There are two ways to learn any skill. One is by experience and the other is by being taught from someone who already has that experience. As with any skill, there are common web design mistakes that nearly everyone makes early on. Here, I want to guide you through five of the most common rookie mistakes, so that you can learn from my mistakes rather than from the school of hard knocks.

Here are 5 mistakes that every web design rookie makes that you should avoid!

1. Starting a project that isn’t fully defined

Would you start making a cake without a recipe? Would you start building a house without a blueprint? Then why in the world would you start a website without a Statement of Work (SOW) contract? I will tell you why:  Because you can. But that doesn’t mean that you should.

If you don’t have an SOW, how will you know when the project is done? How will you know when to invoice your client? How will you know how much to invoice them? How are you even sure that you know what the client really wants? They may have given you reams worth of information, but if you haven’t repeated it back to them with their approval that you understand, then you are just shooting in the dark. Shooting in the dark is a good way for someone to get hurt, and in the end, it will almost always be you!

The SOW defines the project, it defines your relationship with your client, and it defines how and when you will get paid. You do like to get paid, right? It puts a clear fence around a project saying what is and what isn’t part of the project, and it tells everyone what “done” is. Unless you have a client with a bottomless bank account and endless patience, not knowing what “done” means for a project can be a nightmare.

Never start a web design project without a clear website agreement contract.

2. Getting in over your head

A lot of bad things happen when you get in over your head. The worst part is that you become a liar. You can’t live up to your promises if you have taken on too much work, or work that you don’t know how to do, or both. This can be a quick way to damage your career as a web designer.

Several years ago I hired a web designer for my team who had made him/herself out to be more experienced and knowledgeable than he/she really was. It was a very painful few months of repeated training, declining team morale, disciplinary measures and eventual termination.

It can quickly hurt your freelance career, too. Repeat business is vitally important for any business. Over promising and under delivering will guarantee that you won’t have any. Worse than that, word of mouth is a powerful thing that can either work for you, or against you.

It is a good policy to always under promise and over deliver.

3. Not testing a website

You wouldn’t drive a new car design that had never been tested, would you? Okay, that isn’t really fair; cars and websites are very different. No one is going to die if your website has a bug in it, or will they….? No… Probably not.

It is a little known secret that one of the major differences that separates the pros from the amateurs is that the pros seriously test their websites before letting their clients see them and before the final hand-off to their client. I have already written about this extensively, but in short, make sure to test each page in every major browser and at the lowest resolution you would expect, the highest, and mobile.

Never let your client become your tester!

4. Not getting regular client input

It is easy to have your first meeting with your new client and then retire to your geek batcave to develop something amazing. Two weeks later you emerge with your masterpiece and proudly present your client their new website, only for it to be greeted with a mediocre response. You built exactly what they wanted, only better! How could they not love it? You fell prey to a pitfall found in both web design and fence building.

Have you ever built a fence? I built a fence once with my Dad, who is a perfectionist. Long after my great-great-grandchildren are laid to rest, this fence will still stand. When we built this fence, we put down a stake at each end called a terminal post, then we ran a line between the two terminal posts. We used this line as a constant guide to ensure that we were not getting off course. Even just a small deviation of .5%, carried out over a long enough distance, could have destroyed the perfect results we wanted to achieve.

In web design, if you do not keep in continual contact with your client, it is like building a fence without a guideline. Chances are, in the end, you will find yourself miles off course.

Check in often and regularly with your client.

5. Giving your client what YOU want

Let’s face it, you went into web design and development because you know what works and what doesn’t online. You are the expert, so your client should be quiet and take whatever you give them! Right?

What if I told you that your toughest clients will make you the best designer you can be?  I remember early in my career getting a client who had created her own Wild West board game, and she needed a website to market and sell it.  She was a true cowgirl, the toughest, most stubborn and hard-to-get-along-with client I have ever had.  It seemed like nothing I could do was good enough; but she continued to push me and, in the end, her website was 2 times better than it would have been if she had just accepted whatever I gave her.  I learned from the experience, and she got an awesome website with an online store that she loved.

Yes, sometimes your client will be dead wrong, and you will be embarrassed to show the site because of the negative influence from your client.  It happens.  Should they listen to your advice?  Of course, since you are the professional and they are paying you good money for your expertise.  However, ultimately, they are the one paying the bill, and it isn’t about what you want, it is about pleasing your client.

Find out what your client really wants and give them the best version of it that you possibly can.

Whether you are just getting started, or a seasoned veteran, steering clear of these 5 rookie mistakes will go a long way to taking your career to the next level.