Interview with Steven Snell – The lifestyle of a web designer, blogger, and freelance writer

Interview with Steven Snell

1. First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do for a living?

I’m 30 years old and my wife and I live in suburban Philadelphia (in New Jersey). It’s kind of hard to say exactly what I do for a living. I’m a web design, blogger and freelance writer, but I kind of bounce around in terms of the balance between the three. Sometimes I feel like spending more time working on sites for clients, and other times I may put that on hold and dedicate more time to freelance writing. Fortunately, my work allows me some freedom to pick and choose at times.

2. How did these two design blogs start, and what motivated you to create them?

Vandelay Design Blog DesignM.ag

The blog at Vandelay Design started about two years ago. At that time I knew absolutely nothing about blogging. My goal was to put some articles on the site in hopes that the content would help to draw search engine visitors and ultimately lead to some clients. Before too long the blog started drawing way more traffic than I ever expected and I started noticing that many of my readers were other designers rather than people who would be looking to hire a designer. At that point my focus with the blog shifted and I’ve never really used it to directly promote myself or my services, which was my original intent.

DesignM.ag started in July of 2008 because there were some things that I wanted to do with the site that I didn’t feel were completely appropriate at Vandelay Design. Even though I don’t use the blog at Vandelay Design to promote my services, it still is a portfolio site and that comes with some limitations. I wanted to start a more community-oriented site that could include things like a design job board, a gallery, and a news section, in addition to a blog. To me it made more sense to start a new site since there was really a new purpose.

3. Were your blogs always community based? (If they weren’t, how did you begin to create community around them?) How has a sense of community enhanced your websites?

The community at Vandelay Design is actually what got the blog really moving in the right direction. At first I was just using the blog as a way to publish articles, like I said earlier, I really didn’t understand the community aspect of blogging or social media. I started getting some traffic, somewhat unexpectedly, and people started commenting and linking and that is really how I began to learn about blogging. In some ways I feel like the community around the blog was stronger when there were less readers because I would be familiar with most of the commenters and I had more time to visit their sites and interact there as well.

At both Vandelay Design and DesignM.ag the design blogging community is largely responsible for any success that I’ve had. I’ve been fortunate enough to get a lot of great links and meet many awesome people that have allowed the audience at both sites to grow. Without that I don’t think I would still be blogging.

4. I’ve seen you around the blogging community over at Smashing Magazine, FreelanceSwitch, PSDTuts+, and many others. What is the freelance blogging lifestyle like?

Freelance blogging has been great for me. I actually never set out to be a freelance blogger but I was offered a position with Daily Blog Tips after I submitted a guest post and I almost said I wasn’t interested. I decided to give it a chance and I really liked it. It’s a great way to get exposure and links to your own blog, but the best part is that you get to meet some very influential people. It’s been really cool to work with people like Vitaly Friedman from Smashing Magazine and you can learn a lot about what it takes to run a successful blog just from being involved on a small scale. The downside of freelance blogging is that it does take a lot of time if you’re writing detailed posts, and that is time that you lose for working on your own sites. The last few months I’ve really cut back on my freelance writing because I have been focusing on some of my own projects.

5. Where do you find motivation and inspiration for everything you do, from web design to writing?

A lot of my motivation comes from the desire to run a successful business. I worked for several years in typical corporate America jobs and it really made me hate that lifestyle of working for a company that cared nothing about me or my future. So even though those people don’t care and would never really know whether my business is successful or not, I still have the attitude that I’m going to succeed in my own way to show that I don’t need a job from them.

In terms of design inspiration, I get a lot of it from design galleries and blogs. I try to also mix in inspiration from offline sources, but since I spend the majority of my time online I often find myself going there first.

6. To what would you tribute your overall success? Is there anything specifically that helped you become as well-known in the web design community as you are?

Well, I still have a long way to go before I would consider myself to be successful, but whatever success I have been able to have along the way I would attribute to consistent effort and a great network of friends and colleagues. I look back at the first few months of blogging and almost none of my blogging friends from that time are still actively blogging. Most got discouraged and gave up, or realized it just wasn’t that important to them. Blogging for an income takes consistent work, even when things don’t seem encouraging. Once I got my first small taste of blogging success (I literally went from about 10 visitors in one day to a few thousand the next because of an appearance on the Delicious front page) I became determined to grow my blog and that has kept me motivated ever since. I’ve been lucky enough to get some really great readers that have supported my blogs, and getting links and mentions from others in the community has been huge.

7. What advice would you give to anyone just starting out in the field of web design, or freelance blogging?

For web designers my advice is to find what you truly enjoy and follow after that. Some people love freelancing and others prefer working as an employee. And some people want to start a small studio of their own. Even though you may be a designer, those situations are all very different. My advice is to evaluate the differences and see what fits best with your lifestyle and your goals. And also, always be working on your own skills and abilities. I know I have a long way to go as a designer, but at least I can feel good about the fact that I’m moving forward.

For those who are interested in freelance blogging, my advice is to be assertive. If you don’t have much of a profile yet, the freelancing jobs are not likely to find you. Be willing to take the initiative and contact some blog owners about the possibility of writing for them. Taking action always beats not taking action. Also, I would advise freelance bloggers to work on building their own blog(s) at the same time. Constantly writing posts for other blogs can be very draining, and as soon as you stop, the money stops coming as well. By having you own blog that makes some money you will be better off.

New Gallery Sites

Steven has also just started up 5 new gallery sites, so be sure to check them out below. All are a great source for inspiration!

Cart Frenzy

A showcase of excellent e-commerce web design.

Cart Frenzy

Type Inspire

A Showcase of excellent typography design.

Type Inspire

Minimal Exhibit

A showcase of minimalism in web design.

Minimal Exhibit

Folio Focus

A showcase of outstanding portfolio websites.

Folio Focus

Blog Design Heroes

A showcase of excellent blog designs.

Blog Design Heroes

Written By Kayla

Kayla Knight is a 20 year old college student, part-time web developer, freelancer, and blogger. Webitect is where she spends too much of her freetime, sharing interesting finds and valuable resources. Be sure to check out her portfolio.

3 Comments

  1. BloggerDaily

    June 17th, 2009 at 01:14 am

    Wow. That’s inspiring.

    I’m still in learning process on how to create a wordpress theme. It’s a good way to get great traffic and publicity.

  2. Liesl

    June 17th, 2009 at 05:27 pm

    Wow, this is quite inspiring. Great interview, Kayla. :)

  3. Kayla

    June 17th, 2009 at 08:03 pm

    It was just as inspiring to me, too. I love that he’s a blogger and designer–thats something I’d very much like to do. It sometimes seems like I should be picking one or the other and focusing on it, but it’s hopeful to see someone else doing it successfully.