I’ve found there’s two camps of thoughts out there among the all-knowing biz gurus, when it comes to your profession:
- Focus on what you love doing = strengths = niche market. (quality)
- Diversify your skill set = options = wider market. (volume)
Now that’s a really simplistic breakdown, but hey, it’s a simpleton’s perspective.
The whole point of this ramble is that I find myself having to choose one of these 2 paths at this time. My clients are busy individuals, so when they contact me looking for a solution to their problem, I’m usually up to the task and capable. But I also deal in the warp speed field of web technology where tomorrow is already obsolete.
Google will actually update some of their pages on the fly – live – while I’m on it. One minute it’s a blue button…the next minute it’s orange – with different text. As if that’s not stressful enough, consider that the web industry as a whole is a mishmash of a thousand little communities, or so it seems. You’ve got WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Tumblr, Blogger…There’s Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera. Not to mention Mobile, Tablet, PC, Mac, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, blah, blah, blah… I haven’t even scratched the surface with the developer, designer, server-side, client-side, IT, programmer, open-source, and other such communities.
Then, consider that each one of these groups mentioned have their own subculture of users, and developers (think themes, plugins, widgets, apps, etc). Continuing education is not even an accurate term. More like perpetual education, or survival education just to remain relevant.
So what exactly pops into a someone’s mind when they hear that I ‘do websites’? I’m not sure, but neither are they from what I can gather.
Most business owners just know that they need one – and, “oh by the way, here’s some examples of websites I like. Can you make mine like that?”
The clincher is always: “I need to come up first on Google”. I know. The whole world does. The problem is that there’s only one front page. (ok, technically speaking there’s many front pages if you factor in Local search results – but let’s not, since we’re staying simple.). And herein lies my dilemma.
As a solo freelance webdude, my skills and arsenal HAVE to run deep. In order to compete with the glut of talent available (especially here in tech central: the SF Bay Area), I need to be efficient, nimble, and remarkable.
And, um, affordable.
The question is: Which skills are necessary to have in my arsenal to remain viable? I chose to focus on WordPress early on – rather than Joomla or Drupal – but could easily have gone either route. And as I mentioned earlier, it’s all I can do to keep up with all the new updates, plugins, themes, widgets, bugs, etc…just within that community. Same goes for keeping up to date with the software I use to create and publish the pages and graphics for web & print. Now, it’s all about videos: YouTube or Vimeo?
More of my customers of late are asking for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) services as part of their web design package. I’ve touched on SEO in some of my blog entries, but I’ve always considered that genre to be more on the marketing side of business. I understand that SEO and websites are symbiotic by nature, but the more I learn about SEO, the more I realize how specialized it is. It also doesn’t help that Google keeps changing the rules of the game, amusing themselves no doubt by calling these life-changing events with cute little names like Hummingbird, Panda, & Puma.
Google Analytics, Adwords, and Adsense are turning out to be quite a scientific community. So while there are aspects of web design where SEO capabilities are built into the CMS, I’m talking about SEO services that the customer wants: getting ranked at the top when searched.
So here I stand at a crossroads.
Do I dive into the the world of black-hats and white-hats in order to add more marketing value to my services? Or should I remain focused on designing and developing high-quality websites, chasing the hackers at the forefront with hopes of joining the pack?
With a family to feed during a tough economy, in a very competitive market, every project is precious. But more so than that, I have an obligation to make sure that I can deliver to my clients’ expectations, as promised, and within budget.
Maybe there’s an acceptable middle-ground that doesn’t compromise quality. One freelancer helping another, perhaps.