Maybe you’ve been freelancing as a professional web designer for a number of years. Or maybe you picked up web development while working in your day job. Whatever your situation may be, if you’ve ever thought about starting your own web design business, then this resource is meant for you.
Now, building a web design agency takes quite a bit of work, but it can be a highly rewarding and enjoyable endeavor too. Take it from my own personal experience. I started IMPACT, my web design agency in 2012, thankfully years before the pandemic began. Since then, I have been through my fair share of ups and downs, but have certainly learnt a lot along the way, most especially the great value of building a remote team of talented individuals among your staff.
So, if you are thinking about or looking to start your web design business, this year might be the best time to make this new beginning. Let us take a look at some of the important things you need to consider, as well as 10 key steps on how to go from a starting to a thriving web design agency.
Why Starting A Web Design Agency Is Still A Good Idea
You may be wondering why starting a web design agency is still a good idea, despite the fierce competition and the economic headwinds.
The first reason, of course, is that web design continues to be a profitable business despite the competition. This is because many businesses have come to realize the importance of having an online web presence, especially during these global pandemic times.
While it is true that there are already a great number of solo web designers and web design agencies around, there will always be strong demand for good web design, perhaps even more so today.
Low Start-up Costs
The second good reason is that start-up costs for a web design agency are relatively low. You just need a decent laptop, web design tools, and a good Internet connection to get your fledgling web design business off the ground.
The third, and best, reason of all is that starting your own web design agency can provide you with greater personal freedom, something which you cannot find in a regular 9-to-5 desk job.
You don’t have to make that tiring daily commute to and from the office since you can work anywhere you please with your laptop. It gives you greater flexibility in terms of location and time, so that you are free to live the lifestyle you want.
What’s more, running your web design service entirely remote means you’re not limited to clients in your local area or country – you can work with clients from anywhere in the world.
Chris Castillo, founder of Canadian web design agency Propel Digital shared:
“Our agency’s growth early on was most definitely attributed to our ability to take on clients internationally. Fortunately, with a strong social media presence, and through networking online – we managed to secure clients from the USA, Australia, UK, and here in Canada.”Chris Castillo
With all these benefits that you can obtain with your own web design agency, it would seem making the switch to this new career is a good idea.
Should You Start Your Web Design Agency on The Side?
However, before you even make this important decision, you still have to give it some serious thought.
If you’re currently employed, the important question that you need to answer first before starting a web design agency is whether you want to start it as a side business to your current job.
If you are happy and satisfied with the stability of your job at present, starting a web design agency on the side can help boost your income.
Even, if you find yourself unhappy with your present job and want to quit right away, you should still consider if you have sufficient income to support yourself during the initial lean starting period of your business.
When I left my job to start my own business many years ago, I was fortunate to find two small clients who provided me with a steady stream of work, just enough to cover my own living expenses so I could focus on growing my business.
Ultimately, every person’s situation is unique, so you need to give your current circumstances some serious thought first before making that big decision.
My advice is to develop your web design agency as a side business first, learn the ropes and steadily build a client base. Once you are generating an income that is close to what you’re currently earning, then you can make the switch.
By taking a more prudent and cautious approach, you take a lot of the risk out of entrepreneurship and reduce your risk of making bad business decisions in your early days due to financial pressures (such as taking on clients who are a poor fit).
10 Steps on Starting a Web Design Agency
If, after some serious thinking, you feel that you need to make this very important career step, let’s take a look at 10 steps on how you can start your very own web design service.
1) Get Good in Web Design
If you’ve been designing websites for years, then this should be relatively easy for you. However, if you’re a newcomer and starting literally from scratch, it’s imperative you attain a decent level of skill before you start offering it as a service.
There are a great number of online resources to learn web design from. Many are free such as popular web design YouTube channels, or you can also purchase affordable web design courses from platforms such as Udemy.
2) Start Wide First but Specialize As Soon As You Can
In the early days of your web design service, it is a good idea to take on a wider variety of projects. You can start with simple websites for local businesses and work your way up to projects which are technically more challenging.
Not only will this help you to gain more experience, but it also ultimately helps you to determine which types of projects you are better at and enjoy delivering.
As you learn more, you can try to stretch your technical chops on LMS (learning management system), membership, ecommerce, or directory websites.
Web developer Andriy Haydash shared how he benefited from specializing:
“Niching down to specialize in membership and e-Learning sites has been one of the best moves that I’ve made in my web design career. It’s helped me increase my income by becoming the go-to person in my space. It’s also made it easier for me to systematize and automate my workflow.”Andriy Haydash
3) Choose WordPress
In 2021, WordPress continues to grow, powering 40.0 percent of the Internet and an increase from 35 percent in 2020. What’s more, WordPress powers 64.1 percent of CMS-built websites alone, which also shows a 4 percent increase from the year before.
So with WordPress being the most widely used CMS (content management system) on the Internet – and the wide ecosystem of themes and plugins that are available – it really is the ideal platform to build a web design business on for most people out there.
What’s more, you’ll never walk alone too as there are also a great number of online communities and resources dedicated to the WordPress ecosystem. You’re in good company.
4) Pick Your Technology Stack (And Master It)
If you’re starting out as a web designer, you should focus on using one main theme for most of their projects. This allows for consistency and assured delivery of a fully functional website.
When picking a theme, it should be fast, well-coded, Gutenberg-ready, and compatible with popular page builders. A bonus for theme providers is if they have an existing starter site library to help you get started. If you’re looking for a theme that ticks all the boxes above, look no further than Blocksy.
Another key decision that you need to make is how you will build your website.
In today’s WordPress web design world, this means making the choice between the Gutenberg block builder or 3rd party page builders such as Elementor, Brizy, Beaver Builders, and many others.In our digital marketing agency, we use both Elementor and Gutenberg, with the first being the most widely adopted page builder at present while the latter is being considered as the future of WordPress. If you’d like to learn more about the differences between the two, I have written a comparison article on these two builders.
5) Have a Simple Business Plan
If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail. And while there’s no need for a 100-page business proposal, you should have at least a simple business plan.
Determine your business focus and the types of clients that you want to target. Figure out how you can get these clients and what your financial forecast will be. And then put it all down on paper.
Make the necessary changes or adjustments to your plan as your progress in your business. If you encounter challenges or if things didn’t work out as you expected them to, your business plan will be a good place to revisit your original assumptions and see if there’s a need to pivot.
6) Build a Portfolio Website
Building a portfolio website is a must for web agency designs because it is the best way by which you can demonstrate to potential clients what you are capable of.
Present a broad variety of your works. You can put up mockups of websites you have built and link to the finished product.
Don’t forget that your portfolio website should also contain a list of your previous clients and their testimonials of your services.
To expand your reach, share your works and portfolio with social media graphics, on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, or wherever your ideal customers hang out online.
7) Get Your First 3 Clients
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
Kickstart your web design business by trying to get your first three clients. If you are wondering where you can get your first clients, one good place to start is from your personal network. Ask family and friends if they need the services of a web designer.
If you have built a professional network in your past or current job, you can offer them your services. You can also approach small businesses in your area. Check out online directories, forums, Facebook groups and help wanted ads for those that might be looking to build a website.
8) Figure Out How to Get Clients Consistently
When you are starting out in the web design business, you may notice that there are certain lull periods wherein it is difficult to find clients.
At this early stage, it is important that you get good at one or two customer acquisition channels so that you are guaranteed a steady flow of clients. One of the best ways to get consistent customers is through search engine optimization (SEO).
Jonathan Ang, SEO Director at Adscelerate shared more:
“With SEO, the idea is for your website to be found by potential clients when they are searching for relevant keywords. That could be ‘WooCommerce web design San Antonio’ if that’s what you offer and where you are based. When done right, SEO provides for a constant source of inbound leads.”Jonathan Ang
Besides SEO, another way to get clients is through networking.
With in-person networking still not possible in many parts of the world, there is still online networking. This is where contributing to relevant online communities and Facebook groups can help you get to know more people.
Make sure you focus on delivering knowledge and value, while positioning yourself as the go-to person for web design. When done right, there’s plenty of business you can find online.
9) Focus on Delivering A Good End Product and Customer Experience
As a web design agency, your focus should be on both delivering a good end product, as well as a stellar customer experience. It’s a competitive industry out there, so it’s no longer sufficient to just deliver on one aspect, you have to do well in all areas.
For websites, make sure they look good, convert well and perform well too.
If that sounds like a tall order, you can at least rest easy knowing that performance is the least of your concern when using a fast and well-coded theme such as Blocksy, paired with the native Gutenberg builder.
On the customer experience front, it’s all about managing expectations and making sure you deliver on all the things you promised. Sometimes things can get hectic with client requests coming in from thick and fast, so it helps to use project management or help desk software to keep things on track.
Make it a breeze for your customers to work with you and you can be sure they’ll come back the next time they need another website.
10) Build Your Brand, Encourage Reviews and Referrals
The best way to build your brand is through your web design agency’s website. Make sure your website and marketing reflects what your brand is all about, including any niche positioning you have.
If you’ve been doing a good job for your clients, you can get them to return the favor by leaving you a review or testimonial. The best time to talk to them about this is right after you’ve delivered a great project or result for them, so they’re more likely to put in a good word for you.
You can also go one step further by asking them if they know anyone else who could benefit from your web design services too. Who knows? You may just pick up some business leads through an introduction from a current client.
So, we have come to the conclusion of this lengthy resource. I certainly hope that it’s been useful for you, much like the advice I wished I had when I was starting my web design agency eight years ago.
If this post has inspired you to get started on your web design agency journey, I would love it if you could drop me a line and let me know which tips have especially worked for you.
If you’re looking for a community of friendly and likeminded WordPress professionals to participate in, be sure to join the Blocksy Facebook Group and share your thoughts and experiences inside.
I wish you the best in your endeavor to start a web design agency!