How to really start a web design business

If you run over to Google and look for “How to start a web design business” or “Running a web development shop” or even “Scaling a web design company”, you will come up with all sorts of results that boil down to this drivel:

  1. Work only with good clients
  2. Create your own website
  3. Charge fairly

Whoa boy, not so fast. Let me write that down.

I suppose that’s useful if you wanted to write a blog for the sake of writing a blog, or if you wanted to write to middle schoolers. But this is the Real World. You need solid advice now and you need to figure stuff out quick.

Here’s my advice on how to really start a web design business.

1. You are not the high-flying person writing that blog. You can not say “No” to every client and work only with the ones you want. You have bills to pay and your landlord or bank isn’t going to say, “Oh, yeah, I wouldn’t have worked with him either. No worries on the house payment this month.”

“Liking” a client is subjective. It has nothing to do with anything. Unless they’re doing something illegal, figure out a fair price and charge that.

2. Taxes will absolutely destroy your income. If you’ve never freelanced or work on contracts before, know this: your employer has paid about half of your income and payroll taxes. You’ll have to cover both your half and your company’s half now. So about 30 cents of every dollar is sucked away into the government for useless things like roads and “law and order”.

3. The one-person operation isn’t good enough anymore. That’s not to say you can’t do it, but clients aren’t buying a website. They’re buying a return on their investment. This is something we are fighting for every day. How to improve the work we’ve already done. You can’t just build a site and move on to the next one. You should care more about the design, or the code, or the content. You should care about all of the above and more and work with people better than you at those things. This is particularly useful if you suck at what you do.

4. Web design is a commodity business now. Everyone does it and those that don’t think they can. So you’re going to have to figure out ways to make yourself more appealing and useful. Like how you’ll save customers time, or money, or both.

That’s it, really.

A lot of your Google search results will also be of people saying “If I had to start a web design company today, I wouldn’t.” Well, that’s great. I’m sure you can probably find the same thing about doctors, plumbers, insurance agents, and just about any industry. So get on with it.

About the author

Justin Harter