Today, I have a rare opportunity to interview one of the biggest guy in the design industry, Steven Snell. Steven Snell is founder of DesignM.ag, and owner of Vandelay Design and Vandelay Premier. He has also wrote in some high profile design sites, sucah as Smashing Magazine, Freelance Switch, Psdtuts+, and WebdesignerDepot. In April 2010, Steven sold his blog, DesignM.ag with a spectacular price, $50.000. Now Steven is starting a new project in Vandelay Premier.
1. Hi Steven, thanks a lot for taking the time to do interview. Let’s start with short introduction of yourself. Where are you from? What is your background? What do you do for living? How long have you been active in this field?
You’re welcome Mohammad. Thank you for the opportunity. I currently live in Pennsylvania (USA), I moved from New Jersey a few months ago. I run Vandelay Design, which now includes Vandelay Premier. I started Vandelay Design about 3 or 4 years ago and I did some part-time design work, mostly for friends and family, before that.
2. You use to work a full time job and now you have a career as a freelance designer. Plus, your background is not design. How hard was it to make this decision? What is your advice to anyone who wants to start freelancing?
That’s right. I actually worked full time as an auditor for several years and I began doing some part-time design and blogging work before quiting the job to go full-time. I got started with web design as more of a hobby but I really saw a lot of opportunity, not only with design but with online business in general. After working for a few years as an employee I had a strong desire to work on my own, and the combination of web design and blogging made that possible.
It wasn’t really a difficult decision to quit my full-time job. I was making pretty good money from my part-time work, enough that I was confident that I could make the jump without very much financial risk. My advice to others is to start freelancing part-time while you still have a full-time job, if possible. It takes a lot of the pressure away since you don’t have to start making significant money right away, and when you are ready you can make the move to full-time.
3. As a full time freelancer, what do you like most? What is the challenges compared to full time job?
The things I like the most are the flexibility and the endless possibilities. I earn a living through a combination of client work, ad sales on my blog, and now recently through the membership program at Vandelay Premier. So most days I get to chose what I will be working on, rather than having a boss tell me what needs to be done. I’m able to travel and still work (right now I am typing this interview from a hotel room), and most importantly, I am in control of my future and my earning potential. As an employee I was limited to small raises and advancement was only possible when a position opened up. The last year or so of my employment was when the economy started to decline, so it was frustrating to get a great review from my boss only to get a tiny raise because the company was limiting raises to all employees. I like having more control over what I earn, and I have much more motivation to work hard and do the best job possible.
The challenges for me are maintaining a healthy work/life balance. It’s easy to work really long hours but that is not a good habit to develop. Another challenge is time management. I have a lot of different things going on at once but I still need to find time for tasks involved with running the business, like handling finances or working on long-term plans for the business. I also have to keep improving my skills, and it’s often hard to find time to follow tutorials or just experiment on my own.
4. How many sites do you run today? How you manage time to run all those sites?
I run Vandelay Design and Vandelay Premier, plus I also have a network of 8 sites that includes 6 galleries that are updated almost every day. I actually just listed that network of 8 sites on Flippa, so hopefully they will be sold soon. Finding time for everything is not easy, and that’s why I have decided to sell those sites and have all of my time to focus on Vandelay Design and Vandelay Premier. About 4 months ago I also sold DesignM.ag, which is a blog that I started 2 years ago. I sold that because I was just about to launch Vandelay Premier and I need all of the time I could get.
5. Based on your experience running some big blogs, what is the secret to a successful blog? Not just popular but also profitable blog.
I think the keys to buidling a successful/popular blog is to focus on the content, and to put in a consistent effort. I’ve seen many blogs over the past few years that had plenty of potential, but the blogger lost interest or didn’t have patience. Building a blog takes time, especially if you are doing all of the work yourself and not spending money on advertising. You’ll have to put in a lot of work before you start to see the rewards, but once it starts to pay off it will be worth the wait.
For building a profitable blog, I think one of the keys is not to try too much monetizing too soon. At the Vandelay Design blog I didn’t start selling advertising until I had over 100,000 visitors per month. At that point it was really easy to sell the ads because there were a lot of advertisers who were interested but hadn’t been able to buy ads before. I think it’s also important to step back and look at the possibilities every now and then. Don’t just get stuck in the habit of only having banner ad sales as your only monetization method. Take some time to think about other ways that you could monetize the site and be willing to experiment.
6. If you have to choose between being a designer or a blogger, what will be it be? Why?
I’d probably say designer, but I would prefer to be able to work on my own projects as well as designing for clients. Blogging is fun, but it’s not always easy to have something to post about.
7. I noticed that you focus on church website design and I believe you are a religious person. Does religious is a strong factor in your success?
My faith (I am a Christian) is a factor in everything I do. I try to work hard and trust God with the details, and He has always provided for me.
8. Final question. Can you share advice to people who would like to follow your success?
My advice is to work hard and don’t give up. Like I mentioned earlier, I have seen a number of bloggers (in the design niche as well as plenty of other niches) who have a lot of potential, but they are not willing to put in the work that it takes to be successful. If blogging or design is only a hobby for you, that is great, just enjoy it. But if you want to make it your career, don’t let a slow start discourage you, keep working to improve yourself and you will get there. Even now that I have a career that I really enjoy, I have endless amounts of things that I need to improve upon. I just try to focus on always improving.
You can find Steven Snell in these sites:
Thank you for your time. I hope your experience helps our local community here. We don’t have many local design blog here, so this interview will be a great resource for us.