There are currently over 1.7 billion websites active worldwide, and the UK has one of the highest internet penetration rates in the world, with 98% of households (67 million users!) having internet access.
Impressive numbers — and they’ll have risen before you’ve even reached the end of this article.
The digital landscape is expanding rapidly, and a high-quality, smart, and stylish website is the foundation of any business’s digital footprint on the web.
While already a booming industry, the pandemic triggered a digital and e-commerce turning point, and now more people than ever are heading online to purchase goods and services. In short, having a strong online presence is not just recommended but a business must.
No matter what is being offered, whether it’s a service, a product, an event, an experience or more, without a well-designed website it’s highly unlikely to be a commercial success.
Any smart business owner will know that isn’t enough to just have a basic website set up and call it a day. A good website draws people in with strong visual appeal, ensures the user has an easy and memorable experience while interacting with it, and most importantly increases conversion rates — helping a business reach more prospective clients and customers.
The UK’s web design industry is currently worth over £575 million, with more than 90% of agencies seeing an increase in demand since 2020. This is the result of many new companies launching across a variety of industries, all of whom need a top-quality website to represent their brand, as well as established companies taking the time to analyse their marketing tactics and deciding to invest in a redesign.
With so many companies — big and small — now starting to truly understand the benefits of investing in their online presence, and how it’s a key part of a successful business strategy, it couldn’t be a better time to start your own web design business.
You might be starting to feel like a cog in a machine at a larger agency, and want to have the power to pick and choose your own clients, or simply want to turn a freelance gig into something more. Whatever your circumstances, there are several things to consider to ensure your new venture is a success.
Before any firm decisions are made or any money is invested, now’s the time to research, plan and lay the groundwork for your venture.
It can be overwhelming, but don’t panic — this is the fun bit.
Are you going to go niche and focus on a specific industry? Will you go it alone or partner up? Are you planning to offer any specialist services? There are so many questions you’ll need to answer at this early stage, but it’s worth thinking it through and mapping out exactly how you’d like to launch and progress your business.
If your previous work experience was across a broad spectrum of clients, and you enjoyed the variety in switching directions from project to project then you can choose to keep your options open and offer web design services to a whole range of sectors and industries.
But if you have an interest or aptitude in a specific area, it can be valuable to decide on a niche. Nobody wants to be a ‘master of none’ when it comes to a fledgling business, and if you can show potential clients you have more understanding and experience in their specific industry, it can be a large factor in their decision to choose to work with you.
Having a well-defined niche will also help you quickly identify leads that are a good fit.
Once you’ve decided on this aspect, detailed research into your intended target audience is imperative. What exact skillset will you need to have, and what specialised services will you need to offer? Are you looking to cater to small or large businesses? Or both?
The beauty of starting your own business is all these decisions are up to you, so don’t spread yourself too thin, or specialise too heavily if you don’t want to. You get to decide who you’re going to cater to and how. Just research, plan and ensure you have all the information you need to make informed decisions that’ll ensure optimal success in the long run.
These days it’s important to consider how you can add extra value to your client relationships. There are multitudes of services out there that can help new business owners build their own website for a small fee, fast. Many also offer hosting, security and maintenance as part of a neat package.
While the end result and customer experience will never be the same as having a website built for you by a team of professionals, this can be very appealing to a new business owner on a budget.
Deciding on exactly what you’re going to offer can help set you apart from your competitors and entice clients to choose to work with you.
Competitor research is again key at this stage, so look around and see what sort of extras and specialised services are being offered at popular design agencies either in your area and if relevant, within the niche you’re planning to specialise in.
Outside of web design, popular services include:
Branding: Creating a strategy that ensures a memorable, consistent, and reliable brand message that will help a business obtain and maintain a positive and beneficial relationship with its target audience.
Web Development: The process of creating a clean, simple, and user-friendly website that enhances the user experience from the second they arrive on the page. A web developer is instrumental in almost every stage from planning, research, design, and development as well as browser testing and maintenance once the site is live.
CMS: Choosing a business or agency that offers an easy-to-use content management system gives a level of control to even the most technologically illiterate business owner, as they’ll then be able to manage the website swiftly and effectively at any time without having to get in touch with you for help.
SEO Services: A solid search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy will result in a website ranking higher organically in Google, which in turn leads to more site traffic, interest, and sales. If an agency can offer a specialised strategy for a business, it can be worth its weight in gold.
Content Writing: Sometimes people don’t think past the launch, but a successful website needs to offer more than just products and basic business information. A content writing service can help any business build a brand reputation and establish rapport with the target audience — a must-have for any brand-new business looking to make a splash.
Web Hosting: Every website will need to be hosted on a server, and while clients can source space themselves, offering a dependable and high-quality hosting solution service can help save them time and money.
eCommerce: Any website selling products will need to be enhanced with eCommerce capabilities as well as payment platforms like PayPal. Any eCommerce business will be looking for a service that’ll create unique features and systems that will allow them to sell as effectively as possible to their audience.
Support, Security and Maintenance: Many new business owners will understandably feel daunted by the technical aspects of keeping their website up-to-date and most importantly functional. Offering an aftercare package that includes all aspects of site security, maintenance and just general support should they have any questions will ease their fears and can easily add value to the customer experience.
Now is the time to consider your specialities. Are you a skilled designer, developer, or both? And who will you need to hire initially to create an effective, functional team that can offer a fantastic service to all of your clients?
Unless you’re a next-level web genius (and never sleep), you’re not going to be able to handle everything alone. If you’re planning on offering the full spectrum of services, you’ll need to hire or outsource to execute all the above successfully.
If you can’t afford to finance an entire team in the early stages, pick the key players – most likely a web developer and brand designer, and employ SEO and content writing services on a project-by-project basis.
This is where imposter syndrome can loom but do your research and you’ll be able to decide on rates that work for both you and your future clients. Don’t get greedy — as this will likely only drive potential clients away — but don’t low-ball yourself on starting out, or it’s going to take a long time before you can start demanding the rates you deserve. You know your worth, so have conviction in your abilities and stand by it.
In general, project rates are better than hourly rates as clients won’t question you about how every hour of time is spent but know your limits and be careful not to underestimate how long a project will take or you could end up working for very little.
One way to find out what to charge is to assess what your competition is charging for the same service. Take this number and times it by how many projects you realistically think you’ll take on per month (underestimating here won’t hurt). With this number in mind deduct all your business expenses which can include everything from office rents to software subscriptions and employee-related costs, tax, and utilities.
Once done, you should be left with a profit you feel comfortable with at this stage, and if not, head back to the drawing board.
It’s important to think pragmatically here and work out how much value your skills can bring to a client, and the financial rewards they’ll receive from the website you’ve painstakingly built for them. Be confident in your final decision, and don’t get sucked up into any conversations intended to devalue your expertise.
Now, this is the fun bit.
Once you’ve decided what you’re going to offer, and to who, you’re going to need to get started on some branding, including deciding on a company name, a domain name, a logo, fonts, and a colour palette.
A memorable business name can be a very valuable asset, so don’t rush into your decision.
Consider the below before you decide:
Is it easy to remember?
Will it confuse my target audience?
Is it difficult to pronounce?
Will it entice, or deter prospects?
Does it sound location specific? (Avoid if your services aren’t)
Does it sound too much like another company?
Does it sound like you work in another industry or with another niche?
Another trap to avoid is naming the company after yourself, as it doesn’t leave a lot of room for scalability (and will frankly make you look like an egomaniac if at some point you have a full team working alongside you).
Once you’ve decided on your business name, you’ll need to register your domain name (essentially your website URL). If the name has already been taken, you may need to head back to the drawing board. Visit Top Tips: Buying your Domain Name and Best Domain Name Providers in the UK to learn more about the process.
The above questions will also relate to design decisions such as your logo. Choose something unique and memorable that you feel reflects your brand, its values and its message and you can’t go too far wrong.
When looking for new clients, your website is going to be the best way to convert visitors into revenue, and first impressions are key. Your website is your shop window, and if you can’t entice a customer on their first browse of your website, they’re unlikely to trust you with creating their own.
Make sure it’s free of errors, includes any testimonials, all your business information, links to your social channels, and most importantly contains your portfolio. Your portfolio will contain all your best work, show off your digital design prowess and do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to sourcing new clients.
A stylish and intelligently designed website, combined with an impressive portfolio, will go a long way in taking your business to the next level.
You may also need to look into web hosting and choosing a provider that offers fast loading speeds and a guaranteed 99.99% uptime should be at the top of your list. Visit Top Tips: Buying Website Hosting and Best Website Hosting Companies in the UK to help make your choice as quick and easy as possible.
Once it is ready, make it even better by optimising it for search engines. As a new business owner, sourcing clients can become time-consuming and take away from your core duties. However, if you set your website up to rank for the right search terms (e.g., “web designs designers near me,” or “eCommerce web design agencies Manchester”), it can do some of the legwork itself.
WFH or in-house? A big decision for any new business owner.
Since the pandemic, many entrepreneurs have chosen to keep their business operations close to home (quite literally) and work entirely remote. This has many positive aspects including reduced business costs (as you’re not renting an office space and travelling to-and-fro each day), and a general increase in positive mental health for all employees as you can work in your own comfortable environment day-to-day instead of sitting in a suit at a desk staring longingly out of a window.
A web design team can technically work from anywhere, so if you are working with a team you can trust, working remotely shouldn’t be an issue. But that is not to say renting an office should be out of the question.
While many potential clients will be happy to keep things low-key and only communicate via email and phone, some that are more local may prefer to meet you (and your potential team) in person, and see a professional workspace that represents who you are as a company. This is not reason enough to commit to the financial outlay of an office space that you’ll need to then furnish and cover the costs for, but it’s a worthy consideration if it could affect how many clients you take on.
While working remotely has its benefits, it can also stunt the growth of camaraderie and connection between your team members when all starting afresh, the effects of which can have a detrimental effect on the happiness of your employees in the long run. A hybrid WFH and in-office work environment can suit best, but again, will depend on your specific financials, the team’s preferences, and your long-term business goals.
If you do decide to work remotely, make sure you can dedicate a room or area of your home specifically to work, where you can focus and be free from distractions.
An artist is nothing without their tools, and you’re going to need to make sure you have everything you need IT-wise to do your job successfully. This can feel like a large financial outlay at the beginning of the process, but it’s necessary, and in this instance, you really will need to spend money to make money.
Start with the basics — a top-of-the-range desktop computer and laptop is a must, as well as a high-quality printer and scanner, and camera if you’ll be taking professional photos for a client.
From here identify which software you’ll need and evaluate whether it’s more cost-effective to buy installable software, vs. a monthly license using cloud services. If you’re not sure, many offer 30-day free trials so you can check them out first. Head to Which Software is used in Web Design to discover what programmes and packages you’ll need to create websites you can be proud of.
When it comes to software, you’ll need to keep your finger on the pulse and ensure you’re using the best available applications out there. Using out-of-date software will only have a detrimental effect on the quality of your work, and business, if your competitors are all using more impressive tech.
Not the most exciting part of the process, but very important, nonetheless.
If you’re going to run a successful business of any sort, you will need to have contracts in place.
When working with a client a signed-off proposal is a must and will include everything that the project needs and requires, as well as any fees and how much time you anticipate it will take. This should be carefully reviewed by yourself, your team and the client before any work takes place to ensure everyone is on the same page. At this stage you’ll need to be clear on additional costs (if any) with the client should they want to make any changes or additions to the originally agreed proposal.
Having contracts in place can also help if things don’t go to plan. You’ll need to put in writing how you’ll deal with late payments, or even worse, clients that ghost you. It’s worth thinking about worst-case scenarios and protecting yourself as best as you can, especially when money (and your sanity) is on the line.
Having a contract in place to ensure that all parties are officially in agreement on the scope of work and the terms of the relationship is a great way to look professional, and it’s the safest way for you to do business.
Another important contract consideration will be any that you have with employees. This isn’t a major concern if you’re outsourcing work to freelancers, but if you’re taking on full-time staff, you’ll need to have legal contracts in place.
If you do plan to hire people, then you’ll need to create an EIN (Employer Identification Number) — a set of numbers that will be used to identify your business for everything.
You’ll also need to provide medical, retirement, or other benefit plans for your employees, as well as special medical benefits (if applicable) and a clear holiday policy.
Once you have your business plans in order, re. work premises, business name and size, you’ll need to sort out the legal stuff.
First off, you’ll need to register your business, either as a sole trader, an LLC (limited company) or a partnership.
Visit Gov.uk to learn more about which option is best for you, how to register, and to make sure you’re in full legal compliance when setting up your business.
As well as registering your company, you’ll need to think about several other aspects including insurance, data laws, business rates, checking employees’ rights to work, health and safety, pensions, and running the payroll.
We’ll be honest, this stuff isn’t all that fun, but it’s a legal requirement to ensure you can run your business well, and most important successfully.
Probably the most important part of any successful business…the clients! Without them, you’re guaranteed to fail so considering how best to find some is time well spent.
Leveraging your existing contacts is a great place to start. Do you have any stand-out clients from your previous job that you know would love to work with you again? Or perhaps you made some handy contacts when freelancing who told you to email if you ever expanded your offering? Now is the time to get in touch.
Another tip is to reach out to your personal contacts. People love working with companies they know they can trust, and a personal recommendation can go a long way. You never know, a friend, relative or former colleague may know of an opportunity that’s perfect for you.
Having a strong online presence and utilising SEO will further increase the chances of your first client finding you organically, so be sure to constantly update your social channels and website content to increase visibility.
If you’re starting from scratch, obtaining your first client can be tough, but following all the tips above will only speed up the process.
Once the ball is rolling and you’re spending all of your time designing websites, running a team, and meeting and sourcing clients it can be easy to let your skills stagnate. You’re not going to forget the basics, but things move fast in the world of web design and you’ll benefit from making sure you stay up to date on the latest software and applications that will enhance your designs. You don’t need to know it all, but keeping up-to-date will ensure your work stays current.
Sign up to your favourite web design and development blogs to get a steady diet of the latest news from the industry, and even better, enrol on some short online courses.
Sites like Udemy, Canva, WebFlow and Skillcrush all offer a range of (often free) courses where you can refresh your skills or even learn something new to add value to your client experience.
Your education and expertise are always worth investing in and will add exponential value to your business.
Starting your own web design business needn’t be a daunting task. It’ll take a lot of guts, the ability to make the big decisions, hard work and time (especially in the very early stages) but following these steps, there’s no reason your venture shouldn’t be a success.