10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting a Web Design Business

John Tabita

Freelancing on the side to earn extra income is all well and good. But if you want to start a business that generates a full-time income, here are some things to know.

1. Web Design is a Commodity

Low barrier to entry and an abundance of do-it-yourself options means clients have too many choices and no basis upon which to make the best decision. The sooner you acknowledge this, the easier it will be to break out of the commoditization trap.

2. Sales is a Skill You Must Acquire

If you’re unable or unwilling to learn how to sell your services, consider partnering with someone who can. Otherwise, don’t quit your day job.

3. Prospecting for Business is not Optional

“Sales” is everything that occurs after a prospect agrees to meet with you. Finding people willing to meet with you requires prospecting. While it’s not impossible to grow quickly through word-of-mouth alone, it’s the exception, not the norm. Just like SEO, word-of-mouth requires time; it doesn’t happen overnight. If you’re just starting out and need clients right away, go out and find them.

4. Cold Calling Works

Despite claims to the contrary by so-called experts, cold-calling is one of the most effective means to obtain new business. Unless clients are beating a path to your door, don’t be too quick to dismiss cold-calling.

5. Prospects Aren’t Buying What You’re Selling

Business owners don’t value your HTML skills or your time. They value vendors who produce results. Business owners are concerned with what puts money in their pocket or what keeps money in their pocket. If your service doesn’t directly impact their bottom line, you’re not selling what they’re buying.

6. Your Biggest Competitor is Not Who You Think

Over the years, I’ve lost more deals to the decision to do nothing than other web firms. Before getting too cozy with that prospect, find out whether this project is mission-critical, or if “doing nothing” is an option. As Seth Godin says: “Are you really worth the hassle, the risk, the time, the money?”

7. Never Offer a Proposal

Writing a proposal is a poor way to close a deal. But when I first started out, I’d offer to write one instead of simply asking for the sale. Once I learned otherwise, I found I could close a deal on a verbal agreement, then write the proposal to finalize the sale. So don’t write a proposal unless your prospect has agreed to sign it.

8. Never Agree to “Final Payment Upon Completion”

Obtaining content from the client is one of the most challenging aspects of web design. You are on dangerous ground when your contract stipulates that the client can make final payment upon completion. Conceivably, a client can delay the project for any number of reasons that are beyond your control and you might never see that “final payment.”

9. Clone Your Best Clients as Soon as Possible

Chances are, you’ll stumble on some good clients by accident. You know the type—the ones who give you plenty of ongoing work, always pay on time, never badger you for a lower price, and send you a gift basket at Christmas. Once you land a few of those, figure out what characteristics they have in common … then go after others like them.

10. Two Are Better than One

Having been in business as a both sole proprietor and a partnership, I can say that I prefer the latter. That said, a bad partnership can be nearly as disastrous as a bad marriage. But considering that partnerships generate more revenue than sole proprietors, I’d say it’s worth the risk.

There is my “Top 10” list of what you need to know before starting your web design business. Did I miss anything? Post yours below.

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