This year has never been a better time to start a web design business. In fact, since COVID-19 began pushing more retail sales online, new data shows us that 2020 online sales will surpass all of 2019 sales by October 5.
With the added consumer drive toward online buying and ecommerce, successful businesses and retailers need to bolster their web presence like never before in order to stand out from the competition and remain viable.
But how do you start a web design business? What are the first steps you should take? Is running a web design business truly your passion? Do you know how to grow it? In this guide, we’ll take a detailed look at everything you need to do in order to start a web design business. Let’s dive in.
Why Start a Web Design Business?Starting a web design business has many benefits, both financially and from a lifestyle perspective. If you start a web design business, you can reap the rewards of doing work you enjoy, solving problems, having a flexible work schedule, and making a comfortable living.
As a professional web designer in 2020 and beyond, starting a web design business means you’ll have a better opportunity to establish yourself and your brand than nearly any other time in history. Basically: NOW is the time to start a web design business.
The fact of the matter is, all businesses need a well-designed website in 2020. This is where you and your new web design business enter the picture.
How Does Great Web Design Help a Business?
A poor web presence quickly ends a potential relationship between a buyer. Ending before it even had a chance to take root.
Consider the last time you and your significant other were looking for a new dining experience for a date. You ran a few quick Google searches to find out if your town or city has any hidden restaurant gems that you haven’t discovered yet.
The first result is an Italian restaurant with an attention-getting name and an appetizing main image. However, when you click through to their website, it’s immediately obvious that the site hasn’t had any updates in the last two years.
While there’s a menu available to browse, you can’t really trust that it’s current. Each menu item gives a minimal write-up that leaves you wanting more. You notice that there is no way to book a reservation online.
While the restaurant sounded good to you at first glance. Once you dove into their website, you now have the impression that the restaurant is:
- Not current
- Sloppy with their branding
- Not customer-centric
- Not a place you’ll probably visit
When you return to your original search results, you find another result that catches your eye. It’s a small bistro that you haven’t heard of that says that they are only open on Friday and Saturday nights, and have a very limited seating capacity.
You click through to their website and the first thing you see is a photo of the owner/head chef at work. And then a customer-centered mission statement and some of the most delicious food you’ve ever seen photographed.
Immediately, you start to get excited about the prospect of dining out at this undiscovered gem of a location. You almost can’t wait to tell your significant other what you’ve just found.
But before you get ahead of yourself, you reason that you better do full research on this restaurant first. So you start clicking through their website.
Your first click is to their interactive menu that shows you everything they offer, including prices, full descriptions and options. Each menu item has a video link showing you exactly how the chefs prepare the food. And how fresh their ingredients are. How cool is that?
After watching a few of the menu videos, you see a prominently displayed “customer reviews” section that includes customer photos and amazing write-ups about the restaurant. The most recent reviews you begin reading were from just last weekend. This place seems legit.
Then you see how quickly and easily you can book your reservation online. The website even shows you exactly how many reservations remain for this coming Saturday. You better move quickly.
After clicking on their social media icons to see how active they are, you head back to the website and immediately book your reservation. You’re so confident that your significant other will approve, that you don’t even wait to run it past them.
Do you see how powerful great web design is and how beautifully it works when it’s implemented properly?
The first restaurant might have better food and a classier dining experience than the second one, but because of how their website was built and designed, the first restaurant never had a chance against the second restaurant.
When you start your web design business, this is exactly what you need to do for your clients. If you build WordPress sites that bring your clients more business, rest assured that your reputation will grow as quickly as your list of clients.
Evaluate Your Reasons for Starting a Web Design Business
If you’re reading this article, it probably goes without saying that great web design is one of your key passions. In fact, it probably hurts you when you come across a poorly designed website. A bad design drives you away from doing business with a company you otherwise were interested in.
Why do you want to start your own web design business? Are you intrigued by the idea of being your own boss? Do you want flexible work hours? Do you think you could make more money this way?
What ever your reasons may be, starting a web design business will need to be backed up with a lot of determination and drive. Do not adopt the mindset that you’ll be able to find success without ever lifting a finger.
Initially, you may be working longer hours for less pay. But, f you’re passionate about your work, longer hours at the beginning will be less of an issue.
7 Questions To Ask Yourself
- Do you work well alone, or do you need constant human interaction?
- Do you have good communication skills?
- How well do you handle stress and uncertainty?
- Are you driven and self-motivated?
- Do you possess the discipline to meet deadlines and produce quality work?
- Can you survive without an immediate reward?
- Are you sure this is something you want?
Understand that starting a web design business, or any business for that matter, will be stressful, time consuming, frustrating and overwhelming.
But also know that with persistence and dedication there is real potential to create a successful future for yourself with flexible time, limitless growth, financial independence and many more freedoms.
What It Means to Start a Web Design Business
Now that we have a powerful image of what great web design can do for businesses, it’s important to know exactly what it means to get started in the web design business.
Before you can hope to have any real success doing web design professionally, you’ll need to have an absolute top-notch website yourself. This is where potential clients will do their research on you and see what kind of web design chops you have.
Your Web Design Business Website: Keys to Success
There are several key aspects that you’ll need to employ into your website in order to bring in clients in the highly competitive web design industry.
Tell Your Story
Your business website needs to tell a story to prospects. Don’t just list your skills and what you’re able to do (although, of course, that’s highly important as well). Tell them who you are.
Describe your passion for web design. Talk about other industries you’ve worked in and how those experiences have lead you into your professional web design business.
Tell a little bit about your personal life and what passions and hobbies you have. Be a person first and a web design guru second.
This approach will help separate you from the noise when a potential client is searching for a web designer to work with on their next big project.
Nearly every prospect that dives into your website is going to have questions for you about their specific WordPress project.
- What is your experience with WooCommerce and ShipStation plugins?
- Have you ever built a WordPress website for a complex business with many revenue streams?
- Are you able to integrate certain aspects of their existing site into your new design?
Of course, you’ll want to answer as many of these questions as you can within the content of your website. But for those clients who would rather talk to you about their specific needs, how easy is it to get a hold of you?
Sure, you can toss up the cliche “Contact Me” page with a web form to fill out that most Internet users never expect a reply from.
Or, you could give your personal email address and phone number and let clients and prospects know the specific hours you’re available to talk one-on-one.
When you’re first starting out, it’s imperative that you are easy to get in touch with personally, and that you’re available for conversations for as many hours of the day as possible.
This simple step will make you really stand out from the crowd.
No matter how wonderful your website is, it won’t matter if potential clients can’t find it or don’t know that it exists.
Getting visibility to clients in the beginning can certainly be a challenge. To combat this, choose a business name and URL that is simple and catchy.
But avoid getting too “cutesy.”
When you choose your URL, try to lock down a .com and strive to keep the URL name three syllables or less.
Print a bunch of inexpensive business cards and start promoting your brand and URL to as many of your local businesses as you possibly can.
Although it may sound a bit intimidating to walk into a business location completely cold, it’s really not that difficult to do. Just be personable, natural and non-intrusive. Introduce yourself and your business in a sentence or two.
Then leave them your business card with your URL featured very prominently so that they can do more research on you after you walk out the door.
This simple practice will drive you new business because most of your competition is too scared to do this sort of “cold calling” introduction.
But by engaging in this simple and effective practice, before you know it, you’re going to need to look into the best way to manage multiple WordPress sites.
After this, start listing yourself on popular freelance website like UpWork.com and Freelancer.com. Spend plenty of time setting up all the details of your freelance profiles.
Then start applying for as many WordPress web design freelance jobs as you can. It’s important here not to get caught up in a price-bidding war with other freelancers and web designers. Decide on your rates before you begin applying for freelance work, and stick to those rates.
If you begin to undercut your rates, you run the risk of devaluing your work and upsetting clients who have paid a higher rate for your work in the past.
Landing freelance jobs on popular freelance websites isn’t an easy thing to do, especially if you’re new. But it’s a great way to start making connections and building your portfolio for future direct work.
Display Your Rates
When you’re shopping or researching online, what is one of the first things you want to know about a company’s products or services?
If you’re like most people, you probably want to know how much it’s going to cost. Your customers are no different.
When a client is searching for someone to design their business website, they want to know how much they’re going to need to budget for the project. You can set the rates on your work by the hour (with estimates on how long certain project types will take) or by the number of pages of the site or the complexity of design.
It can be difficult to set blanket prices for certain web design services, so you should always include a “Custom Design” option that requires that a client call or get in touch with you directly for a specific quote.
This is a great way to get a conversation going and land a new web design job through a one-on-one conversation.
Showcase Your Portfolio
Customers want to see what kind of work you’ve done in the past. If they’re looking for someone who can handle building an effective sales funnel for a complex product line, chances are they’ll want to see how you’ve done the same for someone else.
Include as much of your past work on your website as you possibly can. Even if you’re brand new to the business of professional web design, include sites you’ve built for yourself, friends, family members, or as favors/bartering with others.
Never assume that anything you’ve built isn’t relavent or shouldn’t be featured on your site. There are innumerable types of websites that potential clients might be looking for. That simple design you did for a local tire shop could be exactly what someone on the other side of the country is looking for.
Feature Glowing Reviews
Buying decisions are based on customer reviews. A few poor reviews will quickly turn a new customer into one that you never even knew existed.
No customer reviews will leave a buyer feeling like your business isn’t well-established.
Neither of these situations will serve you positively in building your business as a web design professional.
The best way to build a portfolio of reviews is to simply ask your prior customers for them. Have an area on your website that you can link to a satisfied customer after the job is completed. Shoot it off to them in an email and politely ask if they would review your work. It might be alright with them if you featured the review on your site.
A good percentage of clients will take the time to leave you a review. You can either choose to display all reviews, or pick and choose the best reviews to show on your website.
You can use a WordPress review plugins to help streamline the process.
If you haven’t had any paid professional web design work, then look to your pro-bono clients. Talk to the people you’ve made websites for and tell them that you’re going to start doing web design professionally.
Ask them to write up reviews for you to help you get started. You’ll be surprised how many people will want to help you out on your new endeavor.
Set Realistic Web Design Business Goals
It’s crucial that you don’t set unrealistic goals and expectations for your business. It’s equally important that you don’t set goals that are too easy to achieve.
Unrealistic goals will de-motivate you when you find that you can’t reach them as quickly as you had hoped. Goals that are too easy to reach will hold you back from finding a higher level of success.
If you’re looking to work this business on a part-time basis to supplement additional established income, set an initial goal of finding three clients to work with over the next month. Each of these jobs could easily bring in $1,000 or more, depending on the level of work they require.
If you’d like to jump right into full-time web design, set a goal of six clients in your first month. Then get out there in the community and start making it happen.
Be careful not to take on too many jobs at once, however. It will take you some time to figure out how to manage multiple jobs at the same time. While still giving each client the personal one-on-one time they will need to complete each project successfully.
What Does it Take to Start a Web Design Business?
If you are interested in taking things to the next level, there are a few more actions you can take to getting your startup off the ground.
- Invest time into your branding.
- Create a website to showcase your portfolio.
- Develop a presence online through social media.
- Design business cards to give to potential clients and take to networking events.
- Brush up on your SEO knowledge to give your website a boost in the search engine ranking.
- Find a mentor who has experience in starting a business.
- Get an accountant and attorney.
- Decide on your website design process.
- Choose a website content management system to specialize in (we highly recommend WordPress!)
- Have a plan for contracts.
- Think through your approach to ongoing website maintenance services.
What Skills Will You Need To Succeed As a WordPress Web Designer?
Obviously, not just anyone can succeed in this business. Successful web designers have certain skills and aptitudes that allow them to find success in this competitive market.
Fortunately for most of us, learning how to code from scratch is not one of the skills you’ll need to succeed at WordPress web design.
Some of the skills you will need to possess, however, include:
- SEO (search engine optimization) knowledge
- User Experience (UX)
- Visual design knowledge
- CSS and HTML knowledge
- Knowledge of tools such as Illustrator and Photoshop
- “People skills”
It’s important to understand that the job of a WordPress web designer is to make a website both appealing and highly functional. This requires a combination of a solid technical background with a creative aptitude that can tie each individual project together.
The Importance of “People Skills” for a Web Design Business
Personally, I’m an introvert. I’m not exactly a poster child of a “people person,” so I sympathize with people who, like me, lack the super-natural ability to strike up a conversation with strangers.
Introverts may have to stretch themselves a bit to create a client base so challenge yourself, but remember to go at a manageable pace.
Easy for me to say right? As I sit silently in a dimly lit office with headphones on, providing encouragement through thoughtfully crafted words and phrases.
It is easier said than done, but it is doable. Here are five tips for how to work on your “People Skills.”
- Practice talking to strangers. Whether it’s your waiter, barista or someone you’re in an elevator with, make an effort to at least say “hello” and maybe even ask how their day is going. Doing this will better prepare you for future interactions with potential clients.
- Go to networking events and challenge yourself to meet at least two people.
- Network with a friend.
- Think of questions beforehand that you would want to know about a potential client. This means you need to imagine the type of client you wish to work with. Quality over quantity.
- Schedule time to recharge, this way you know there is a light at the end of the tunnel where you’ll have time to yourself.
Regardless of whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, check out the “Turning Contacts Into Contracts” Ebook for more ideas about how to develop a client base.
Powerful Tutorials for WordPress Web Design
If you’re just starting out with WordPress, or if you have experience but want to dive in deeper in order to become the best WordPress web designer possible, the many available online tutorials and courses are the perfect places to get started.
iThemes has over 500 hours of premium WordPress training content available and we are adding more all the time.
In order to save you time researching on your own, let’s take a look at the best WordPress web design tutorials you’ll be able to find.
HTML and CSS
The best WordPress designers have a solid and thorough knowledge of HTML and CSS. If you need some help in this area, here are several courses and tutorials you can dive into.
This is the perfect place to begin learning about code. There are many tutorials and classes to choose from. Each will explain the basics of both HTML and CSS, why they’re important, and how exactly you use them in web design on WordPress.
Once you’ve gained this understanding, you can move onto more complex tutorials and courses.
W3Schools will offer you extremely detailed courses and tutorials ranging from the basics all the way up to advanced CSS skills. Mastering the courses on W3Schools will lead you into building powerful and effective WordPress sites.
Proficiency in search engine optimization (SEO) is also a highly sought-after skill that your clients will be looking for when they’re hiring a WordPress web designer. SEO is a skill that you’ll absolutely need to have in order to get your client’s websites ranking properly on Google and other search engines.
Remember, the physical design of a website is really only half of the work you need to do. The other half is making each site attractive to Google and other search engines. In order to make sites attractive to search engines, they need to be optimized to their algorithms and rules.
Additional WordPress Web Design Courses
Some of the other top courses you’ll want to look into before starting your business include:
- CSS Tutorial For Beginners
- WordPress courses from iThemes Training
- Become a WordPress Web Design Expert Without Any Coding
You will also want to take a look at the book “Web Designer’s Guide to WordPress: Plan, Theme, Build, Launch (Voices That Matter)” to further boost your knowledge. It’s an extremely practical guide that will teach you every detail about WordPress web design. Starting from initial installation to creating and implementing the most complex designs.
6 Helpful Resources for Web Designers
- Adobe Creative Cloud – This one costs a pretty penny so take advantage of the free 30 day trial to be sure it’s something you find beneficial.
- Sketch – Sketch is an excellent design platform that costs one flat fee, but also offers a free 30 day trial period.
- Dribbble – Explore designs, show your own and promote others on Dribbble.
- Pexels – Download free, high res images for your projects.
- Unsplash – Another free, high res image library.
- Pikwizard – Pikwizard has an extensive library of beautiful, free pictures. What I like about this library is the number of pictures they have of people and the relevant categories pictures are sorted in.
Wrapping Up: Starting Your Web Design Business
No matter what your long-term goals are for your new business, there is nobody but you that can get you started on your path toward success.
Perhaps you already have all of the technical knowledge you need to get started. But you lack ideas on how to promote your business. In that case, this article should be a big help on getting you started.
On the other hand, you may know exactly what you need to do to launch your business. You just lack knowledge on a lot of the technical aspects of web design. If that’s the case, it’s time to dive into the many courses and tutorials provided so that you can start becoming an expert.
No matter what challenges you might face in this business, know that the rewards you’ll reap from finding a new level of personal success will far outweigh the challenges ahead.
Enjoy the ride, learn from the journey, and never stop going after your goals. And remember, we at iThemes are here for you every step of the way.
Kristen has been writing tutorials to help WordPress users since 2011. You can usually find her working on new articles for the iThemes blog or developing resources for #WPprosper. Outside of work, Kristen enjoys journaling (she’s written two books!), hiking and camping, cooking, and daily adventures with her family, hoping to live a more present life.