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How to start a web design business in 7 steps

This guide will take you through all the steps necessary to start a web design business.

Illustration by Ashger Zamana.

Profile picture of Aaron Gelbman

3.20.2024

13 min read

With the surge of online brands and services, now might be a better time than ever to start a web design business. But if you’re on the fence about whether to make this your full-time gig, then you’ll want to take the time to understand what you’re getting yourself into. 


After all, it’s not just about having the technical know-how; it’s about understanding the market, the challenges and the true value you can offer to your clients.


For web designer Derek Hairston, his ‘aha’ moment came with the realization that “most web design agencies leave clients in the dark with unexpected costs, delays, and no visibility into the process.”


“We bring our clients’ vision to life and give them peace of mind at every step of the way,” he says about his full-service agency, Olam Sites. “We specialize in building custom websites and features on Wix Studio.” 


Learn more about how to manage your agency on Wix Studio.


Below, we cover the essential steps of starting your web design business. Keep reading for tips on running an agency and finding your own conviction to get started. 





How to start a web design business


Every business is a little bit different, but in general, you’ll need to take these steps: 




01. Choose your niche


To stand out in a crowded market, you’ll want to know your “who” and “why.” In other words, it’s a good idea to narrow down your focus and decide on the types of clients you’d like to take on. 


“Deciding on your niche is a blend of self-discovery and essentially asking the question, ‘Who would I be excited to wake up and serve every day?’” notes Brad Hussey, web designer and founder of the Creative Crew community. “You’ll be spending considerable time, energy and money being around these people at trade shows, on podcasts, writing content for, networking with—and ultimately producing solutions for.”


Remember that just because you decide on a particular niche now doesn’t mean you can’t broaden your reach and services later on. It’s much easier to start small than to start too broad, or to bite off more than you can chew.


If you’re struggling to decide on your niche, start by defining why you do what you do. For example, are you passionate about the restaurant industry and see an opportunity to build more professional online experiences for them? If so, start there. 


In the video below, Hussey gives additional tips for solidifying your niche and the “why” behind what you’re doing. 




02. Decide which web design services to offer


Once you’ve settled on your “who” and “why,” the “what” should come somewhat naturally. Decide what services you can (and want) to offer your clients. Your services could include:


  • Website design and development

  • Ecommerce solutions

  • User experience (UX) design

  • User interface (UI) design

  • Search engine optimization (SEO) 

  • Mobile app design and development 

  • Website accessibility  

  • Graphic design  

  • Custom web application development

  • Online branding 

Think about which services can be offered on a regular basis—such as graphic design or SEO—and thereby supplement larger one-off projects by bringing in recurring revenue. Also, consider ways in which you can package your services together to better service your clients. 



03. Register and license your business


Before diving into creative work, it's important to address the legalities of starting your own business. You’ll need to register your business with the relevant authorities. In most U.S. states, this will be your Secretary of State. 


To register your business, you’ll need to choose a business name and decide on your legal business structure. 


Consider, how big do you plan on growing your team? Do you plan on managing the business alone or with a partner(s)? Ultimately, what is the vision for your business and how it will evolve? The answers to these questions will help you choose between several structures, the most popular of which include:


  • Sole proprietorship: Owned and operated by a single individual. As the owner you have unlimited personal liability and business income is reported on your personal tax return.

  • Limited liability company (LLC): Combines elements of partnerships and corporations, offering limited liability for owners (members) and flexibility in management. Income is typically passed through to individual tax returns.

  • Partnership: A business owned by two or more individuals who share profits and liabilities. There are general partnerships (equal sharing) and limited partnerships (with limited liability for some partners).

  • Corporation: A legal entity separate from its owners, providing limited liability protection. Shareholders own the corporation and it can be taxed as a C corporation (double taxation) or an S corporation (pass-through taxation).

As shown above, each structure has its own tax obligations, protections and requirements. You’ll therefore want to make sure to thoroughly research your options and consult a business attorney, consultant or accountant before making a final decision. 


At this stage, consider whether you’ll need to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS and open any business accounts with your bank to keep your finances in order. Make sure to obtain all necessary licenses, insurance and permits for running a web design business in your region, too.

 


04. Create a business plan and set goals


There are many other decisions you’ll have to make from both an operational and strategic side. A good place to start is by tackling your business plan. Your business plan will serve as your roadmap, outlining things like:


  • Your business description

  • Target market 

  • Competition 

  • Organization and management 

  • Services and products 

  • Goals and strategies 

  • Financial projections


Do your due diligence and don’t rush this step. As you build out your business plan, you may realize things you hadn’t before—like the need to secure outside funding.


“I started off as a penny-pinching bootstrapper, although I’m not convinced that’s the best way,” reflects Hairston on the early days of Olam Sites. “I projected revenue based on the potential customers in my immediate environment, but this limiting mindset put a ceiling on our earnings and scalability.” 


“My suggestion when getting started,” he adds, “is that your projections and confidence should justify raising funds for greater scalability. Otherwise, what’s the point?” 



Screenshot of the homepage of the web design business Olam Sites
The homepage of web design business Olam Sites conveys confidence and expertise, thanks to its strong strategic messaging and breadth of certifications.


Whether you need extra resources to expand your services, grow your team or invest in marketing—a business plan can help you decide when and how to raise money. It can also show where the money will go when approaching investors, banks or other potential backers. 



05. Price your services 


As your financial and personal goals for your business start to take shape, so too will your perspective on how to price your services. 


Oftentimes deciding on what price to charge can feel like taking a shot in the dark. Or, you may feel pressure to price your services low if you’re just starting out.


However, you’ll want to avoid selling yourself too short. At the same time, know what your competitors are charging. Identify your differentiators while weighing your expenses and ideal profit margin. Think about the different clients you plan to take on as well as the different web design pricing models you can offer:


  • Flat fee (a.k.a. “Project-based pricing”): A fixed amount that you and your client agreed on at the start of the project.

  • Hourly fee: An hourly cost, ensuring that you get paid the agreed-upon amount for every hour you spend on a project. 

  • Monthly fee (a.k.a. “monthly retainer”): A contract, either measured in time or value, that involves monthly payments for a certain amount or type of work. 




06. Build your portfolio or website


A strong portfolio is key to attracting clients and showcasing your design skills. This is your chance to show (not just tell) future clients what you’re capable of creating online. 


When creating a website for your web design business, consider using a platform that can host both your website and your work for clients. This not only helps to keep everything in one place but also helps you to get ultra-familiar with the web tool you’re offering your clients. 


The most effective creative portfolios include sections, pages or CTAs like:


  • About: Introduce yourself and your team, including your credentials like any relevant education, industry awards and your value proposition.

  • “Our Work”: Showcase projects that represent your best work, and make sure there is a brief but clear backstory so that visitors understand how you solved your clients’ needs. Keep in mind that before uploading client projects, you should always get client approval in case projects are confidential or not yet live.

  • Services: List the different services you offer so that you’ll spend less time weeding through requests and more time connecting with relevant prospects whose needs match your skills.

  • Contact: Make it easy for people to contact you with any questions, and consider embedding a form into your site to collect useful information from prospects (such as their company name, current website’s URL, etc.). 

  • “Book a Meeting”: Offer high-intent prospects the opportunity to meet you face-to-face via an online booking feature.

A solution like Wix Studio, for example, is tailored for agency work. It brings together features—including AI tools—for web design, development, SEO,  eCommerce, website maintenance, CMS and more. Beyond having the tools to design cool, interactive sites for your clients at scale, you can enjoy built-in capabilities that allow you to expand your services. 


Build your agency site on Wix Studio with one of these responsive templates


Image of four website templates available on Wix Studio for creating an agency website


07. Promote and market your web design business


Once you’ve published your site and opened yourself up for business, take steps to establish your brand and to proactively get in front of potential clients. 


“Building authority in your industry by creating content is like investing money in the stock market,” says Hussey. “When I started creating videos, writing blogs, appearing on others’ podcasts—those efforts may not have produced results in the immediate term, but over time, the benefits have paid me back in multiples.” 


Exercise your existing network and ask for referrals. Engage with folks on social media. Scour job boards, including LinkedIn, for any calls for help. Here Hussey suggests four additional ideas for your outreach:




Don’t forget to invest in your personal brand. Given how nearly 70% of consumers trust influencers, friends and family over information coming directly from a brand, it’s always a good idea to use your own sphere of influence to connect people with your agency. 


Note that Wix Studio's marketing integrations allow you to schedule social posts, send emails and track performance—both for your clients and yourself. Use these tools to your advantage as you spread the word about your business. 



Web design businesses and agencies built on Wix Studio to inspire your own


One way to jumpstart your business’s website creation is to follow the examples of established, successful agencies, like the sites below. In addition to providing fundamental information, each of these sites packs a creative punch and demonstrates the creative potential to future clients.


The Boathouse Agency


This creative design agency shows that there is no limit to the growth potential of your web design business. The Boathouse Agency goes beyond web design and offers complete 360 creative and branding solutions for brands of all sizes.



Screenshot of the website of web design business The Boathouse


Visual Identity


Visual Identity is a web design studio specializing in site design, UI/UX, development and branding. Their site’s black-and-white design, typography and visual elements create a bold and impactful statement about their vision and purpose.



Screenshot of the website of the web design business Visual Identity


Scopetheory


Scopetheory leads with results-driven design for their clients that involves taking branding to another level. The homepage makes it easy for prospects to see the agency’s results, with prominent callouts that highlight their clients’ accomplishments. 



Screenshot of the website of the web design business Scopetheory



What is a web design business?


A web design business is a type of design agency that specializes in creating and maintaining websites for clients. However, more often than not, it’s about more than just design; it’s about building functional, user-friendly online spaces that serve a specific purpose for a client. 


The scope of work involved in a web design business can be broad. They can range from simple static pages to complex web applications and everything in between. Whether it's an eCommerce platform, a personal blog or a corporate website, each project comes with its own set of design and development challenges and requirements.



Why start a web design business?


The web design industry offers a world of business opportunities for creative and tech-savvy entrepreneurs. Starting your own web design business not only taps into a field that blends art and technology but also positions you in a market with high demand for your services.


The benefits of starting a web design business are numerous. Here are some of the most compelling reasons to consider:


  • High demand: In a digital age, nearly every business needs a website, increasing the demand for skilled web designers.

  • Flexibility: Running your own business means you can set your own hours and work from anywhere, be it your home office or a beach in Bali.

  • Creative freedom: As the owner of a design business, you have the freedom to express your creativity and make decisions that align with your vision—from the clients you choose to take on, to the design and website niche you specialize in. 



Considerations when starting a web design business


Starting your own web design business is a big step professionally and it's often accompanied by a set of important considerations that any new business owner should be aware of. 


Is web design a profitable business?


The profitability of a web design business can be significant if managed correctly. Here's what you should keep in mind:


  • Demand for services: With more businesses going online, the need for professional web design services is on the rise. Tapping into that demand can mean a lot of work for a web design firm. You’ll need to think about things, such as your sales process for your web design business, amongst other key business needs.

  • Pricing strategy: Setting competitive rates that reflect the quality of your work and the value you provide is the key to profitability. To do this, you’ll need to have an idea of what your competitors offer and how they package similar services. Be mindful of value-pricing, which is setting your rates according to the value of your work, not just the time spent on it.

  • Marketing: You’ll need to promote your business to give yourself the best chance of securing long-term and profitable clients and projects. This could include networking or connecting with related online and offline communities to promote yourself and your business. Encourage your current clients to refer you to others who might need the same services and build your freelance community along the way.

  • Diversify your services: Offer a range of services within the field, including content management and social media promotion, if relevant to your expertise.

  • Build client relationships: Establishing long-term relationships with clients is crucial to getting repeat business and securing more freelance design clients.

  • Stay updated with industry trends and changes: The web design industry is constantly evolving. Keep learning new skills and staying abreast of trends to remain competitive.


Can I start a web design business with no experience?


With no prior experience, starting any type of business can be challenging. However, focusing on education and growth from the outset can help you maintain momentum and see measurable development over time.


These steps can be a solid guide for your first few months:


  • Learn the fundamentals: To understand web design from the ground up, get familiar with user experience, content writing and responsive web design. While these days it’s not necessary to create websites with code, an online coding class in HTML, CSS or JavaScript will help you understand the backbone of your websites.

  • Practice your skills: As you learn new concepts, put them to use. One option is to recreate websites you find online, down to the details of hover interactions and entrance animations. Practicing with Wix Studio's design tools can help you focus on your web design skills, since the platform has extensive no-code features.

  • Share your progress: Whether you’ve created wireframes, designs or live websites, share your real-time process and finished products on your social channels. You’ll receive encouragement and feedback from professionals, plus you’ll enjoy going back to your old posts to see how far you’ve come.

  • Connect with professional heroes and mentors: “Become an apprentice of someone who is already successful in the industry to gain the skills, experience and industry insight,” advises Hairston of Olam Sites. “This could be in a variety of forms: employee, mentee or YouTube channel subscription.” Choosing a professional hero—someone whose style you admire and want to emulate—will give you a wealth of creative inspiration. Plus, it’s never a bad idea to get in touch with them; they might be happy to provide mentorship and feedback as you find your feet. 

  • Build your online presence: Now that you’ve completed a few projects, organize everything on a portfolio website. You’ll have one link that you can easily share to show off your past work, whether you’re looking to take on clients or build up your network. 



Can I start a web design business from home?


Starting your web design business from home brings great advantages like no commute time, significant cost savings and complete control over your work environment. 


And though this also comes with its challenges, you can overcome them with these best practices:


  • Enlist time management for work-life balance: Different from project management, time management helps you organize your day across your different tasks, including any personal tasks that you may have to take care of while at home. Set a clear start and end for your work hours, as well as offline times for lunch and screen breaks.

  • Create a Zoom-friendly space: Video conferencing isn’t unique to working from home, but take notice of what’s behind you when you’re on camera for video calls. Make a good impression by clearing away laundry and dirty dishes, and find a space away from household interference.

  • Connect with online communities and local organizations: Without an outside office space, it can be more difficult to cross paths with like-minded professionals for shared learning and networking. But with a little effort, there’s a big payoff. Join online professional communities like Freelance Fam for web design freelancers, and Creative Crew for web design agencies. Find nearby events to attend via resources like Meetup.

  • Schedule in-person meetings: While it’s comfortable and convenient at home, health experts encourage getting out of the house daily for physical and mental well-being. Do this by finding time to meet with colleagues or clients face-to-face, whether for business meetings or casual coffee chats. 




Tips for managing your web design business


Effectively managing your web design business helps keep projects flowing—on time, on budget and on brief—and ensures a positive experience, both for your team as well as for your clients. First create a solid project management process and then choose a project management software that meets your needs and budget. 


Best practices for project management


Keeping projects on track ensures client satisfaction and repeat business.


  • Clear communication: Establish open lines of communication with clients to manage expectations and keep them updated on progress.

  • Project management tools: Utilize software like Monday or Asana to organize tasks, owners, dependencies, deadlines and collaborations.

Hairston provides some insight into Olam Sites’s efficient management practices: “Our operations strategy is centered around standard operating procedures, leveraging efficient tools (Asana, Hubspot, Wix Studio, etc.), and a phenomenal project manager. Wix Studio centralizes all client websites and team access, making the deliverable handoff process seamless and scalable.”


With Wix Studio’s management tools, you can work from a unified workplace no matter how many employees are working together. And for teams on the go, the mobile app keeps everyone involved and up to date. Other features include a collaboration suite, handover resources and reusable assets. 



Mockup of the Wix Studio mobile app showing various app screens with features to manage a web design business from a mobile phone
The Wix Studio mobile app allows a web design business to manage clients and projects on the go.


Business software solutions


Leveraging the right business tools can greatly enhance your efficiency as a business owner.


  • Invoicing and accounting: Software like FreshBooks or the Wix invoice maker can simplify financial management by helping you create invoices.


  • Contracts and proposals: With platforms including Prospero and ClientManager, you won't miss a step when creating your website design proposals.


  • Time tracking: Tools such as Harvest or Toggl help you keep track of billable hours for each project.

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