There has never been a better time to start a web design business. Although the western world’s economy is stagnant and demand flat the opportunities for entrepreneurs are enormous. If you have a passion and love for the internet, you can do it.
You don’t need a lot (in fact you just need a laptop, phone, electrical supply and decent internet connection) but here’s what I’ve learned in the last few years.
In order to have a successful web design business you need to attract good clients. Trust me, the attitude of “any client is a good client” will not get you very far. By all means, give the same great service to all clients both big and small, but you will need regular and quality work and you are more likely to get this from quality clients. And “quality clients” are usually – but not always – from quality companies.
Either way, you need to look, talk and act professionally at all times. You will never get anywhere by being “cheap and cheerful”.
- Open your own business bank account with your business’s name. If you set yourself up as a freelance, you’ll earn a freelance wage. The bigger and more professional your company looks, the better it will be for you.
- Design your own logo. I’ve found designing my own logo to be one of the hardest jobs ever but it has to be done. Put this logo everywhere: on your invoices; your contracts; in your email signature.
- Purchase a domain and use it for your website and email address. If you want to be taken seriously you must purchase you own domain (from GoDaddy or NameCheap, for example) and then have an email address which is firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Build your own website advertising your services. You will need to spend a lot of time on this. I would advocate using WordPress for your business website and use a blog to attract business.
The paint is never dry on a designer’s logo or website. You should be continually looking for ways to improve your website as it is the hub of your brand. If you haven’t started blogging then start now. Write about what you do – it’s a fantastic way to get clients from long tail keyword searches.
Getting clients and establishing a steady work flow is the hardest and most important challenge your web design business will face. Your best clients are your current clients as you will find people will come back to you after you’ve done a good job for them. But, how do you start the ball rolling?
- Attract clients through your website. This is the best way to do it. Work hard on SEO and building links to your website. Vary both the type of links as well as the anchor text. Make sure all your online activity points back to your website. Nurture your relationships with other designers as well as with potential clients online.
- Get work through social media. To be honest, I have never got much work from Twitter or LinkedIn, however I have found developing relationships on social media with designers and other professionals indispensable in terms of what it’s taught me.
- Meet potential clients offline by joining professional groups. As much as I’ve had great success getting clients online, you can never beat face-to-face interaction. It may take you a while to find out which where your potential clients will be hanging out but the Meetup website can help.
- 3rd party sites. I’ve never been a big fan of these sites and I certainly don’t use them myself but other people do so I will mention a few here. Try PeoplePerHour, oDesk and Elance.
The best network is your network. Most business comes from contacts you already have. But constantly strive to attract potential clients by performing well in the search engines for certain keywords.
You may like to read my survey on how designers work, how they find clients and how they get paid.
I can’t tell you here how to design a website. You do need technical and creative skills. But, surprisingly, these are NOT the most important skills you need.
- Listening to and understanding clients. The most important skill is your ability to master client relationships. You need to put yourself in the client’s shoes and deliver exactly want the client wants and no more and no less. Lots of designers suffer as they think they know what’s best for the client. The first rule of graphic design is to listen. Don’t ever get carried away with your talent and think that you know everything.
- Understanding the web and UI. The reason you are doing this job is because you have a love of the internet. Make sure you harness that love correctly. Always think of the users as well as the client when you are designing.
- Creativity. You shouldn’t only be creative in your designs to develop your style. You should be creative in your relationships, your marketing and every possible area of your business life. Don’t get stale and always look for fresh challenges.
- Ability to write well for the web. Another skill that is not often mentioned is the ability to touch type and write well for the web. Your clients will thank you if you re-write areas of their website so that they work better and you need to always write good English with correct spelling and grammar in your emails.
Read my article on how to learn web design.
I did a survey recently and discovered some interesting facts about the hardware, software and backup graphic designers use. Certainly everyone’s different. Don’t worry, you don’t have to use Macs but unfortunately most of them use Creative Suite.
- Hardware – The type of computer you get is largely up to you. I’ve been very happy using iMacs for the last few years. I also need a PC for testing. I would urge you to max out your RAM, disc space and broadband connection, but … we all have our budgets!
- Software – Although it is perfectly possible to run a design business with no software at all I wouldn’t recommend it. Most of us use some sort of text editor (Dreamweaver, TextMate), some sort of graphics program (Photoshop) and some sort of FTP client (Filezilla).
- Backup – Not strictly necessary, but incredibly handy. I would advise backing up onsite with an external drive and offsite with something like Dropbox.
Personally, I couldn’t think of anything better than working for yourself at home so I’ve never found motivation a problem.
However, for some people it is and you can learn how to work from home successfully by exercising and organising your time properly.
Since you are working in splendid isolation it’s always great to meet up with other web designers. You can moan about Microsoft together (very therapeutic), exchange jobs and help each other out with bugs and other problems. I have this relationship with Derek Kirk who lives near me in north London. Derek runs a couple of great sites called creative web design and web designers London.
It’s also good to form partnerships with all sorts of professionals and experts. These are great as a sounding board for ideas and to exchange advice and work. Try to network on behalf of your clients as well as on behalf of your other contacts.
Don’t forget at the end of the day you are running a web design business to get money. Whether you are charging fixed-rate fees or hourly/daily/weekly rates you should be charging at least twice as much as you would earn in a normal job to complete the same task. You will never be able to do web design for 8 hours a day so the charging structure should reflect this.
Make sure the price as well as the nature and extent of a web design job is properly recorded in emails or in a contract. You may like to insist on half the fee upfront with new clients.
Finding and developing your niche
As with most design work you may want to specialise into a certain type of client or a certain type of web work. This may come as a result of your passions or you may be moved in a certain direction by the tide of work that comes your way. Whilst it’s good to specialise you should always be alert to the new developments and opportunities within the industry.
Diversify and outsource
There are many ways to diversify your design business. You can offer your clients hosting, social media packages, email marketing, website maintenance, SEO services, copy writing, etc. you can branch out into a host of different directions. If you are asked to do something by a client it is usually a good idea to say “yes”. This way you can get paid to learn a new skill. Sometimes it may be possible to outsource new services.
You can do it!
I’ve wanted to write this article for ages and I’m very glad I’ve written it. I would really love to see you, the person who is reading this, try to earn money this way because it certainly beats working for somebody else.
You can start anywhere, anytime, anyhow. You just need a website. Even if you have a fulltime job at the moment or if not, you can start this work in your spare time (as I did) and take it from there. Download my e-book that will tell you everything about Running a Web Design Business.
I don’t want to make out that it’s easy. Of course, you have to work hard. But I have been getting paid to do something I really love so it would be great to see other people benefitting from this unique opportunity of our times.
If you have any experiences or you would like some help in this area, please leave a comment down below.
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