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This is my first time on this site. Here's the problem.

I've been designing since I graduated from college and have been for 4 years. After I graduated, I had my first client, who I grossly undercharge on top of doing many unbillable hours where money was based on promises. I designed the website. Later, the partners dissolved along with the website. I didn't do a backup of it, so it no longer exists.

My second client, again, undercharged, and started down the wrong road of doing unbillable hours. The client didn't have knowledge of WordPress and I wasn't training without pay. She decided to change the website from WordPress to WIX (which now it looks absolutely terrible. It's complete junk, but that's her business). Again, I didn't back it up so I have nothing. I honestly didn't think that anything would ever happen to these website, therefore, I didn't think to back them up. In hindsight, many issues occurred with their website where things were almost lost, but it still didn't hit me to do a full back up.

The problem. After all of those hours of work, I now have nothing to show for it. I have a client who want me to do a website (a family member no less). I quoted almost 4 figures. I'm at that point where I'm tired of undercharging, working for pennies, and disgracing the design industry. He of course is reluctant. Why wouldn't he be? I have nothing to show that I can do work worth that much.

I feel like I have two choices. Start from the bottom again or throw in the towel and just forget it. I'm that discouraged. What should I do? Any advice?

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    have you tried the wayback machine ( archive.org ) - there are old versions of websites there from the beginnings of the internet. Look up your old clients' URLs and see if copies exist that you can screencap. – Voxwoman Mar 6 '15 at 3:48
  • Voxwoman's suggestion is a good one. Also it's good to know, and now you do, to never delete anything you make. I myself keep all files and screenshots. Another thing you can do is try to contact the people you made the websites for and see if they still have the old site, and maybe be willing to share it with you. – poepje Mar 10 '15 at 19:39
  • P.s. don't give up too easily, if you still like making websites. You'll get there. – poepje Mar 10 '15 at 19:41
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These are more questions than answers, but asked in the spirit of answering your question.

Do you still have visuals elements of the websites you created? Do yo have mock-ups, visualizations, screenshots, etc? If so, you could use them to create a portfolio, even if the site is not live anymore. You could even animate them to convey the mood of the sites, although it is not necessary.

Sites go offline, or get updated or change hands, so it is always a good idea to keep those visuals for future references. Mind you, if you only have those 2 sites to backup your experience, it is going to be difficult building a portfolio that looks convincing.

Do you have any other design work you could add to your portfolio? It does not need to be web design necessarily. Most designers nowadays design for many different media.

  • I do have the screen shots of the websites. I just assumed that clients would want to see how they worked. I also have the other projects I did for them. Such as business cards and logos. – Lydia Shoto Mar 6 '15 at 0:53
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    It would be better if they can see how they worked, but this happens all the time. Clients change their mind and change their websites, so building a portfolio around a site over which you have no control is always risky. I would just use what you have, make it look as professional as possible and explain that the clients moved on for reasons out of your control. I would not explain the problems you had with the previous clients either, since it might set the new clients in a worrisome mindset. – cockypup Mar 6 '15 at 1:02
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    Ok. But for future reference, should I back up a copy and have the websites linked to my own server where others can see how it operates and have it lead to www.mycompany.com/myclient? That way, it wouldn't matter if they got rid of it. I will always have it live. – Lydia Shoto Mar 6 '15 at 1:33
  • Of course, that would be awesome, as long as your client is OK with it. But remember that browsers get updated as well, and that often breaks the sites. So even if you have them backed up, I would suggest having screenshots of them so you don't have to keep updating them all the time. – cockypup Mar 6 '15 at 1:42
  • Ok. Thank you so much for your insight. You have calmed me down. Haha! – Lydia Shoto Mar 6 '15 at 1:58
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I have another suggestion
Start creating a portfolio. You don't need clients for that. Just start designing. You'll be surprised how fast it goes without clients.
Don't program websites, don't design every screen and every hover and verification, just 5-6 beautiful screens per project. Even if it's not for "real clients" it will show your abilities, your style and that you have good taste.
Set 2-3 websites and 2-3 apps in a cargo collective website or any other good platform (cargo is my personal favourite) and you'll have a fairly good portfolio, that is definitely better than nothing!

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Well not to be rude but I think you will know next time to make a backup. Always try to keep backup even up to five years if a client calls you and says hey remember me I want to order X like you did before. To add to cockypup's answer its going to be hard to bill four figures when you have nothing to show for it. I would advise knocking out some ideas for basic sites. Nothing really CMS driven right now unless you are pitching that but I would do some sites such as:

  • mobile first responsive site
  • single landing page
  • single responsive landing page
  • user interface website
  • contact form landing page
  • eCommerce website
  • Mobile eCommerce website

I hope you have have a portfolio website and your own domain. If you do then make sure to backup the sites, create a subdomain with a no follow and link the functioning code to it. I wouldn't nick pick your details right now because you need live sites, you can always go back and tailor or fine tune it down the pipe or even go to a CMS version of it later. So you can either go two ways with this.. Walk away and look at it as a life lesson or take this opportunity and freely design for yourself.

I would not get over worked on the design. In the wireframe/mockup phase I would do quick sketches and limit your time. If you dont, also take this time to design in the browser. Code a functioning prototype in black and white. You could even swing that as an idea of a possible site in a portfolio. If you do go this route make sure to have fun!

If you are only a designer then there are plenty of mockups you could do in regards to mobile, laptop, desktop, angled, etc. etc. If you have access to After Effects or Photoshop you can animate functionality in your design if you dont know how to code:

enter image description here

enter image description here

If you're wanting to know how to make something like this we have a great question by Joonas on it from How to create animated GIFs of prototype mockups, like the ones on Dribbble?

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