Livin' off the Web

This week my partner and I engaged the services of a web guy to get our business’ website up. We’ve done most of the work in CorelDRAW and, the hope is, we’ll be up in about a week.

The guy described what he was going to do with the material we provide (incidentally, he’s an old friend) and we got a little peek at what he does. As with the few other people I know who provide web services (design, hosting, etc.) he operates almost alone - he has an associate who helps him at times, i.e., he collaborates with another generally lone operator. And he resells time and space from a larger “real” ISP.

Well, he hadn’t quite had the door slap his fanny when my partner looked at me and said, “We could do that!” I’ve looked over some html and it certainly doesn’t look any rougher than, or should I say as rough as, QuickBasic. Oil & gas being the crappy place that it is in this year 1999, we pause to contemplate alternatives.

Questions that arise:

What do webbies make?

There seem to be a jillion, is there room for more?

What are the pitfalls?

Thanks in advance.

While the tools for web design are getting more sophisticated, the need for really GOOD web people is growing like mad.

Part of the problem in determining the value of a web guy is that web development is a combination of aesthetics, engineering, and just plain monkeywork that anyone with a copy of ‘HTML for Dummies’ can do.

There are layers of complexity to web development. If you are happy with a read-only page that lists some things about you and your company in a template format, you can do it yourself with the help of a $200 programming tool like MS Frontpage or Macromedia Dreamweaver.

The minute you go past this, the complexity starts to increase exponentially. The web guys making the real money are ones who can build a Javascript GUI front-end to a web page which drives an SQL database in the back end, along with transaction validation and SSL. Perhaps a little Java Applet is needed to do some client-side verification to take the load off of your server. A professional will also build a scalable website so that you can stay afloat if you suddenly get zillions of hits.

The list goes on. On the artistic side there are no rules. Some of the topflight web design firms will charge you $20,000 for a 10-page web site with no database connections or anything else fancy. Just good artistic design. Is $20,000 too much for 10 pages of artwork? I dunno. NBC paid millions for a stupid logo.

So… If you want to make money as a web developer, don’t think it’s going to be easy. The market is flooded with wannabe’s who think they know what they are doing and will build complete web sites for $200. But there is a real shortage of true professionals who know what they are doing, and these guys can charge $75/hr and up.

‘True Professionals’ fall into two categories - artistic and engineering. If you have real artistic talent and are an expert at using programs like Adobe Photoshop and the like, you can find work for high pay. To get a job like that, build a portfolio of stuff you’ve done and take it around to interviews with you.

If you want to write the code and make good money, then you’d better have a few years of experience in application development, and have a solid understanding of HTML, CGI, Perl, ASP, Java, Javascript, SQL, and maybe things like COM and ActiveX. Some C/C++ wouldn’t hurt. Experience is important, and if you’ve worked as a professional programmer it’ll get your feet in the door.

There are also positions available for web site managers, and for that something like an MCSE with experience in Windows NT server operations, or serious Linux experience, along with requisite knowledge of Microsoft IIS, Apache, MS Transaction Server, firewalls, etc.

Everything dhanson says is very very much true.

I’m a web designer, but all that programming for fancy backend stuff is beyond my scope. I don’t have the time or money (or interest) to learn it, and frankly I don’t need to.

I’m an artist more than a programmer, though I’m pretty good with HTML and I handcode. I have a target market, therefore, of the smaller business that just wants their webpage up, fast downloading and looking pretty, with the possibility of expansion in the future if they want.

For me, that’s fine (my problem is marketing myself - I rely on others for that, and its slow going). I get paid, I do the job, I have my own hours, and life goes on.

I pride myself that the work I do is professional in appearance, even if it’s nothing elaborate and fancy. When it comes down to it, that puts my sites above half the web already.

So you can make a living - walk down a side street in any town anywhere, and you have ten possible website-requiring businesses right there. Ten side streets, and you have two or three years of work ahead of you - though in practical terms it’s not that simple, of course.

If you have good artistic sensibilities, can handle all the stupid cross-platform jiggering you have to figure out, and the fact that it may be a year before you’re happy that your programming skills are where they should be at last, then go for it. It’s worth a try.

But beware, it’s not quite as easy as it appears, though it’s hardly rocket science either.

I do contract web design for a living and agree that web designers are a dime a dozen on the web.

Because of that, I don’t even advertise on the web. I just go from contract to contract, via word of mouth and make good money. For me, which doesn’t always work for others, it’s who you know, backed up with how well you do it.

Right now, I have a contract with a pretty big Internet company. Because of this, and the quality of my work, I have more opportunities than I can take.

I, too, started out making simple pages that looked professional. This, as stated before, makes them a huge cut above most of the crap out there right now. The longer I’ve done this the more I’ve learned and now I can incorporate javascript and some java. If I need anything more I’m fortunate in that my husband can write things for me quickly in between his work.

My advice is to keep doing whatever you do for a real living, working on coding web pages on the side. Do some freebies for someone whose site has some exposure. Take credit for it everywhere. Take little small paying jobs and wow them with extras. It takes time, but it’s worth it if it’s what you like to do. Just don’t put a couple of pages up advertising your web design and expect anything to happen.


He who joyfully marches in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice - Albert Einstein

I dabbled in web design- I have a good flair for design and a good grip on HTML. I thought “how hard can this be?”. I found out: plenty hard.
First, customers are a major pain in the ass when it comes to the web. They either want the impossible, the improbible or the completely cliche. They will say “do it the way you think is best” then tell you they don’t like it. They will bitch and moan and nitpick until you are so far over on hours that the project isn’t even worth doing anymore.
'Course, that’s just my experience. I just found it much more aggrivating then it was worth. I’ll stick to training and programming anyday :slight_smile:

Run for the hills, folks! Or you’ll be up to your armpits in martians!

One of the problems in dealing with customers is that in web development some things that look easy are hard, and some things that look hard are easy. The customer doesn’t know which is which and will often make unreasonable demands.

You have to learn the discipline of coming up with a design document including rough sketches or layout that the customer agrees to, and then sticking to it. One of the most common causes of failure of software projects is ‘feature creep’, where the specifications keep changing during the project.

When a customer calls you and says, “I just need you to change this little thing”, the proper response is, “I’ll study the change and give you an estimate for the cost”. Don’t agree to it just because it sounds trivial. Then when you give the estimate, you have to put it on paper, and add it to the design document for his signature. Don’t get caught in the trap of having an open-ended project with the customer driving the design all over the place. You’ll lose your shirt.

Estimating the effort involved in a project takes a lot of experience, and a lot of new web designers are terrible at this. Two pages does not take twice as long as one, it takes much longer.

You don’t need any sort of $200 tool to make web pages. A free text editor works fine, and you’ll probably get better pages than you get from those sorts of tools, which are a solution looking for a problem.

Every time I see really bad HTML that breaks most or all of the HTML guidelines, it’s been created by something like Frontpage. And often such tools generate monstrosities like 50 Kb of Javascript to implement a page that could have just as well been created with a few hundred bytes of simple HTML.

HTML takes approximately 15 minutes to learn. You can probably learn the entire thing faster than you can learn to use a program like Frontpage. It’s not rocket science.

peas on earth

I noticed at least one enterprising soul offering “custom-made” sex web sites for sale about 6 months ago. You pays the money, they hand you a fully functional pay site complete with sleaze pics and the like. One of the caveats they offered, btw, was their company got free advert space on your site in perpetuity (and a cut in the profits, as well as a cut of the ISP’s hosting fee, I suspect).

I don’t remember how much they were charging (in the hundreds of dollars range, IIRC) but now when I visit my “thumbnail” sites, about 75% of them follow this company’s format - crappy 16-color nauseating green and yellow pages with the same tired pics of tired “teens” plying their wares ad nauseum.
This guy must be a jillionaire.

      • Porn-O-Rama:
  • I read somewhere that the cost of putting up a first-class porn site is 1.5 million dollars, minimum. That includes setting up your own “model” management to procure original material, which is considered critical for sucess. Except that. . .
  • Sites operating out of Eastern Europe are creeping into the industry like Kudzu. Eastern European girls “look” American, but due to local economic factors will work for considerably less money than the real thing.
  • Basic HTML is easy - you don’t need software to do anything except maybe edit web/net images (color depth, transparencies). There’s many programs for less than $50 that are entirely adequate. - MC

1.5 million? I’ll bet there isn’t one web site in hundred thousand that spends that much. 99.99% of that stuff is stolen and recycled goods.

Thanks for the input, everyone.

We’ve been in business for years, so we have some familiarity with general issues associated with marketing, client perceptions/needs, project creep and bidding traps (it’s been interesting over the years to watch myself and almost everybody else fight a seemingly inherent optimism about how quickly we might be able to do something).

The fellow we’ve engaged quoted a rate of $45/hr., we’ve gotten other prices a little higher than that (~$500/day or $62.50/hr.) and I see dhanson mentioning a rate of $75+/hr. for the truly capable (not where we’d be starting out). At this point, with the info I have, it seems this might cover the range for the independents. Is this correct?

It depends where you are. Some cities, like mine, you might be lucky to come away with your own web site costs paid for the comp. you do a site for.

Some comp’s hiring web designers require 5 years HTML experience. yep.

In my city, near Monterey, Calif, I have seen a lot of designers leave & some of them leave their sites up ‘under consctruction’ for years.

Always, always get a written contract for web work. We were talking about salaries in the HTML newsgroup once and the consensus was that such discussion was illegal because of price setting or whatever & there after, no one wrote of the actual salaries.