Starting a web design business requires commitment and persistence, but if you're willing to put in the effort, you could have a flourishing business on your hands in a short time. Reading this expert guide marks the perfect first step in your journey.
Whether you’re planning to work as a solopreneur or start a web design agency, it’s important to build a solid foundation for your business to give it the best shot at success. There are a lot of aspiring web designers out there today, so making yourself stand out from the rest is key.
Being a small business owner myself, I’m here to help you get started on the right foot and set yourself apart from the competition. In this guide, I’ll simplify the process of starting a web design business and break it down into 9 steps that will help get you on your way to success.
9 Steps to Start a Web Design Business
Here are 9 steps you can take toward building a solid plan for your business.
1. Determine Your Services
To determine what services you'll offer, try to think about the kind of web design you want to focus on. Will you be building mostly online stores? Personal websites? Business websites? A little bit of everything?
It’s important to focus on your unique skills when you make this decision – instead of trying to cater to every type of business, hone in on businesses that could benefit from your particular web design skillset.
Whatever niche you go with, you should decide on the types of services you offer: will you solely build and launch websites, or also offer redesigns or overhauls? Will you also offer website maintenance and management services?
In addition to building and launching websites, consider exploring extra services that will serve as an ongoing stream of income once the initial project is complete.
A good example of this is hosting and maintaining websites for your clients or offering them periodic SEO optimization. Maintaining websites for your clients post-launch often involves minimal work, all the while giving them peace of mind and giving you a reliable recurring income.
You can expand your services as you build up your business, so if you want to start small, that’s completely fine. It’s never a bad idea to dream big, though, and think ahead as you open your business.
2. Set Your Prices
Setting your rates can be a challenging step of the process, particularly while your business is still in its early stages. However, it’s important that you don’t underprice your services, as it could then take you a long time to raise your rates to the levels you’d like them to be.
On the other hand, if you're a new business and offer expensive services from the get-go, you might struggle to find clients.
The first thing you need to do is pick your pricing structure. The most commonly used pricing models among web design companies are time-based pricing and project-based pricing.
Time-based pricing is often used by freelancers and is a good strategy for when you’re not sure how long the project will take. Project-based pricing is great for short-term work and gives your clients better transparency on what they’ll pay.
Consider all your expenses like personal web hosting and branding, your marketing costs, hardware and software fees, and any costs related to insurance, taxes, office space, and employees. Finally, it’s a good idea to look at your competitors’ pricing and make sure your prices are in the same ballpark.
3. Create Your Business Plan
Your business plan will form your business’ roadmap going forward and will help guide the decisions you make for it in the future. If you’re planning to start your web design business as an agency and require external funding, this will be the document you’ll show banks or investors before they consider granting you funding – so it helps to get it right.
If you're starting a small business by yourself, your business plan doesn't have to be elaborate at all. Here are a few things it should include:
- An executive summary of your business: Your business’ vision, mission, and some general information about the web design services you’ll provide.
- An analysis of your market: This section should contain a summary of your chosen market niche, your competitors, and the customers you’re hoping to target as potential clients.
- Short and long-term goals: When do you hope to sign your first client, and how much money do you hope to earn each month?
- An estimate of your costs and pricing: Include all the upfront costs and running expenses you can think of here, and how you’ll price your web design services.
Remember, the plan you create for your business can always change. While it can serve as a point of reference for decisions you make, it’s important to review it periodically and adapt if things pan out differently than you expected. Whether this is a change in your market, or your business growing faster or slower than you forecasted, it’s worth reassessing every year or so.
4. Build Your Brand
Having settled on a niche for your business, and decided on some of its important details, it’s time to come up with a name for your business and start building your brand.
Your name is the most important aspect of your brand – it needs to be simple and memorable. It should also effectively communicate what you do. You want a similarly simple and effective slogan for your business. Once you’ve settled on a name, register the domain as soon as you can, including your future social media handles.
Put all of your creative energy into making your website your own best project to date. Stay consistent with the rest of your brand and let your own personal style shine through. Once your social media is all set up, you can continue following those same design choices there, making your posts recognizable and in tune with the rest of your brand.
5. Know Your Legal Obligations
Before you can start doing business, you’ll need to make sure your company complies with your local regulations. Registering your business is a process that varies based on your location and the type of company you create. In the U.S., you’ll typically need to register with your local Secretary of State. People based elsewhere often have to apply with similar governmental bodies.
Depending on your business goals, you may opt to register it as a sole proprietorship. However, checking with the U.S. Small Business Administration can help you decide what business entity best suits your company’s mission.
To make sure you’re in the clear, check your local government website and do your research. Some things to be mindful of include paying for business licenses and fees, registering to file local and state taxes, securing business and liability insurance, and developing a thorough business contract.
6. Build Your Website and Portfolio
If you haven’t started putting together your web design portfolio yet, now is the time to start. In addition to your website itself, your portfolio of past work is going to be what demonstrates your skills as a web designer or developer to your prospective clients.
If you don’t have a whole lot of finished work yet, don’t worry – consider building some simple websites on a volunteer basis to get your portfolio started.
As you start getting clients and completing projects, reach out and ask for testimonials that you can display on your website – this is a great way to boost your credibility as a web designer. Additionally, it’s vital to ensure the services you offer, their pricing, and contact methods for potential clients to reach out to you are easy to find on your website.
Finally, make sure your website is seen by others by optimizing it for search engines. Think about the top search terms you want your website to rank for, and then consider looking into a quality SEO plugin – for example, Yoast SEO, if you’re using WordPress – to help you get started optimizing your website for search engines. Look into Frase or SurferSEO if you’re not a fan of Yoast.
7. Set Up Your Business Operations
Setting up your business operations consists of three key aspects: staffing, equipment, and business software.
When you first launch, you may decide to either start with employees or solo. Even if you do decide to launch without any additional employees, it’s worth considering reaching out to specialists to add to your network – when you need to, you can outsource certain work to them, such as administrative tasks or finances. Additionally, it can be very useful to have a developer or content writer who you can partner with on certain projects.
Similarly, equipment might be a minimal concern for you if you’re starting out by yourself, but as a web designer, it’s important that your workspace and equipment meet your needs:
- Dedicated workspace: Maintaining your work/life balance is crucial to your productivity, and having your workspace distinct from your home life will allow you to work more effectively.
- Hardware: If you’re able to, invest in a reliable computer, monitor, webcam, and headset. Consider a backup computer in case of any unforeseen issues.
- Software: Consider software you’ll need for your web design, such as Adobe Creative Cloud. Don’t forget cloud services that come in handy, such as OneDrive or Google Drive. Set up Zoom and Microsoft Teams to chat with potential clients. QuickBooks is a popular accounting software to make sure you’re on top of things.
Finally, getting systems in place to track your operations, such as workflow management software, accounting software, and contract/proposal software can all significantly help you run your business more effectively.
8. Set Up Your Payment Framework
Accepting a variety of different payment options lets you open the door to virtually any client; this is especially important for a newer business that hasn’t yet niched down. There are many ways to go about this, but for my own small business, I’ve chosen Pay.com.
Pay.com is a super simple way to accept online payments from a variety of payment methods. Your clients will be able to pay directly on your website using a host of different payment options, ranging from all the major credit card brands to Google Pay or Apple Pay. This will come in handy if you sell packages for fixed prices, such as a full website design package.
Pay.com also offers you the option to send your clients Pay Links that will take them directly to a payment page. This gives you a bit more freedom – you won’t have to decide the exact price of your service beforehand; simply send the Pay Link to your client once you’ve settled on the scope and the payment terms.
You’ll even be able to accept card payments over the phone with the Pay Virtual Terminal.
I appreciate the transparency, ease of use, and flexibility of Pay.com, and I know you will too. Click here to create your account now!
9. Find New Clients and Grow Your Business
Once you’ve launched your web design business, you’re ready to start getting the word out and finding new clients! Remember that marketing is not a one-time project – it’s an ongoing process.
Here are a few great ways to market your business:
- Make use of your network: When you’re just starting out, using your network of friends and family to help find your first client will go a long way. Once you’ve finished working on your first few projects, you can use these in your portfolio, and ask these clients for testimonials which you can then display on your website.
- Social media marketing: Using social media marketing is a great way to reach and engage with a broader audience. You can put out various types of content like articles and tutorial videos which could boost your credibility as a web designer.
- Use freelancer platforms: Listing your services on freelancer platforms like Fiverr or Upwork can be a good way to increase the exposure of your business.
- Cold pitching: This is a strategy where you email businesses and try to convince them that they should hire you. You can also reach out to potential clients on LinkedIn and try to connect there.
The Pros and Cons of Starting Your Own Web Design Business
Starting your own web design business can be a life-changing decision. Let's review the good and the bad sides of it.
- You can turn your passion for web design into a career.
- Your business can be based out of your home.
- You can take on as much or as little work as you like.
- Starting up doesn’t need to be expensive.
- It can take some time to build a consistent customer base.
- You have to be flexible and ready to meet your client's demands.
- You’re likely to be working at your computer every day.
The Bottom Line: Is Starting a Web Design Business Right for You?
Starting a web design business won’t be smooth sailing all the way through, but the effort is likely to pay off.
As someone with experience and expertise in the area, I can tell you that making this endeavor successful is well within your reach if you have the skills and the determination to make your ideas a reality.
With Pay.com, you can easily manage your payments. Our transparent fee structure and simple onboarding process mean that you can start getting paid by your clients in no time. Click here to find out how to get started!