I started developing websites for money in 2012 when I was unemployed and 42 years old.
Behind me was my experience as a social worker, retail shop owner, textbook salesperson, and vending machine sales manager. I had recently recovered from a series of three back surgeries in three years. I needed to take frequent breaks from sitting or standing and most companies don’t take lying down on the job too well.
I couldn’t go back to full-time work.
Years of struggle with physical pain also affected how I thought about work.
Life suddenly felt very short and my time without pain felt precious. I decided to do work I really wanted to do; work that would give me what I needed to take care of myself.
I wanted to become a website developer.
Eight years later, I’ve identified four skills you need to have in order to become a great website developer:
- Communication skills
- Sales skills
- Project management skills
- Website development skills
When I started, I only had two of these skills. Communication and sales.
I did not have much going on regarding website development skills.
My first WordPress website was for my own experimentation. I had this vision that people would flock to my website to read my local business reviews. They didn’t. Here it is:
My first WordPress website for a real business was for a friend. I did it for free using the Hoon theme from Press 75. Take a look at it here:
I started telling people I was a website developer and hoped they would believe me.
It totally worked!
That’s when I really started to learn WordPress. I knew enough about WordPress to make a free website but getting paid by a customer who had expectations and their own vision…that was psyching me out.
My first paid website job was for $750. I had to Google “how to make a website proposal” which is how I found Bidsketch. I was so nervous that they would say no to my proposal! But, they said yes.
It was by far the most difficult website I’ve ever built. Here it is:
It was over 450 pages! My eyes hurt just thinking about the energy I put into that website. 🙂
I did lots of Googling and spent hours watching YouTube tutorials. I would get halfway into most videos before realizing they didn’t apply to my situation.
Not knowing what I was doing was stressful. My internal freak out machine was shouting, “Your customer is counting on you!” and “You’re going to have to give their money back!” and I had already spent their $450 deposit.
Get this… I didn’t even know how to make their website go live once I had completed the development. I had to hire someone to do this final step for me. Thank you Brad Dalton!
A lot of people think you have to know how to code in order to build websites. But, I didn’t know a lick of code when I started my first paid website project and I didn’t know any code when I finished it.
Instead of learning code or boning up on graphic design skills, I stuck to building one skill: creating WordPress websites. That allowed me to get better, faster, because I wasn’t wasting time trying to learn a bunch of different skills.
That’s why I gained two things from my first paid website project: confidence and practice.
My customers loved their new website.
I took my impressive new portfolio of exactly three websites and joined a networking group. I built a few more websites, learning project management and WordPress along the way.
Today, I own a website consulting agency with six people on my team and comfortable office space. Website development is now just a small part of the work we do for our clients. I’m no longer part of a networking group because people contact us everyday to ask about our services.
How did I go from struggling to building my first basic websites at my kitchen table to the place I am today?
The same way I went from knowing nothing about website development to being an in-demand website developer.
I didn’t wait until I knew everything to get started. I didn’t wait until I felt confident before risking failure.
I didn’t wait.
The only two things I really had going for me were my communication skills and my sales skills.
If I had waited until I knew everything I needed to know or felt confident enough, then I would never have started down the path which led me to where I am today.
I am still learning.
If you are thinking about breaking into website development, then stick around. Leave a comment below. I write about my own experience with becoming a website professional and growing my business.
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When I was just getting started, I wish there had been a guide to help me along my journey. A list of the 20 Best Practices for Website Developers would have been very helpful.