It's been three and a half years since my brother and I first launched our web design business in 2000. I admit that we were pretty primitive back then, and it's a bit scary to go back and look at the very first sites I created.
I'm thankful to say, though, that I've learned a tremendous amount since that time. Here are the top 7 things I wish I had known when I started:
1. Reading is incredibly valuable.
Learning from the experience of other people who have already "been there and done that" saves a tremendous amount of time. In my opinion, both books and online newsletters are very valuable. Books are more methodical than newsletters, but newsletters are free and can cover more up-to-date topics. Personally, I try to read on a variety of subjects, including graphic design, web development, search engine optimization, copywriting, marketing, and online business in general.
2. It's imperative to understand the target audience and the primary goal for every client.
In order to design a site that truly meets a client's needs, the designer must understand what the site is supposed to accomplish, and what kind of visitor they will be working with. I'm ashamed to say I truly had no concept of how important this was when I first started designing. I didn't realize that a site's target audience and primary goal should affect every decision-the colors, the size of the type, the style of the graphics, the content of the home page, the personality of the copy, and everything else.
3. A basic understanding of search engine optimization and copywriting is imperative.
Although you can design a website without knowledge in these areas, it's pretty hard to design a GOOD site without knowing at least something about SEO and copywriting. Designers have to realize their craft revolves around their ability to communicate a message-and that is dependent on the site's copy and visibility. Without any content or traffic, a designer's work doesn't do any good.
Additionally, any time you get into more complicated sites, you also need to understand the basics of programming. If you don't, you'll end up designing poor-quality sites, or else spending a lot of time and energy to correct mistakes caused by lack of knowledge.