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New web design business - How did you start?



11:00 am on Mar 26, 2008 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I have recently started freelance web design and was looking for advice to bring in business.

My idea was to work in my local area and generate work locally to build a decent portfolio.

My first problem was my lack of business savvy and i need to improve this?

Secondly, i need to generate business at a good rate on a constant basis. Is it best to try find big jobs that pay well or go for small quick bursts of work? Would any one have any suggestion on a good approach for this?

I really need good ideas to generate work and was wondering if anyone can share their experiences regarding starting out in web design and how they went about it?

Many thanks



11:26 am on Mar 26, 2008 (gmt 0)

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

Hi Gavin,

Learn SEO.

First of all let me say that it's not going to be easy. I am in the same region as you but I have to look for work from all over the UK.

Learn SEO.

I prefer to concentrate on smaller companies since losing one of them as a client does not put me out of business whereas losing a large client could be very serious.

Get a good protfolio in place and make sure any examples sites you provide are working.

Then keep learning SEO ;)


5:37 pm on Mar 26, 2008 (gmt 0)

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

Well, first you need to more clearly define what you're going to do.

You say web design. BDW recommends (wisely) SEO.

I started out this way; I had a tunnel vision for "web design." Coming from the print industry, where these borders are clearly defined, this is natural. You design in an Apollonian 2 dimensional space, print it, collect the check, done. But it's also an Achilles heel. Why?

Because when people think of "web design," they think only in terms of presentation: graphics, navigation widgets, pretty colors, What's On The Screen Says It All.

Very soon, I found out, design is not everything. A web site is a living, breathing 4 dimensional entity, which changes from user to user, browser to browser, over time. There are issues that far outweigh "design:" information architecture, navigation structure, scalability, interactivity, and of course, SEO.

If you want to concentrate on web design alone you're going to have a very small market unless you expand your abilities. When a customer says "I wanna website" they are going to want it to do something. The design is just the visual medium, and if that's as far as your thinking goes, that medium may present barriers to the other factors that make a web site work.

So what if you just approach it as a designer alone? What happens is, what you don't know comes back to bite you. A new developer comes along, critiques your site, and convinces the customer they were ill advised on many points, and poof . . . they are gone.

So I would suggest you either expand what you plan to do - which is going to make for a lot more work than you intend - or network with programmers, SEO techs, and marketers in your area to parry off that part of the load. You'll all learn from each other.

Either that, or you take the high road and learn all the other non-design skills to carry it all yourself. It's also a long road. :-)

To answer your second set of questions, for design alone - all you'll get are small jobs with very little recurring income. Design it, present it, the developers take over. For "large jobs," the real work is done over time in nursing the pages for SEO and developing dynamic aspects of a site. I've found these are the ones that do provide more consistent income, but you really need to know what's being asked of you to keep the customers coming back.


6:33 pm on Mar 26, 2008 (gmt 0)

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

Perhaps I should have stressed that I meant learn SEO so that you will have a chance of generating some enquiries through your website. This is obviously not easy because you are up against a lot of experienced web designers.


6:50 pm on Mar 26, 2008 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

This is a great post! So we have design and SEO. What else do we have? SEO is starting to be less of a specialty and more inclusive to web design service in general. So whats next? I don't expect anyone to really answer, but with such market saturation of web designers and SEO folks, It's time for a new buzz!

Undead Hunter

9:48 pm on Mar 31, 2008 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Network, network, network. Assuming you want to do local work, that depends on where you live. Maybe volunteer to do a free local charity site, get people to know who you are, and think of you as the local expert. Keep your rates reasonable, in a package preferably - remember the EASIER it is the better for clients. Clients want guarantees, safety, they want to know their money is well spent.

SEO - I go the other way, just learn the basics and go from there. Assuming you aren't competing on an international basis.


2:06 pm on Apr 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member piatkow is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

I can think of half a dozen sites for local voluntary organisations that I deal with where the webmaster is an enthusiast who also has their own design business.

Volunteer but don't just parachute in, get involved in something you care about away from the day job. Lots of chance for contacts, just don't get known as an easy touch for every local PTA/church/youth group or whatever.


9:02 pm on Apr 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I second the "learn seo". Building seo into your design/development is a huge asset.

A few other points of note:
1. Get a good contract, and require at least a 50% deposit
2. Keep your costs low - and cashflow high
3. Once you learn seo, you can probably double your rates due to the value add.
4. Hand out lots of cards, and make sure they're unique
5. Don't be afraid to fire crappy clients - they'll drain you financially and emotionally.
6. Join local organizations that refer leads for small businesses
7. Talk to local print shops that don't do web dev.
8. Talk to local marketing agencies/ consultants that don't do web dev.
9. Spend at least 20% of your time learning new stuff.
10. Make sure the cobblers kids have shoes (that you have nice site)
11. Get some good references, and use them
12. Get a good portfolio on your site.


9:31 pm on Apr 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

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

It is worth mentioning that you MUST get a good set of terms and conditions in place. Provide clients with a copy of these and ask them to agree to them before starting any new jobs.

Remember also that you should carefully define any work specifications and proposals. Clients will try to get you to do much more than you meant to.

The only way to get round this is to ensure that the work is carefully specified up front. You should also include a statement along the lines of "any additional work requested after the project commences will incur additional charges".

Undead Hunter

5:50 am on Apr 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I second both the last two comments regarding a good set of terms and conditions. Spell out explicitly what they will get, right down to the menu items, what programming, format, and so on. Lock it all in place.

50% down for small jobs, 30% for bigger ones with 30% in the middle and the final 40% before live launch. Don't launch 'til that last cheque comes in. And build in a kill fee, too.

I bought online legal template software that spelled out web contracts, then edited each one to fit the job. Made everything that much more official.

Fortune Hunter

5:29 pm on Apr 5, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I also recommend learning copywriting and direct marketing. I have these in my portfolio of services and it has served me very well for a while. It takes longer to learn to be good at it and you will never know it all, but I believe it really helps expand your offerings and probably most importantly distinguishes you in the market from other "web designers".

I believe just being a simple designer is a license to get paid commodity rates for work and lose potential contracts to the high school kid designing web sites in his bedroom for 1/3 of what you can afford to do them for. It is my opinion the more marketing you bring to the web design table the better off your business will be.


12:15 am on Apr 30, 2008 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

It really became a nice topic, which proves how much passion designers who have succesfully adapted to change do for living. I wonder if the poster is now realizing how much he has to step backwards in terms of carreer, in order to go forward. I dunno if I make myself clear by now. But giving my 2 cent, id say network, and I guess a good place to start if right at this forum.
Would be great to work in small designing or developing jobs, getting good money and doing it all from a single web site.


6:39 pm on Aug 9, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

but you really need to know what's being asked of you to keep the customers coming back.

This is the real trick - business skills. Try to network and proactively meet people that have *actually* been successfull. Learn to listen to prospects, not just opening your ears but real empathic listening before making a proposal. Good Luck!


8:28 pm on Aug 9, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

There have been a lot of replies here already giving you excellent advice.

I just wanted to encourage you at the beginning of your business career, however it may turn out.

IF you do a great job and IF you keep your promises and IF you adhere to your deadlines, my experience has been that word-of-mouth will mean that you will never want for work.

Those may sound like simple things, but thousands of web hosts and designers and programmers and SEOs all over the world fail at some of those basic business tenets every single day.

Your potential customers are currently their customers. They are unhappy with not being able to get a real person on the phone to discuss their problems. They are fed up with waiting six months for a project where completion was promised in two. They are professional business people and they expect their suppliers to act professionally as well.

It may seem like you are facing a sated market filled with more experienced competition. But, if you can do a competent, reliable and professional job, you are not competing against them, you are already ahead of them.


6:27 am on Sep 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

A lot of good advice here. Learn Python, Java or .Net. You'll need a server side language to actually do anything useful. SEO is a must for anyone in this business. Then there's all the front end design stuff to learn. There's a lot to learn so try to partner with people that can do what you can as you expand your knowledge base.


6:55 am on Sep 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

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

I don't think the OP is around any more?

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