Interview with Website of the Month winner Ben Newton | Heart Internet Blog – Focusing on all aspects of the web

October’s Website of the Month winner was freelance web designer and developer Ben Newton. We caught up with Ben to discuss his success, the art of designing websites and how to get the most out of being a freelancer.  

Tell us a bit about yourself and your business.

Well, my name is Ben Newton, I'm 22 and I'm from a little place called Eccles in Manchester. By complete chance, I introduced myself to the web design industry at a young age, I was about 9 years old at the time, through a PC game called Delta Force: Land Warrior. It was a brilliant game in its heyday, and through the desire to create our gaming-'clan' website my passion for all things website design was forged. As soon as I was able to manipulate technology and discovered there was a publicly accessible language behind it, I had to get stuck in. I started with HTML and CSS, moving on to JavaScript, jQuery and eventually to PHP and beyond.

At the age of 15, a company came into our school called humanutopia (see Their work is centred around giving young people a voice, breaking down barriers to learning and creating harmony amongst school kids. Given the opportunity by the two inspiring directors, Graham and Carlo, I was to create a website for them. This was my first paid contract and from this moment on I knew that I was destined to follow this path. I've always been thankful to Graham and Carlo for providing me with the opportunity to grow.

More recently, I have been working full-time as a freelance website designer, trading as BN Freelance in the Manchester area. I've had the opportunity to work with some brilliant clients all around the UK as well as abroad and I'm truly grateful that every day brings a new and exciting challenge. I eat, sleep and live for website design and I've always found my motivating factor to be passion as opposed to the money. That's why freelancing was the right choice for me.

How have you used your website to make yourself stand out from other web designers?

Early on, I noticed a lot of web designers (and agency) portfolios were rather systematic in their approach, being your typical homepage, about us, services, portfolio and contact page. I wanted to do something a little different that pushed my boundaries at the time in order to encourage me to continue learning. My favourite thing about the web design industry is we're all students; nobody knows it all, technology is improving and new techniques are always being invented. It's all exciting stuff!

You design websites for a wide range of clients. How would you describe your approach to working with people to help them reach their online potential?

Graham and Carlo sure taught me some lessons for life. One of the earlier memories I have when first meeting them is a phrase they had coined; “Communication + Relationship = Growth”. They had run a course at my school demonstrating how the three elements are connected and, without one, the others cannot exist. That being said, I truly believe that transparent, honest and fair communication lies at the core of every successful business relationship. I like to think that by taking this approach, we're able to truly define the brief and work together to reach a solution that we're both very happy with.

What advice would you give to someone who’s considering becoming a freelance web designer?

The biggest learning curve I've faced in my time as a freelance web designer and life in general is learning to say no and/or price fairly (for myself). In my earlier days, I used to try to win contracts by bidding really low. I'd always be overworking and underpaid. Because of that, my work suffered and so did my enthusiasm, drive, and design portfolio.

If you want to win clients of higher quality, your portfolio should reflect that, so it's very important that you don't under price yourself in order to win work when starting out. Stand your ground and you'll soon attract the clients you want to work with. I far too often hear stories of freelancers giving up because they couldn't pay the bills. Your skills are valuable to a business who doesn't want to hire somebody permanently!

The best advice I can give is, if you want to, do it, and don't let anything hold you back. Working for myself was one of the best and most rewarding decisions I ever made.

How did you arrive at choosing the design for your website and how was it achieved?

It was a couple of years back when I was watching my friend play a game called Minecraft. The concept of digging and interacting with your environment really appealed to me and the light bulb came on in my head. It is a culmination of many weeks of late nights and heavy coding in order to translate my imagination to the screen.

What advice would you give to someone designing their own website for the first time?

Have fun, be passionate and never get bored of it. Allow yourself the time and have the patience to learn. Slowly but surely, I guarantee you will pick it up and the bug will bite you.

In terms of inspiration, I often find myself using galleries like awwwards, cssdesignawards or cssawards and websites like colorlovers are fantastic for finding colour schemes to work with.

You provide content across a variety of channels including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and more. How do you view social media and what benefits does it have for your site?

Social media is a fantastic tool that I think every business can benefit from. It works wonders for your Search Engine Optimisation and is a god send for web traffic.

Maintaining a constant stream of traffic, whilst attracting visitors from all kinds of backgrounds and sources, means you can get a good breadth of audience sample. I generally find that the online habits of each kind of social network user differ and because of that you can tailor your content for each.

Applications like Buffer make my life heaven, as I'm able to post or queue-up my content and the app takes care of the rest by publishing it to all of my social profiles at staged intervals. So, because Buffer is always drip-feeding my social networks – I'm free to get on with my work!

What tips would you give for someone creating an online portfolio of their work?

Although there's a lot of debate around the technicalities, such as which CMS to use or whether jQuery is the anti-christ or not, I believe your portfolio shouldn't worry too much about these arguments. Instead, I think a good portfolio demonstrates to a client, or non-technical user, what *is* possible on the web. Personality screams at any user browsing the web and will win their attention, so be sure to pump loads of your own into your portfolio.

Why did you choose to host your website with Heart Internet?

I've been with Heart Internet for nearly seven years now, and in that time I've had nothing but impeccable customer service and a brilliant all-round experience. I was only young at the time when I bought my first domain from Heart Internet. Although, luckily, search engines do get it right when you ask them who the best web host in the UK is!

How would you like to see your business develop in the future?

I hope to one day be in the position to employ other freelancers and pass on lots of work. I'm not sure whether I'd like to formally register an agency, as I quite like the personal approach I'm able to take in being a freelancer. I'm rather hopeful that my business and web design skills will continue to grow long into the future. I also plan to attend many more events and conferences which will allow me to network with many of the brilliant media companies we share the industry with.

I certainly envisage myself giving a little bit back to the community and I've even been looking at ways of introducing local school kids to web design, as I know the opportunities at that age are rather minimal, unless by chance discovery like in my case.

My favourite part of the web design industry is the spontaneous nature of our work, with no two days being the same. I look forward to seeing what tomorrow brings.


Please remember that all comments are moderated and any links you paste in your comment will remain as plain text. If your comment looks like spam it will be deleted. We're looking forward to answering your questions and hearing your comments and opinions!

Got a question? Explore our Support Database. Start a live chat*.
Or log in to raise a ticket for support.
*Please note: you will need to accept cookies to see and use our live chat service