It takes time to build a successful business, so manage your own expectations, and make a commitment to see it through to the end. Use these guidelines to get rolling and start your web design business off on the right foot.
Let’s get started!
Editor’s note: Starting a web design business? Join Ecowebzim to securely manage all your client sites and Ecowebzim accounts from a single dashboard. Sign up for free.
1. Set up your work environmentGet ready to start your own web design business by setting up your work environment.
Create your very own workspace that enables work/life balanceEntrepreneurs know the work/life balance struggle is real.
To minimize that struggle, create a dividing line between work and the rest of your life, starting with a dedicated space that allows you to get work done, uninterrupted. Set and enforce boundaries, including rules ensuring your space is left untouched, and that you are given time to work.
- Carve out space for your at-home office — whether it’s a full room, or just a desk in the corner, and set boundaries around others using it.
- Work with other residents, such as your family or roommates, to establish guidelines around work time including working hours, and how to handle or avoid interruptions.
- Stock your office supply station so you’re never caught without printer paper, labels, folders, or any other supplies you regularly depend on to get your work done.
- Identify just a few stores where you can consolidate business purchasing, and set up accounts that earn rewards or rebates.
Consider how best to pace yourself, and be more productive each day.
Know your contingency planPower or internet service outages are a crisis for those who work at home.
Know where you can park for a few hours, with an available wireless network and table space.
- Two to three local coffee shops at varying distances, as a power failure, might extend further than your neighborhood
- The closest library (confirm open days/hours)
- Coworking locations (confirm open days/hours and fees)
Invest in solid and capable hardware and softwareYou’re a web professional, so it’s critical to consider the right tools for creating graphics, modifying photos, and documenting your work:
- Buy the best computer you can afford. Get an external monitor, a printer, and a scanner.
- If you’ll be taking photos to use on client websites, consider buying a dedicated camera.
- Know how you’ll continue working in the event of a computer catastrophe, such as keeping a second computer for backup.
- Figure out which software you’ll need. If you’re not sure, many offer 30-day free trials. The first candidate on your list should be Adobe Creative Cloud.
- For subscription services, figure out what plan level you need. For example, Ecowebzim offers bundles of specific features for managing larger groups of sites.
- Don’t forget ongoing costs for other cloud apps like accounting software, video calls, and remote computer access.
Keep simplicity and scale in mind when choosing your techLook for tech solutions that offer the features and capabilities you’ll need later on. Keep in mind:
Simplified workflows. Look for tools that minimize steps per task.
Product trials. Spend time working with the tech before you commit.
Scaling with success. The more successful you are, the more projects you’ll need to manage.
Transferring ownership. For example, you may cover web hosting costs or other fees on behalf of your clients. Know how you’ll transfer ownership if costs need to move to the client.
Know exactly how you’ll get paidNail down the details about requesting and receiving money before any billable work is done.
Define your invoicing processes and policies including invoice creation, delivery, and due dates relative to invoicing dates.
Clarify how you will accept payment, including checks, credit cards, and online systems such as Paynow or ZIPIT.
Set expectations around deposits, penalties for late payments, and consequences when invoices go unpaid.
Know how you will pay yourself. Will you receive a set salary on a regular schedule or asynchronous payments based on income?
Work with a mentorTaking the leap into a new tech-based career can be simultaneously exhilarating and intimidating, whether you’re a new college grad or making a mid-life career transition.
Mentoring works for everyone as a means to build confidence, enhance skills, and set achievable goals.
When moving from employee to freelancer, a mentor who’s already made that transition can impart wisdom only gained through experience.
2. Decide on your products and servicesDefine your services, productize them, and set a price point for monthly recurring revenue.
Clarify your service offeringsFor example, you might offer any or all of the following:
- Complete website design and development
- Site redesigns or rebuilds
- Website maintenance or management services
- Managed web hosting
- Content creation
- Social media management
- Online advertising
- Email marketing
“Productize” your services to create recurring revenueRecurring revenue should be part of every web designer’s monthly income.
Recurring revenue succeeds when you’re providing recurring value. Turning your services into a product that works on a short-term but renewable basis is key.
You can earn recurring revenue by selling your services as a value product that people subscribe to.
You define exactly what you do, what the value is, and how much it costs each month.
This removes a lot of the waste from the traditional service business model, such as design revisions, project management, account management, invoicing, and chasing payments.
It’s automatic money coming in every month, without requiring you to constantly be in the mode of selling.
Price to be profitableIt’s preferable to charge for value instead of time, so you’ll want to figure out which pricing model (e.g., hourly or project-based billing) is best for your web design business.
Defining a per-project price avoids conversations about how every last minute is spent, and price negotiations based on specific features or items clients may feel are not important.
Keep in mind:
- Review pricing models of other web designers. Your goal is to be competitive without giving away the store — but don’t scare off clients based on price. Beware of underpricing your services.
- Feel free to use hourly rates to estimate the project cost, but don’t feel obligated to share that information.
- Remember that you have to cover your own vacation time, sick days, benefits, retirement, taxes, and the other expenses of running a business.
- Consider the fees associated with taking online payments.
- Add in project costs such as plugins, software licenses, copywriting, stock images, etc.
- You need to cover the cost of business development, or finding more work.
- What you charge is not just about meeting your expenses: you need to make a profit as well.
- Analyze the market demand and what the competition is providing at what costs. Priced competitively, in a way that provides value but would also be fair to you and your goals.
3. Name your web design companyYour name plays an important role in attracting customers and clients, submitting legal documents to form your business, and selecting a domain for your business website. Therefore, naming your web design company takes thoughtful consideration and planning.
Consider your long-term business goals when deciding whether to use a “business” name (Web Awesome Agency of Washington) or your personal name (John Doe Design).
Do you see yourself transitioning to an agency, or staying a freelancer and growing your personal brand? Will potential clients view you as “just a freelancer” and expect lower rates, vs. the professionalism that an agency name/structure implies?
Do you see web services as the end goal, or do you want to use them to elevate a personal brand into another field, such as public speaking, teaching, or writing books?
Is this a temporary solution in order to gain experience for a full-time gig? If you enjoy working with a company but need to be on your own at the moment, using your own name continues to promote your availability as a freelancer.
Are you 100% certain about the services you will offer? If not, avoid putting specifics in your business name.
In summary, here’s when to use a business name:
- You see yourself transitioning from a single freelancer to an agency.
- You’re switching careers and need to establish a brand name different from your personal name.
- You’re forming a legal entity such as an LLC or an S-Corp (if in the U.S.) and want to protect and distance your personal identity.
- You’re leveraging your name for SEO.
- You see yourself as a sole freelancer and would accept a full-time position in your skillset if offered.
- You intend to grow a personal brand to build credibility (speaking engagements, books, online courses).
Take action and register your domainOnce you’ve identified your perfect name, be sure to register your domain right away.
Try to get a .com, but also consider variations and other extensions. Register A Domain
4. Write your business planYour business plan should:
- Define your business vision and identity.
- Set financial goals and targets.
- Include your product's pricing options.
- Set long-term goals around new products/services.
- Estimate your expected expenses and income.
- Define your ideal clients.
Solicit social proofWhen it comes to attracting new clients, few things are more powerful than social proof.
Getting good testimonials is about delivering value before you ask, and then time your request.
If you have over-delivered on value, offered a service that really solves their problem, provided exceptional customer service, and made customers feel like you’re there for them, then they’re usually happy to give you a good testimonial. Best to ask immediately after the project is done, as soon as they have begun getting value from your work.
5. Craft your brand to tell your compelling storyYour brand starts with a logo and color scheme, but beyond that, it’s about the messaging connecting you to your target audience, and it affects buying behavior.
Let your “voice” represent your values, your strengths, your style.
Young and trendy, or mature and experienced? Serious or whimsical? Luxury service or economical alternative?
Your brand is unique, so tell a compelling story that makes clients want to hire you instead of your competitors. Identify your unique selling proposition (USP) to have ready answers to these questions:
- Why should I hire you instead of your competitor?
- What makes you a better solution?
- Why should I hire a solo freelancer instead of an agency?
Create marketing collateralStart with business cards, flyers or brochures, and any giveaways that get — and keep — your name in front of potential clients.
6. Build your online presenceYou’re proud of your work-time to showcase it to the world with a website and social media presence that attract your ideal clients!
Take time to connect with your audience on social and build a comprehensive marketing strategy.
Create a website for your new businessCreate the vehicle that showcases your work, shows your product/service offering, demonstrates the value you provide, and covers your policies.
Nothing tells your story better than your portfolio of completed work.
If you don’t have much-completed work to highlight, consider building a few volunteer sites to beef up your portfolio.
It’s OK to start small, but continue building out and improving your site in the background. As you finish with pages or sections, publish and test the site with your potential customers: feedback is key.
As a minimum, your site should include:
- Your story
- Contact information
- Services provided
- Testimonials and/or success stories
- Optionally, a free download that helps you acquire contacts for your mailing list
Establish social media connectionsSet up social media accounts, and consider whether you want business profiles separated from your personal profiles.
Focus your efforts on the few best platforms for reaching your target audience, and work them effectively. Confirm which platforms your audience is most likely to spend time on, based on demographics such as age, gender, geographic location.
Get customers to your websiteGetting potential customers to your site requires a marketing strategy.
Use tools such as Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, and Email Marketing to raise awareness about your business and products.
7. Find your first clients
Focus on a nicheYou don’t want to be known as just a generic “web designer.”
In order to showcase your expertise, consider specializing, whether based on the types of clients you take, or the types of projects you do.
Specializations could focus on market space, geographic area, or a particular type of sites, such as eCommerce or membership management. Communicate your niche throughout your materials.
Your sweet spot is the intersection of both your skills and your passions.
That’s where you want to spend most of your time, so if an activity is not in that sweet spot, consider delegating, automating, or deleting it from your task list.
The benefit of spending all your time doing your best work is that the work quality tends to be higher, the outcome for your clients tends to be better, and you’re happier — which is good for avoiding burnout.
Know your audienceOnce you’ve identified your sweet spot, ask yourself, “Who stands to benefit the most from working with me when I’m doing my best work?”
Customer satisfaction is critical to the success of a web design business.
Even more critical is your own satisfaction. Engaging with web design clients who are the right fit for you is one way to facilitate that.
- Describe your ideal client, including attributes such as geography, culture, entity size/type, products/services offered, or audience served.
- Know your evaluation criteria, including financial expectations, technical considerations, location, size, length of engagement, the potential for ongoing work, partnership potential, strategic positioning within your portfolio, and even personality fit.
- Have an evaluation strategy that allows you to quickly rule out mismatches, make exceptions, suggest alternatives, and if it’s not a good fit, execute a speedy-yet-graceful exit plan.
Strategize to find clientsYou may ask “How do I find new clients?” as if they are hiding. In fact, clients are not hiding from us; they are waiting to be served. The trick is finding them.
Business development is an ongoing process to ensure there’s always work coming in the door. It’s not just something you do when you need new clients, but an always-there task.
Tips that can help you find clients:
- Consistently do your best work and collaborate on projects where there is a shared vision.
- Leverage your existing network: let everyone know what you’re up to, post on your personal social media profiles, ask friends and family to share and send referrals.
- Create a lead magnet, an item of value that you can offer your target audience, in exchange for their email address (e.g., a free download, checklist, or form). Building your email list results is a way to provide ongoing communication and outreach.
- Use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management Tool) to keep track of who you contact, the results of that contact, and potential future follow-up opportunities.
Having your talking points at the ready means you’re prepared when you meet potential clients in unlikely venues, including the gym, Starbucks, or at a concert.
- Identify how and where you’ll find and meet prospective clients.
- Carry business cards with you at all times.
- Develop an advertising strategy.
- Craft your elevator pitch.
- Have a ready response to requests for discounts, such as from nonprofit organizations or friends and family.
- Determine whether referrals deserve compensation, such as a token thank-you gift or credit toward future work.
Are you ready to start a web design business?Considering the pros and cons of starting a web design company is the right move for you.
- There will always be demand for websites, as new businesses get started, and established organizations want to up their game.
- The work is fun, creative, and you’ll learn from working with many types of clients and businesses.
- The work can be done from anywhere and allows you to flexibly balance family or personal needs.
- You can get started without a formal degree, and use specialty certifications and training to raise your expertise level and be better prepared.
- You can expand your business over time, by offering complimentary services as you gain expertise.
- In a rapidly evolving field, you can’t rest on your laurels. You’ll need to stay current on new trends and technologies.
- Precisely for the reasons listed above, there’s a lot of competition, as many are anxious to get into the field.
- You may be working alone at your computer for long stretches of time, so will need to change your lifestyle to increase outside interaction.
Don’t quit your day job yet!No one becomes a successful web designer overnight.
Plan to spend a few years improving your technical skills, then start charging for your services, and continue to develop a stable revenue stream.
Remember that you won’t just be doing production work. You’ll also be the salesperson, bookkeeper, project manager, and account coordinator.
These skills don’t come from online courses or from attending a fast-track coding school; they’re learned through hands-on experience over time.
To summarize the main steps in the process:
- If you’ve determined you’re ready to start a web design business, set up your work environment and build your support squad.
- Focus on business planning by writing your business plan, addressing legal and administrative issues, defining your brand, identifying your perfect clients and how you’ll connect with them, and clarifying your product and service offerings at a profitable price.
- Create infrastructure and processes for working with clients, including proposals, contracts, project management, communication, and launching their beautiful new website — designed by you!
- And finally, establish your online presence and let the world know you’re ready to work.
Got questions or concerns? Feel free to reply below and the community will be happy to assist.