How to Run a Successful Web Design Business

A web design business can help to bring clients into the digital world. It can also help to keep current customers within that world.

When you start a web design business, you’ll probably want to choose a platform that can scale easily, from a few clients at first to thousands over the course of several years.

Web design is a competitive business. Many web design firms offer similar services at similar rates. So how do you differentiate yourself and become the go-to web designer for your clients?

The structure of a web design business is largely dictated by what services you choose to provide, how many employees you hire, and what your compensation model is.

You’ll need to set a pricing structure for yourself in order to determine the best fit for you. Many web designers are freelance, working either full-time or part-time, or they may operate their own business as a side hustle.

Here are a few tips for running a successful web design business:

The Anatomy of a Web Design Business

Whether you’re starting a new web design business or looking to grow your existing one, there are many different ways to structure your business. Each structure has its pros and cons, and knowing what to look for is key to keeping things running smoothly.

The web design business is a combination of three main components: a creative studio, an operations management team, and an accounting team.

A Creative Studio: A web design business can be broken into two categories: 1) A full service agency. These are the agencies that provide a range of services: website design, web development, digital advertising, online marketing, social media management, etc. 2) A design firm. This type of business is comprised of a single designer who focuses on one specific aspect of web design such as graphic design, UI design, UX, or branding.

An Operations Team: A web design business is required to manage the operations of the web design business. These include things like invoicing, project management, and other tasks that help keep the business running smoothly.

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An Accounting Team: Most businesses require the use of an accounting team, which is primarily responsible for the daily financial management of the business. Some of the accounting team’s responsibilities include reporting, bookkeeping, and managing the finances. The role of an accountant is typically outsourced to the accountants or the finance team at the business.

This is a rough outline of what goes into running a web design business, but there are many nuances that affect the success of each business. A web design business that is managed efficiently can grow and thrive, while a poorly managed business is sure to fall by the wayside.

How to Find Your Ideal Client Base

If you’re just starting out, check out our guide on how to get your first web design client.

Most business owners need to find clients, whether they want to build a new website, grow an existing business, or just start a new project.

The first step in developing a client base is identifying the target audience and ensuring that you understand who they are and what your offering is. Are they looking for a solution? A service? Something else?

There are two types of clients who want websites designed: those who need the website built and those who need the website designed.

The first group tends to be the smaller, more local business. Many of them are just getting started. They need the site designed to give them a competitive edge over their neighbors. They need it done fast, and they need it done cheap.

The second group is usually larger. They’ve already got a website, but they want a fresh face on their site. They want it to look professional and polished. They want it to fit their budget, and they want it done right.

To find the ideal client base you need to be able to identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Identify your strengths and weaknesses:

If you’re a good designer, you’ll know what kind of work you can take on. You’ll also know what kind of projects are too small and what kind of projects are too large.

So, your strength is your ability to turn these small projects into larger projects. If you’re a great designer, you can take on a project that would normally require a junior designer and turn it into something you can charge more for.

Your weakness is in the other direction. You can’t make a project too large for you to handle. If it is too large, you’ll get stuck.

You also need to recognize when a client is asking for a lot of help for little money. A lot of time is spent at this stage by the client trying to save money. So if they can’t afford to pay you, you might be better off taking the job anyway.

Negotiating Contracts with Clients

Most of us in the web design business are designers first. There is a good chance we are also developers. And there are very few of us that don’t have clients. I know, I used to be one of those guys too. And I learned a lot about what works and doesn’t work in the client-designer relationship.

So, I get this question all the time. How do I negotiate a contract? How do I get paid? What if they don’t pay? Are there any laws that I should be aware of? Let’s get to the bottom of this.

Ideally, you want no negotiating. The biggest thing to avoid is negotiating with the client upfront, then getting stuck in a never-ending cycle of revisions. It’s better to negotiate a fair fee and a specific deliverable than to try to get a better deal before you even start. If you’re not sure how much to charge, look at other projects you’ve done. Or ask around.

First, it’s important to know that contracts are only as good as the person who writes them. If you’re uncomfortable writing a contract, or have no idea what to write, then you’re better off hiring someone else to write a contract for you. I’ve worked with many freelance writers over the years, and they usually have the best advice for negotiating a contract. When you’re working with a freelance writer, it’s important to understand that they are writing about their needs and what they are paying for in the contract. Don’t try to dictate terms unless you know what the writer needs and what is fair to both parties. You can always adjust a contract after the fact, so make sure to work with a person who’s comfortable with negotiation, and who you trust.

If you decide to go through a lawyer, they can be expensive. There are many great free resources online for writing contracts, so make sure to read through a few before getting into a contract. And, most importantly, have fun!

Here are some tips that can help you close deals and get paid.

  • Don’t let your client dictate how you work. Your client wants to pay for quality, but they’re not willing to pay for quality work.
  • Show them how valuable your skills are. You’re a professional designer, so you can’t just be a glorified content editor. Show them your value by creating a high-quality portfolio with examples and case studies.
  • Be specific about how much time you need. Give them a timeline and tell them what they can expect.
  • Use a contract. There’s nothing worse than working for free and not getting paid. You’ve got to protect yourself. Create a contract that clearly outlines how things will be done. You’ll be surprised how many clients won’t follow this, but you’ll be even more surprised how few clients are actually worth the effort of working with.
  • Be honest with clients. When you find yourself in a tight spot, make sure you’re able to put your foot down. Sometimes the best way to negotiate a deal is to say “no.”
  • Be prepared to walk away. If your client can’t give you the resources you need, walk away. Don’t waste your time or energy on a client that’s not going to pay for quality work.
  • Keep everything in writing. You never know what can happen, so make sure you’re protected by keeping everything in writing.
  • A professional designer is only as good as their portfolio. Your portfolio is your biggest asset. Make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.

Managing Clients and Keeping Them Happy

A web design business must be able to balance its work with its clients and still keep clients coming back. To do so, it needs to be flexible, creative, and most importantly, customer-focused.

As you gain more experience, you’ll need to start taking responsibility for projects, keeping your clients happy, and working on a budget. A happy client is a repeat client, and that’s a great place to start. It’s always important to communicate with your clients, but you’ll find that it’s especially important when you’re trying to keep them happy. This means communicating how long your project will take to complete, the costs involved, and what you’re expecting from them in return.

To keep your clients happy, remember that they’re paying you to help them market themselves. If you’re constantly doing what they tell you, there won’t be anything special about you. So if you’re working on something, try to find ways to put that same work into something that your client could use, or something that you could use. Or even better, take a look at what you already have done and come up with ways to make it better.

So here are the top ten things you should do in order to keep clients happy:

  • Keep them informed.
  • Listen to what they say.
  • Make sure that you are up to date on the latest web technologies.
  • Have clear documentation.
  • Have a good web analytics strategy.
  • Set deadlines.
  • Check the site regularly.
  • Provide regular feedback.
  • Keep them updated.

Running Meetings

When starting out in web design it’s extremely important to find a way to keep the creative juices flowing.

Whether you’re the sole developer, or working with an agency, it’s crucial to have a meeting culture. A culture that doesn’t focus solely on the design and layout, but on how things work together.

Meetings aren’t something you can do on auto-pilot. You need to create a meeting checklist and run a series of meetings to ensure you’re maximizing the ROI from your meetings.

You may think you already have everything figured out, but it’s often best to give yourself room to grow.

Here’s a quick list of things to consider when organizing meetings:

  • Keep things concise
  • Ask good questions
  • Have a meeting agenda
  • Don’t spend too much time on side issues
  • Encourage feedback
  • Have a clear process for design decisions
  • Use templates
  • Share progress

How to Hire and Manage Employees

Ever had employees before?

As a web design company owner, you’re in a position of power and influence.

With that comes a lot of responsibility and accountability. Being a leader means leading by example. While this may sound daunting, it’s actually a very simple concept.

Every web designer needs employees to meet deadlines and handle other logistics. Most designers are self-taught, but that doesn’t mean they have to work alone. Even the most experienced freelancers benefit from having employees on board, and sometimes freelancers can offer benefits like medical insurance that employees may not get.

You should hire based on the job requirements. Your team should consist of people who are capable of performing multiple tasks, such as graphic design, programming, and layout. It’s important to have a mix of skills so you don’t end up spending too much time training people who aren’t needed. You’ll also want someone who can manage their time well so they’re always working. These employees should be willing to work extra hours if necessary to get jobs done quickly.

When it comes to hiring staff, companies often look for people who will stick around long-term. This means choosing a candidate with a proven track record of being a good fit for the company culture. It also means asking lots of questions when they apply. Why would you want to work for us? What’s your biggest challenge? How are you going to make yourself a valuable asset?

If you’re looking to hire new talent, take some time to ask about the candidate’s personality. People can tell a lot about a person by the way they present themselves. So when interviewing, take time to look beyond the technical skills the person has. Ask what kind of environment they’d thrive in. Who are they? Do they care about doing the right thing? Are they honest? These are qualities that show whether someone is the right fit for the team and company.

The same holds true for hiring managers. Don’t rely on just one metric to make your decisions. Instead, look at several key factors. Think about what you expect from the person, and what you’re looking for. Look at their work ethic, their communication skills, and whether they have a positive attitude. Take note of their strengths and weaknesses.

When hiring, look for someone who fits in with your team and your company. They should have the personality and traits you need. And of course, they should be a good fit for your team and your organization.

The Web Design Process

Web design is a broad topic.

There are entire books dedicated to the subject, and we encourage you to read them if this subject interests you.

When it comes to starting your own web design company, you can either start small and grow organically, or you can create a comprehensive and high-quality website for your clients as a complete package. Either way, it’s crucial to keep your eyes on the prize: your clients are ultimately buying your services. A great web design agency makes great websites for their clients and helps them succeed, not the other way around.

There are certain steps that you should follow when setting up your own web design business, and there are ways you can ensure that you’re taking the right steps. This guide will help you set up a strong web design company, and hopefully it will help you to avoid some of the pitfalls that others have fallen into along the way.

The web design process can be broken down into three key stages:

1. Conceptualization

2. Design

3. Implementation

The first step is defining the customer.

The audience isn’t a bunch of cookie-cutter people. They’re individuals and they have their own personal and professional goals, values and dreams.

Understanding the audience’s goals, aspirations, and challenges is the first step towards designing a winning web experience.

In the second phase, define the user’s experience.

What are the user’s problems, pain points, and hopes? You might want to ask yourself “Why would someone visit my website? What do they expect to get out of it?” These are questions you need to answer before moving to the next phase.

This is where you can really get into the nitty-gritty details of the project. I like to dig deeper than the surface of a project to understand the customer’s real needs and motivations.

Finally, in the last phase, we turn our ideas into reality.

You’ve got a lot of stuff to consider when creating a great user experience. First, think about the site’s layout, color scheme, and overall look and feel.

But beyond those design considerations, the user’s experience will be greatly influenced by the way the content is structured. So you’ll want to make sure you have the right balance of content and images.

Another major consideration for user experience is how to communicate with the audience. How do you do it? What should you be doing?

This is the part that requires the own creativity. And here’s where it really pays to have a clear vision and plan before starting.

 

Managing Your Time

While a lot of people love the idea of running their own business, the reality is that many of us are not good at managing our time. Whether it’s getting stuck in meetings, or wasting hours on the phone trying to close a deal, we all have stories about those days that ended with “Why didn’t I say no?”

As the entrepreneur who owns and operates a small web design company, you’re probably already spending hours on the phone, or filling out forms. But what about the other 80% of the day? How can you make sure that you’re maximizing the time that you spend working?

How you spend your time is very important. When it comes to your job, the way you schedule your time is critical to your productivity. If you don’t manage your time effectively, you won’t be able to maximize your output.

Set your priorities – Decide which tasks are more valuable to you, and focus on completing them first.

Break down tasks into smaller steps – You can never complete a task in one sitting. Take your larger tasks and break them down into smaller tasks. Then, set yourself mini-goals that you can accomplish each day.

Schedule your day – In order to be effective at managing your time, you have to know how long it takes you to complete various activities. The first step is to figure out how much time you spend on certain activities. After that, you need to schedule your day, so you have the time that you need to complete your projects.

When scheduling your day, you should take into account both your personal and professional responsibilities. While you might be able to schedule 8 hours for personal tasks, you won’t have the bandwidth to complete all of the projects that you need to.

You should also consider what type of tasks you want to accomplish during your time. Do you want to spend all of your time working on social media? Or are you more interested in creating a solid website?

The type of work that you’re doing is going to have an impact on how you manage your time. For example, if you’re working on a new website, you’re going to need to put aside more time than if you’re designing a blog.

One of the best ways to manage your time is to have a consistent routine. Start your day by getting your work done.

How to Market Yourself & Business

There is no shortage of advice about how to grow your business, but oftentimes, advice about how to market yourself is overlooked.

This advice should be taken seriously. As a web designer, your main job is to make other people look good. If you can’t do that, you’re going to fail. But if you are able to market yourself effectively, then it will only make your job easier.

Marketing your services is not the easiest thing to do. In fact, the act of marketing your services could end up costing you money. You might need to pay to advertise, spend money on hosting, or invest in an email marketing service. These things can eat into your budget.

  1. Have a website and blog. Create a website and blog with a professional-looking design. Make sure that your website is easy to navigate and load quickly. Include information that makes people want to read more and interact on your site.
  2. Do not rely on social media for all of your marketing. Social media is a great tool for generating leads, but you cannot expect your customers to find you on social media. If you want to grow your business, you’ll need to start putting yourself out there through more traditional marketing channels like direct mail, print advertising, and email campaigns.
  3. Develop a strong online presence. You can make this happen by focusing on SEO. This means that you’ll need to make sure that your website is properly optimized so that it’s easy for people to find. You can also hire a website designer who can help you get your site up and running quickly and make sure it loads at the speed of a website. This doesn’t cost a ton, either. Most companies can get started for around $250 to $400. This money is better spent than anything else you could be doing.
  4. Offer freebies. You don’t need to offer a ton of freebies. But if you can get your name out there in the right way, you can offer a few freebies that give you the opportunity to get your name out there. These freebies can range from an infographic, to a blog post, to a white paper.
  5. Attend events. Attend as many events as possible. Meet people, network, and talk with people. This is a great way to stay in front of your target audience.
  6. Participate in online communities. This can be done through websites like LinkedIn or Google+. You can also use platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. All of these sites are free to use and can be great ways to build your business.
  7. Host an online webinar. If you are good at this, you can charge a lot of money. This is a good way to increase your business and get noticed.
  8. Create content. If you’re creating content for the purpose of getting a link or increasing traffic, then you’re not adding value for the user. But if you’re providing content for the sole purpose of helping other people, you’re doing a great job. Content can include whitepapers, ebooks, articles, videos, and podcasts.
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Author:
I've been making websites since I was a kid and now have over 20 years of experience building them for myself and my agency. I noticed patterns of problems that all business owners experience with their websites. Problems that most business owners don’t even know matter, let alone how to address. I built Pagemend to help people stay on top of their websites.

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