Melvin Ram, owner of www.webdesigncompany.net, gets JobShadowed about his career and business. You can find him on his website above and on his Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.
What do you do for a living?
As the owner of a web design company, I do 2 things for a living: manage my business and build websites.
How would you describe what you do?
On the website design side, it often boils down to mind reading and translation. My key tasks are understanding what the real goals are, what my clients want to say to their customers and figuring out how to best communicate what needs to be said. Often, it’s less about the words and more about selecting the right combination of colors, pictures and placement to bring about the right emotions. It’s a lot like painting.
In addition to the design part of projects, I often handle the coding of websites. This usually involves copying what I’ve done in the past or experimenting to make new things happen. Typically the languages I do coding in are PHP, HTML, CSS, Ruby & Rails. For someone starting new, they should start with HTML & CSS, and then move to Ruby & Rails.
What does your work entail?
My work has a lot of variety so it entails a lot of different things. It entails talking with strangers on a daily basis, sitting a computer for extended periods of times when actually designing the website, involves just doing nothing while you think through the best metaphors and imagery to use, it involves researching on the web and it involves continuously educating myself on the newest techniques and technologies.
What’s a typical work week like?
A typical work week starts off with calling clients that have existing projects from last week, evaluating cash-flow possibilities for this week, creating a general schedule for when websites need to get designed and calling back people who requested a price quote over the weekend.
The rest of the week is spent on designing websites, conducting interactive design sessions (which is where we design & refine websites together with clients in real time as they watch my screen using web conferencing technology) and making phone calls with clients and potential clients who are requesting price quotes.
How did you get started?
I started building websites in high school during my sophomore year. I was a Street Fighter junkie and I was looking on the Internet for codes to do the special moves of each character in the game. In those days, there weren’t any websites that had all codes for Street Fighter on one website so I built my own using a program called Netscape Composer. It looked and worked similar to Microsoft Word or Publisher but saved files as web pages instead of .doc files. Once I built that, I was hooked.
What do you like about what you do?
I like meeting new people and I love designing websites that have meaning. I don’t like creating websites that are just pretty pictures. It needs to communicate something.
What do you dislike?
I’m a very people oriented person and because I run a small business where I primarily “meet” my clients via the phone, the work gets a bit lonely. I’m able to off-set this by having a lot of friends around me after I get done with work stuff.
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
The clients I build websites for pay me directly.
How much money do you make as a web designer?
It really depends. Right now, my business is doing well so I’m able to make $10k-$15k per month. In the past, I’ve made as low as $3k/month.
How much money do you make starting out as a web designer?
My first job as a web designer was for $12/hour when I was 16. At that time, minimum wage was around $6/hour.
Are there any perks associated with this job?
The main perks are that you get to work on Apple computers, meet new people all the time and work from almost anywhere you want. I’m able to travel and bring my work with me.
What education or skills are needed to do this?
On the design end, you need to have a good eye for what looks good. Good taste can take you a long way. On the coding side, you need to have a good sense of what clean, maintainable code looks like.
What is most challenging about what you do?
The most challenging part about designing websites is deciphering what the client says they want into what they really want.
What is most rewarding?
The most rewarding part of building a website is when you hear that it made a substantial difference in someone’s life. A client once won $2 million based primarily on the website we had built for them. It was thrilling to hear the client’s voice as they told me about it.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
Care just as much about the message as you do about the delivery of the message. Also, develop good taste. One way to do this is by talking with other designers and understanding what they like and what they don’t like.
How much time off do you get/take?
As an employee I used to get 2-3 weeks off. As a business owner, I don’t get much time off because I’m choosing to build my business into something substantial.
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
Anyone can design a website. It’s true that almost anyone can build a website today. There are a lot of tools that will take care of most of the hard work. However, without good taste and ability to realize what you envision, you don’t get a professional image.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
My goal is to have my business function without me while still making boat loads of money so I can enjoy my time and focus my energies on humanitarian related problems in the world.
What else would you like people to know about what you do?
Becoming a web designer is not hard but it takes a lot of practice to get good. Starting a business is not hard but it takes a lot of persistence and patience to get it to make money. Doing both is not the right decision for most people. I highly recommend working for a good stable company for a while before exploring branching out on your own.