Kilian Valkhof

Front-end & user experience developer, Jedi.

6 steps to overcome being seen as the kid with a copy of photoshop

Life, 15 February 2008, 4 minute read

An all too true stereotype: the neighbors kids that has a copy of photoshop and can make websites, logo’s and whatnot. Many lament over them ‘stealing’ our customers, many more were a photoshop kid some time in the past themselves. I was. This is an article for people like me who used to be the photoshop kid and have now long since built up a professional living with what started as fun all those years ago.

Please note that I’m basing this on myself, I don’t have office space and I still live with my parents, yet I’m professionally active with web development.

Because of my years of being a photoshop kid I’ve built a rather large network of people that all see me as a photoshop kid. These people know me as a shy, nerdy kid that does reasonably good things on the cheap.
Oh how they are wrong, but how are we going to convince them?

The scenario

Lets start with this scenario: The friend of an uncle of yours sends you an email stating that your uncle told him you do websites, that he needs one for a company he’s starting and he proposes to meet sometime after school or in the weekend to talk about what he wants and how much it should cost.

So in this situation, he is expecting a photoshop kid but getting a professional. However he might still be a nice client and we shouldn’t write him off solemnly on what he’s expecting from you. So it’s time to tweak how he perceives you. The ways to do so:

1. Just flat out tell them

Once you get a referral from your old photoshop kid network (and if you’re anything like me, you get a lot) add something along the lines of this to your reply mail:

Thank you for your interest in my services! You might have heard from **** that I do pretty good websites for fun and that I don’t cost much. This was indeed true a couple of years ago. However, In those years I’ve trained for the (company/freelancing) I (have/do) now. Please take a look at my website/portfolio and know that my skill set has vastly improved compared to what **** heard/say/received. I am very interested in working with you and I am certain my services will match your needs.

There you go: I was a photoshop kid, I’m a professional now, I’m certain of my abilities and I’ll let you decide.

2. Propose to meet during business hours.

This simply sends a clear message that you’re doing this professionally and not as something for after school and in the weekends. Note that it doesn’t matter if you actually work during those times, it’s all about how they perceive you ;)

3. Be clear about prices

…and charge way higher than you did. I didn’t like discussing prices with potential clients when I was a photoshop kid. 50 euro sure was a lot of money, and I only had to make a website! Many clients thought the same way. 50 euro, or a couple of hours work for 5 euro an hour may seem a lot when you’re 15 but trust me, it’s not. Upscale your prices and tell them proudly.

4. Have a professional website

…that includes some marketing talk, a portfolio and contact details. Refer to this when clients want to know more about your abilities and previous work. Make sure your portfolio is filled with work from your ‘professional period’, no high-school leftovers! Also, the contact details are very important here. No Hotmail or Gmail addresses! If you have a domain, make sure your e-mail is from that domain as well. You can add your phone number and address if you want to, but it’s not needed.

5. Don’t use IM to communicate with clients

And don’t list it on your website either. kilian_the_master88@hotmail.com* isn’t really sending good vibes and will just make you look childish in front of your clients. Communicate through e-mail or telephone instead.

I occasionally break this rule, but only for web-savvy clients that know my work or for Skype, which is insanely useful for conference calls.

* Not real. ;)

6. Talk marketing, not technology

Technology might be the reason you do what you do, but it’s not why your client wants that website so badly. He wants it to sell more. Adjust your talk to that, instead of enthusiastically talking about the newest CSS techniques and flash magic. So instead of selling them code that’s accessible to blind users surfing with Mosaic, tell them their site will get a massive amount of Google love thanks to you. The technology is the same, the percieved benefit for your client is completely different.

When you follow the above points, you project an image of professionalism that completely obliterates your previous photoshop kid image. If the client doesn’t follow through because he did not want to pay that much in the first place, too bad but let them go. There are clients willing to pay your price and you should get in touch with them instead.

And you?

These are the lessons I learned when ‘transforming’ from a photoshop kid to a professional, and I hope this is of use for some of you. Are there any tips you can give to help people shed their photoshop kid image?

Thanks for Reading!

I am Kilian Valkhof, a front-end and user experience developer from the Netherlands.
Contact me or ping me on twitter.

  1. I’m just starting to shed the neighbour web developer skin and branching out into proper freelance work. I think the hardest part overall is the money as you mentioned. A lot of the referrals I get from past clients have come to me because I did work on the cheap, but now I can charge 5 to 10 times the price I used to. Sometimes this shocks them but once I’ve shown them my portfolio and what I can do for them they’re usually willing to pay that bit more. I think having left school and moving to University, clients perception of me has changed as well.

  2. All good tips, never discuss what you actually do but what you actually deliver. If a client wants something changed, bill them for the overtime. Those that work more hours than they’re paid are called hobbists.

  3. Cool article, very recognizable :P Of course the working hours isn’t a rule too. I sometimes have clients who want to start up something for next to their jobs, so then everything is o.k.

    I think the best tip is to not-talk technically, but in the needs of the client. So how your work can improve their business etc.

  4. Hobbists, Egor? Surely not Hobbits? ;)

  5. Nice article Kilian.
    1, 3 and 6 look to me the most valuable ones – since if you don’t do like this, *then* you’re done, or at least will suffer innecessarily.

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