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Any Advice for Starting a Web Design Business? 76

stizoked asks: "Although we both have full time jobs, my wife and I have been doing a little web design/development on the side for some extra cash. Since we've started, we've built up a nice little client list, one big enough for us to consider getting a little more serious about pursuing it as a business. Does anyone have any advice or experience that we can use to dodge young and stupid mistakes? Any advice on some open source project management software or other software that makes running a small business a little easier?"
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Any Advice for Starting a Web Design Business?

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  • by KingRamsis ( 595828 ) <> on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @03:18PM (#6852572)
    Any Advice for Starting a Web Design Business?

    yeah... dont !!
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I was going to post this exact same thing.

      Don't do it. Take the extra cash and realize that web design isn't the place to be.
      • Damn, bright minds think alike. My first impulse was to come in here and say the same thing.

        Too bad I didn't have mod points, nothing like an AC that has been flagged (Score: 2, Insightful)
    • to the mod on crack who moded this as a troll, I was not trolling I was serious, for many reasons this guy should not get into website design:

      1.He asked slashdot and that pathetic :-)
      2.He is working with his wife and by doing that he is risking a divorce.
      3.The web design business is saturated.
      4.since he is not a business yet then probably his list of clients are uncle joe and cousin george.

      I want my karma backkkkk,.
      • Re:honset advice... (Score:2, Informative)

        by stizoked ( 703706 )
        Well, thanks for the response.

        1.He asked slashdot and that pathetic :-)

        This is informal research to go along with other feasibilty research that I have been doing.

        2.He is working with his wife and by doing that he is risking a divorce.

        Some couples do have teamwork and relational skills. We're not all cube geeks who don't know how to relate. :-)

        3.The web design business is saturated.

        You're probably right about this.

        4.since he is not a business yet then probably his list of clients are uncle joe and c
        • This is informal research to go along with other feasibilty research that I have been doing.

          and what was the outcome of your research?

          Some couples do have teamwork and relational skills. We're not all cube geeks who don't know how to relate. :-)

          I'm not antisocial, and I score "fair" with women but seriously do you want to put business in your marriage? starting your own business and strugling with your startup can put you very intense stress, and before you know it business and work will follow you to

      • I want my karma backkkkk

        And this is where the no-karma-for-a-funny-mod 'rule' is punative.

        C'mon, are we really expected to take Slashdot that seriously?

    • Go back in time about 10 years.

      Nowadays I fear that large companies will require snazzy flashy "professional" sites that will require more than 2 people's spare time to create. And if you're not doing web design for those companies, just do it in your spare time as extra cash, not as a company.
    • I was just about to post the same thing.. Yeah Dont!!

      Web design is deader than MS Word skills. It is deader than putting MSDOS 4.2 on your resume. HTML is so easy, there are too many high school kids who can code in W3-standard HTML + PHP + CSS + Javascript, which is getting out of web design already.

      Now if you're considering learning all about RDBMS, J2EE and building fancy business-oriented web-faced solutions, get right into it, but that is not called web design. At beast, 'Web Design' includes a simpl
  • I did the same (Score:5, Informative)

    by cdgod ( 132891 ) on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @03:21PM (#6852614) Homepage
    It's tough in the beginning. Heck, it's tough still.

    To manage the projects I use a combination of Quicken and

    Tutos allow you clients to login and view the progress your are making on their website.

    A bonus for us is that we are also a small webhost so we provide the domain, the hosting, and the website all in one package. Most of our clients feel much better knowing they only deal with one team.

    Here are some tips:

    1) Get incorporated. I can't stress this enough!
    2) Get insurance. You like your house right?
    3) Give estimates first with a deadline. Without a deadline you will be in maintenance mode forever.
    4) If things get too busy, you can always count on me to help you out ;-)

    Good luck!

    • []:
      "Closed because of 'Software-Patents'"

    • I am a freelance editor and it briefly looked like one of my clients wanted me to incorporate rather than work as an independent contractor. Fortunately, they ended up deciding not to make me switch -- fortunately, because as far as I could tell incorporating would be nothing but hassle. My bookkeeping would get a *lot* more conplicated, and my taxes would go up (since I would no longer get to deduct half of my self-employment tax from my taxable income). So, I would really like to know what the advantge
      • There are many reasons. It really depends on your tax code.

        Here I can charge my company rent, expense milage, meals and pay myself in dividends which means lower taxes than being self-employed.

        Also small corporations ( $200,000 a year) get a lot of tax benefits.

        It's easier to apply for corprate loans, grants and raise your hourly rates as a consultant. Corporations can also hire and sub-contract with more ease.

        Personally I like the ability to keep all the finances separate. Personally, I am completel
        • I am not the most knowledgeable person about incorporating, my partner handles that part, but from what he explained to me, the above poster is exactly right. You can buy everything through the corporation and get tax right-offs, while showing that you personally make almost nothing. Many accountants we talked with said not to incorporate, but after much research (again, mainly by my partner) we decided incorporating would be the best, not just for tax savings, but to protect our personal assets also. It is
    • 2) Get insurance. You like your house right?
      IANAWD, but I am curious what you are in fear of being sued for. If I follow tip #1 (get incorporated) I don't see the reason to get insurance. Maintain the corporate veil and let the devil care if you are sued.
      I am also a firm believer that you are more likely to be sued if the other side's lawyers see the potential for a fat insurance payout. Use the corporation to protect your assets.

      I would also have to believe that a web designer's name and reputation is
  • Get good advice, (Score:5, Informative)

    by Zachary Kessin ( 1372 ) <> on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @03:22PM (#6852624) Homepage Journal
    Not about the technical or design parts of it, but about the Business parts of it. Assuming you are in the USA look up the Small Business Administration ( and go threw everything they have.

    Another great resource is SCORE, which is the service corp of retired executives. My Grandfather used to work with them before he got too old. Its a lot of older folks who would love a chance to mentor someone young.

    Oh and find a decent accountant.
    • Another great resource is SCORE, which is the service corp of retired executives. My Grandfather used to work with them before he got too old.
      WTF? How can you be too old for SCORE? The 'R' stands for "retired". I think you probably misunderstood what your grandfather told you - he probably told you that he was too old to score, not too old for SCORE.
      • he's 91 years old, and not real mobile these days. When he was 75 he could do a lot some time in his 80's he just had to stop doing work with them. On the other hand he has a sister who is 95 and still doing rather well.
    • Good advice. Also, the start-a-business help provided by the Internal Revenue Service can be a great source of information.

      Try this link [] and this one [] for starters.

  • Portfolio (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gmhowell ( 26755 ) <> on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @03:27PM (#6852674) Homepage Journal
    Develop your portfolio. Do some pages for your church, a favorite local charity, a group like the Lion's Club, or some club you are a member of. Do lots of them. Include links to your own company's page. Oh, and while you are at church/lion's club/etc., make sure that you say "Oh, and if I'm going to do this for the church, what can I do for you?" It's called networking.

    Others suggested getting a corp right away. I actually would suggest that it's a bit premature at this stage. If you get into stuff with DB backends with client/customer data, then it makes sense. If you are doing puffery advertising type pages for local groups and businesses, hold off on the expense for a little while until you see if it is worth it.

    What is preventing you from holding down your regular job as well as your new design jobs? Plenty of people who start new businesses wisely wind up working two full time jobs until the new business can support you. Or, segue into it. You work both, but your wife leaves her regular job to focus full time on the web work.

    It's a rough environment to enter feet first these days. Anyone with a cracked copy of FrontPage fancies himself a web designer.
    • Others suggested getting a corp right away. I actually would suggest that it's a bit premature at this stage.

      I would aggree with that. Do web design work for awhile and see if your really into it, if you are then incorperate.

      The thing about incorpating is that its a hassle. About $2,000 to $5,000 in fees then you have to have to do taxes each year for it too.

      • Incorporating a small corporation that is all owned "in the family" is fairly easy (at least in my part of the world, BC, Canada). You can probably do it yourself with an inexpensive "How to Incorporate" type booklet + package from Staples or Office Depot.

        Since it's all in the family, you don't need to get a lawyer to teach you about dispute resolution, director selection, etc. Besides, if in the future your company grows, you can rewrite the rules of your company (and pay the associated lawyer fees) l
    • I'd suggest incorporating immediately, for the simple fact that it limits your personal liability. To go with that, get yourself some business insurance. This will cost several grand, however.

      The other biggest tip I can give is to RIGOUROUSLY schedule every hour of the week. It is unbelievable how much more one can accomplish.
      • Incorporation is not a lock. If there is a serious suit that could end with the loss of the questioner's house, any plaintiff's attorney worth their salt will quickly begin tearing down the distinction between corporation and owner. In a single owner (or married couple owned) business, this is far more trivial than you can imagine. In addition, any funding via loans will require personal guarantees that obviate the usefullness of the corporate shield.
  • by Captain Splendid ( 673276 ) <capsplendid AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @03:30PM (#6852698) Homepage Journal
    Get a deposit! Many a time have I spent putting together proposals, drafts, or even finished projects only to have the client do one of the following: Die, disappear, decide not to pay, or emigrate to China.
  • by ( 262540 ) <chris_carr&slashdot,ccarr,com> on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @03:34PM (#6852729) Homepage to give business. Look for opportunities refer business to your clients or anyone else. If you have a chance to bid on a large contract, consider subcontracting or partnering for the services that are outside your core skills. (I generally do this with the graphic design work when I have a web site contract.)

    I've gotten some excellent referals from people and business who have received referals from me in the past, including one relationship that ultimately led to six figures in follow-on contracts.
  • by Numeric ( 22250 ) on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @03:34PM (#6852730) Homepage Journal
    It seems like everyone else is doing it.
  • Some suggestions. (Score:5, Informative)

    by denubis ( 105145 ) <> on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @03:37PM (#6852761)
    As other's have said. Don't. It's a losing proposition.

    However, if you do persist in the notion that web design is a profitable small business, some points to consider.

    First, always always always get the requirements in writing and have the customer sign off on them. When the customer changes their mind 75% through the project (which they always will) you can then legitimatly charge them more.

    Second, charge what you're worth. Remember when doing charge sheets that unpaid documentation/beancounting will take up 40% or more of your time, have your prices reflect that.

    Third, learn php and SQL. Webdev these days is generally not about static pages. If you can design your own implmentations of some of the more common applications, you can roll out projects and get a much higher return on your time. Prefabbed components are worth investing and coding in.

    Mock up the entire website in pencil, and when you're showing it to the client, let the client "interact" with the environment.

    In essence, don't do web design. It takes too much time, your customers take forever to pay, and it's not worth the aggrivation of keeping up with the various standards.
    • As other's have said. Don't. It's a losing proposition.

      Sad but true. If you really want to do web design (and if you are better than all the other designer wannabees), add other design services to your portfolio: create business cards, restaurant menus, invitations, brochures etc. Anything that relates to a website and should have a similar design.

      BTW, as far as I know the payment (for multimedia services) is settled in 3 thirds: 1/3 in advance, 1/3 after the final design has been agreed upon, and the
    • There question is, "Is your approach the same as all the other design companies out there?" If so, that's not much of a business plan. If you really want to do this, because every man and his dog is doing it also, you have to offer far more than there average WD out there.

      When clients ask your advice, your knowledge in this area is a major asset, do you have real knowledge in this area? If so, give them real estimates of what sites and strategies really cost, now, in the near future and down the trac

  • by np_bernstein ( 453840 ) on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @03:53PM (#6852889) Homepage

    Get new clients
    Sounds to me like you already have a business. I think that the most important thing is getting the word out. Since you already have a client list, you have a great start -- you have people who you have done work for in your community who can help you. I would suggest calling each and every one and letting them know that you are trying to turn this into a full time business. Ask them if they know of anyone who they know might be looking for web design.

    Keep your existing clients.
    Set up a quick php/mysql database or out look contact list with notes about each or your clients and the last time that they had work done.Set up an email to remind you three months from the last time you spoke to them, and give them a call. Tell them that you are just checking up, and seeing if they needed any updates to the site, etc. Make sure that you keep notes on the conversation that you have, so you can refer to the last conversation: "Oh, I tried that resturant that you reccomended, you were right, we love it." or "So how are those classes going?"

    It's expensive to get a full page advertisement in the local paper, but it might be worth it. It's not the only way, though: You can drive around and drop off mailers at small businesses, or offer to do a free seminar on how to use the internet to help your small business at the library or chamber of commerce or SBA, etc. It gets your name out and establishes you as a local "expert"

    From what I understand, this is a very hard business to be in, with lots and lots of competition. You can do it, but your best product is your customer service and your best friend is word of mouth. Things like birthday cards help you stand out. Try as hard as possible to never to let anyone leave dissapointed with your service, or product: angry people talk a lot more that people who are satisfied, and it doesn't matter if they were wrong when they tell someone you "ripped them off", the person you told isn't going to take the chance.

    good luck!
  • host! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @03:59PM (#6852951)
    Also, HOST! Once you've developed the site, that money's set, but if you also offer hosting (get a reseller hosting account somewhere), then you get that monthly check. The more you do, the more you get. A nice sideline that most webdev businesses forget, so the business goes elsewhere. Why send all of that money to someone else?
    • Nice in theory, bit more difficult in practise. If you're going to host, you need to ensure you have not only the obvious requirement of bandwidth, but also a way to achieve a decent service level agreement (SLA). That means a high percentage uptime, and a quick turnaround if something blows up.

      So, if you don't have a cluster of web servers for redundancy, you need to ensure you have a highly redundant and highly recoverable web server, monitoring, someone to answer the monitoring when it detects something
      • I agree. Providing quality, secure, reliable hosting is NOT easy! If you can develop a good relationship with a Host that provides you with a reselling account and feel confident about putting your neck on the line when it comes to uptime, not only site design, then go for it. But Hosting is not simply an add-on, its a whole seperate business. One of the problems with the hosting business is that anyone thinks they can just start up a Host. That is why there are many disgruntled customers of hosting compani
  • is not your friend. Ever.
  • Never say "no" to business, unless it just isn't something you do or you are uncomfortable with the character/solvency of the customer.

    Instead, say "yes" with a price that makes it profitable. "Yes" may include the cost to farm it out to someone, too. This assumes you've made careful notes during discovery so you're quoting accurately on the scope of the project. And keep a list of those prospects who say no to your quote! As long as you've dealt with them in a fair and upfront manner, they're still potent
    • by greenhide ( 597777 ) <> on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @04:40PM (#6853400)

      I guess this guy never had a problem customer.

      My advice?

      Say "no" all the time.

      Say "no" to people who want big sites for very little money, say no to people who say "I just want this eensy teensy weeensy little site, so I don't think I should pay all that much", say no to people who say "I've noticed that yahoo only charges $20 to make it myself per month, but I'd rather have someone who knows what they're doing manage it, but I'd like to keep the price pretty low."

      Notice the pattern here?

      You should say no to people who don't want to pay (much) money for their website.

      You're not going to make money off of them, not unless you grow to a company making hundreds or thousands of websites a year, which will be a pain and probably require hiring on more people. You will make money by making a few (20-40) good websites and charging them a decent price for them.

      Also, if people don't pay much for their website, they don't see it as all that valuable, and they don't put much time and effort into marketing it or involving it in their business. Which car would you willing spend more effort and money maintaining? a '89 Porsche, or an '89 Cavalier?

      If they do see their website as valuable, then they see you as someone not valuable, because you're a chump who gives away good things for no cost. People who use their websites a lot will call you all the time, because they'll feel they're more important than you are.

      And there are always customers where there is no "yes" price that makes it profitable. Unfortunately, there are crazy people in the world, and some of them somehow manage to run businesses. Even if they offer you what seems a nice tidy sum, run away, because in the end they will suck the life force from you.

      Prospects who've said no to a quote generally don't call me back. They usually are shopping on price and aren't interested in the extras that our company offers -- like superior programming and customer service.

      The second to last paragraph also is good from a sales standpoint, because people like it when you express genuine interest in what they do in their business -- it makes them feel that they're working with someone who will make a website that works for their business, not just a generic site.

      I agree wholeheartedly with the final paragraph; unfortunately there are a lot of people who don't even like itching over the price.
      • You're dead on about problem clients. Some clients are not worth what you'll put into them, even if they're willing to pay a lot to get it. We've turned down clients (or said "no" to existing clients) for many reasons. Sometimes it's because we know that what they want can't be done in a way that will satisfy them, often because they've indicated that they're not willing to pay a price that makes it a worthwhile business proposition, and sometimes just because we know they'll be hell to work with.

        That last

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Other clients to avoid:

        "Mind if we pay you in 90 days?"
        "Mind if we give you only half now and half later?"
        "We can pay once the site starts making money."

        AKA, people that will probably never pay you for your work. As soon as you hear any of these magic words, run for the hills.
  • The best assumption you can make is that you should be this:

    1) Learn everything you can
    2) Make no assumptions
    3) Stick with a standard
    4) Offer alternatives

    For 1, people will make weird requests ("You want the frobnitz gonkulator feature?") because they saw a four-colored glossy on it, so it is obviously a good thing. You want to know it at least on the surface so, if necessary, you can give an intelligent answer as to why the frobnitz gonkulator drop-in is a Bad Idea.

    One common mistake I see peop

  • Use Web Standards. (Score:4, Informative)

    by pompousjerk ( 210156 ) on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @04:43PM (#6853426)
    Seriously. Accessibility is the next big thing [], and the design practices that result (cleaner code, even if it lacks semantics), are worth it in the long run, especially for maintanence.

    A basic overview []
    Designing With Web Standards []
  • _scope creep_ read as much as possible on this phenomena that put many a web shop out of business.
  • I agree that the market for standard web design is highly saturated but there are some things that have helped me as a freelance web designer:

    1. Read a lot. Find out what is good and bad about the web. Use xhtml and avoid javascript and flash. Don't use frontpage (or dreamweaver)!
    2. Be a Pro. Take graphic design (or hire a designer). Make you web pages look professional and user-friendly.
    3. Become a web application programmer. Use PHP, sql, ASP, etc... and learn to write dynamic, remotely administered page
  • Well, leave it to /.ers to miss the main point. They asked for advice, not " yea, don't do it. " I run/have been in a web design business, but we weren't able to make it into a really profitable enterprise. The problem is that the market was saturated, and then after .-bomb there were only the big players left. If you want to make it in the web design business:
    1. Accept that you really need to have connections. We have recieved almost all of our business through a marketing firm that we have family con
  • I cannot stress the value of good contracts! A good starting point is that has excellent boilerplate proposals and contracts. Think of the professional image you give with a 5-8 page proposal and a legal binding contract. It will seperate you from the amatuers out there that dont know anything beyond dreamweaver and give single page proposals. It displays professionalism and forethought, both of which are vitally important to your potential customers and safeguards you from a
  • 1. Buy a Time Machine on ebay 2. Go back to 1999 3. Make off like a bandit!!!
  • Actual advice? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by annielaurie ( 257735 ) <annekmadison@hotma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @06:31PM (#6854352) Journal
    1) Don't.
    2) If you really feel you must, work out a coherent, intelligent business plan--one you can take to the bank if necessary to borrow money against. That means 1, 2, and 3 year projections, profit and loss statements, capital and other expenses. Be serious about it. Pay yourself a salary. Know precisely what your monthly living expenses are and how much you need to earn toward them.
    3) Be sure that business plan includes (a) an exhaustive study of your target market; and (b) some realistic projections about how you're going to reach that market. Your list of contacts may be the best in the world, but you'll starve if you rely on referrals.
    4) How/why should people find and pick you rather than one of the bazillion and one other Web designers out there?
    5) Where did you attend art/design school? Know anything about color theory? The color wheel? How color is perceived by a human viewing a monitor vs. a human viewing an actual sunset? How about navigation? Typography and typefaces? Accessibility? Web standards? Any background in fine arts? Advertising? Marketing? How about computers themselves? Networks? ISP's, hosts, e-mail? How does a moitor work? How does HTTP (vs HTML) work? Do you have concrete resources for getting to the information you don't know?

    Best to know the answers to all this and more. People who pick up a mouse and a copy of Frontpage make truly unfortunate websites.
    I'd have to say that if you haven't puzzled your way through all of this and a whole lot more, you're probably getting ready to waste a great deal of time and money.

    I've actually had my business for almost three years, and I earn enough money to contribute my half to a two-income household--most months. I didn't thrive until I did my business plan. I know precisely how much work I need to do each month to survive, and I know how much selling and marketing I need to do to gain that work.

    I hope this doesn't sound too grouchy. It is realistic.


    • Re:Actual advice? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by GoofyBoy ( 44399 )
      >How/why should people find and pick you rather than one of the bazillion and one other Web designers out there?

      I actually find this the most useful piece of advice I've ever had. Every couple of years, I ask this to myself just to make sure that I am on top of my game.

      If you can't answer this one to your satisfaction, then your resources would be better off doing something else.
  • We did what you're doing. The highs are better than you could imagine, the lows much, much worse. You can avoid a lot of the latter by thinking ahead (which it sounds like you're doing, so you're one up on nearly everyone else).

    • Write a business plan. Possibly hire a consultant to help you with this. It is worth it, and without a good one, you can't get a loan or a line of credit, and just as importantly, you won't know what your goals are.
    • Have at least six months salary saved away. This is hard, but it w
  • Yeah, Flash SUCKS! Also, provide text-based alternatives for people using Lynx.
  • The Market (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ratbert42 ( 452340 ) on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @08:12PM (#6854859)
    Following the "don't" and "first buy a time machine" comments, let me tell you why not. Your market today primarily consists of four groups:
    1. People that have a website with another company and want to go with someone cheaper and more responsive. These are a major hassle. We call them hostage situations because what you usually find is the that old company has the domain registered in their name and they're not hot to give it up. You end up spending hours and hours fighting registrars to get the domain or trying to convince the customer to change urls. If you do go for this business, find a helpful registrar to fight for you.
    2. People that have no idea what they want on a website. That's why they don't already have one. They also have little idea what it should cost. This sounds good, right? But they often know a nephew that can build them a crappy site for free, so they expect you to be slightly more expensive than that. Much more than $500 and they'll just keep waiting.
    3. Customers that want a very complex site. This sounds good, but you can easily get in over your head, or much worse, agree to something that just isn't going to work. They often have grand plans that involve using data or a service available somewhere else, usually violating the rights they have to the data or service.
    4. People that want to start a new company. 95% of these will die before a real launch, leaving you with unpaid account receivables.
    The best customers we've found are churchs, realtors, friends with existing businesses and no sites, and non-profit organizations with budgets. We often barter with small companies and that works great. Some realtors' companies have a set budget for web sites and you can milk those.

    Find a profitable place to host accounts. Don't try to host them yourself. You'll hate the work. Go somewhere like Hurricane Electric or ValueWeb and let them do the majority of the work while you collect $5/month or less on the accounts. You'll be milking those accounts for several years without touching them.

    • When I did that sort of work, I used to run into people who have no idea what they want on a web site all the time. My solution was to have them give me all their printed literature and have them sort through it. Then as a prerequisited to starting, I'd have them deliver it in electronic form.
  • by Andy_R ( 114137 ) on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @09:34PM (#6855339) Homepage Journal
    Part of my business is web design, but that's really an offshoot from doing print and video design work. Here's my advice:

    1) Don't
    2) Look for clients that got ripped off for a site 5-10 years ago, they paid $50k for some junk, so they think $30k for something good is a bargain.
    3) Everyone and their dog can write html, so you need a speciality. Incorportating bits of Flash where it is actually beneficial is my trick, you need to find your trick.
    4) People are inclined to buy their headed paper, business cards etc from the same source as they get their website. You can get business put your way (and pass on business for a mark-up) by forming close relationships with local printers/copy shops.
    5) See all those people saying Don't? Listen to them!
  • If you are going to be successful at web design, you have to have something that makes you stand out from the rest. I know of many people that have tried to startup web design companies, but have failed miserably. Most of the reason for this is that they have absolutely no skill, and expect to create a $500 website using the most advanced of tools (ala Microsoft Word and occasionally Frontpage).

    If you plan on starting a business, first perfect your skills until you are sure that you can actually COMPETE
  • by sudog ( 101964 ) on Wednesday September 03, 2003 @02:43AM (#6856822) Homepage
    Suggest you version everything you do--everything. Every page, every object, every database schema, every java class, every graphic.. all of it.

    CVS is good and free.. Perforce is a pro tool for a reasonable price.. etc.

    You'll thank me later, even though you'll curse me for putting you through the initial learning curve. You'll be able to track who did what, where, when, and (hopefully) why. You'll be able to roll-back changes you made simply by clicking a button and typing in a date. You'll be able to make incremental changes to a live website without bringing everything online all at once (and watching everything break.)

    Plus you'll be able to prove you did the work, when you did the work, and how much work you did in all its gory detail.

    Trust me, if you ignore all the other crappy advice in this thread, don't ignore your versioning.

What is research but a blind date with knowledge? -- Will Harvey