I had the opportunity to sit down and interview Crystal Freeman owner of Willow Creek Creative, an Interactive Web Design company. I have known Crystal for a little while now through the gym classes that we attended together and knew that she was in the tech field but really wasn’t sure what she did. I started by sending her a message asking if I could set up a time to talk with her letting her know I was working on a school interview project. I was hoping to pick her brain and possibly get a name of a company that she could direct me to. I was more than excited to find out that she is an Interactive Web Designer and owns her own business in the field of my interest. Also, she was more than happy to schedule a time for me to sit down and interview her.
I started by looking through her website and few others in the web design industry and came up with a list of questions that came to mind that I thought would be beneficial for me to get answers to. Next, I complied my questions and emailed them to her to review prior to even setting a date to meet. After she had a chance to review my questions we connected and set a meeting date and time that worked best for her schedule. Below are the questions I came up with and answers that she provided me with.
This was an amazing opportunity to sit with someone who has first hand knowledge and experience of a field that I am looking to pursue. Our meeting lasted for a little over an hour and honestly I could have sat and talked with her for many, many more if we didn’t both have other commitments. She is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about what she does which I admire greatly. She also made me very excited to be pursuing a career in this field and she also broaden my scope of what my career path could look like in the future.
Interview Questions and Answers:
What is it that you do?
Website design, online marketing, and business consulting. I design and code websites, create logos and branding, create e-mail blasts and social media campaigns, and help businesses with various operational functions like licensing, IT and project management.
How long have you been in this industry and where did you get your start?
I have been a web designer for 9 years. I started providing real estate photography to Realtors in 2008, and built a website to promote my own business. I networked through various chambers of commerce and started building relationships with some of the right people who helped introduce me to my main client. People liked the website I built for myself and started asking me to help with theirs. Most of my original clients are still with me today.
What operating system do you work with? What tools do you value the most?
I use Windows but also test my websites on a Mac. Most useful tools include:
Photoshop – Sizing for web is a must for SEO and website usability.
Text Editor – Great for copy and pasting content and code, editing .htaccess files, and saving custom code inserted into website themes.
Google Search – If I don’t know how to do something or am troubleshooting an issue, I search for answers via Google. I also research clients to see what is posted about them online.
CTRL + S – Shortcut on Windows for Save!!! Save your work. Save versions of it along the way so you can always go back to previous versions.
Adobe Acrobat Pro – Creating fillable pdf forms, assembling pdfs, and compressing for website view.
Adobe Dreamweaver – For static HTML sites or for something that I am editing that needs a good Find and Replace.
CSS Gradient Generator – http://www.colorzilla.com/gradient-editor/
Google Pagespeed – https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/
Facebook Debugger – https://developers.facebook.com/tools/debug/
Google Drive – Getting content like images and text for pages and being able to collaborate remotely
What is your creative process?
I like to get to know the client and understand their goals. From a design perspective, I get a feel for if they like rustic or textured design, or if they like clean (primarily white space) and modern. I ask a million questions and listen to the answers for the information I need to start in a direction. I figure out if a person wants the cheapest solution available or the best solution. How can they best satisfy their short term and long term goals? Do they have an existing website? Do they like the look of it? What websites of competitors do they like and why? Then I do my research to figure out their voice and any customer reviews that might be available about their business or organization. Do they have a logo and branding, or are they looking for that service as well?
What websites and other recourses do you use for key and up to date industry information and to keep up with the ever changing world of web designs and functions?
None. I stay up-to-date on Google requirements, but for the most part, I’m too busy working to worry about “the ever changing world of web designs and functions”.
What marketing avenue to you take to promote your business? How do you generate new clients?
New clients come to me by referral or word of mouth (after seeing my work). It is rare that I will convert a person who says “oh, you should look at my website and tell me what you think,” into a paying client. Often people want free advice. My biggest marketing tip is to produce great work and make decisions that are in your clients’ best interests. Sometimes I will be interested in a business or industry, and I will try to earn their business through good old fashioned conversation. I am most effective if there is a personality match where I can understand and then anticipate the direction the client is heading.
What are the pros and cons of freelancing vs being under the umbrella of a large cooperation?
I charge a higher rate than most companies are willing to pay salaried web designers. Benefits of freelancing or having one’s own business include flexibility and choice of projects, schedule, work location, and working attire. Benefits of working as an in-house web designer include set hours, set salary, health insurance, and paid time off, holidays and sick days. Downsides of freelancing is that you are always at work. I work morning, noon, night and weekends, when projects require it. As a freelancer, you are responsible for making sales, keeping the books, paying taxes, answering the phone and cleaning the office, in addition to the creative and technical services you provide. Switching gears can be hard, a freelancer wears all hats of the business. Downsides of working for a corporation include set salary, lower hourly rate, having to take projects assigned to you (rather than choosing projects based on fit and scope), working in an office (commuting, business attire, small talk with fellow employees), and other inefficiencies like staff meetings. It is possible too that the web designer will not get to work with the client directly (if you’re working for a web design firm), which could hinder the creative process and comprehension of the client’s needs, goals, and restrictions.
What advice would you give for someone interested in this field as a career?
Don’t be afraid to break stuff while you’re learning. I am self-taught and through trial and error, I am comfortable working on any website. Be curious and look it up – If there’s something you want your website to do and you don’t know how to do it – figure it out! Don’t be afraid to submit support tickets to your hosting provider or to paid theme, plugin, or other tool developers. Get excited when you get to work on a website for an organization in a new industry.