In Web Design, Learning to Say No

Categories Articles, iNoobs

I thought I would take a break from my technical articles in this latest edition of the iNoobs series and instead concentrate on the BUSINESS of web design. Being a great web designer, developer, programmer, etc. as – in my opinion – just as much about how you manage yourself, your time, and defining what you will and will not do – as it is about being a creative coder, or mastering effective, attractive design.

[infobox margin_bottom=”0″ margin_top=”0″ border_radius=”all” color=”white” title=””] iNoobs is a series of articles for those new to web design and web development, created by Zach Katkin, founder of, a brilliant resource for small business software news. [/infobox]

And although the entire process of organizing yourself is outside of the scope of this article (although I’ll be sure to come back to it!) I thought I would start by helping you to SAY NO! – Not to drugs, but to work.

Screw work…

In Web Design, Learning to Say No

About a week ago I stumbled upon Jason Fried’s talk at Big Omaha over on Silicon Prairie News. The video (a bit long in web terms) is chocked full of amazing stuff:

Jason Fried – 37signals from Big Omaha on Vimeo.

Basically Mr. Fried discusses how he and his partners/employees built 37Signals (the parent company of Basecamp and other small business software). And, he touches on one of the most important parts of the success of his business – saying no, and doing less. If you slash the requirements of a project odds are, you can get it done faster, get that smaller bit done more effectively and completely. Build half a GREAT product, not a whole mediocre product.

[Before you start preaching the gospel of Fried (someone I very much admire and respect) I think there are some important things to point out… it took YEARS for them to get there, and as a new developer or freelancer sometimes you just need to make money!]

Which is what brings me to this article. Being a great web developer, either on your own – as a freelancer, owning your own company, or as part of a team is as much about saying NO as it is about anything else. Let me explain with a quick story…

What My Ex Girlfriend’s Neighbors Taught Me About Web Design (and stuff with a cord)

An ex girlfriend’s parents had heard  about my occupation, and one evening while I was over asked for my help with their computer.

It makes sense.

I work with computers all the time, why wouldn’t I know how to troubleshoot and fix theirs?

So I helped them (at one point I wanted to become MCSE certified and wanted to get into the consumer IT world – luckily I didn’t pursue it). Unfortunately, their neighbors happened to be over, saw my skills and solicited me to help them with THEIR computer. I did – and a night of family fun and games turned into 3+ hours of work and an almost lifetime client for computer problems.

an ability to learn is almost a pre-requisite, but that same curious spirit can sometimes be detrimental when we get distracted by our willingness to help and are pulled in directions we should not go

After helping the neighbors fix their computers I would get calls for assistance with everything – from their computer to electronics, including home entertainment speaker and television setup.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t said no.

Although I’m pretty good with computers, and electronics in general – staying abreast of virii, trojans, windows’ latest intricacies and setting up a custom home entertainment system is NOT my business – not even really a “hobby”. And perhaps more importantly, I just don’t have the time to help everyone I know with these things.

Someone would be much better qualified (if perhaps a bit more expensive) to assist.

I fell into the common trap, as many of you may have – of others thinking that – since you work with/on computers all day – you’re inherently amazing at everything that uses electricity or has cords. 

I can microwave bacon, but I have no idea how to cut up a pig and I don’t know the intricacies of the physics of radiation.

In the beginning days of web design for me – I fell into this trap with employers and clients. Now adays things go MUCH more smoothly by just telling them NO.

You can do it subtly, offer to help for a small period, but assure them that you probably aren’t the best at helping them solve those kinds of problems.

Web design already encompasses knowing MANY different technologies so an ability to learn is almost a pre-requisite, but that same curious spirit can sometimes be detrimental when we get distracted by our willingness to help and are pulled in directions we should not go.

I think this is most important in the context of doing “extra” work for clients as well as technical work for managers or the owners of small businesses. To the extent that your main job can be executed effectively – by all means – do what your boss or clients asks, or discuss with them your strengths and weaknesses.

But, should it ever hinder your main business or job, or – as happened to me – when we couldn’t grow the web department of a marketing firm because our web guys were too busy being the IT department for the company and our clients, SAY NO!

Zach Katkin - Entrepreneur, Web Developer, Designer and Writer - is the co-founder of Florida Web Design Company Atilus. In business for nearly a decade, Atilus has more than 600 clients worldwide.