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Your complete guide to starting your own web design business

The wonderful world of web design & development is booming and there’s no better time to get on board than now by starting your own web design business.

Gone are the days of requiring a design degree to build a thriving web design business. You can thank the evolution of technology and the availability of visual builders for that. And with the online space thriving more than ever, there are clients aplenty trying to establish an online presence for their offerings. So what’s holding you back?

There are two key aspects I am going to cover here when starting your own web design business, mainly because, the majority of small business owners will begin their solo business journey from home.

Number one is how to get yourself set up to work most effectively from home, and number two is how to start your own web design business.

Right now, starting a web design business is a prime opportunity. The industry is growing at a rapid rate, and perhaps most importantly, the tech that you are going to need is optimal right now to support every touchpoint of establishing a successful web design business. In short, now is the time to invest your heart and soul in creating a successful web design brand. 

However, it is a competitive industry so it’s important to carefully lay the foundation for your business so you can avoid those “Wait, what???” scenarios that too many first-time business owners face.

So, in the following guide, we’re going to look at everything you need to do to become a successful web designer and business owner working from home (or a vibrant co-working space!). You’ll learn:

  • How to set up your work environment at home
  • What essential systems to have in place
  • How to choose your design niche
  • How to set your rates
  • How to attract new clients

Working effectively from home in your web design business

Get ready to start your own web design business by setting up your work environment that enables work/life balance.

Entrepreneurs know that the work/life balance struggle can be real, especially when you’re just starting out. But it doesn’t have to be.

To minimise the struggle and the trial-and-error, learn from those who’ve gone before you. 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. Also, 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.
  • If you have the opportunity and budget, you can also consider a coworking space. As the world is mostly wide open once again to social interaction, while adapting to our newfound love of working remotely, coworking spaces are popping up everywhere. Make the most of it, whether you decide to hire your own full-time desk, or use a coworking space for a casual pop in once a week. You will be amazed at how the energy of a coworking space can revitalise your mood and productivity.
  • Work with other residents, such as your family, roommates, or co-workers 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.
  • Understand how many hours you can reasonably work, while maintaining your productivity, protecting time with friends and family, and continuing to pursue your own hobbies, sports, or other outdoor activities. Having a life outside of work is extremely important to avoid burnout!

Consider how best to pace yourself, and be more productive each day. For more tips on how to manage this work/life balance, check out our blog “How to stay motivated and work effectively when you’re working from home”.

Invest in solid and capable hardware and software

You’re a web professional, so it’s critical to consider the right tools for creating graphics, modifying photos, and documenting your work:

  • For my list of 12 essential tools I use to run my web design business, check out the blog I wrote.
  • Purchase the best computer you can afford. Optional extras are to get an external monitor, a printer and scanner, but you could always plan ahead and take a trip to Officeworks if you needed. Start with the essentials and grow with your business.
  • If you’ll be taking photos to use on client websites, consider buying a dedicated camera.
  • Have a plan for continuing to work in the event of a computer catastrophe. Having a second computer sounds ideal but isn’t always achievable. But having a solid backup system, such as cloud storage or an external hard drive (or both!) is essential so you can pick up where you left off and keep your projects on track.
  • For subscription services, figure out what plan level you need for where you’re at right now. Again, you can always upgrade when the time and need comes. 
  • Don’t forget ongoing costs for other cloud apps like accounting software, video calls, and remote computer access.

Have a bullet-proof backup strategy

This step is integral and one you don’t want to skip over. Don’t compromise on reliable security and backup strategies for your computers and office. Having these systems in place will let you sleep at night.

Select a remote file backup to OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox or another provider and schedule regular automatic backups.

You might also like to periodically do complete computer backups to an external harddrive, and if so, add this fee to your hardware budget.

Setting up your web design business

Deciding on your audience and your niche

It’s not enough to add a vague “Web Developer” title to your LinkedIn profile. If you want to build your authority, you need to specialise. While you might be worried that this is limiting, it’s honestly how all the top earners have hit their success.

So pick a niche and stick to it. But how?

Get super clear on who you are targeting and ensure all your content and marketing is geared towards this niche audience. 

When you have a niche, you can refine all of your services around this niche. Rather than offering a wider range of generic services, refine your offering to just a few high-skill, niche services. This will narrow your target market but will get you more targeted enquiries.

Here are some ideas to help define your specialty:

  • Offer WordPress maintenance services (core, plugin, theme updates)
  • Design complete website projects for new businesses
  • Focus on a specific type of website design: ecommerce, membership sites, etc. (But don’t get out of your skill depth as this will just add unnecessary stress to your business and projects.)
  • Convert websites from other platforms (i.e. Weebly, Squarespace, Drupal) to WordPress, or even do Photoshop to WordPress
  • Focus on redesigns/responsive retrofits
  • Work with clients in specific industries: fashion, small business, B2C, etc. Or, you could get hyper-specific and only work with life coaches, for example. 

There are no wrong answers — play around with the possibilities until you land on a winning combination! And remember, it’s your business so you get to create it your way. Don’t just do what everyone else is doing because you think that’s the only way. Being authentic to yourself and your creativity will help your business flow and flourish.

Setting your rates and packages

This is the BIG question for every single solo business owner, no matter what industry you are in. As you are starting out, a classic move that so many of us can make, is undervaluing our offerings and setting our prices too low.

In the beginning, this is completely understandable and it can often provide you with the much-needed confidence you need in the beginning to market yourself.

However, as you build your portfolio, whether through personal projects or paid projects, you need to revisit your pricing and ensure you are on a benchmark with industry standards and expertise. 

In general, project rates are better than hourly rates for big projects because people won’t question you about how you’re spending your time — it’s already accounted for and they’ve already paid for it. Hourly rates set you up for annoying conversations and the devaluation of your expertise. It also devalues the design industry as a whole and will ultimately result in you only attracting low-budget clients who don’t value your creative work.

That said, hourly rates may be what you use to estimate project rates.

It’s a good idea to calculate your ideal hourly rate, even if your clients are never privy to this information. If you’re going to freelance full-time for the first time, don’t forget to build in the cost of superannuation, sick days, and vacation days. Also, don’t forget that you need to save 20-30% for taxes!

My advice is to start with your desired annual salary (after taxes and expenses) and work backwards. Start by listing out the essential tech and tools you’ll need (yes, that means budgeting in even small subscription fees). Then work out your signature packages and your rates. Then work out how many projects you can realistically take on every month. Then work out how many hours you want to work a week and how many weeks of the year you want to work. Once you do the math you will find your hourly rate. The number might sound scary at first, but a lot of the time this is just pesky limiting beliefs. You have to be realistic about your numbers. 

For basic calculations, you can make use of government business pricing calculators like this one.

To pitch with confidence, benchmark your pricing against industry rates (here’s how it plays out in the WordPress industry).

How to attract web design clients

So many web designers that I speak to who are just starting out have this one big struggle – finding clients! 

Get super clear on your niche and own it

As we spoke about before, niching down is key to building a successful web design business that you are going to love and be passionate about for the long term. 

Get social on your socials – try to stick to just one or two platforms

Using social media to promote your business is a given these days – it is a proven strategy for showcasing your skills and attracting the right clients. However, it can be tempting to try and use *all* of the platforms at your disposal to get the word out. More exposure means more clients right?

Not necessarily. You will find that you more naturally lean towards one or two platforms that suit your style of sharing and find them easier to use than others, and in return you will find that these platforms will gain more traction and engagement for your business. 

Network through online groups and forums – ask for referrals

By discovering and joining online communities and forums specifically for web design, you open up a whole new world of support, advice and even referrals for your business. Make the effort to interact, ask questions, provide feedback and keep your eye out for opportunities that can arise.

Create a personal project and share it everywhere!

Make use of your free time (you will have plenty as you are starting out) and get stuck into a personal project of web design that you can then share through your marketing channels, and of course, add to your portfolio. The work that you show in your portfolio is the type of work that you’re going to continue to attract. 

Diversify your skillset to offer a more comprehensive client experience

Yes, it’s important to niche and not spread yourself thin but offering branding and packaging design, as well as web design and development services, has leveraged my brand to the point where I can pick and choose the projects I take on and charge premium fees to match the high-end design experience I take my clients on.

But the best part about refining my skills to offer diverse services is that I can support my clients through their business journey from start to finish without having to hand them off to someone else at the website stage.

When potential clients see that I can support them across the entirety of their project, they are much more likely to reach out.

Read here about the 5 Benefits Of Diversifying Your Skillset

By following these initial (and integral) first steps to get you on your feet and feeling comfortable in your own web design business at home, the process will feel less overwhelming and much more enjoyable. By focusing first on building a brand that you can be proud of and serves your ideal audience, you set yourself up with a solid foundation on which to build the business of your dreams.

Want to work smarter not harder in your web design business? Check out my recent journal post on just that topic over here.

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The Web Designer Starter Kit

5-Step Framework To Start Designing & Building Websites

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5-Step Framework to Start Designing & Building Websites

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