Here’s what you need to think about before you quit your day job and start your own web design business.
It can be challenging to work a full-time job while also taking on freelance clients, especially if your passion lies with your freelance work. Starting your own web design business is exciting, but it’s important to think about all the factors that could affect this long-term commitment.
Are you sure of your future clients and their demands? How certain are you about their payment credibility? How will you move forward, pay your employees, bear infrastructure costs, and run the daily operations of your web design company?
Before you quit your day job and start your own web design business, you’ll need to consider these questions. Here’s an eight-step process to get you started.
How to start a web design business in 9 steps
Step 1: Plan
Start by asking yourself questions such as:
- What is your company’s niche or focus going to be?
- Are you starting out solo, or will you hire staff or freelancers?
- How many web designers are you going to recruit?
- Will you hire administrative staff, or will designers and developers need to multitask in the beginning stages?
- Where will the location of the new company be, and how much space will it require?
- What’s your budget for equipment such as computers, furniture, software, etc.?
- How much will you initially invest in advertising, marketing, and branding to attract clients?
You’ll need to dedicate a lot of time and resources to get your web design business up and running, so map out clear schedules, budgets, and plans. Be sure to research current web design trends so you can get a feel for what your future clients might request.
If you have a mentor, reach out to them. Talking with someone who has experience starting their own business is a great way to gain valuable insights into the entrepreneurial journey.
Step 2: Determine your services and specialties
- Are you an ecommerce specialist?
- Are you an expert in setting up learning portals?
- Do your services include blogging (providing content regularly), or will your web design deliverables be simple static pages?
- Will you also be hosting your clients’ websites?
- Will you provide SEO (search engine optimization) services?
- Will you offer website maintenance services?
You don’t have to be everything for everyone. Instead, focus on the skills and services you excel at.
Consider offering services that bring in automatic recurring revenue, such as website maintenance and hosting. These services aren’t as hands-on as creating a new website, but they pay off well. For instance, hardware manufacturers make recurring income by offering annual maintenance contracts. Most annual maintenance contracts are billed with no work done as the hardware components are good to run for years.
Step 3: Set up your portfolio
Once you know what aspects of web design you’d like to focus on, build your web design portfolio around them. Your website will be the face of your company, so make sure it shows off your skills and includes your services, prices, and contact information.
If you have happy customers from your freelance days, reach out to them and ask for testimonials that you can add to your site. Those recommendations are crucial for a new business.
Get in touch with your previous clients and ask their permission to showcase their projects on your website. If you are unable to share business names due to confidentiality, consider anonymizing the designs or requiring a password to view them.
Step 4: Establish your business operations
Next up is staffing. When you first launch your business, you might be working solo. But if and when you have the budget, you’ll want to reach out to your network and bring trusted designers and developers to your team. As you grow, you might consider adding administrative and marketing professionals to your team, too.
You may also consider outsourcing mundane tasks you don’t want to pay attention to, such as taxes and finances. And if you have employees, you’ll need to hire a person or service to handle things like benefits and time off for employees.
You and your team will need computers with large high-definition screens and additional monitors (minimum 21 inches) for design work. Verify your camera specifications as well — you’ll need good quality cameras and microphones to communicate with your clients. Consider getting dedicated business internet services so you’ll have fast, reliable connectivity.
Next, build your tech stack with tools for:
- Website mockups and prototypes
- Graphic design
- Web development
- Document management
- Project management
Set up a system to track your ongoing projects. Try to automate most of the day-to-day tasks.
- Use autoresponders to reply to clients who contact you via the contact form, particularly about doing business with you. You can also use email autoresponders when you’re going on vacation or taking leave.
- Find a system that keeps track of hours contributed to a client’s work and then uses that information to create invoices.
- Use apps such as Todoist and Asana for tracking to-do lists and schedules and assigning work.
As you gain more clients, be ready to accommodate your company’s growth and provide resources and changes in infrastructure.
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Step 5: Determine legal requirements
Once you’ve decided on a name for your business, it’s time to make it official.
Determine whether your company will be a private limited, LLC, corporation, etc. according to your country and/or state regulations. For example, if you live in India, you need to get a GST number to pay sales tax on goods delivered to your clients. Plus, you need to register your online domain name as well.
Ensure that your budget accounts for business insurance so you can protect both your physical assets and business.
Business taxes can be complicated, so it’s a good idea to contract a tax professional who can provide guidance and services. Work with them to set up accounting software such as FreshBooks or QuickBooks so that you can easily track business expenses and export the necessary information when tax time rolls around.
Make sure you set up a business bank account for your company revenue and expenses. And don’t forget about accepting payments from your clients! Services such as PayPal or Stripe are great for processing digital payments.
Step 6: Establish deliverables and pricing
Establish a process for keeping your clients updated about deliverables. While your clients probably won’t want a daily update, you should determine specific milestones when you’ll check in with them. Working with your clients throughout the project keeps them engaged and gives them a chance to provide feedback earlier in the process.
Stick to schedules as diligently as possible and don’t forget to account for revisions. Your contract should define what types of revisions are included in the project price (if any) and outline costs for additional changes. If you need to make adjustments, work with the client on a new delivery date so they know when to expect the revised project.
If you’ve been using freelance sites like Upwork or Freelancer, you probably have a good idea of what deliverables to offer, but be careful about setting your prices. When you have your own business, there is more overhead, so you’ll probably need to raise your rates.
There are online calculators and price charts to reference when you are unsure about prices, such as this freelance rate calculator or the Omni finance calculator.
If your budget permits, you can compare your prices to your competitors’ with tools like Luminate Market Price, PROSPros, Zilliant, and Pricefy.
Step 7: Create work contracts and agreements
A vital part of your business is a work contract. Contracts clearly establish expectations and requirements for both parties — you and your client.
The contract should include details related to deliverables, timelines, and prices and account for what-if scenarios. Aim for contracts that are simple and to the point. You don’t want to intimidate clients with massive contracts full of unnecessary legal jargon.
Define the payment terms in the contract. Clearly state how and when you will invoice for work and include instructions on how and when your clients should make payments. Don’t forget to include stipulations for late payments.
Save yourself some time by working with a legal professional to create template contracts based on the different services and packages you offer. This way, you can simply fill in a few details for each new project. You can also use template services like LegalZoom or America’s SBDC.
Step 8: Business
Even if you’re bringing your previous freelance clients into your new web design business, you’ll need a way to attract new customers as well.
Share your website on your personal social media channels to start building brand awareness. You may even want to set up separate business accounts like a LinkedIn company page or Facebook business account.
If you are providing expertise in a particular niche, mention that. That way, you stand out from the crowd. Do you create unique sites for specific industries like gaming, B2B, or software as a service companies? Do you work in a particular industry, or have you worked for government agencies? Showcase some work samples — highlighting your specialties will draw relevant clients to you from among the many looking for web designers.
Don’t ignore the importance of video marketing. Whether it is a YouTube channel or Vimeo, make your presence known with videos.
Email marketing is a good way to promote your business, too. Services such as Mailchimp make it easy to maintain an email list of clients and share promotions, new services, and company updates with them. You could even use a newsletter to share tips or promote an affiliate program that encourages existing customers to spread the word about your business.
You might also want to use customer relationship management software, which works as an autoresponder and an email marketing tool and tracks overall business development, customers, and growth.
Step 9: Continue your education
Remain competitive by keeping an eye on web design trends and setting aside time for improving your web design skills. Sign up for web design courses or watch free lessons online through platforms like Webflow University.
Watching your competition is another way of staying ahead of them. Keep track of your competitors’ websites and growth, and it will inspire and motivate you to do better.
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