Is devoting more time to WordPress worth it as a print designer?

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As a print designer, you know that often your clients are going to need web design.

But is it worth it to go through the hassle of learning WordPress (and the basics of web design)? Or should you simply partner with a web designer and share clients?

Make the best decision for your business with the following info.

What is WordPress anyway?

(Don’t feel stupid…there are no stupid questions here at Millo.)

Sidenote: Once you finish, read how 4 freelancers built recurring revenue models that changed their business. You'll love it.

WordPress is a very popular and free content management system (CMS). In a nutshell, WordPress takes care of all of the repetitive, “boring” parts of creating a website — like coding navigation bars, theme templates, and blog interactivity — so that you can focus on the fun part…designing!

WordPress also makes it (fairly) easy for your clients to maintain and update their website content and photos by themselves. This frees you up for more advanced (read: more lucrative) work such as updating color schemes, changing fonts, or customizing other aspects of the site.

Also, coders and designers from around the world have created themes and plugins (some are free, and some require payment) that allow you to customize WordPress in literally millions of ways. (Themes are design templates and plugins are packages of code that add functionality — like SEO capabilities, specialized contact forms, and anti-spam protection — to the WordPress framework.)

True story: 95% of my web design work is WordPress websites (the rest are custom-coded). From sites with online courses to basic informational sites to sites with restricted access pages, WordPress handles nearly all of my clients’ needs simply, cost-effectively, and safely.

You'll also enjoy this episode of our new podcast...

Next up? Let’s find out if web design is right for you.

Evaluate yourself

Okay, it’s time to look inward. How do you react to the following questions?

Does the idea of learning HTML and CSS intrigue you?

These two languages are the foundation of web design. HTML — Hypertext Markup Language — is the code behind every website, and CSS — Cascading Style Sheets — is formatting the elements on the page to look the way you want them to.

Even though WordPress takes almost all of the coding out of web design, it’s still important that you understand how webpages work so that you can make the customizations your clients will undoubtedly request.

Does text-based design sound interesting?

While WYSIWYG WordPress interfaces are becoming more common (and more effective), it’s still important to note that making custom changes often involves writing lines of CSS “code.”

Do you have a knack for quickly learning new software/applications?

WordPress isn’t difficult to learn, but the dashboard (the back-end interface you’ll see when you log in) can be a little overwhelming at first. You’ll have to learn the lingo as well as where settings are located within the fairly large navigation menu. (FYI – a “widget” adds functionality to a sidebar or footer.)

And be aware, themes and plugins aren’t always the most intuitive platforms…sometimes you have to go searching for the settings or options you’re looking for!

Did you set up your own hosting service and website?

Becoming fluent in WordPress is a great first step, but many clients are also going to need you to set up their hosting service, install WordPress, set up their email, and maybe transfer their domain.

Depending on the web hosting service, setup isn’t that challenging, but it does take familiarizing yourself with the hosting service’s interface. (I recommend either Bluehost or Dreamhost based on fantastic customer service, minimal downtime, simple user interface, and cost effectiveness. Leave a note in the comments if you want to know which hosting services I can’t stand.)

Evaluate your business

If this whole web design challenge thing sounds interesting, take a look at your business, your goals, and your income to help decide which path to take.

How busy are you?

Freelance design life can be feast or famine, but in general, do you have enough print work to keep you well-fed?

If you’ve got plenty of print work, attempting to tackle web design might be biting off more than you can chew, especially since your first web gig is going to take a lot of extra learning, and fixing mistakes, time.

However, if you’re losing clients or struggling to stay busy, you might devote some of that down time to expanding your skill set.

Where do you see your business in 5 years?

Cheesy interview question, I know, but hear me out.

Dig through your desk drawer or comb through your computer files and find your business goals. Will adding web design to your repertoire add value to your business and get you closer to your long-term goals?

Do you already have a go-to web designer?

If you’ve already got a great subcontractor to outsource web design to (super-mega bonus points if they refer print clients back to you), maybe tackling WordPress isn’t right for your business right now. As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

However, if you haven’t found a symbiotic relationship that works for you, maybe it’s time to broaden your horizons, especially if you get a lot of clients asking if you do web design.

Moment of truth

So what’s it gonna be? Are you thrilled about expanding your toolbox or a little freaked out and intimidated? Does WordPress fit your business model or are you trying to fit a square peg in a round hole?

Print designers: let us know what you’re thinking! (And feel free to ask questions.)

Web designers: jump in on this and add your two cents on the biggest obstacles you overcame when you just started out.

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About April Greer

April is the Director of Projects at Reliable PSD, a design-to-code company for designers, by designers. She’s the glue keeping everything together, organized, and right on time, and giving everyone a fantastic experience while she does it.

 

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Comments

  1. Great read! As a 80/20 print designer I totally agree with learning WordPress. I enjoy print design more than web but there’s no escaping it. Rather than share work or turn down jobs, I learned WordPress and expanded my CSS knowledge.

  2. Hi April, you bring up a good question – one I’m struggling with. I’ve gone the route of learning WordPress, and although there are plenty of great themes and good tools for learning, when something goes wrong, it can take literally hours to get back on track. I’ve not had a project yet where a custom solution/code wasn’t needed. Because of this, my overall hourly rate is typically lower when working web projects. I find coding language mentally challenging and also find it difficult switching between the technical and creative.

    So, I decided this year to look for that “symbiotic” partnership with a web developer, but I find many of them are also designer/programmer/ad agency/etc. It seems a lot of us designers are trying to be all things in order to compete, but I wonder if we’re just diluting our talent.

    In order to be totally confident in programming, I’d have to put the same time and focus that I’ve put into design. I ask myself often, “wouldn’t I rather just be designing?” The answer is usually ‘yes.” Is it better to be a stellar niche designer or a somewhat competent web/graphic designer?

    • Hi Michele,

      I agree with you – almost always a site requires something custom-built or tweaked to fulfill the client’s needs. And if you only understand enough to get started (but not troubleshoot), you might be setting yourself up for many frustrating hours, or having to hire outside developers to fix it. Lose-lose.

      Based on your comments, I’d say you should probably not branch out right now. Your heart’s not in it, and unless the money’s REALLY good, you’re not going to want to work on the project. If you’d like, I’d be happy to chat with you about your web dev needs and see if I’m a good fit.

      Thanks for sharing!

      April

      • Thanks for your reply April. Actually, my heart WAS in it for awhile, just not so much now that I’ve gotten deeper into coding in order to satisfy my own expectations of what makes a really great web design. There’s always some tradeoff when using a theme between how I want it to work and the limitations of the theme build. Then there’s database maintenance and updates to make sure everything keeps running right for the client – it just seems to take me away from creative work more than I’d like. If I find a need for a designer/developer, I’ll get in touch.

  3. thank you. i’m a core print designer who recently has decided to learn web design. just learnt WordPress is the easiest path to go and this article is a motivation for me to go at it. thank you!

  4. This is a great article! I wrestled with adding web design as a service in addition to print work, mainly because the rate at which web languages and technologies change. I had a working knowledge of html and css and am very comfortable navigating and manipulating code, but for my schedule, I just did not want to deal with keeping up. However, I started completing WordPress websites about 5-6 years ago, and found it to be way less undaunting than hardcoding sites from scratch.

    My biggest challenge right now is setting up/devising the proper workflow for setting up a client on the web, i.e., from creating the client account with a host, properly set up the billing details, backups to tying in all of the services they wish to embed, oftentimes, analytics, social media (which involves separate developer log in credentials). Right now, I kinda collect the information as I need it but this can be cumbersome when I’m in my zone and moving along and have to stop to get information from a client who is more than likely, not tech savvy enough to find it on their own. Ideas? Sample forms?

    : ) Krystal

    • Krystal,

      Don’t I know it?! Setup is one of the more cumbersome parts of web design. Here’s what I do (and of course, I explain all of this to the client beforehand):

      – For hosting, I simply pay for it and put it on their invoice. Then I make sure to set their billing to manual renewal with reminders and transpose a few numbers on the credit card information I used so that I’m not paying for it next time.
      – Then I set up an info@ or hello@ email through their website (@clientwebsite.com).
      – For analytics and other logins, I set up the accounts using the recently-created email so all of the info is tied directly to the site AND I have the login information so I don’t have to bug the client to forward emails.
      – I offer to help them set up forwarding from their website email to their email of choice.

      I’ve found this to be the simplest way to handle it, but I’m all ears if others have a sleeker solution.

      Hope this helps!

      April

  5. Nice article and timely, as usual, to a conversation that has been recently going on amongst designers I know and a few clients asking questions about WordPress.

    Several years back I opened a WP account and a Blogger account. For my immediate needs, I found Blogger to be easier to work with and worked well as a basic free blog.

    The past few years I had been bending iWeb to my will creating custom sites for clients complete with java rollovers for nav and HTML hand coded into it for other options like java/dhtml sliders, maps, etc. BUT I knew I needed to find something for the long haul.

    I thought about WP and then went with Adobe Muse. I’m so glad I did. It’s perfect for the print designer, heck the team that created InDesign created Muse and it’s like using layout software but does some really great code, has almost every option for basic and advanced sites (parallax scrolling, sliders, rollovers, TONS of widgets, forms built in and fully customizable, forums, shopping carts, etc.). I’m extremely happy working with Muse.

    Plus you can place a Blogger blog on a page, but not WP for some reason 🙁 For most of my clients who originally said they wanted a CMS type site ended up never using it or learning it or devoting an employee to it and they opt instead to just set up a maintenance program with me for a nominal monthly fee. OR you can set items on any page in Muse for a client to log in via a browser and update text, pictures AND it syncs back to my master files!

    Just an option for your readers.

    • Thanks! I will look into it! 🙂

    • Hi Patrick,

      Muse sounds like an interesting option…I’ll check it out. Thanks so much for sharing!

      April

    • Very interested to read your response and opinion of Adobe MUSE. I am a print designer who has done some web work (with the WYSIWYG builders) and has been trying to learn/expand on my rudimentary WordPress skills. I am not a coder at all but do have a basic working knowledge of HTML and CSS and after 25+ years in print I’m interested and excited to do more web work. You have me thinking that MUSE might be worth considering and exploring. Thanks for the insight!

    • I love Adobe Muse – I am still learning all that it can do. I had no idea you could set it up so clients could change photos and text! Thanks for the input! 🙂

  6. There are lots of options but there’s a couple of options I recommend. If you don’t like to learn WordPress go outsource it! It’s really easy to do as long as you have an established hiring process. The setup of the process will only cost you less than an hour.

    If you like to learn WordPress, start with the basics and learn how to install a WordPress theme immediately. Then go get OptimizePress 2 which is like playing lego but your designing a webpage. No need to learn HTML/CSS.

    If you really wanna be a hybrid who does a lot of stuff, learn HTML, CSS, WordPress, PHP.. Learn them all! You’re gonna get a lot of projects or PRICE HIGHER.

    I used to be a print designer before by the way. 🙂

    • JF Garsula,

      You’re right – if you don’t want to get your hands dirty, outsourcing is a great option. Whether you find another freelancer like yourself to start a relationship or just choose a company for your needs, you can take the hassle out of web design (but still offer it as a service).

      I’d argue a basic understanding of HTML/CSS is necessary. Things don’t work quite right sometimes and clients want tweaks here and there, so understanding the building blocks of what you’re working with imho is very important so you’re not totally lost when an obstacle presents itself. OptimizePress 1 was just okay…has 2 gotten better?

      Thanks for sharing!

  7. The days of having a separate “Designer” and “Web Guy” are all but over. For all but complicated back-end heavy sites, these jobs are one and the same. With HTML5/CCS3 and all the frameworks in use now, the look of something and the function of something are highly intertwined…you cant design it if you don’t know how it works, etc. The coder is the designer, the designer is the coder.

    my 2¢

    • Beck,

      So true! Most clients are looking for a hassle-free solution; a go-to freelancer who can handle all of their needs. If you can be that, even if you outsource certain things, you’re very marketable.

      Great advice!

  8. This post is very useful and just came in the right moment for me. I will quickly share my story.

    I’m a full time freelance graphic designer and illustrator (for 5 years now). I know the basics of HTML and CSS but didn’t want to touch it for a while, because I wanted to focus on designing the visuals and make time for illustration. I also happen to work with developers for my client’s staff, so I thought I should focus on what I was best at.

    Recently, after fighting against some payment delays and having probably to get a 9 to 5 job soon to help my family, I decided to finally jump into WordPress. I also have been learning to code newsletters. I was surprised I didn’t forget about the HTML/CSS principles and I had an encouraging start. I would like at least to get to a point where I can send HTML/CSS responsive websites to developers turn them into Joomla and WordPress websites and become a better asset to clients.

    Maybe I could create some templates to sell, but most of all, having less projects and earn a litle bit more. I’m sure I’ll have a better quality of life that way and have time to dedicate to other things. I guess that in time freelance graphic designers will get tired to juggle a ton of tasks to make a proper living and web seems to be the next best step to follow.

    Cheers,
    Dina.

    • Dina,

      Web designers/developers definitely get the benefit of raising their hourly wages! I charge more for web design, for example, than I do for print work, because it’s a skill that requires extra education and know-how. And if you’re going to outsource development, it’s good to know some HTML/CSS because you’ll understand the capabilities and challenges created by certain designs to avoid them.

      It’s all about creating a life we love, and it’s great that you know your priorities and work toward them!

      Thanks for sharing,

      April

  9. As a print designer, i naturally HAD to learn some WordPress. in the first two years it really did help us nearly double our gross sales. i think it’s a natural progression however i keep my true ‘developers’ close to me, because there is a lot of CSS/HTML stuff that I do not have much desire to learn. We work as a team, and usually come out with a great product in the end! Great post, great points in here!

    • I totally agree with you. I also believe we should keep developers on our side and create partnerships.
      It is beneficial for both, because often developers need someone to create the visuals in a way they aren’t able and organize all the information in an attractive manner.

    • jholla,

      Awesome! Sounds like you’ve smartly grown your business AND founded solid relationships. Congrats!

  10. I say it’s good to have some web design skills along with print design. I too find that customers often need both. I am also a writer so I find myself wearing three hats from time to time – print designer, web designer, and content writer! I’m no programmer but I can tweak a theme! :o) Light coding skills can also come in handy for email and newsletter design. I use WordPress for all my sites – it’s just such a great platform and not difficult to use, and there are so many excellent plugins available. It’s good to keep learning and keep pace with changes in technology, and be able to offer a well-rounded skillset!

  11. I can relate to Ginnefine I’m also an 80/20 print designer. The more WordPress site setup and customization I find myself doing, the more my web clientele has picked up. Web design services are certainly more “in demand” than print design, especially if you are good about customer service – educate the client, train them, and offer ongoing support. I felt that it was absolutely necessary to learn WordPress at the very least in order to keep my business afloat. The most challenging aspect for me was getting familiar with the highly technical side of things and how to troubleshoot when errors occur. I’m now enrolling in PHP online courses so that I can expand my knowledge to building truly custom sites and also exploring other web platforms that may be easier for some clients to self-maintain.

    • Natosha,

      Wow! PHP, too. 🙂 I found that once you learn the first programming language, they all get easier as it’s just learning how to write the same concept in a particular language. Once I picked up Java, I found that PHP, JavaScript, CGI & Perl, and jQuery came super-easy.

      Good luck on your foray into programming! I find it to be both logical and creative, as you’re using math-based principles to create art.

      April

  12. Great post!! I am a graphic designer that also does websites to a certain extent. I know intermediate coding, but I don’t take on clients that want me to build their website from the ground up. I take care of the client that wants to possibly take care of things on their own in a user-friendly way and/or let me take care of it for them with that being an option (this is my niche for web design clients). I used to do this through Joomla, but that was a headache sometimes even for me. I now set up and design sites through places like WordPress, GoDaddy website builder, LightCMS and Squarespace. This way, I can easily hand everything over to the client should they so choose that route, and/or take care of it for them in a more in-depth way without the hassle of having to code every little thing. I have referred some clients to other “true” web coders before just because (like it asks in the blog post) it really isn’t my thing, and I’ve come to realize that!!! Through doing that, and learning as I go, however, I’ve found that I shouldn’t just hand those clients off! I really should keep them as mine, and then outsource the work I don’t want to/can’t do. Hindsight is 20/20, right? Thank you Millo, you have improved my freelancing career by a landslide over the past couple of years since I discovered you!!!

    • Clarissa,

      Thanks for the kind words! You make our day. 🙂

      Keeping the clients and outsourcing rather than outright referring them away can be a great source of extra income for just a bit of project management work. Find a good subcontractor and they’ll be happy, you’ll be happy, and so will your client. Win-win-win! How often does that happen?!

      April

  13. This is a great article and inspires me to keep learning! I created my own portfolio site using a third party theme on WordPress and even though it was a learning curve I found the WP software intuitive and pretty straight forward. I don’t think I have a problem with learning code or new software and the internet abounds with ways to do this but it’s hard to find clear helpful information (for non-web geeks :)) on what you do once the website is created – eg. the best way to go about finding reliable hosting for your client, transferring domains and related issues. It’s OK when you are are fumbling around and doing these things for yourself but when it’s for a client you want to make sure you’re doing it right. That is the bit that scares me! Really informative post April, thank-you!

    • Emma,

      Those stickier parts are why when I find a good hosting service with a great help section and customer service, I stick with ’em! (Bluehost or Dreamhost for me.) It’s wonderful that they provide fairly clear resources (or you can call, live chat, or email them) to get the answers you need if the help section isn’t making enough sense.

      And thanks for the kind words!

      April

  14. I started in print in 86′ just as Macs started the desktop publishing revolution in print. Although I was one of the first on the net, I just kept doing print and ignored the web right up until web 2.0. Then I finally started coding and learned WordPress which now makes up the core of my business. I offer branding design, print, photography and video as services as well, but WP is definitely my most popular service. I host use HostPapa to offer my own hosting, their prices and support are quite competitive.

  15. I think as we move into an increasingly digital world, it is important to step up our game with acquiring new skills. I love print design and was never good at HTML/CSS at school but am willing to take another stab! I’m also starting to build my portfolio on WordPress so I’m intrigued 🙂

    • Tasha,

      Building your own website on the platform you intend to sell your services on helps you work out the kinks on a project that has no hard deadline. So if it takes you a month to figure out something, it’s not too big a deal. Then, when you do it as a paid gig, you’re faster, smoother, and more confident when they ask you to tweak something.

      Good luck!

  16. Hi April thank you very much for writing this up. In my 20+ experience of print the sign I found myself in the position that something has to change. It seems that most of my existing clients are happy with the work I’m doing but what I try to expand and acquire new clients, I network, visit prospects it he first question I have is “do you do web sites”, A few years ago I answered ” I’m the creative and my partner programmer to do the website stuff”… Big turn off!!! – people showed no interest at all. But that helped me to understand that the Direction of the business is changing dramatically. And with this I’m not saying that Print design is dead, but it seems that web brings you clients and opens the Door for “everything else”. Specially with medium and small businesses who don’t have large budget for print stuff, and probably not aware that YES!, design costs money and is NOT included in the printing cost. That by the way, this is another big issue, printshops and other media (newspapers, mags) hire In-house graphic designers to provide their clients and added value and “close de deal” and sometimes the graphic design is sadly underpriced or undervalued.

    Without mastering web design, I started to say “yes I do web design” and actually posted that on my website (that I made on my own) . I have to say that I have a go-to web programmer who save the day when problem arise. I just changed my approach from being ambiguous to being self confident about web design- “yes we do web design” Since then work is flowing, new clients approach my services and YES! That has open doors to new branding and print design projects. Thanks April for your always great & motivating write ups.

  17. Caroline Reder says:

    I don’t think putting time into learning the ins and outs of WordPress or HTML/CSS for that matter are actually relevant for designers anymore. With sites like Webydo – a code-free solution for designers of all backgrounds with a built-in, customizable CMS – that represent a one-stop-shop for designers and their clients, learning coding may be a hobby but is definitely not a necessity.

  18. Adeniyi Ladipo says:

    Dear April, thanks for this expository decision-making post on Devoting Time to Learning WordPress as a Print Designer. On my part, I am over-convinced that I need to get into Web-designing and I believe it should be same for most print designers given the global marketing trends and constant demands from clients for web related services. However, I like to know what’s the best way of learning web design. I have not been lucky with getting value from local (Nigeria) training I’ve attended, they’ve never been effective in teaching web-design. Please what other effective options can you suggest to me, either online options or offline training. Thanks a lot.

  19. Melody Burt says:

    I’ve been using Weebly for a couple of years. Is WordPress easier or harder to use than Weebly?

Trackbacks

  1. […] I started out I only worked in print. Website design was a dark art to me; I had no experience, no skills and no thoughts of selling it […]

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