Today I talk about how it all began. My story starts out of tragedy but it doesn’t end there.
6 years ago my wife of 10 years left me. When she did I had to figure out how I could make extra money for me and my 3 daughters as a single dad.
Off of a friend’s suggestion I started learning web design. About 18 months after that I had doubled the income of my full-time job only working 20 hours a week.
I then went on to completely change careers in my late 30’s and things couldn’t be better.
This last year, I launched Self-Made Web Designer with the goal of helping people who were just like me have thriving freelance web design side hustles or full-time careers.
This podcast is another is another extension of that. I want you to know that you can do this! No matter what you’re background or history, you can do this.
I’m here to help you along the way if you need it. Learning web design was truly life-changing for me and I know it will be for you, too!
- The story of Self-Made Web Designer
- How to get started as a freelance web designer
- What to do when you get frustrated with freelancing
- Tools that can be a lifesaver when you’re just starting out
- How to have success with online platforms like Upwork
- Ways to niche down your freelance services
- A healthy dose of encouragement
Hello and welcome to the Self-Made Web Designer podcast where we talk about how to go from knowing nothing about development or design to having a thriving, freelance side hustle, or a full-time career in tech. I'm your host, Chris Misterek. And I am so excited you are here today on what is our very first, the inaugural, episode of the Self-Made Web Designer podcast.
You can't see this because this is a podcast but little confetti cannons are going off right now. Like, we've brought in a pony for kids to ride. I've cracked open a bottle of whiskey because this is a special day. It's been a long time coming.
Six years ago, I knew very little about design and nothing about development and now I work full time as a UX web designer at a tech company. And this past year, I made $30,000, working less than 20 hours a week, building websites on the side.
Some of you might be shocked that I'm sharing that information, maybe even a little disgusted that I would dare to give out real numbers. But here's why I tell you: I tell you because I want you to know that you can easily do what I've done. Because I want you to succeed. I have a passion to see people take control of their lives and their finances and find the life change I did in web design.
And here's the thing, there's nothing special about me. I'm not, like, super smart or extra gifted. All in all, I'm pretty average, okay? At the time when I started learning web design, I was a single dad struggling to just make it. I didn't have a ton of free time and endless resources to make it happen.
So if you're listening, wondering if this is something you can do, let me reassure you, you absolutely can. It takes grit and persistence. But there has never been a better time to learn web design. And there has never been more opportunity to find clients from all over the world. So, on this inaugural episode, I thought I might kick it old school and talk a bit about how I got here. Like all good stories, it started with a divorce.
Okay, maybe most good stories don't start with a divorce. But mine did. See my wife of 10 years came home one night and told me it was over. And, I did what I could do to try and salvage the relationship. But, it was pretty clear that there was nothing I could do to keep her.
And, this was a wake-up call for me. Like, have you ever had a moment or a season of your life that woke you up and defined you? That's what this was for me. It was a wake-up call. Here I was a single dad, three little girls that needed me to provide for them.
And, when my wife walked out, so did over half of my income. In case you're trying to piece together what that means, let me tell you plainly: she wore the pants in the family, okay? She made more money than I did.
But here's the thing. I loved my current full-time job. I was working as a worship pastor at a church. And, I didn't want to have to pull on the church to give me more money. And I couldn't just go out and find a part-time job. This was the season I wanted to make sure I could spend more time with my girls, not less.
So I had to find something that I could learn on my own and do when my kids were sleeping. On the suggestion of a friend, I started learning web development. I signed up for a free course on Codeacademy and I got started. And, here's the thing, something sparked in me when I first coded. 'hello world' in HTML. I knew I'd found something that I loved.
It was crazy to me that I could write things in a text editor and see it on the web, right? And most of you are like, “duh, no big deal, Chris, you need to set the bar a little bit higher in your life.” And listen, I know I do. Okay, I'm easily amused. But this was something different.
This was like a light went off. In a short amount of time, I had gotten through all the free tutorials I could find. So I ended up reaching back out to my friend who initially encouraged me and asked him what was next. His response, “Start building some websites.”
I didn't know if I was qualified, right? Like, we're taught to be qualified to do something, you have to have like education and some certifications or, you know, like a full degree. And he was like, “Of course you can.”
So it was a bit scary. But I just started, I found sites I liked on the internet and I tried to emulate them. And here's the thing, I'll share something with you that's a little personal. The sites I made at first were bad, like really, really bad.
I take the sites I built to my friend to get feedback, and he ripped me to shreds. And I'm glad he did because they were bad, right? I'm glad I had someone honest enough with me to say you can do better and keep working at it.
And, I want to encourage you guys out there when you're first getting started, your work is going to be bad. It's normal. But you can't let that frustrate you. You have to keep going.
I heard a story of how Aerosmith used to meet every Monday as a band for a meeting that they called “Sucky Ideas.” And they would all pitch ideas that they thought these are going to be horrible and would be embarrassed to tell anybody else.
But here's the thing songs, like, 'Dude Look Like a Lady' came from this. Songs like 'Love in an Elevator', which is silly and I can understand how it came from a sucky idea meeting. But these guys are known for these songs and they wouldn't have happened if they hadn't taken a risk and just gone for it. So, don't quit, you have to keep going if you're going to win.
So, despite my making really bad websites, at first, I kept going, and here's the thing over time, they got better and better and better. Eventually, I came to the point where I'm like, maybe I should start building for other people. You know, like, building for yourself can be fun, but nothing gives you the experience of having a client that you have to figure out how to please.
Let's be real with ourselves, okay, if I've done a ton of work on a site for myself, but it's still not that great I'm going to call it good enough and quit. Right? Like I've put a lot of work into this. It's not perfect, but hey, it's fine. A client isn't as forgiving, right? They're not going to be okay with you just doing good enough. So finding people that you can build websites for that are going to be giving you feedback that you're going to have to be making revisions and changes is super important in the process of learning web design. So I knew I wanted to build sites that I could hand off to clients and let them manage on their own. I didn't want them to have to be handcuffed to me to make simple updates to add a blog post to make changes, to fix out images, and everything else that they might want to do. So that's when I started learning WordPress.
At first, it was the basics right, I would find themes and customize them. And this seemed like a good place for a newbie to start with only a few months under his belt. So after learning a bit, I went out and started telling people I was open for business. I didn't start like trying to find people on the internet like going online or going to UpWork are going to some freelancing platform. I started with the people that I knew. Donald Miller says that the first bouquet you make is from the flowers closest to you. So that was my strategy, I would reach out to people I knew that had a business or a thought might benefit from a site and ask them if I could help. And this would be my encouragement to you. If if you're just getting started in freelancing, or as a web designer, even if maybe you've been a web designer for years, but you've not gotten into freelancing and don't have any work to show to someone that might want to hire you, okay? It's going to be tough to get someone to trust you without a whole bunch of work in your pocket or testimonials to give to them. So you have to figure out other people that might trust you for different reasons, right? So you find people that trust you because of the relationship that they have with you. Because of the people that know Okay, this is a good person, he's a friend or just a willingness to Give it a shot, because there's not a lot of risks. And that's what I did here, I would come to them and say, 'Hey, we've known each other for a long time. And I know that this might be beneficial for you. I don't want it to be a risk for you. So just give me whatever you want, or whatever you can. And if you can't give me anything, that's fine.' So sure enough, a few weeks after doing that, a friend of mine told me of another friend. So a friend of a friend of a friend of an uncle's brother...just kidding. It was just a friend of a friend. So they told me of a friend of mine that needed some help with her website, her old web designer was ghosting her, even though she needed updates, which is a pretty common thing in the web design world. Unfortunately, freelancers just kind of disappear. And don't ever return emails or texts or phone calls. So I reached out and I didn't ask for anything. You know, after all, this would be my very first website for someone other than myself. And she was more than happy to give me a shot and I was ecstatic.
I think it's important to realize, like when you're first getting started, you've got to be encouraged at very small progress. And it's super discouraging to go, 'Okay, I, I'm only doing maybe one site every two or three months or, you know, I've only had a few people say yes to me.' Don't get discouraged, right. It's a snail's pace. And that's better for you because the more experienced that you get slowly, the better you'll be in the long run, right? Like if you get a lot of quick success and a lot of people sign up for you to build their site, you run the risk of making a lot of mistakes, and potentially imploding and quitting altogether never to come back. So taking it easy, and celebrating the small wins at first is super important in your journey.
And I knew that this was my chance to build a portfolio and put something out there to show everyone else what I knew I could do on the inside. So I went to work. And instead of reinventing the wheel, I decided just to find a theme on Themeforest.net and customize it from there. And in case you haven't heard of Themeforest, it's an amazing gift to web designers just getting started. I don't care what negative things you have to say about it, okay. This was the perfect solution for me as a guy just trying to get started and make some extra money for his kids. Now, I think a lot of people struggle with the idea of just finding a theme or just making revisions to something that's already out there. Because they feel like maybe they're cheating the client or maybe all these negative things are associated with just starting with a theme and building from there, but here's the thing, okay, you've got to start somewhere. Right? You're not going to start building an amazing theme from scratch and hope to be successful in a short period.
So back to my story. My friend is a fitness trainer. And so I tried to find a theme on Theme Forest that would match her style and what she was going for. And she also had a membership component. And for that use, the plugin called Optimize Press. And it took me a little bit of time to learn the ropes. But a little while later, and we launched this site and I was so happy and my friend was so pleased. She didn't have to but was gracious enough to give me a gift card for my time. And listen, that might not seem like a big deal to you, but you can't despise the day of small beginnings. I was just elated to get anything for building a website, which was something that I would probably be doing in my free time nonetheless if I got paid for it or not. So everything of significance in life starts like this. You don't start as a web designer making a $10,000 site, right? Just like you don't start in kindergarten writing America's Best Novel, you start small, and you build up. And the main thing I got from this was being able to show people proof of concept right? Now, it wasn't like, Hey, I'm a web designer, trust me, you know, it's, hey, I'm a web designer, look at this site that I've built. So after this, I kept going down the list of friends I knew that had businesses and slowly but surely, it started turning into a legitimate freelance web design side hustle. But eventually, my friends ran out. Like in other words, I'd built a site for everyone I knew that needed one and a few that probably didn't need one, but we're just being nice. Okay, and thank you for all of you out there that did that for me. You're awesome and I love you. So I had to figure out a way to find more business. And on a friend's suggestion, I signed up for a platform called Upwork. At the time, it was called oDesk. And the concept of Upwork is pretty simple. If you're not familiar with it, it's a platform that people go on and posts like one-off jobs that they're looking to have done. It could be anything from like, 'hey, help me do my taxes to help me build a website' to 'help me create an app'. Okay, and I was looking for that 'build me a website' job because taxes are way more confusing than web development. So you've got these people are clients looking to have jobs done and you've got a pool of freelancers that are eager to do those jobs, some of them more than eager. As a freelancer, you see all of these possible projects you can bid on and pick which ones are best suited for you. When you find one you like, you send in a proposal and if the client thinks you'd be a good fit, they'd reach out to you and then the process continues. And listen there's an endless amount of opportunities on Upwork to find work and I was super excited and like I just I had this idea that I was going to get tons of gigs from this right? Like, how could they not love me and just hire me on the spot?
But here's the thing, that that just makes you look worse, okay? Because when a client comes to Upwork, to find the right freelancer, they're not looking for someone good at everything. They're looking for someone good at a really specific thing. And so, in my list of skills, I did three very basic things, right. I did web design, I did Adobe, and I did Optimize Press right? And that was it. And sure enough, the first gig I got this first gig that went with the dieting plan was for Optimize Press. And so my encouragement to you is to find a niche when you're first getting started, you know, and you can find a niche and in one of two ways, right? You find it either from the industry that you're you're trying to work for or with the tool that you're trying to use, right? And it can't be just a generalized tool, it has to be something really specific, like a certain type of plugin like WooCommerce, or Optimize Press or Buddy Press get good at something really specific.
So for me, I had two of those things. I had the tool and I had the industry. Okay, so I had optimized the press as my tool. And then, for whatever reason, I had done a lot of fitness-based websites. And so my very first few gigs were all fitness related. You know, there was a gym, there were dieting plans, there was a coach, you know, and so, that was the people that came to me because that's, I looked like the guy who was the expert in fitness based website. You don't have to stay there forever. I know a lot of people will tell you to go niche all the way. But I like diversity. And honestly, I've not had a hard time finding business outside of fitness websites since then. You just have to get a little bit of momentum going. And then eventually you can start to pivot a little bit to the industry that you like, because you don't want to pick an industry that you despise, and then have to do nothing but those types of websites or a tool that you despise, and then have to work in that tool for the rest of your life. I haven't worked with Optimize Press for years because honestly, I didn't like it very much. But it was something that got me going and gained me some tractions. So I finished my first gig on Upwork and got good feedback. The client was super pleased, I did a great job. And so I had one gig under my belt and I thought 'okay, cool. Here's where the gigs start rolling in.' But to my disappointment, that wasn't the case, it was three months until my next gig on Upwork. It came on my birthday of all days, I got a message while I was watching a movie with some friends on my birthday, which seems to be a mile marker for my freelance web design business. So it came from a gym and North Carolina, you know, again, staying on this fitness kick. And after that steam started to pick up, right like I started getting more and more invites to interview, people started responding to me better. So don't get discouraged if you're on Upwork and it's taking time to find gigs. It's that way for everyone. It helps you fine-tune your process and bids as you go. So the more you bid, the more you're figuring out how to do it, how to take feedback, and how to become successful in it. A few months down the road, and I doubled the income of my full-time job. It was an amazing, exciting realization to look back at the income I had made over a year and go, Oh my gosh, I think I just doubled my income by doing freelance web design in my free time. And there were a few points along the way, in Upwork, where it would have been really easy to give up because things got slow, or I had to deal with a really bad client or got some bad ratings because maybe I messed up on something. And I've heard a lot of people say things like, 'there aren't any good jobs on Upwork' or 'it's a race to the bottom'. And listen, it's just not true. When you dig into those people, you realize that they didn't even try for a very long time before giving up. And I can attest that it gets difficult. It gets hard, it will test you, but it's worth it. Okay. And if you give up, like if you've tried and you're listening to this and you say I don't have the experience that you do, listen that's fine. There are plenty of places to find good work for web designers. But just because one way didn't work for one person, doesn't mean it won't work for anyone, right? Or just because one way didn't work for you in a season of time, doesn't mean that it might not work in this next season. Maybe you've grown as a person, maybe you've grown as a freelancer, maybe you figured a few things out, and you need to give it a shot again. Because honestly, it just takes grit and persistence. You've got to keep going. Even when it gets hard. If I would have given up on Upwork I wouldn't be where I am today. I've been featured on UpWork's advertising and gotten so many great projects. But if I would have given up when I found resistance or when things got discouraging, none of that would have happened.
Okay, let's fast forward a little bit.
I did web design as a side hustle for about four years. And eventually, I felt the urge to go for it full time. And this was a pretty tough decision because I had been a worship pastor for 13 years at this point. And maybe you're thinking about a career change and feeling the angst and fear that I did. Listen, like I had panic attacks when I was figuring out what I was going to do. This was a huge change in my life. And honestly, I never even imagined myself doing something else, other than being a worship pastor for a church. And so this was all new to me and all very scary. And if you're out there wondering if you should do the same, my only encouragement to you is don't let the fear stop you. Don't let the fear of being rejected and an interview or not finding the right fit or having to make a few job changes until you find the right company deters you from actually going for it. Because if all else fails, you just keep doing what you're doing, right? You just stay where you're at. It's better to go for it and risk it and see if something could be better on the other side than to sit back and wonder, 'Man, should I do this?' and let things stay the way they are without any improvement, without any growth and the possibility of something major happening in your life.
So my encouragement to you is if you're in this place where you're questioning what's my next step? Should I change careers? Should I stay here? Just go for it. Just see what happens. Like what's the worst that could happen? Right? You don't tell your boss 'Hey, I'm looking for another job' right away. You know, like you figure out is this a possibility? Would somebody even want me right? You send out a few feelers. you talk to a few people in the industry, and you make slow progress into the new career that you could potentially have. So the first few things that I did was talk to my friend who first encouraged me to get into web design in the first place and asked him, 'Do I have what it takes to make it in this industry?' His feedback was valuable to me because he'd been doing this for a long time. He'd been hiring hundreds and hundreds of web developers, as a director and a manager. And so I told him where my skills were, I put together a resume and I showed it to him, and I said, 'Would you hire me?' and he helped me. He showed me some perspective. He gave me some connections to different recruiters that he knew one of which got me a job offer. Right? So you don't necessarily have to go put your two weeks in now before you have anything lined up down the road, right? Like put your resume together, start putting some feelers out, talk to some other people that you know in the industry, and figure out if this is your next step.
So I just signed up for Indeed. I made a profile, put my resume up there and started looking for jobs. One day, I got an email that said, 'This job might be a good fit for you. Would you like to know more?' And I was like, 'Yeah, sure.' So I clicked the link, and it said, 'Thanks.' And that was it. Like, am I supposed to do something else? Like what just happened? But a few days later, I got a message from who is now my boss at a company called Show It, and it's the job of my dreams. Show It is an amazing business to be a part of.
It's an amazing organization to work for. Every year, for instance, we go on a retreat as a company, and they take us and our spouses to some crazy place. It is amazing, you know because it goes right along with me wanting to keep my family close and tight-knit. So this past year, we ended up going to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico for our retreat. And one night, we were all just kind of hanging out at the hot tub as a team, and having fun and talking. And I was talking to one of the guys on our support team, his name is Josh, he's a young guy, he's going to college, and is studying to become a web developer. And I just asked him, 'Hey, why, why aren't you doing anything as a freelancer? Like, why aren't you building websites for people are working on apps for people?' And his response to me was, 'It's because I'm afraid of making a mistake. I'm afraid of not knowing what to do. I'm afraid of a client getting upset with me. And so I just said, 'Hey, man, let me help you. Like, let me walk you through the steps of actually learning how to do this stuff.'
And this is where Self-Made Web Designer was born.
Shortly after, I realized I don't care so much about advancing in my career or climbing a ladder as much as I do helping other people take the same path that I did as a web designer.
And don't get me wrong, like I still want to advance and grow and learn and I love all of that. But for me, I find the most joy from helping others do the same thing that I did. That is to grow and find a breakthrough in their lives and careers with web design.
So I helped Josh, and he went on to do a website and made $750 on his very first one. He went on to do a whole bunch of websites for a school district. Amazing! Honestly, I didn't even help him very much. I was just there when he had questions. I coached him through a few things about some practicalities. He's done the rest. And I found that this is what most people need. They just need a little bit of encouragement and a little bit of focus to get to where they want to be. And so that's why I'm here. And that's why this podcast exists. I want to see you find the breakthrough that I have found. No matter where you are in life, or what you've been through, I want to encourage you that you can do this.
If you've tried before, and you failed, you can do this. If you're worried about having a hard time figuring things out, you can do this. If you don't feel like you have enough time. You can do this. If you're worried about how long it will take. You can do this. One thing that kept me motivated was a quote by Earl Nightingale. He says, 'Don't let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway, we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.' So wherever you are on your journey, I'm glad you're here.
You're in the perfect place to get started and see the change that you've been wanting. I've developed a free course that I want to offer to you today on the podcast. If you go to my website, SelfMadeWebDesigner.com, you can find it there. It's a four video course that you'll get as an email every day. And it'll show you all the steps that I took, and all the tools that I used to learn what I did, and how to get into freelancing, web development, and how to get to where I am today. Hey, I'm so glad that you are here. I'm so glad that you're a part of this journey. And please reach out to me if you have any questions. There's a form on my website to fill out if you would like to schedule a call or you can email me there as well. And please, it would mean so much to me if you would rate this podcast and give me some feedback. A little bit of feedback goes a long way.
Hey, I'm glad you're here. Stay tuned for the next episode.