Over the last couple of months, I’ve interviewed quite a few people who are well-known in the web design niche, including Sacha Greif, Jacob Cass and Chris Coyier. It got me wondering why these people, and not others, are the big names in the industry? They are all incredibly talented, but great designers are dime a dozen, so there must have been some other element that was crucial to their success. Curious, I started looking for common things among people who are well-known in web design and web development niches. It didn’t take long until it dawned on me: most people who are well-known in web design and web development niches have blogs.
The pattern is obvious: people who are well-known in web design and web development industry tend to have blogs through which they have built strong personal brands.
Let’s take a look at the three web designers I’ve mentioned in the introduction:
- Chris Coyier launched CSS-Tricks in July 2007. This blog grew quickly and now it is a very popular online destination for designers and developers. Chris started several other projects since them and now is an recognized expert in the web design and web development community.
- Jacob Cass‘ blog was launched in November 2007. He managed to successfully grow his blog, which led to numerous opportunities (including landing a job in NYC via Twitter) and an impressive web design career.
- Sacha Greif‘s blog was launched in September 2011. He quickly made a name for himself and built a relatively small, but loyal following. Sacha then wrote an e-book on UI design and, by leveraging his online influence, made $15,000+ with it.
You might say that it’s just a coincidence that these three people became known through their blogs, or that I only go after web designers who have blogs, but take a moment and think about other well-known guys in the web design and web development niche. Fabio Sasso started Abduzeedo. Chris Spooner has SpoonGraphics. . David Airey runs Logo Design Love. You can see that there’s a clear correlation between having a popular blog and being well known among fellow designers and developers.
There are a lot of people with similar skills out there, but for some reason, those who manage to build popular blogs become recognized as experts in their fields. You might be wondering what it is about blogging that allowed these people to advanced their careers and become recognized in the community? Well, the truth is that it’s really not about blogs at all. It’s about having a personal brand… and blogging just happens to be one of the easiest ways to build one!
It’s not enough to merely be good at what you do!
Let’s talk about a higher education system in USA for a moment. You probably know that A+ might mean one thing in one school and another thing in another school, which makes it impossible for college admission officers to evaluate how well a potential student is prepared academically by school grades alone. This is why high school kids take standardized tests called SATs which allow universities to get a better picture of where a potential student stands in terms of academic knowledge. The maximum score for the main SAT test is 2400 and only a very small percentage of people get it. Now, an interesting thing about this is that although a perfect score is surely impressive, it will not necessarily get you into a school like Harvard. Why? Well, you might be the only one among your friends who got 2400 on SAT, but when it comes to getting into an elite school, your application will be in a pile with bunch of other applications from people who got that same score.
What does this all have to do with web design and web development?
When you are a great web designer or a web developer, you are often facing the same problem as kids with perfect scores who are applying to Ivy League schools, without even knowing it. You might think that your skills will be enough to sweep potential clients off their feet, but reality is quite different. The truth is that high quality clients get pitched by people with mad skills all the time. You might be the best at what you do among the people you know, but when it comes to landing serious projects, you will be just one of the many. Now, how do clients make their choice when they are bombarded with pitches from people who all have the same stellar skills? They look for someone who stands out in some other way.
People who have strong personal brands and decent online followings stand out for two reasons:
- Social proof: There’s a phenomenon in psychology that is called social proof. It basically means that when people are not sure what to do they tend to assume that behavior of others is a correct course of action in that particular situation. This means that when someone is not sure whether to hire you or not, and then see that you are recognized as an expert and a lot of people listen to your advice, they will decide that you are indeed an expert, which highly increases your chances of being hired.
- Likeability: There’s another phenomenon in psychology which states that people tend to favor those who they like (duh) and that they like those who are similar to them in some sense. This means that when you have a personal brand, potential clients see you not simply as a name and a last name in an e-mail, but as a real human being with your own story, sense of humor, likes and dislikes, etc., which consequently makes it easier for them to like you and relate to you, since they can see that you are similar to them in some sense. Consequently, this increases your chances of being hired dramatically.
Having a personal brand and a strong online presence provides you with a solid foundation on which you can build your career. I suggest you to watch this TEDx talk by Jacob Cass where he talks about this. However, there are more benefits to having a personal brand than simply landing jobs more easily.
Benefit No. 1: Clients approach YOU
The biggest headache for freelancers all over the world is “how to get paying clients” issue. You probably know from your personal experience that chasing potential clients is really a pain in the ass, especially considering that you are not getting paid for the time you spend trying to get more work. Now, wouldn’t it be nice if high quality clients would approach you instead?
Web designers and web developers who have built strong online presences don’t have to waste their time chasing potential clients, because people approach THEM with high quality work offers.
Over the years as exposure to my blog has grown, the number of people seeing my design work has also increased. This has helped me build a name for myself as a designer and as a result I’ve landed lots of cool design projects from people who have discovered me thanks to one of my tutorials or articles.
I originally started the blog purely to share what I was learning (especially because back then, there wasn’t a huge amount of WordPress developer resources available). Not long after that, I started getting client requests through it, and since then, every one of our clients has either come through the blog or from word of mouth. I’ve never done any other advertising.
My blog is, and has been, the base platform for me to grow as a designer. It allows me to share my thoughts, insights and learn from others as well as provides a place to share my work, bring in clients, and make some passive income too. My blog and website is the backbone of my business.
–Jacob Cass, JUST Creative
In general, the more popular your blog is, the easier it is for you to get clients. You not only get a lot of exposure this way, but also become recognized as an expert in your field. Yes, there are a lot of web designers on Elance that are as good as you and who can do the work for a lower price, but they are not really your competition if you have a strong personal brand. High quality clients don’t want to bet their time and money on someone who they aren’t so sure about, so when they have to choose, they will choose someone who’s well-known and have a stellar reputation. This could be you, you know..
Benefit No. 2: It’s much easier to make passive income
When you are self-employed web designer or web developer, you know that unexpected things happen, and that you have to take extra measures in order to make yourself as financially secure as possible. The best way to do that is to have both active income (client work) and passive income (WordPress themes, e-books, apps, etc.) coming in. This way, even if you would hit a dry streak with client work, you would still have some income to help you get through that.
I think Sacha Greif put it very well:
“However, in general, having a source of passive income is important. It’s a must-have for me, because if you’re freelancer, you don’t have much job security. It’s hard to plan for the future without a safety net of some sort. Also, if you’re taking a holiday, or just stopping work for a couple of months, it’s nice to have an additional source of income that keeps going, even if it’s very small, even if it’s a few hundred dollars a month. At least it can cover your food bill or your rent, you know.”
Many people are intimidated by the idea of passive income and see it as a some sort of distant dream that will probably never become a reality. However, the idea of money coming in whether you are working or not is not as surreal as it seems, because a lot of web designers and developers are already earning passive income online. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could join them?
Blogging is the easiest way to build a personal brand
People often assume that those who are recognized as experts in their fields are the ones who have the sharpest skills. This is not entirely true, though. There’s no doubt that those who are considered to be experts are good at what they do, but I’d argue that their skills are not the most important factor. The real reason for their success is the fact that they share their knowledge with others and add value to the community. People are much more likely to notice your expertise if you share it.
I’ve already mentioned that blogging is one of the easiest ways to create a personal brand and build an online following. The reason for this is that blogging makes it very easy to share your knowledge with people from all over the world. I’d say that blogging is your best bet at building a personal brand as a web designer or a web developer.
Here’s a summary of this process:
- You build a popular blog.
- You build a decent e-mail list and/or social media following
- You do all kinds of “extracurricular” activities such as speaking in conferences etc.
Again, I highly suggest you to watch TEDx talk “Building a personal brand” by Jacob Cass, because this guy successfully built a strong personal brand through blogging, and this talk will give you a better idea about this process.
I don’t want to give you wrong impressions, though, so here’s a splash of cold and harsh reality. Blogging might be one of the easiest ways to build a personal brand, but it’s definitely not an easy thing per se. You will have to work your tail off in order to build a popular blog. Most likely you will have to work at it for at least 6 months before you will start seeing any tangible results. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but believe me, when you pour your heart into your blog posts and nobody reads them for half a year, it is not the best feeling in the world. You have to know what you’re getting into so you wouldn’t end up disappointed and give up too early. Did I scare you off? Or are you still interested?
It’s not enough to blog, you have to do it right!
Many people think that it’s enough to write great blog posts and the readers will come.
Okay, sorry to be a downer here, but..
- You can write great posts all you want, but if you don’t promote them, nobody will read them, because people won’t know that you exist.
- You can get a decent amount of traffic, but unless you use it to build an e-mail list, growing your blog will be a constant uphill struggle.
- You can have a big e-mail list, but if you don’t know how to run it properly, you won’t be able to monetize it.
- You can succeed at selling something to your e-mail subscribers once, but if you failed to create a good product to begin with, you will disappoint them and ruin your reputation.
..and this goes on and on.
Where can you learn how to build a popular blog the right way?
Time is going to pass anyway, so why not use it wisely?
Have you notice d how fast the time flies? I remember when I was a child, summer seemed like an eternity. Now, it seems like one day it was still spring, and another day, it’s already autumn. I know that a lot of people in their 20s and 30s share the same experience. It’s scary sometimes. Doesn’t it make you think where you want to be in one year or two years from now?
In this interview, Jacob Cass warned fellow web designers not to expect quick results from blogging, and to keep in mind that it will probably take at least six months until a new blog will start taking off. Now, imagine that you start a blog today, and it takes you a year to get it going. This means that two years from now you would have a personal brand, an online following, and would be recognized as an expert in your field. That might seem like fantasy at the moment, but really, Jacob started his blog five years ago, and look where he is now. Don’t you think you can do similar thing in a shorter amount of time?
I actually think that yes, you can become a well known person in your field, and you can do it much faster than people who have popular blogs now. Why? Well, most of them had figure things out for themselves, and you can avoid a lot of mistakes they made by learning few simple online marketing principles, and apply those same principles in order to get results much faster. Yes, it will take a lot of work, and it will take some time. But you can either do nothing and find yourself in the same place two years from now, or you can take action, and see how far you’ve come in those two years. It’s your choice to make. Just remember that two years might seem like a long time now, but it’s really only a blink away, since time flies so damn fast.