Starting a Web Design Business in 2020: A Complete Guide

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Starting your own online web design company has never been more accessible. With so many businesses migrating to online commerce, the opportunities as a website designer appear endless.

Yet despite the demand for new websites, the web design market is highly saturated.

However, with the right angle, your web design business can flourish.

By defining, locating, and targeting niche industries and businesses that fit your expertise, you can springboard your web design career or business into untapped sectors as an industry design expert.

If you’re looking to kickstart your website design business today, here’s your comprehensive guide for launching in 2020.

Starting a Web Design Business Tip #1: Niche Down As an Industry-Expert

Thanks to the growth of the internet, 64% of small businesses now have a website. As a web designer, this is great news as it expands your pool of potential customers.

However, with over 23 million web developers in the US, alone, the competition for clients is fierce. To rise above the competition, this means standing out from other web designers in the industry.

Conventionally, web designers have offered a one-stop-shop approach to web design and development. Unfortunately, the jack-of-all-trades strategy has run its course now that the industry is saturated with website designers. To outshine the competition, web designers need to demonstrate specialist expertise.

The best route to demonstrating expertise is to pick a niche (preferably one that you have an interest or passion in) and excel within that market.

By niching down you can: 

  • Reduce the time you spend finding clients as clients come to you
  • Charge more than generalists as you have increased perceived expertise
  • Tailor your messaging to a target audience

There are two ways to niche down: vertical and horizontal.

Picking an industry and catering to associated businesses within it is called vertical niching. Horizontal niching occurs when you offer a solution to a specific problem across all sectors.

For example…

Vertical Web Design Niche: Roofing Webmasters offers web design services to the roofing sector.

By catering purely to this niche, Roofing Webmasters positions itself as the expert web design agency for roofers. As a roofing contractor, why choose another web design firm if this one caters to your industry?

Horizontal Web Design Niche: Useronboard is a website builder for onboarding new users in any field.

No matter if a client wants to onboard new users to a magazine subscription or an E-Learning platform, they can visit Useronboard.

Starting a Web Design Business Tip #2: Plan Your Web Design Services

The target niche that you choose will define the services that you offer. While this may seem obvious, often web design companies spread themselves too thin in an attempt to be the ‘go-to guys.’

Instead of offering it all, consider what your audience is asking for and do that exclusively. 

If you are choosing a vertical niche, consider the full stack services that are relevant to your chosen industry rather than wasting time with solutions that aren’t related or needed.

Take Empathysites, for example, who offer website design services to the wellbeing industry. Catering mostly to health practitioners, Empathysites doesn’t offer complex features that are unnecessary to the health and wellbeing niche.

The web design company understands that its target audience wants websites for marketing services and appointment bookings. In response to this, Empathysites offers basic web design and redesign services and has a portfolio of satisfied customers proving the efficacy of offering client-centric services.

If you’re catering to a horizontal niche, you need to consider which solution you’d like to offer and identify the key areas you need to work on to specialize in your chosen field.

Web design services to take or leave: 

  • Full-stack website design on particular platforms such as Squarespace, WordPress, Shopify, Wix, etc.
  • Ecommerce components such as billing flows
  • Platform migration and conversion
  • Full-scale build and maintenance
  • Update and redesign of existing sites
  • Conversion-rate optimization and testing
  • Specific feature development such as shopping carts, membership onboarding, etc
  • Expert elemental design such as 3D graphics, animation, interactive journey design, etc

Starting a Web Design Business Tip #3: Calculate the Finances of Your Web Design Firm

Budgeting is no joke: 82% of small businesses fail due to cash flow issues. 

So your web design business’ accounts need to be a high priority.

New startups often forget the true scope of costs associated with building a business. While you (of course) need to consider the overhead of the business on one hand, you must also factor in the extra costs of being self-employed.

Business overhead for your web design firm may include website and hosting, branding and merchandising, advertising and marketing, staffing, insurance, accountancy fees, and many other costs.

Extra freelance costs may include healthcare, private pension, home office supplies, home office utility costs or workspace fees, life insurance, legal cover, and so on.

The flip side of understanding your overhead is to know the rates you should charge to be profitable (and what it takes to be more profitable than if you remained an in-house designer).

Firstly, consider the market pricing of your competition for a benchmark on what potential clients expect to pay.

Once you have a good idea of the price bracket within which you can charge, consider the value you bring.

Value-based pricing is a way of charging that reflects the value that your customer receives for your services. To provide good value to your customers, you must improve your customer perceived value. This is the money your customer thinks they would make after they’ve paid for your services.

Good customer perceived value dictates that your services increase the profits your customer makes. Without your help, their profit margin would be slimmer.

In other words, if you make a website for a diamond broker migrating online from a bricks-and-mortar store, the one-off price for your website only needs to be cheaper than the store rent. If the broker can sell the same or more diamonds on the website than the store, you’ve provided value.

Starting a Web Design Business Tip #4: Establish Your Web Design Brand

Your branding serves as the face of your web design firm, demonstrating the ethos and values you bring to the market.

From your website to your client proposals, from social media marketing to your business cards, branding works as the first impression of your web design agency. This includes your logo, color palette, tone, and related graphics.

Consistent branding shows continuity in messaging, and by ensuring coherent branding across all platforms, you increase your web design firm’s visibility three to fourfold.

In fact, studies show that consistent branding increases revenues by 23%. This is because branding demonstrates to customers that your firm provides a reliable service every time.

If you’re not confident with branding your own web design company, leverage the gig economy to find a competent graphic design or branding expert for an affordable price.

Starting a Web Design Business Tip #5: Create Your Online Presence

As a web developer, your company’s website needs to combine sleek user experience with a comprehensive explanation of your work. Your website performs as your virtual storefront and serves as a platform for you to showcase your work.

Your innovative design should clarify your services, while each section should also be SEO-ready to rank effectively in search engines. That way, customers can more easily find your services and understand what you offer immediately upon entering your website.

A good quality business website is imperative as 75% of people base a company’s credibility on its website. As a web design company, your website not only verifies the credibility of your business, it also acts as a stage to demonstrate your web design skills. In short, a web design company with a poor business website simply won’t cut it.

Take The Great Agency, for example. Offering digital branding services, The Great Agency’s website not only offers a slick design, but the landing page also makes it crystal clear what the company does with the tagline: ‘Storytelling, branding, and digital experiences’.

To eloquently demonstrate your professional web design services, your website must include sections that showcase your:

  • Company History or About Us
  • Portfolio
  • Clients and Case Studies
  • Niche services
  • Testimonials

Starting a Web Design Business Tip #6: Devise Sales Materials to Showcase Your Value

While your company’s website and social media channels work well for inbound marketing, sales materials enable you to approach customers directly.

Your interactive portfolio serves as a catalog of the services and design trends you offer and how you execute them. Include links for customers to click through to examples of your work, along with an outline of services and pricing.

An interactive lookbook, such as this example by Sozo Design, can be used as a cold sales pitch via an email campaign or can be sent to those inquiring about your services.

In both cases, your clear pitch is presented with high levels of professionalism and a working example of your expertise.

Another tip to grease the sales funnel is to prepare design brief templates. Understanding how to write an effective design brief allows you to tailor the services you offer to show clients the specific value you bring to solve their particular problems.

Here’s a high-quality example of an effective design brief:

(Image Source)

Preparing generic templates that can be filled in with details later will save you considerable time and encourage coherent branding.

In both circumstances, your sales materials should focus on demonstrating the value that your design agency brings to improve a company’s bottom line. Studies show that 70% of online businesses fail due to poor usability of their website. Leverage your portfolio and design briefs to demonstrate that better website user experience (UX) can push conversion rates up 400%.

Starting a Web Design Business Tip #7: Promote Your Web Design Business

Promotion is 9/10ths of growth. There’s no point in figuring out your web design business’ overhead, establishing brand consistency, building a website, or anything else unless you promote effectively.

Here are a few proven strategies to successfully promote your web design business:

1. Build a Marketing and Advertising Plan

Crafting and documenting a marketing strategy is imperative to success. Businesses that use a documented marketing strategy are 313% more likely to be successful than those who don’t.

To create the most effective marketing strategy, build a vision of future success and reverse engineer the action steps. Try this:

  • Ask who is in the demographic of your target niche
  • Ask what problems your niche has that you can solve
  • Ask where your niche congregates and on which channels can you reach them
  • Devise strategies that connect the problem to the people on platforms they use

For example, Hamiltro designs websites for artists. The firm recognizes that artists most often require a website to display their portfolio of work and that these potential clients are more likely on Pinterest than LinkedIn.

In this sense, Hamiltro’s marketing strategies involve posting screenshots of website portfolios on Pinterest to match the ‘who, what, where’ of its target niche.

2. Bolster Your Portfolio with Unpaid Samples

Start by harnessing your own circles through professional platforms such as LinkedIn or via your email contacts.

While free work isn’t ideal, offering unpaid services at the beginning will help you build a portfolio and testimonials to validate your work. This gives you a footprint in the industry.

3. Establish a Social Media Presence

Over half of revenue is now attributed to social media sales and 75% of B2B buyers use social media for purchasing decisions. This shows just how important it is to build a presence on the relevant channels for your audience.

Make sure that you focus on the most appropriate channels for your target audience. If you create websites for law firms, stick to LinkedIn. If you design websites for yoga teachers, Instagram is likely the predominant channel.

Know where your audience gets their social media fix, what they like to see, and when they are online. Use Google Analytics to see which channels bring the most traffic to your website, and focus on those that convert best.

4. Leverage the Gig Economy

Job boards, freelance websites, and Request for Proposal databases are a great place to find freelance web design work. To best promote yourself, ensure your profile is complete and up-to-date with samples of your work and client testimonials.

Try websites like Upwork, Freelancer, People Per Hour, and WeWork. Remember that client ratings are imperative to securing future work, so try to work amicably with customers on these platforms.

Starting a Web Design Business Tip #8: Build Your Reputation

To build a solid client base, everything hinges on reputation. With firm recommendations behind you, you can promote yourself as the authority of your niche.

Since positive reviews increase trust with 72% of buyers, you should add testimonials to your marketing materials and website.

Where possible, try to request video testimonials from satisfied clients as they are more effective than written testimonials due to their trustworthiness. Videos can also be shared more easily.

You should also try to harness the power of word-of-mouth marketing. 78% of consumers trust brand information from friends and family more than any other form of advertising. This reputation tactic can be encouraged via affiliate marketing or by offering promotions through a regular mailing list.

Remember that regular content marketing also helps to build your reputation. 

Creating engaging content which is useful to your audience and optimized for search will push you up Google rankings.

This means that when clients in your niche try to solve a problem by asking Google, you’ll appear in the results to solve their problems. And they’ll connect your authority with your ability to address their pain points in a practical way as well as an educational one.

Conclusion

The rapid expansion of the internet gives the impression that it would be a doddle to start a web design business. However, despite the rise in demand for websites, the market is saturated with web design firms.

To break into the market more successfully, you need to niche down to serve a specific industry or solve a particular problem. In doing this, you present yourself as the expert in your particular field of web design.

By building a credible reputation as the authority in your field, you can charge higher rates, stand out from the crowd, and enjoy effortless inbound marketing success.

Posted by Jason Bayless