How To Fail As A Web Developer

In the mid to late 90's the World Wide Web was really catching on. Everybody and their brother wanted a website. It was a great time for the pioneers who went out and learned some HTML. It was an open market. They called us Web Masters.

I don't hear the term Web Master much any more. The term was used much more in the 90's and early 2000's. I remember building a website for a chamber of commerce. After an interview with a local radio station, I remember hearing the announcer on the radio refer to me as the “Web Maestro”, mind you in a serious tone. People just didn't know what to call us; web designers, coders, programmers, script kiddies, etc.

Web developers were expected to do everything on a website in the web's infancy. While wearing multiple hats worked for a while, “doing everything” became a real problem. As the web matured the client's need exceeded the ability of the solo developer. One person couldn't do everything anymore. Even if they could do it all, the website would not be completed in a timely manner.

Solo web developers, otherwise known as freelancers, will always have their place. However, a successful freelancer will find a focus within the large variety of disciplines that go into launching a successful website. Let me illustrate the problem.

At one point in my solo career I was developing/maintaining about 30 different websites. I found out that a local developer had found his focus and was closing his web design/hosting business. I was excited, this was business for the picking. So I peddled all my services to all his clients. The end result was I gained about 12 new websites, increasing my business by 40% in about three months.

I was excited, but then it started to happen. I was so busy mind mapping new websites, designing and coding website layouts, re-branding companies, fielding client questions about hosting or email, sending invoices out, following up with slow paying clients, etc that my quality began to diminish. Instead of positive feedback, the complaints started to come in. On top of all this I really had a passion for building web applications. This is when I began to envy what the other web developer had (you know, the one I got all my new business from). Focus.

Think of some great names in the Web world; Danny Sullivan, John Resig, Yaro Starak for example. Are they known for their ability to multi-task projects to success? Or are they known for their specific focus? SEO, jQuery, and Blogging Entrepreneur respectively.

Recognizing that being spread too thin leads to mediocrity, which is perilously close to failure. I chose to stop being good at many things, and decided to be great at a few things. It was not easy at first, as a matter of fact it took some time and tough decisions, but it had to be done. Here are some pointers for finding focus.

  1. Find your focus. What are you passionate about? What were you made to do? Photoshop awesome designs, SEO, or building interactive widgets with Flash or JavaScript? Pick what you love. If you enjoy what you do, you will never have to work a day in your life.

  2. Join or pull together a great team. Depending on your situation, you may be able to find other developers who want to find focus like you, but in different areas. This is what I did. I was blessed to meet a developer in a similar situation who had a passion for Internet marketing (SEO). He had a brother who loved graphic design. You really only need three main focuses to have a great web development company: A graphic designer who knows HTML and CSS, web programmer, and Internet marketing guy.

  3. Want to stay solo? No problem. If you have many clients that are taking you away from your focus. Help them find a match with someone or some company who can fill their needs. The objective is to be honest with your client about your direction while helping them make the transition.

  4. Learn to say NO. Tempting as it may be, after you find your focus, don't take projects that will take you away from your passion. Sometimes we have to do things we don't like to stay in business, but do all you can to make sure at least 60% of your work day is on your focus. That would be considered a passing grade.

  5. Stay in the know. Your greatest asset for keeping your focus is to feed your mind daily with sources related to your focus. Follow industry leaders, subscribe to related magazines or e-zines, read books, etc. Keep fueling the creative fire and make sure you are in the know.

  6. Know the surrounding industry well. After you decide what your focus is, you still need to be aware of the surrounding disciplines. For example, I spend most of my time studying good application design in my focus (PHP ,MySQL, and JavaScript); However, I stay keenly aware of the surrounding web design industry.

"Show your rarity to the world and it will shower you with gold." -Og Mandino. This rarity comes first by finding your focus.

Web Developer or not, how have you found success in your focus? And how do you maintain it? I look forward to your comments.

The principle of "focus" brought out in this article can be applied to all fields of expertise. I have geared it to Web Developers simply because that is my focus.


  • Jonathan Wold

    March 1, 2010

    I am still looking for my focus, but definitely getting closer. Another way to keep your focus is to share it. Once you know what you're wanting to do and as you move towards mastery, share what you know - this increases your depth of knowledge and understanding while further solidifying you as an authority within that focus - thus helping yourself stay focused as you help others.

  • Wayne Senner

    March 17, 2010

    Just wondering if you were the one I met in India in January?

  • Jason Delaplain

    November 22, 2011

    Great post! I have a focus, but it still incorporates more than I can handle sometimes. I think it comes down to limiting your work for any one client, to just a track of your focus (so if you like graphic design, but also development, like I do, offer graphic design work for one client, and development for another, based on what is needed or more useful for those clients).

  • Jain Deen

    December 5, 2014

    Awesome Article. Thanks for sharing.Freelance Web Developer

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