If you don’t like the idea of working for somebody else and you’re quite attracted to idea of world domination then starting a web design business might be right up your alley.
Unfortunately though, contrary to popular speculation, it’s not an easy ride.
In fact it’s probably the number one most difficult path which you could choose to follow in this industry.
But, if it’s the right decision for you, then it’ll all be worth while regardless of whether you’re a student or working at a full-time job and looking for a change.
In today’s post we’re going to cover the most important things you need to know about starting a web design business, and get input from other people throughout the industry.
Stepping Into Your Shiny New Entrepreneur’s Shoes
Coming into the world of starting your own web design business from almost any other career path is a real shock to the system. Take a percentage of how much you think you know about starting a business and divide by twenty to get a more accurate number.
It’s long term, it’s difficult and it can be really difficult to get off the ground. So why do so many people want to do it?
Mostly, people are drawn to the idea of being their own boss, making lots of money and doing a relatively small amount of work. While this is most definitely an achievable goal, the overwhelming majority of people will give up before they ever get that far.
Eighty percent of new businesses fail within the first year. If that scares you into thinking that maybe you shouldn’t start a business after all, then you need to listen to that gut feeling and not do it. It takes someone with raw drive and determination to succeed on this path, someone who is willing to read those statistics and know that they will make up the other twenty percent. The ones who succeed.
What to Expect
When working for yourself you can expect an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment when things move in the right direction. There’s nothing better than being in charge of everything and having it go well. You aren’t just proving to yourself that you can do something, you’re proving to yourself that your life is worth something and that you’re working towards a proverbial bigger picture. Landing that big contract or securing that big-name client suddenly mean so much more than if you were working at an agency and simply completing the work for a company belonging to someone else.
Of course occasionally you might even finish a project ahead of schedule, which means you just earned yourself some paid holiday. Being able to put in the working hours whenever you like is definitely a bonus. If you want to work twenty hours a day for a week and then take the rest of the month off, then you can.
Kat Durant has freelanced on the side during her 11 year career, but she also recently started up a web design business with her partner. She says: “The greatest benefit for me is that I get total control, I get to stipulate my own hours, I get to speak to the clients first hand, find out exactly what they want and price up jobs accordingly (something I think companies I’ve worked for in the past have gotten very wrong sometimes). I have found that I am happiest when working for myself, I found in agencies that I was walking on eggshells if clients were not following the rules or if someone in the company had not done their piece and I got it in the neck. Now if work is not done to the standard or within the time specified I can take charge of the situation.”
Japh Thomson has been running his web development business for two years now. He adds that one of the main benefits of running your own business is “Being able to schedule your work in your own time (mainly), and the freedom to have more time to experiment with your own stuff, or hang out with your partner.”
Challenges to Overcome
As previously mentioned: prepare to be surprised by just how much there is to learn. From accounting to tax law, to marketing, business development, customer service… the list goes on.
Being a great web designer does not make you a great entrepreneur so you’re going to have a lot of catching up to do in order to broaden your skill set. This area of web design requires a huge amount of self-motivation, you need to be able to force yourself to work to self-imposed deadlines and achieve self-imposed goals.
There is no one looking over your shoulder to see if you’re slacking off after lunch and while that may seem very appealing, it needs to be kept in check. If you’re starting out on your own then the life of a web design business owner can also be pretty lonely, especially if you work from home. Twitter helps with this a lot but it still can’t compare to having real interactions with other human beings.
Chris Schmitz has two years of experience when it comes to starting and running a web design business, he offers some valuable insights into further challenges that you will face:
“1. Working on my own time – Although this is one of my favorite parts of the job, sometimes it’s hard to sit down and focus at the computer when I know I can get to things later in the day. If I happen to have an unproductive day, I quickly find myself buried in work and things can get pretty stressful.
2. Distractions – Some days everything seems to click. I can take a few minutes away from a project to fire off a few emails and get right back to work without missing a beat. Other days, responding to email and putting together quotes or proposals can take up most of the day. Those days tend to feel very unproductive, but because I am managing every aspect of the web design process there are a lot of things to tend to.
The main thing that kills me is email. I think it’s important to respond quickly to clients, so on days where my inbox is flooded it can be very difficult to get much development work in when I keep switching back and forth. I have trouble regaining focus when I have a lot of interruptions, but that could just be me….
3. Client Management – Some clients are joy to work with, others not so much…. Not only does taking on a bad client make your life more difficult, but it also affects your bottom line. Difficult clients are more work, and if the majority of your clients are difficult to work with, your job is going to be a lot more stressful and you’re going to work a lot more hours than you should be.”
With over 7 years of web design business experience, Carl Crawley offers two further pitfalls to watch out for when getting started, particularly for people who are thinking about starting up with a business partner or two:
“1. Get an accountant/book-keeper.
Keeping control of day-to-day stuff is pretty easy these days with online invoicing systems like Freshbooks or Xero, however get someone with accountancy knowledge to sort the VAT/PAYE/Corporation Tax requirements. It’ll save you a fortune and many sleepless nights! Also, get someone else to ‘chase’ invoices. Unless you’re selling yourself as a one-man-design-studio, being the ‘accounts’ and the ‘design’ department doesn’t add much confidence.
2. Either ‘do the work’ or ‘find the work’ – Both doesn’t fly!
If you’re constantly on the road / email / twitter etc looking/quoting for work, then you need someone back at the office actually fulfilling the requirements – you can’t do both and it’s a quick fire way to get deadlines missed, unhappy clients or a lot of sleepless nights! Equally, if your forte is coding/design, then do that and employ someone on a ‘commission only’ basis to go out there and sell you and your skills! Once the business gets bigger, you’ll need to segregate parts of the business so that you don’t end up wearing too many hats. Keep Finance, Sales, Design and Technology all separate (with a common goal).”
Future Career Moves
In terms of flexibility for the future this is just about the best career path you can go down. Running a web design business can lead to owning a web design business (run by other people), or it can be a great stepping stone to starting and running a web based service or application.
The business skills which you will pick up from running your own web design business are not only invaluable by themselves but they can also be applied to many other areas.
Finally, starting a web design business doesn’t mean you can’t ever go back to the world of the employed, should you so choose. But if you have ambitions of being a millionaire some day, then this is a good starting point to see if you’ve got what it takes.
This post was authored exclusively for WDD by John O’Nolan, a core member of the WordPress UI Team, writer and entrepreneur based in Surrey in the United Kingdom. John loves to talk to people, so why not follow @JohnONolan on twitter too?
What do you think? Do you run your own web design business? What advise would you offer to someone who is about to do the same? Let us know in the comments!