullquote]these kinds of sales skills allow you to build stronger relationships with prospects[/pullquote] It’s easy to equate sales with associates who approach you in stores asking if you need help, or with reps who call you to see how you’re feeling about the free trial of their product. The problem with that particular sales approach is that it often makes one product seem just as good as another: Oh, you didn’t like that style? Let me see if I can get you another. For you, this isn’t about negotiation or compromise nor can it be a numbers game. When selling yourself as a web designer, what you really need to be skilled in is the following:
- Knowing your niche so well that it’s easy to find your target clients;
- Knowing what exactly their pain is so you can quickly get the conversation started;
- Knowing how to position yourself before them as the solution.
For web designers, these kinds of sales skills allow you to build stronger relationships with prospects so they easily and inevitably become your clients. That said, one of the sales skills you can borrow from professional sales people is the ability to let rejection roll right off your back. In other words, it’s going to be tough — especially early on — when prospects say, “no, thank you”. It’s natural to want to take it personally. Just keep in mind that once you perfect the right sales approach for your business, this’ll be something you have to deal with less and less.
2. Finance Management
You might be thinking that you’ll just offload your finances to software like QuickBooks or Xero or you’ll hire an accountant once you’re making enough money. But finance management skills go beyond being able to balance your profits and overhead costs. There are a number of things you need to be able to do properly manage your cash flow. For example:
- Research industry rates so you can set competitive prices. Then, be able to negotiate for higher rates with clients.
- Confidently talk to prospects about your prices and convey the value of your services in a way that none of it is called into question.
- Create business proposals and contracts containing critical details about your prices, fees, payment schedules, etc.
- Be able to confront a client who hasn’t paid on time, assess late fees, and take action to track down non-paying clients.
- Set and stick to budgets for your business and personal life so you don’t go crazy buying things you don’t need or spending money you don’t have yet.
Master these skills and profitability will never be an issue for you.
3. Project Management
Things are going to get very hectic for you the more clients you add to your roster and the more services you offer. The easiest way to keep everything in order when you’re bootstrapping your business (i.e. doing it on your own) is to get really good at project and time management. Here are some things you’ll need to be able to do to dominate this non-design skill:
- Create processes — for yourself as well as your client projects;
- Document your processes and keep them organized;
- Use the right tools and resources to streamline it all;
- Predict accurate timelines, set milestones, and deliver by them;
- Monitor your time and stay focused.
What’s nice about this skill is that you can use a project management tool and templates to automate a lot of it. The only thing is, you have to first lay the groundwork with a solid process and system of your own.
4. Client Communication and Management
If you start your client relationships off on the right foot during the sale process, this skill will be an easy one to get the hang of since you’ll be working with the ideal client. Even if that isn’t always the case, you can still effectively navigate the sometimes rocky terrain of client relationships, it’ll just require extra patience. [pullquote]Underpinning all of these skills is confidence[/pullquote] As for how you master client communication and management skills, keep the following in mind:
- Take charge from the very get-go. You want to be able to earn their trust, command respect, and keep doubts from appearing at any point. This’ll keep your job free of scope creep, too.
- Set boundaries. Let clients know what they can expect from you and when, but never let them overstep their bounds in terms of the limits you’ve set.
- Speak their language. Clients don’t understand things like “CSS grid” or “responsive design”. Talk to them with words that make sense.
- Be professional in every exchange. There’s no need to let your personal drama become a distraction nor should clients ever know about trouble brewing on other jobs. Stay on point.
- Keep calm even when the client isn’t. If that means sitting on a nasty email for a few hours, so be it. It’s best to enter every conversation with a clear head.
- Know when it’s time to listen and also be okay accepting fair criticism or feedback.
Underpinning all of these skills is confidence; confidence in what you do and confidence in being able to steer clients and projects in the direction they need to go.
As a web designer, you’re in the business of solving a very big problem: I need a website for my business, but don’t have the ability or time to do it myself. That alone is a powerful skill, but we’re focusing on the non-design skills you need right now. So, think of other ways you will need to solve problems for your clients along the way. For example, during the initial discovery call stage, your client might have a very specific problem like: I need an ecommerce website with 24⁄7 chatbot support. [pullquote]you need to be able to think quickly and creatively on your feet[/pullquote] Would you know how to devise a solution for that request on the spot? If not, would you know exactly where to go to figure out how to do it? What’s more, would you be okay telling your client that you’re unsure right now, but promise to get an answer to them in the next day or two? In other words, you need to be able to think quickly and creatively on your feet. What about issues or requests that come up later? For instance: The button on the homepage doesn’t work anymore. Help! Are you resourceful enough to be able to investigate the issue and fix it? If you’re really good at this particular skill, you could monetize it by offering website maintenance services. You’d need to pair vigilance and resourcefulness to make the most of it, but it’s totally possible to do if you’re a problem-solver by nature.
Start Mastering These Non-Design Skills Today
It’s not just your aptitude in web design that’s going to help you land new client after new client. If you want a steady influx of new clients willing to pay you top dollar to design their websites, then you’re going to have to flex these important non-design skills as well. Featured image via Unsplash.