What are you designing?
More than likely, as most people do, you assume that web designing involves designing web pages for a living and you are both right and wrong about this at the same time. Of course you will as a web designer be designing web pages somewhere along the way but you are not by any means restricted to only this. Even if you were there is far more to it than just laying out a page. Your main concern if you are designing web pages is usability. A web page is not the same as a magazine in that it is interactive. You will still have to make the page in a way that visually stimulates the user but the main thing is going to be making sure that the information is clear direct and readily available at the click of a button. Websites need to be easy to use and obvious in there navigation otherwise people will get either bored, or frustrated, or both quickly, and leave your site. Bearing this in mind your skill set then, should be more of an interaction, or interface designer, than that of a static designer who would be more concerned with wow factor from first glance than usability at second look. Another thing to consider is that the layout of the page and subsequent pages is going to require a lot of art working which will be things like background images, texture effects, buttons, headers and other branding elements that will help bring the site to life and give it a certain personality. The next thing to consider is moving or dynamic elements of a page with which the user may be able to interact with, or could be a short animation or moving part of the site like a rollover button etc. Then there is the world of social media and communication. It is common nowadays for a website to have social media built into the page so that the publisher can put up to date information on the site regularly without having to worry about complicated CMS clients. You might see an RSS feed button or a live blog posting built into the site. You can also design Facebook business pages, and custom blogs to match the companies branding, so there is growing demand for these types of skills. Email is the most common communicative device used in business today and the fancy interactive newsletters that you receive are also part of the web design remit.
Where will you be getting this work from?
Probably the most important thing to consider is who will be paying you? If you are a freelancer and I mean the kind that literally bangs on doors and gets there own clients then the answer for you will be simple. Your clients that you secured will be the ones paying you, and how much you make will be down to how much you charge so you will have to be careful not to price yourself out of the market or sell yourself too short. Seeing as this is the trade you are in you should also know that the internet is your friend. It will be your livelihood and income source at the same time if you play your cards right.
For example the web designer of today can do a lot to make money on the side selling website templates. Market place sites like http://themeforest.net/ and http://www.templamatic.com/ make it really easy for you to earn royalties on every sale of the template that you make. This way also you get an accumulative income from your designs rather than the one off payment you could expect from a purely bespoke design you may have done for a client. There are numerous other websites that will allow you to sell vector images like Icons you may have created or buttons left over from previous projects.
Whilst we are still on the topic of making money online I may as well bring up another model such as http://www.crowdspring.com/ which works similarly to a competition brief. You pick the project and then submit your design idea to the company and should they choose yours as there favourite you get the money that was offered for the project which is usually around 650 pounds for a small website under 4 pages. This might seem like a waste of time considering you are not guaranteed to win but you can always replace any branded elements like logos with generic images and then sell them as templates on the previously mentioned market places if you don't win. So overall it isn't the worst idea in the world and can be great fun just for practice if you are new and need to try out working on live briefs.
You can also use social networking to your advantage and piggyback other people projects because often in the world of web design the developer and the designer need to work hand in hand. In groups and forums and social networks like linked in you will often find advertisements from developers looking for designers to help them finish a project so depending on your skill level and negotiating tactics you may be able to gain work via this method.
If you are not thinking of freelancing at all then you are probably going to be one of two things and that is a designer who works for a creative studio, or designer who works for an agency. If you are a designer who works for a studio then you will be part of a small team working on whatever it takes to get the project done for the client gained by the studio. The same applies to working through an agency except you may not be required on site at all as you will effectively be a freelancer albeit one with access to a regular stream of work. Or the other thing that I haven't mentioned is being an in-house designer. If you take on a massive project such as a football clubs website for example then this is going to need constant care and attention and you will most likely be hired to take care of all the web and graphical needs for the duration of its lifetime which can be a rewarding or limiting experience depending on your viewpoint.
How will you get there?
I said when I started this blog that I would try to give advice that was based on my experiences and had some real world application and so I appreciate that the above mentioned things could be a little too vague to have any real value. But what I will say is this. I have tried most of these things out for myself and none of them are easy, they take a while to get into and a few attempts to get any return so you will have to have some patience.
I went to college and studied multimedia and at that point had no real understanding of web design even though I was taught a little bit about dreamweaver as part of a unit somewhere along the way. When I finally got to university to study graphic design my course was so based in conceptual and historical knowledge about graphic design that any technical knowledge had to be gained in extra workshops and outside learning of my own. This still wasn't enough knowledge to do anything to a commercial standard with so I went and did a few internships but most of them didn't teach me anything and expected me to know everything already so I only really got to understand what web design was all about by building one for myself as a portfolio website. In that short space of time I began to understand why people often say that web designers should have a working knowledge of HTML and CSS because without it you simply cannot understand what your design is asking of the developer and some things are simply not feasible at all. My advice therefore is to learn how to build websites by building them for you and your friends or whatever. The internet is full of learning and you won't need to do a degree in order to find out what you need to know. Just do it and then you will have a portfolio that will land you some paid clients wether that be through online marketplaces or asking around is irrelevant. The key thing here is to produce work and keep on perfecting your skills. The way the world is now everybody wants a website so you won't have a hard time finding work.