Jeremy created his own design company and shares his experiences with Web Rookie in the following interview.
<WR> When did you become interested in web design and how did you get started?
I became interested in web site design the first time I browsed around on
the Internet. This was in the early 90's, and on a 2400 baud modem.
Needless to say, it was excruciatingly slow, but I was fascinated with the
possibility of presenting information in a medium that could be seen from
anywhere around the world. I actually didn't dig in to web design until I
was in College. By then, web sites had evolved into something more than
just static pages of text and miniscule images. I started out designing
web sites while working on staff at the University library. The library
had a web site, but it was very poor quality. It didn't help researching
students at all. So, I was asked to redesign it. It was a pretty tall
order, but I was up to the challenge and started learning HTML immediately.
<WR>How did you come up with the name "EchoTree" for your company?
I got the name "EchoTree" from two places. On the campus where I attended
school and worked on staff, there is a tree that, when you talk to it, it
echoes your voice directly back at you. No one else can hear the echo
except the person who speaks. It's actually not the tree, however, it's
the fact that it's planted at the direct center of a patio that is partly
surrounded by a brick semi-circle wall. The wall forms a perfect
amphitheater, and echoes back the sound crystal clear.
The other significance of the name is that "Echo" is the English phonetic
spelling of the ancient Greek word "Ecco" which is a verb conjugated in
the first person meaning "I have." The "Tree" word "Tree" is used often in
the Bible to mean the cross. So, the name "EchoTree" loosely means "I have
the cross." Plus, I just liked the sound of the name.
<WR>How long did it take for your business to really take off?
Mine has been pretty slow, but is very comparable to new businesses in
general. What's great about web design, is that it allows you to start a
business with a very small investment. You just need a computer and a word
processing program, and you're on your way (of course, other tools help).
I started getting contracts here and there almost immediately, but these
were from people I knew before I started who needed web sites designed. It
takes considerable time and effort, however, to establish yourself as a
<WR>Have you worked on a contract basis? What do you need to know as an
independent worker? Are there advantages and disadvantages to working by
Generally speaking, I work solely on a contract basis. What's important to
know while working independently is business management. When you work for
yourself, everything's up to you. There are no accountants, marketers,
customer service representatives, technical support staff, or janitors.
Everything is your responsibility. You'll save yourself a lot of hassle if
you take a few business courses from a local community college or state
university. If you just attempt to wing it without wise council, then
you're bound to get into trouble, whether through tax problems, through
poor paperwork management or anything else. There are definite advantages
to being an independent contract worker. You get to form your own business
strategy, decide your hours, and carve your own market niche and not just
help fill the one carved by someone else.
<WR>How did you create your business? Isn't managing your own business
difficult? Do you advertise in order to create business for yourself or
do you make your contacts by word of mouth and former clients?
I created my own business by seeing a need and fulfilling it. That's how a
market economy works. The only way to make money is to have something of
value (your services) and deliver it to some one who needs it in exchange
for something of similar value (a big, fat check). I saw that among
businesspeople I knew, there was a need for a competent web site designer.
I was unimpressed with a number of design firms in the area and knew that
I could do a better job and present a better value to my clients than the
other firms, so I dove in.
Managing your own business is difficult, but do-able. Don't assume that
your business will make you an instant success. You've got to work at it,
at improving your capabilities, and at making those capabilities work for
As you've probably heard, word of mouth is the best advertising. Most of
my best contracts come from word of mouth. If someone likes your work,
they'll recommend you to others. So, the best thing you can do is make
sure any clients you get are satisfied, but better still, ecstatic, with
what you did for them. I have advertised in my local market, as well as on
the web, but haven't had nearly as much success as I have with word of
mouth. Generally speaking, word of mouth is free, while advertising is
very costly. To advertise on, say, Yahoo!, you have to sink a minimum of
$1000 into your ad campaign. I've heard from several people that they get
a decent response, but that oftentimes it barely covers their advertising
expenses. But advertising does have it's merits. The key is targeting your
advertisement. Is there a certain aspect of web design that you accel at?
Make sure the places you advertise on have visitor interested in that
aspect. For example, if you have experience designing sites for legal
firms, advertise on web sites targeted at lawyers. Also, many local
newspapers have web sites and sell ads on their site pretty inexpensively,
compared to straight newspaper ads. This has several advantages, because
you're reaching only those who are familiar with the web (who can view the
newspaper's web site), it's getting your name out in your local market,
and it can provide a direct link to your site (whereas a newspaper ad
makes it harder for readers to contact you). Lastly, if you own your own
business, everybody you know should know about it. If you're excited about
what you have to offer, then you'll talk about it. If you talk about it
with people you know, they'll talk about you if they happen to come
across someone who needs services that you offer.
<WR>What basics tools do you find essential in your work?
There are several essentials:
<WR>You have wonderful graphics on your site and list touch-up work for
photographs as well. How much do they impact your work assignments; do
you do a great deal of graphic work besides site design?
The services I offer on my site reflect the area in which I am carving my
market niche. I have extensive experience working with photograph
restoration because of my work at an historic research center. I saw that
there is a need for this service, so I decided to offer it. The same is
true for graphic design. I actually have more experience with graphic
design than with web design. I get a very considerable amount of business
doing graphic design. Graphic design tends to be a little less lucrative
than web site design, however. A good graphic designer can net about
$50/hr compared to what can work out to be around $80/hr for contract web
work (if you're an efficient web designer).
<WR>How do you manage to come up with such unique designs?
I gain experience with life and apply what I see to what I create
graphically. When designing a site, I try to think about what would best
represent the business or organization that I'm designing the site for. I
ask the client what they're wanting to get across to the visitors, and
then design everything around that. Also, I do whatever I can to keep the
site from looking like just a page with a few picture sprinkled here and
there. I make sites wherein every aspect of each page works together to
seamlessly contribute to the visual appeal of the site.
<WR>What are some common mistakes beginning designers make?
Too much eye candy. They insert things that look neat, but that distract
from the content of the site.
Not having a stylistic connection between all pages in a site. Because
many designers create on a page by page basis, they often fail to make the
various pages seem like they're part of a single site. When a visitor
clicks a link, they can't tell if they're on the same site, because there
are no visual cues linking one page to the next.
<WR>Did you have any bad experiences when you first began to be hired by
companies or in starting up your company?
Actually, no. Wow. I've never actually sat back and thought about that.
I've had a few times where it's taken clients quite a long time to
actually pay me, but that's about it. I'm sure I'll have some in the
future, though. The closest thing I've had was when I designed a newspaper advertisement
for a law firm that specializes in personal injury in San Francisco. There
was a documentary photograph of an injured stray kitten that looked like
it was in desperate need of help. In very sad looking letters, was the
word, "Injured?". The law firm really liked the ad, because it drew the
reader's attention immediately to the picture. However, when they placed
the ad in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, they got more calls complaining
that they were exploiting animals than calls from potential clients.
Though the law firm approved the advertisement, I'm not sure if they'll
ever have me do their design work again. Oh, well.
<WR>Any advice for those just starting off?
Beyond what I've mentioned earlier, the only thing that comes to mind is
the necessity of your own domain name. It's really difficult for your site
to look credible if your address is something like
"www.geocities.com/yada_yada/blah/yoursite.html" Look into getting your
own domain name (i.e. www.yoursite.com). This makes search engines more
likely to give your home page a higher rating and makes it easier for
people to find your site. Contact your ISP for information.