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Give it to me straight

Is there still opportunity in web design



1:29 am on Jun 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I'm wondering if there is still much of an opportunity in web design/development especially in the small to medium sized business space. I've been designing (html, graphic design/ php/database) for a couple of years now and I'm close to opening my own business (part time at first since I don't want to give up my day job ...yet). I've created 3 websites recently which I'm getting a couple of referrals from, so it's encouraging me to start my own thing.

But is there still a demand for web design services or are most small businesses reluctant to spend the money these days?. I love developing websites and I'll do it even if I can't get anyone to pay me much, but can I eventually make a decent living out of this kind of work?

Please give it to me straight. I can take it...


2:19 am on Jun 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member ken_b is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

I'm not a professional designer or developer, but I suspect there is considerable opportunity in the area you mention.

I'd suggest focusing on what I would call conversion oriented design and I think you'd find a ready audience.

As far as small business being willing to pay a reasonable fee, I suspect ability to pay is more the issue.

Small to medium sized businesses readily pay for tools that return a reasonable amount on their investment.


2:39 am on Jun 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

*Give it to me straight*

This is a good question! There should be more discussion (and response) about this topic.

I'm also starting out as a full time independant web producer. I come from an advertising copywriting background so i know my way around the traps, but I've found it difficult. Problem #1. Cold calling out of the yellow pages (in Oz) I've found anyone who's got a clue already has a website. Problem #1A. Though many have a website they are made badly but try telling the client this. Sometimes it's made by the director or sales manager who thinks it's whiz bang, or the son-in-law who "knows about computers". Yes, building a website is easy, but building a good website is a complex task. The redesign oriented way is a difficult thing to get around. A site I seen recently was so bad you'd wonder why they bothered, but alas the client is complacent because he gets 3M hits a year. I've talked my head off about site credibility etc., but some just don't get it.

So it's a hard slog. I phone people and talk to people and eventually get one or two appointments.

Problem #2. Many have had their fingers burnt by dodgy web designers. There is a feeling of cynicism I sense about web designers (here anyway) and looking at some of these so-called professionally built sites I can see why.

Over and above all the above, if you believe what you have to offer is worthwhile you'll get there. That's my philosophy ......along with a lot of hard work.


2:54 am on Jun 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator martinibuster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

anyone who's got a clue already has a website.

The one's who don't have a clue often make great customers, and are easy to please.

I think it's a lot of work pitching a lot of proposals and receiving a lot of denials and the occasional great client.

As for trolling for work, one of my teachers was fond of saying that certain religious groups in the United States have knocked on a lot of doors- and it must work because look at how big they are. I've done my share of trolling...

I have to say that I take a lot of pleasure from my independence, but it's still work.


3:12 am on Jun 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member chiyo is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

excellent question. Like others above im not a web designer but do it as part of our sites along with most other things! Some trends that may impact:

1. The trend towards dynamic script driven sites, previously used in mainly cashed-up and corporate sites, but now available though open source software in php/perl and even asp free and sometimes even as reliably as proffessional solutions. These tend to be template based and reduce the amount of "design" a website owner needs to do.

2. The trend towards leaner - less graphically oriented sites as some (but not all) design with SEs in mind, and the problems with indexing high graphic sites and certain technologies like flash.

3. The other one of course has been with us for a while - and that is the availability of DIY tools like Front Page. With a little bit of work these CAN look very unique and compelling, leading people to think they or their children could do it. Usually usability and SEO options are/is limited compared to a site designed from scratch but this is not obvious at first.

The above trends i beleive reduce the opportunity for web designers to sell on the basis of "looks" though there is still many many people, especially business people who want a killer-looking design with bells and whistles.

I believe it is much harder to see web design skills based on usability, navigation, simplicity, and fast loading as these things are often less compelling at first look.

Anyway just a few ideas, in no way comprehensive, as a short contri.


3:14 am on Jun 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


I am a web developer, and I feel compelled to tell you that the market is wide, wide open, and will be for years and years to come.

I remember in 1996 trying to explain to smart business owners what a website was and why they had to have one.

Now, it's so easy to taunt people with the undeniable success of so many websites (including one's own properties perhaps).

I've just built the second iteration of one client's site, and I've had him for 3 years - he said himself he expects to redesign every 18 months - he's right of course.

The key is to learn to be a business person, don't think of yourself as a web designer.

I have to force myself not to get involved with learning something I'd really like to do (say, php) - I can't allow the time, I do better to find a contractor who's an expert and pay her/him to do the work.

Bottom line is this (to me): I'll never know as much as many, but I'll always know more than some, and in that margin between what I know and can do and what they need, lies a decent living.

You have to find a few clients, make sure they're people you're comfortable knowing for the rest of your life. And you have to think like a business person, because you will be one. Buy some books.

The market is good for ever.


4:04 am on Jun 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


The opportunity is there, but you have to work at it. I've been in business full time since 1996, having started out part time in 1995. Get ready to wear lots of different hats, since you'll be sales, marketing, management, receptionist, chief cook and bottle washer, in addition to actually working on the web sites ... :) It's easy to work too hard.

The market is different from a few years ago, but we're finding many who thought they wanted to do it themselves are coming to us, because they found out that DIY wasn't for them: because of time, aptitude, or they found out they hated it and it became a chore to be put off... Don't see that changing. We're also seeing those who've outgrown their initial site and want to "move up" to e-commerce and other features beyond their in-house grasp. Unfortunately, we also see those who've "lost" their web designer/developer because "we can't get them to return our phone calls or e-mails" - and they're desperate to get their site worked on but just as desperate to avoid being burned again... Prospective clients in that category need a lot of TLC...

Bottom line: treat your business like a business, work it, make your clients happy and it will provide. (But never say I told you'd it be easy - because it ain't)



1:09 pm on Jun 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Welcome Solta, great thread. I agree with everyone who says that there is a market for quality web design. The key in my opinion is networking, networking, and networking. If you can give a class for the "do it yourself" crowd at your local chamber of commerce, it could be a goldmine of future business/referrals. It sounds like you are already on the right track with referrals from current clients. Little things like a follow-up fruit basket with thank you card make happy customers that think of you first when referring someone.

creative craig

1:22 pm on Jun 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

This is a good thread, I am trying to make the decision if I should work part time and work part time as a freelancer :)



3:25 pm on Jun 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Focus on regional - build a couple of sites below your "deserved wage" (ie cheap!) - build a portfolio - then raise your prices every once in a while. If you know what you are doing, your own satisfied clients will bring you more business than you know what to do with.

Web Footed Newbie

3:42 pm on Jun 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Welcome to WebmasterWorld, Solsa!

Good question. Certainly there are many opportunities available in web design. Also coupling it with designing for search engines and promotion, linking strategy, payperclicks, etc. and you can make a living.

Learn from the best copywriters you can, because every small business is selling something, but it depends if there site is for marketing/public relations or order taking (ecommerce). What you say and how you say it on websites is very important (see the copywrite thread here at WebmasterWorld).

However, before you consider your own small business, do a search on "starting a small business" on google and you will find a lot of questions you need to answer before you start.

The number 1 thing to remember: Don't quit your day job until you have several jobs (and referrals) under your belt and you are bursting at the seams with not enough time to do both!
Good luck, WFN :)
sticky mail me if you would like a list of some good sites about starting a small business (not my site, just referrals)


4:49 pm on Jun 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I got into web designing only 3 years ago as part of my full time job in marketing at a company that had no marketing budget. I figured marketing via the website was cheap, and taught myself web design, so that I could justify being employed there :) Since that time, I have had many small businesses approach me (the first was referred by my boss!) and have designed many websites.

I realized after a year that small businesses want something more than just a website. They want traffic and leads and sales from their website. I learned SEO and my business doubled quickly. I make so much more money on the seo services, that I can offer the web design fairly inexpensively when I know I will have ongoing seo income from them.

I feel confident that there is opportunity for web designers in the small to medium sized business market. There are still many out there with no site or sites made by a nephew playing with FrontPage.

...And I love clients who 'don't have a clue' - gives me the chance to teach them good habits from a fresh slate :)
Good luck to you!



4:58 pm on Jun 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Well this is very encouraging so far. My gut said that there is opportunity if you're good, as some of you have echoed.

Since I am no stranger to hard work and get a lot of pleasure in creating something on my own, I think I'll jump into it and join all of you. Anyways, I always thought that a dollar earned doing something you love is worth a lot more than a hundred dollars earned anywhere else. I'm a musician as well and am always stunned when I get paid for doing something so fun.

I've been reading a lot about SEO in these forums so I'll definitely include that as part of service offerings once I have more experience with it.

Thanks everyone for your words of wisdom and encouragement.

- Solta


5:39 pm on Jun 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I'm not a web designer by profession and only develop websites for my own ecommerce agenda. However, I've been a long time observer of this milieu, and can say that if you're able to combine good web design skills with good, legitimate SEO skills, you'll be way ahead the bulk of web designers.


5:49 pm on Jun 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Running your own business - there'll be highs and lows

The highs

1.0 The month when you've done particularly well and you multiply by 12 to see what you'll take annually.

2.0 The time when you get a BIG meeting and you're working out what you should charge this client who has large pockets.

3.0 The times you can easily convince a prospective client to register that domain name for peanuts because "they really must have a web presence"

4.0 The times when your client looks at the demo front page of the site you decided to set up for them for free and they really love it.

The lows

1.0 The next month when you don't do so well and you multiply this figure by 12 and wonder how it'll pay the mortgage.

2.0 The times after your meeting with the BIG client when your telephone calls are fielded and your're never put through.

3.0 The times when you've registered a client's domain name but they still wait months to commission you to build the darn site.

4.0 The times when your prospective client takes your idea and asks his son/brother/mother/friend to "design" it for them. It looks awful and you'd rather have done it for free.

Your plan is right - take a step at a time, and when you feel it's right - do it full time. There is plenty of business out there.

I find that many clients find the whole thing confusing. The best advice I can give is to de-mystify the process, and you'll gain the client's confidence. I use the analogy to a file, containing papers, stored in a filing cabinet.

The name on the file is the domain name, the papers inside file is your design work, and the filing cabinet is the hosting company.

Once they understand this concept, I then explain my knowledge of SEO and how we will market the site. Whilst my "knowledge" is far less than many of the excellent contributors on webmasterworld, it's more than many other people I often come up against who don't follow what's happening in the SE arena.

P.S. All clients have used a filing cabinet haven't they?


6:10 pm on Jun 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Problem with the Profession:

There is always some quack out there who tells the client they can build a site for a six pack of beer or some riduclously low price. Invariably the wannabe designer got themselves a copy of FrontPage and have decided web design and development is as easy as point and click.

The truth is once you get into all the webmaster issues you realize you have alot to learn and that you must charge a respectable fee for website creation in order to do it right AND make a living.


12:57 am on Jun 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

..is there still a demand for web design services or are most small businesses reluctant to spend the money these days?

Hello Solta,

As others have mentioned, you have posed an excellent question.

I can only tell you my opinions, through my experience.

I began designing websites about 5 years ago. After spending 2 years at a web design studio (as an employee), I started to realise where the "real" money was going. In my bosses pocket.

Then I got laid-off.

It turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to me. For the past 4 months I have been operating my own design firm, in the comfort of my own home office.

At first I wondered how I would actually make money, or at least enough money to support myself. I only had one client.

I spent the first month studying the design firms that were actually making money. I joined the local chamber of commerce and several networking groups. Soon enough, a few additional companies were interested in my services.

Since then, things are really looking up. There's always room for good designers, making good websites.

Please give it to me straight.

Yes, web design will always have a market as long as companys need them built, re-designed or optimized.

- Chad


1:24 am on Jun 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I think it helps if you take whatever skills you have and/or acquire and put them in the context of producing results. That's what most clients really want, and if you put pressure on yourself to produce measurable results for clients you'll start distinguishing yourself from the rest of the field.

Time and time again I've seen design/development shops who are stuck in a groove where they see a site dev project as an "event" with a finite end in which you collect the final payment and move on to the next project.

If you can successfully communicate to a client that a web presence is a process ocurring over time, rather than a one-time event, and produce some early results, the chances are better that the client will buy into the "process" paradigm and you'll have an ongoing relationship that prospers in proportion to your ability to continue producing business results for the client.

I can think of some exceptions where the "event" paradigm is perfectly appropriate. It's just that it's a paradigm that always has you looking for the next client, instead of nurturing long term relationships.


4:38 am on Jun 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I hope nobody minds me putting my two cents worth into this thread for the second time but it IS an interesting thread.

A web designer/programmer/producer (none of the above seem to fit exactly right) should be looking at his/her speciality skills. Someone mentioned this already about seo and sem, But also, there are issues that many clients, big or small, are not even aware of and I feel these issues are crucial to the success of websites. In particular I mention the Stanford University research on (and the book of the same title) The Media Equation . The subject specifically is about online consumer behaviour but it is general to all consumer behaviour. One aspect of their study Stanford researchers in the media lab found surprising (sic) was that consumers did not evaluate a website for credibility based on rigorous criterion but on the look and feel (design) of the site. Stanford recommends web publishers and whoever should be making an effort to educate consumers about this issue. Personally, I think consumers (aka people) will always behave this way. Appearance says it all. Another interesting outcome of the study was how people tend to see a visit to a website as a social thing, that the website is an interactive social experience that has social value. A website is seen as human or an extension of a human being. This is basically unheard of in other media. If a web designer doesn't configure this into the site it will ultimately fail because it doesn't understand the needs of online consumers expectations and the culture. Armed with quality knowledge the web designer can have a big advantage over the DIY's and wannabes. We have to impress clients with this knowledge more so than ever. A businessman who said "oh, I'm doing that all myself, it's not that hard".....became a client and as it turns out a damm good one. I feel being one or three steps ahead of them is a great advantage and does my professional self esteem a lot of good too.



8:02 am on Jun 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Interesting thread indeed.

Like antipodes said, a couple of month ago I read a online paper from the eBusiness Research Center wich compared experience 'lived' by visitors on the big computer website companies (Apple, IBM, Dell and Gateway). Very interesting paper wich emphasis on the 'feelings' the visitor had while visiting one of the sites. The outcome was that the design (and every aspect of it - from color to font used) played a very important role in the 'emotions' (interesting term used in this report) percived by visitors. - hence there will always be room for good web designer

Like bunltd said, a self employed web designer isn't only that. He is also:

  • from a customer point of view, web developer (even if you use somebody else to develop their site, if something goes wrong the customer will call you), web consultant (you need to have knowledge of a lot of internet issues - from browser compatibility to web accessibility just in case you end up in front of a customer a bit more 'aware' than your normal customers), server administrator (if you decide to host their site and something does wrong in that dept), marketing guy (for all the questions of SEO, PPC, PPI etc, ...), ...
  • from your own point of view: salesman (cold calling is part of the job description), accountant/administrator, receptionist (for calls, mail etc, ...), aftersales/support guy (for when a existing customer wants you to change something or if something went wrong on their site), sometimes supplier sometimes provider of services (meaning that your position in the supply chain varies), ...
  • from your familly point of view: the guy/gal that spend 12+ hours/day designing, developping, optimizing websites and the 4-6 hours left the guy/gal how talks about it :)

    and like Manilla said their is highs and lows, the most rewarding high I could think of (despite the obvious getting your first customer from cold calling to cheque signing) is that a customer is so happy with his/her site that he decide to send an email to all his clients to refer you to them (he must be really happy with the you doesn't he :) ). even if he only leads to one of his customer coming back to you for a site that would be one fruit basket for the referral, thank you ;).

    A final note to thank my GF for finding a job, that we both thought was worth the relocation and me resigning from my old one, and allow me starting my own company.


  • Solta

    4:27 pm on Jun 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

    10+ Year Member

    I'm at my second start-up so I'm very used to wearing many hats. I actually enjoy that kind of environment very much. Cold-calling however is not my forte. I've done it in the past and wasn't very successful. Maybe if I'm selling my own services, I would be more enthusiastic about it. This brings me to my next question:

    Is there a point of critical mass that web design/development firms eventually reach where there are enough referals, and enough referals from those referals where there's more work than they can handle?

    I know I'll have to hit the pavement at first but am I dreaming when I envision a point in the future when the inbound calls outnumber the outbound calls?

    Again, thanks to everyone for sharing your experiences and words of wisdom.



    6:02 pm on Jun 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

    10+ Year Member

    Hi Solta,

    Only just this month, I found myself scheduling website design and seo in advance. One of my clients referred someone to me, and I am so jammed this month that I accepted the work and told them I couldn't start for another 4 weeks. Of course, I got another call right on the tail of that one - it felt good! (But I'm being careful not to take anything for granted ;)

    Web Footed Newbie

    6:15 pm on Jun 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

    10+ Year Member

    Aquisition of clientele is an ongoing process. Sales and marketing does not end when you are booked for 3 months. The reason for this, of course, is what business will you have after month 3.

    Referrals come only with a high level of satisfaction. Do a good job, maybe get one referral. Do a bad job, however, and the word will spread 10 fold that you do not deliver.

    That's why it is important in sales to always be selling - some companies take a long time to make a decision, so keep your cup running over as much as possible based on your revenue and sales plan.

    Owning your own business is hard work, acquiring customers even tougher, and those cushy 8 hour days with an hour lunch(at your current day job), well, expect 10-12 hours and a ham sandwich for lunch when you get started!

    Good luck, WFN :)


    11:18 pm on Jun 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

    There are still many businesses out there without a web presence. Look through Thomas Register web site to see how many companies don't have a web site.


    11:54 pm on Jun 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

    10+ Year Member

    Is there a point of critical mass that web design/development firms eventually reach where there are enough referals, and enough referals from those referals where there's more work than they can handle?

    that's what I meant to say earlier, but it was late

    there is a critical mass that's exactly the way I think of it - over time there's acquisition and there's natural attrition, you have to manage that, finesse that, over the years to keep your livelihood balanced

    no need to quit your day job yet, finesse it down to part time over time, then go contract with them, keep them as a small client, that's what I did. Take your time, don't go out on a limb, build some reserves, set monetary protocols and time (working hours) standrards for yourself

    then notice how you flout those rules, and the price for breaking them.

    okay, only buy one book, the e-myth, the myth of the entrepreneur - says most people are entrepreneurs just long enough to get a foothold in business, but all they wanted really was a job without a boss, and then they get it, and guess what no vacation.

    you *have* to be a business person in your thinking. You *have* know at least what counts for wisdom in the growth and management of business.

    imho, if you're just an artisan without a boss, sooner or later you'll let at least one client down, and that's not good for several reasons.


    2:15 am on Jun 14, 2003 (gmt 0)

    10+ Year Member

    ps..I don't mean the above to sound like a lecture, it's not, just trying to say that if you become a pro web designer, you are in business, and all of your questions about how to conduct your affairs have already been answered very well in business publications. So you can turn to that body of knowledge for help and it will assist you (no need to wear a suit or anything)

    on other points about the market, I'm glad everyone already has a website, I don't especially want to build a first-time one for someone. Everyone needs maintenance, and the second and third-time people are so much more matter of fact about what they want. Suddenly it's like you're a mechanic, you have a shop, you can do these things, people do business with people they know and like, and there you are. Then cultivate that client for life.

    when you get your critical mass, you truly can have that family for life (if you study the business knowledge a little) - maintenance, upgrades, your specials, your newsletter, the demonstration effect to your clients when you launch some new features with one client - marketing to your own clients is a never-ending source of revenue vastly better than finding new clients.

    and pitching your clients to find you new clients works better than cold calling.

    and my point about failing a client was supposed to relate to knowing how to handle growth when you're a one-person band - how to subcontract, delegate, replace yourself, etc, so that you can handle success.

    it's all business knowledge, the advice is easily found.


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