If you’ve set your sights on how to start a web design business, get ready for a wild ride. The journey of a freelance website designer is often like a turbulent, yet exciting, roller coaster ride. From a state of confusion to a sense of accomplishment, from exhaustion to exhilaration, with detours along the way for sanity checks, strategy resets and supporter shoutouts. But if you do it right, all those banked turns and barrel rolls can lead to a successful career as a freelance web designer.
But where to start?
Worksheet: How to start a web design business
This is a good place. Check out the worksheet below that will guide you through tasks — both major and minor — that need a place on the coaster track through ups, downs and occasional loop-de-loop of starting a web design business. Then keep reading for the high-level summary.
Step 1: Lay the groundwork
Before you begin an actual design work, prep your new business for success with some important planning measures:
Solidify your expertise. Make a plan to whip your skills into top-notch shape. You don’t need expertise at everything, but ensure mastery of the basics.
Get into the freelance mindset. Dig in and read all you can about the first-hand experiences of other freelance web pros.
Write your business plan. Your business plan should articulate your menu of services, financial plans, target audience, and strategies to deliver your services.
Step 2: Create your community
Find your peeps. Embrace your community of fellow freelancers — whether in person or virtually. Seek out the networking opportunities that connect you with others, including competitors, collaborators and potential clients.
Build your ideal team. Build a circle of known and trusted “Power Partners” providing complementary services that work in sync with yours, without cannibalizing work or clients. Consider outsourcing tasks that don’t require your technical or creative skills — including taxes, bookkeeping, shopping, and anything else you don’t enjoy doing.
Step 3: Handle legal and HR tasks
Establish your legal entity. You can operate as a sole proprietor, but consider creating an LLC or corporation to protect your personal assets and maximize profit. Research business requirements of your local government, to determine if you need licenses or permits.
Get insurance. Surely you have car or house insurance, so talk to your local agent about options for business liability insurance. Based on my experience, freelance projects for my city government, the school district, and the local hospital all require it.
Plan benefits. If your previous job included medical, retirement, or other benefits, you’ll need a plan to get the equivalent items in place. Can you be covered on a spouse or partner’s medical insurance? What about setting up a retirement account? While you won’t earn paid holidays or vacation, you’ll want policies in place to set client expectations, and to provide for a backup resource if necessary.
Step 4: Set up facilities
Create your very own workspace. Create a home office allowing you to get work done, uninterrupted. Set and enforce boundaries, including rules ensuring your space is left untouched, and you are given time to work. Plan the office supplies you’ll want within arm’s reach.
Have a contingency plan. Power or internet service outages are a crisis for those who work at home. Know the local coffee shops or libraries where you can park for a few hours, using their wireless network and table space. Thinking on a larger scale, consider whether you need a disaster recovery plan.
Step 5: Arrange IT
Invest in hardware and software. Invest in solid and capable hardware, including:
- top-notch computer
- high-quality monitor
- good camera
Consider the right software for creating graphics, modifying photos, and documenting your work.
Have a strong backup strategy. Don’t compromise on reliable security and backup strategies for your computers and office. Having these systems in place lets me sleep at night.
Step 6: Set up finance and accounting
Establish financial accountability. Set up a separate business bank account, debit card and credit card. Get up to speed on financial tracking software.
Get paid. Consider using a payroll service, where the small monthly cost lets someone else worry about ever-changing tax laws, and correctly filing government forms. Determine how you’ll handle money, including establishing a pricing model, invoicing, and accepting payment online.
Step 7: Start marketing and advertising
Tell your story. It all begins with your brand, and your unique selling proposition. What puts you ahead of the pack? Why should someone hire you?
Build your online presence. Create the vehicle that showcases your work, shows your product/service offering, and covers your policies. Establish your social media accounts.
When it comes to selling your services, nothing tells your story better than your portfolio of completed work.
Assuming you’ve already built a few other websites (whether for fun or profit), you’ll want to highlight your accomplishments and demonstrates the value you offer.
Create marketing collateral. Start with business cards, flyers or brochures, and any giveaways that get — and keep — your name in front of potential clients.
Step 8: Begin sales
Know your audience. Identify the right web design clients for you, and evaluation criteria for candidate clients. Strategize ways to find, meet, and land those folks. Having your elevator pitch at the ready means you’re prepared when you meet potential clients in unlikely venues, including the gym, Starbucks, or at a concert.
Fine-tune your engagement strategy. Once you’ve found and landed those ideal clients, you’ll need processes in place for providing estimates, proposals, and contracts.
Step 9: Establish quality systems
Ace the day-to-day tasks. Establish enough structure to ensure your work gets done, while allowing enough flexibility to protect a sane lifestyle. Set and enforce boundaries, adopt time management best practices, and maximize your productivity by setting up tools and systems.
Starting your own freelance web design business might seem like an overwhelming project, but starting off with a plan and mega-checklist is a great way to begin. Check out the checklist to get started on your strategy, and you’ll be better prepared for the ride of a lifetime!
Also published on Medium.