What Do I Do?

Whether you're a solo freelancer, a member of a dedicated creative team, or someone else entirely, you should make a point of sitting back and asking yourself "What is it that I do?"

This question isn't meant to start some large internal debate about philosophy, futility, or anything quite so grandiose as that. Those have their own time and place; usually around 3:00 am, when you least expect it. No, this time I want you to consider what you actually, on a technical level, 'do' as a professional, and how that view affects your work.

The easiest place to start is to take stock of your skills. "I can code in HTML, CSS, and a menagerie of other exotic languages." Or "I put Renaissance painters to shame with my mad Photoshop skills and speed." Good, we've got our puzzle pieces. But now we need to use them to assemble the bigger picture. Spoilers: If we do this right, the end result is FAR greater than the simple sum of all the parts.

Line Up Your Puzzle Pieces

I'll be writing most of this from my own point of view, but it's actually pretty widely applicable across a number of professions. If you're not a developer/designer, just play Madlibs and fill in the industry specific blanks.

Starting at square one, we've got our established skills. Some are more polished than others, but everything on this list is something you're comfortable with. Even if you can't write complex Javascript operations from scratch, you can meet a client's needs for a calendar or message board. One of the most important things to remember, though, is that these skills have a depth to them that we all too often forget at first glance.

Say the restaurant on the corner of your street wants a super simple website built. Static, simple content. No flashy animations or transforming who-za-ma-bobs. They don't want an online ordering system, so no need to pull out the PHP. Compared to a weightier project, this one should be a piece of cake. Don't lose perspective though. That piece of cake project wasn't completed by the owner of the restaurant for a very specific reason: you have the skills needed. What you can do in a week is backed up by what you've done for the last 52 weeks, for the last however many years you've been in your industry. Does that mean we get to charge ridiculous amounts for the most mundane of tasks? No. Definitely not. Don't forget, you wouldn't have a gig to build a site for a restaurant if that restaurant's owner hadn't poured blood, sweat, and tears into their own business too. It all comes down to this: don't undervalue the iceberg-sized importance that the bullet-pointed list of your skills represents.

So What IS the Bigger Picture?

Sometimes, a simple website project is just a simple website project. If you know where to look and really love giving your all to what you do, though, there's usually a lot more hiding there under the surface. My new personal goal has been providing (or at least offering) "whole" solutions. Yes, it's entirely possible from a business stand point, to do quite well for yourself simply fulfilling no more than is asked of you. With some clients, it might even be recommended. But because I love what I do, and I'm privy to the amazing things technology, design, marketing, and generally awesome business practices can do, I find myself wanting to do more. When I engage a client, I want to immerse myself in what it is they do, and how my skills can make that thing grow. Whether it's a small local business or some specialized topic I have little hop of grasping on a technical level, I can't help but want to leave my mark by creating something bigger and better than they had realized was possible.

It's this "wholeness" that a lot of the industry is missing. Many of the leaders and top players in numerous fields are there because they understand their passion, and they understand how passion can apply to someone else's work. Combine that with the fact that "anyone can self-teach themselves web design", and you've got a wide spread misconception of how an industry should and does actually work. I'll not begrudge local or international designers trying to make their start, or just unsure of how to proceed. It's those who find success in over simplifying, under delivering, and stagnating the industry that do the most damage, for the sake of a questionable paycheck.

To answer the original question, I MAKE websites. I "sell" the realization of your needs and goals to the best of my abilities, part of which "might" be a website. I feel as professionals, this is what we should all strive for.