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The ability to create simple, attractive and functional web pages is a highly marketable skill. There is a huge and growing demand for websites and web content, especially for smaller organization who often can't afford to hire a full-service web design firm.
Readers often ask me whether it's necessary to take expensive web design courses or to learn HTML right away to get started in this niche. Is there a cheaper way of learning these skills?
If I were in your shoes, my best investment would be to learn how to use a popular and well-supported website creation software package.
Notice that I said "popular and well-supported." There are plenty of What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) web page creators out there that allow you to cut-and-paste and drag-and-drop your way to create simple, effective websites.
For instance, you could check out programs such as the 123 WysiWyg HTML Editor at http://www.123wysiwyg.com
Mozilla Composer is an HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) editor that allows you to create and edit web pages. Check it out at http://www.mozilla.org/products/mozilla1.x/
Easy Web Editor (http://www.easywebeditor.com/ ) is another low-cost option under $100.
Several Internet "gurus" have created their own software packages. Jim Edwards, for instance, is promoting his "mini site creator" (http://www.minisitecreator.com ) program right now on the web and through affiliates.
Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as ww.godaddy.com offer their own easy website creation tools. These are fine if you if are a hobbyist or small business owner, and only want to create simple websites for your own use. But if you want to become a professional website designer, and eventually offer your skills and services to other small business owners, you will have to be able to create more sophisticated sites, with more flexible designs and features.
So the key question you have to ask are, "Am I using a program a professional would use? Will it be around five years from now?"
Years ago I chose Microsoft's FrontPage WYSISYG website editor. I knew that I would not be able to learn all the features the program had right away, but could create simple web sites for my business using the basics, then learn more, a little bit at a time.
I also figured that Microsoft was going to be around for a while, and that webpage creation was an area of business they would want to compete in. So FrontPage would be well-supported for years with new version, technical support, user forums, etc.
That has all been true. However, FrontPage reportedly has its quirks in the way it generates HTML code. Today, the best software package that I keep hearing about in the WYSIWYG category - and one used by professional website designers as well -- is a program called Dreamweaver, by Macromedia.
There are Dreamweaver version available for both the Mac and the PC, which is important. If you learn the program on a PC, you'll still be familiar with the same tools used by the Mac world, which is the dominant platform for the graphic arts community.
You can learn about Dreamweaver at: http://www.macromedia.com/software/dreamweaver/ There is even a free trial option, so you can sample the software. And no, I'm not earning any affiliate commission by recommending this to you.
Dreamweaver will have far more features than you can possibly wrap your mind around at first. The trick is to use any tutorials included with the software, plus any free online tutorials (do a google search) and teach yourself how to create simple, clean web pages at first. Then you can gradually learn about other features, such as using tables, more complex formatting, etc.
From now on, as you surf the web, bookmark sites you like or designs you like, and keep them in a special folder as examples you'd like to model. There's no faster or better way to learn than by modeling success.
Launch your freelance web design practice by building your own website with Dreamweaver. If you have Internet access, your Internet provider already gives you from 5-10 MB of web space as part of your subscription. So you can practice on your first website there, at no additional cost.
For an initial investment of $399, you can become an expert using a professional tool. Once you're confident enough, build your own business site, with your own domain name, and promote your services as a web designer. I recommend using www.godaddy.com to register your new company's domain name and host your site. It can cost you less than $50 a year to do both.
You can get a professional-looking logo for your business for $25 from www.gotlogos.com What other business can you launch for under $500 that has the potential to earn tens of thousands of dollars per year?
And finally, purists and experts still suggest that you eventually become somewhat familiar with HTML, even if you use a WYSIWYG editor that hides all that HMTL code. Many professionals go in and "tweak" their web pages by hand, using HTML, to get exactly the look they want.
There are some free tutorials available to learn about HTML. Check out: A beginner's guide to HTML: http://archive.ncsa.uiuc.edu/General/Internet/WWW/HTMLPrimerP1.html And http://www.w3.org/MarkUp/
The ability to create attractive, simple and functional web pages is a highly sought-after skill. Once you have created your own site showcasing a few examples of your work, your first prospects will probably be small businesses, consultants, and retail establishments in your area. Then, with experience, you can start doing work for larger companies. There's another benefit, too. You can work for anyone, anywhere, anytime, around the world, from your comfort of your home office.
Barnaby Kalan is an award-winning freelance copywriter and author of Outsourcing Yourself: How to Turn Your Job Into a Business for Greater Wealth and Security. To get a free chapter from his latest book, visit http://www.outsourcing-yourself.com