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How Not To Get Web Design Work
by: T. O' Donnell
I get the occasional web design lead from my website. I wanted to find a company I could pass these onto. So I put an ad on a freelance site. It specified the programming qualifications needed, stated that the successful candidate should have good English, and was for companies only.

The replies I got were enlightening. So much so, I made a list of things applicants did wrong. Here it is.

I should point out I was initially prepared to give everyone a fair go. After the first twenty-odd emails, my attitude changed. I was looking for reasons to delete applicants. I only needed one successful one; with 100 replies it was getting to be a headache, so I decided a brutal approach was needed.

1. Failed to read the spec.

Many applicants couldn't write properly in the English language. Many were individuals only. Result: instant deletion.

2. Failed to address the spec's criteria.

Applicants bragged about how great they were. Many copy-and-pasted standard marketing guff about 'solutions' and 'partnerships' into their emails.

To engage anyone's interest about a proposal you need to talk less about yourself and more about the benefits to *them* of using you. One of the first things I learnt about applying for jobs is you need to show how you meet the criteria in the job description; see if you can find the employer's wavelength.

3. Lots of jargon.

You quickly tune this out. Anyone dealing with web companies probably gets a lot of this. Applicants should talk to the client about *the client's* site and *their* needs, and avoid techno-babble.

Write an application letter. Leave it for a while, then edit it. Brutally. Short punchy sentences, no guff. Talking convincingly about how you can make the client money would be an attention-getter.

4a. 'Coming soon' client-listing pages.

You say you've done work for lots of clients, then put up a 'coming soon' sign on the web page where your client list is supposed to be. Hmmmm.

4b. 'Under construction' pages on your company web site.

This looks bad; something you'd see on an amateur's site. Another reason to bin your application.

4c. Only put up pictures of sites you've done, rather than links to the actual sites.

I'd have liked to see some working example sites. Pictures can be faked, and they don't show background programming.

4e. No mention of your main web site URL.

Let us guess where your own site is (if you have one). It's more fun! I tried guessing from the email address. After a while I didn't bother.

4f. No hyperlinks at all.

Just a short email spiel saying "I am great designer, hire me". Next!

5. Using or for your email address.

A pro designer shouldn't use a freebie email address service. Basic web hosting costs $5 a month these days.

I can conceive that a web designer might use a freebie account for some special purpose, but your own domain name is a basic advert that goes out in each email you send.

6. Bad spelling and grammar.

Western civilisation is doomed, if using SMS jargon becomes the standard way to write to people. It doesn't impress old frts lik me, fr strtrs :( Especially if you're looking for work where good spelling and grammar are important.

7. Front-loading Flash designs.

I admit it, I don't like Flash. I especially don't like it when it loads slowly on my broadband connection. I suppose it might impress an ignorant client, who doesn't know the economic consequences of having a Flash-heavy site.

8. Don't phone the employer up.

Unless they say 'canvassing will disqualify', 'phoning the employer is a good idea. Why? Because geeks are famously introverted and tongue-tied, supposedly. So if a web site designer can communicate clearly over the telephone, that, coupled with a good application, puts you streets ahead of the email-only applicant.

No need to jabber. A polite enquiry to establish contact will do. "Just checking you've got my CV", that sort of thing.

9. Keep yourself mysterious.

Emails are impersonal. Anything that can establish you as a human being, a person, a potential ally and friend, is good. It'll make you more memorable. No need to jump out of a giant cake, 'though!

However, you have to fulfil all the other criteria as well. However great a guy you are, if you're a Unix man and they want Windows, forget it.

10. Leaving unclear phone messages.

One chap left a phone message, in which he mentioned his site, twice, but not his 'phone number. His pronunciation was bad, so I guess I'll never know how good he was.

11. Too far away.

Most replies were from India, Ukraine, Romania etc. Anyone who was closer to home (the UK) stood out. I mention it simply as a winnowing criterion.

Also, I needed someone who could land contracts from UK residents; good English, written and oral, was important.

12. Give your rates per hour.

Forget that. You're not a lawyer. Web design jobs can be clearly defined, in terms of time, work and software required. A definite price can be agreed on in advance. It's called a contract. Otherwise, you leave the client open to escalating bills, and yourself to mission-creep.

13. Delay applying.

The first few applications were more scrutinised. After that, fatigue set in. After one hundred, only an applicant who seems a real prospect would be given more than five seconds' scrutiny.

About the author:
T. O' Donnell ( is an ecommerce consultant and curmudgeon living in London, UK. His latest project is an ebook on conservatories, available at O' Donnell freeware may be downloaded at

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