How to Start and Succeed In Your Own Web Design AgencyWritten by Bernard on May 10, 2017
The rise of the internet and online retail and ecommerce is directly related to the rise of the web design agency. The more one increases, the more they’ll need the other.
According to recent statistics, as of June 2016 there were 320 million internet users in North America. This number is important for when they want to purchase, as they will be looking for brands with viable and professional websites.
In fact, the push towards online retail is so great that 57.7% of SME’s are planning on investing on building or improving their website.
They are realizing the absolute necessity of a high quality website which offers a great user experience. In fact, the less friction business websites have between the customer entering and paying, the higher the rate of successful sales.
Furthermore, in order to get a good conversion rate, meaning visitors are actually purchasing, websites need to have a good speed. If company websites load in 2.4 seconds, they enjoy a 1.9% conversion rate.
Alternatively, if company websites load in 3.3 seconds, that rate drops to 1.5%.
Great design, great user experience, less friction, and great speeds—all of these mean that your new web design agency will be in great demand.
As these types of trends continue on, especially boosted by increased mobile usage, businesses of all sizes realize the need for professional web design.
In our guide today, we’ll look at everything you need to know in order to get your web design agency started.
Table of Contents
I. The Different Web Design Services
There are quite a few different types of jobs tucked in with each web design agency. Some focus on certain aspects more than the others, but regardless they are all crucial.
Let’s look at the 4 areas your web design agency should cover.
1. User experience
In your team, you’ll need to focus on UX (user experience) as a prominent part of the website design.
Normally, UX is based on research about the ideal visitors the website hopes to attract—how they find information, where they click, how long they spend on each page, and how to lead them to the desired goal.
This looks at the overall experience that the visitor has with the website, and making sure that that experience is optimal.
2. User interface
Developers involved in user interface design work on connecting the visitors with the backend processes. They are involved in using coding that results in website aspects that are easy to use and easily accessible.
Mobile designers work exclusively on creating mobile platforms.
These types of designers create functional designs that are optimal for mobile devices. Because they are also involved in the aesthetic displays needed for mobile designs, they need to have a great amount of knowledge in various programming languages.
4. Information architecture
Information architects are involved with recreating your client’s ideas into a graphic mock-up. This mock-up is sent to the developers, and therefore information architects act like the middlemen.
They meet with the clients to understand what they want, do market research and suggest features for optimal user experience.
II. The Advantages and Disadvantages of Starting Your Web Design Agency
Before we go into what you need in order to start your web design agency below, you need to know what you’re in for.
There are many wonderful things ahead for your web design agency, but there are also a lot of pitfalls if you’re not careful.
Let’s go over the most important for each.
1. The Advantages
From your perspective, as an entrepreneur getting ready to start your web design business, the advantages are spectacular. These are the major ones:
You’ll get to work when you want, with whom you want (technically)
As your own boss, you will be able to work whatever time you want. If you are a night-owl, you can go for 3pm to midnight, or part in the morning and part at night.
You can also decide who your clients are. However, both of these points should be taken with a grain of salt, because your customers are still king. You’ll have to be reachable and at the beginning you’ll probably just want to get any clients.
You can work on a variety of projects
One of the great things about web design is that you can work on a few projects at the same time. This is an important advantage because it allows you to diversify your day.
That way, you don’t get into rut or get bored working on just one project every single day. This also allows you to add greatly to your portfolio which will lead to more clients.
You’ll be doing your hobby—professionally
For the most part, it is assumed that you actually really like web design. If not, you probably wouldn’t be starting your own web design agency, right?
Well, now you can get to do your hobby and get paid for it. That is perhaps one of the greatest joys, as getting paid to do what you like is a dream of most working adults.
You can potentially earn a lot
The web design industry is only set to grow and grow for the foreseeable future. As more people are getting online and ecommerce is booming, more businesses will need a highly-qualified web design agency—and pay a high price for it.
2. The Disadvantages
While that’s all fine and dandy, we can’t forget the flip side of it all: the pitfalls. If starting your own web design agency was so easy, many more would’ve started and succeeded in it.
No, there are some disadvantages and you need to be aware of it in order to secure your new business.
You need to constantly look for your clients
We go over this in depth in section VI – How to Get Clients for Your Web Design Agency – but it is still a fact: getting those first clients can be tough.
This is a bit difficult for web designers who are happiest just coding, rather than doing the work of talking to people and convincing businesses to use their services.
It will be difficult in the first part
This first part, in which you are looking for clients, can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. In that time, you’ll have your expenses and your employees to take care of.
There’s a lot of competition
Because the web design industry is pretty much a low-upfront cost business, there are many designers looking for clients as well.
This is even more confounded by the fact that, as with most internet services, your competition can come from down the road or across the globe.
You need to keep up-to-date
Because it is related to the internet, web design requires you to stay on top of your game. You need to be aware of new design trends, coding, infrastructure, mobile, and many other aspects.
Because it’s your hobby, it shouldn’t take a lot of energy, but it will still take a lot of time. If you aren’t up-to-date, it will be harder to secure your clients and impress them.
III. The Fundamental Aspects of Your Business
Getting your web design agency set up is more than just getting clients and creating websites. It will also require that you take care of the backend of your business, making sure all the pieces are in place to ensure your success.
Let’s look at the most fundamental parts of your new web design agency.
1. Create Your Web Design Business Plan
Here at InvoiceBerry we’ve discussed the worst business plan myths that many new entrepreneurs believe. One of the most egregious is the idea that you probably don’t need a business plan at all.
That couldn’t be more wrong. The reason why that is so far off base is because those people view business plans as documents intended only for securing funding. To them, it is an outward-facing document that you create once and forget about.
In reality, business plans are primarily inward-facing. They are about you and your web design agency, about getting the structure for it on paper, the goals and mission, and of course the financial forecast.
It also helps you and your team get on the same page about the direction of the business, and therefore acts as a roadmap. You should come back to it from time-to-time adjust it as your business changes.
In order to have a complete business plan, you should answer questions in the following sections:
- Executive Summary: what are your business’ strengths?
- Business Description: what are the most crucial aspects of your business?
- Industry and Competition Overview: what research have you done on the web design industry; what are its growth, competitors and trends?
- Operations and Management Plan: what will be the daily operations of your business? What will the management structure look like, and how will they work together to accomplish the business goals?
- Service Description: what are the competitive benefits your business has over its competitors?
- Marketing Strategy: how will you get your web design services in front of the right people at the right time? How will your price, distribution, promotion and sales channel work together?
- Financial Projection: what kind of revenues and expenses will you have over a specific time period, and will you require any additional funding?
These questions differ in levels of complexity, and for your web design agency you should answer them as well as you can.
After all, if you don’t know much about your competition, you are just setting yourself up for failure.
Here at InvoiceBerry, we’ve already put together an epic, 8,000-word business plan guide to help you understand exactly what you need to have a perfect business plan.
2. Software for Web Designers
There are lots of great software solutions for web designers. However, we’re going to look only at the non-design tools that will help your business succeed.
Evernote is a deceptively useful app that seems simple and limited, but actually is great for nearly every business, including web design. It’s easy to take and store notes and share it across all your devices.
When you are working with your clients, you will need an easy way to store and send files. This is especially true for quite large files that can’t be seen by email.
Dropbox helps you do that, and being on the cloud, that means that you won’t risk losing your files.
There’s more to your web design agency than just designing websites. You need to take care of business as well, which is where InvoiceBerry comes in. You can create and send your invoices in just 60 seconds—helping you stay focused on your designs.
In your web design agency team, you’ll need to find a great project management solution.
Trello is normally at the top of the best of lists, and that is due to its great user experience, interface and useful features.
IV. The Qualifications, Licenses and Insurance Your Web Design Agency Needs
Before we can begin to look at what pricing strategies you need to employ and how you can get your first web design clients, let’s look at what documentation you’ll need.
This includes qualifications and requirements, licenses and insurance.
1. Qualifications and Requirements
Web design, like other professions related to the arts and design, don’t normally require much in the form of qualifications.
What this means is that you may not need to have any specific degree in a design field, although a bachelor’s degree is useful in general.
For many of your clients, your main (or only) qualification will be your portfolio. They want to see what type of designs you can make for them.
However, having specific skills will be included in the creation of that portfolio. These skills include:
- UX (user experience) design
- visual design
- marketing, social media, and SEO (Search Engine Optimization), especially on-site SEO
- HTML and CSS in-depth coding knowledge
- in-depth knowledge of design software such as Illustrator and Photoshop
- knowledge of copywriting and photo editing
- mobile or responsive design
If you are working on starting your own web design agency, it is assumed that you have mastered or are mastering these crucial requirements.
If you are still a bit in the gray about your skills, there are luckily (besides formal education) plenty of free online web design courses to get you caught up.
2. Your Web Design Agency Licenses
In every corner of the world, assumedly, if you are starting a business officially, you will need to get a license or a permit of some sort.
The type and the process you have to go through to obtain a license will depend on the city, state, or country your business will be located.
For many places, however, there is no specific license that a web design agency needs to get. The general business license, in accordance with local laws, will suffice.
If you get involved with clients in certain industries, however, such as food, telecommunications, or defense, you may be required to get extra documentation or permits.
You may also decide to open your agency as a limited company or LLC, although other options are available
3. Insurance for Web Designers
There are generally three types of insurance that are normally recommended for web design agencies (and the third one is geared towards web design agency teams).
One that is often recommended, general liability insurance, is at the bottom of the must-have insurance types and seems unnecessary in comparison.
You are a professional, and your web design agency will reflect professionalism. However, sometimes no matter how well you work, there may be some problems.
Professional liability insurance is also known as errors and omissions (E&O) insurance. It covers claims of negligence, damages, subcontracting claims, defense costs and more.
Business Owner’s Insurance
This insurance is a combines the benefits of general liability with equipment and data protection for your business.
This includes any work-related injury and the medial bills, property damage, loss of work or data due to damage, etc. It is also great in case you have financial losses due to equipment damage or data loss in the scope of your work.
As I mentioned above, this is only applicable for agencies that have employees.
In certain locations, this is mandatory if you have any number of employees. Other states or countries will have a minimum before you are required to get it.
This type of insurance helps cover you and your employees if there are any injuries or illnesses in the line of work. This is a particularly low risk for web designers, but it is important to be covered just in case.
V. How to Price Your Web Design Services
Pricing is one of the most important things we need to look at now. After you’ve got the documentation and basics figured out from above, you need to start looking at your services and prices.
This can be quite difficult to do. It requires careful thinking and knowledge of your ideal customers as well as your own business costs.
Let’s overview the three most used pricing strategies for your web design agency.
1. By the hour
One of the first pricing methods that web designers use in general is the hourly pricing strategy. This is quite effective for new entrepreneurs, as it allows you to get paid all the work you do.
It is important, however, that you use a rate that takes into account your agency’s margins and costs. You can also use different rates for different team members, depending on their experience and seniority.
This method has the further advantages of being easy to plan your work and gaining experience on how to price jobs. This is important as you’ll want to move to a different pricing strategy when your business has developed further.
The disadvantages will pile up eventually, however. The main one is that your clients will generally be questioning charges and your processes, rather than focusing on your results.
Furthermore, there’s no real incentive for you to work more efficiently. Since you’re getting paid by the hour, the faster you work the less money you’re making.
2. By the project
Pricing your work by the project has a lot of great advantages. In this method, you give a specific price for the project, detailing the scope, and then deliver the results in the agreed-upon time period.
The advantages of this is that the more efficient you are, the better it is for you as you’ll finish your work faster and be paid the same price. That way, you can dedicate the remaining time to other projects.
Your clients are also certain of the final price and will look forward to the results, rather than having to worry about what the final invoice will be.
However, the disadvantages are important to note. If you don’t have much experience scoping projects, you could end up undercharging for your services.
Beyond that, your clients may also have many changes along the course of the project. These changes could alter some, a lot or all of the projects tasks, meaning you could end up getting paid differently than what you’d expected.
3. Based on the value
This particular pricing strategy may be best reserved for very experienced web designer agency teams. Here, you are being paid not according to the resulting product (the website), but rather based on what the value of that website brings to the client.
You can get paid based on the royalty or commission on your client’s revenues. However, it is difficult to gauge exactly what the end value of your services will be, or to justify that to your clients.
In this way, you are aligning your and your client’s objectives. The better your product is, and the more revenue it brings for your client, the more money you will earn.
However, you’ll have to be quite confident to present this option to your client. Beyond that, you’ll have to do great research to know how much value your services bring and how to explain that to the client.
VI. How to Get Clients for Your Web Design Agency
Now that we’ve got it all set up, we need to actually go out and get your service in front of the right eyes. Your marketing will be crucial, as it’s the only way to actually get your money flowing in.
We’ll look at the most popular ways you can get word out about your web design agency. This includes traditional marketing methods and digital marketing.
1. Traditional marketing
Although the traditional ways are falling out of favor fast, they can be quite effective.
The main reason that many new businesses don’t use these is that they can be quite cost-prohibitive, especially when looking at radio or TV advertisements.
However, there are other ways to go old school when it comes to marketing your web design agency.
Find your ideal clients
One of the tried and true methods of finding clients it to physically find your clients. This means you need to be finding speaking opportunities, workshops, meetups, conferences, and other events where your ideal clients are likely to be.
If you can find and meet them, and you have your pitch ready, you could come away with a nice list of leads, some of whom could turn into actual clients.
Pro bono in exchange for testimonial/portfolio
If you’re just starting out and your portfolio is thin, you’ll need to bulk it up quickly. One of the most effective ways to do that is to give out your services for free.
That’s right, you’ll do the website for free. However, in return you can use that in your portfolio. Additionally, your “client” should also agree to provide a testimonial if she’s satisfied with your work.
Network for partnerships
Another important thing to do is to realize that your services would work very well with related industries. These partners include marketing agencies, developers, PR firms and others.
You may end up sharing the same clients, or offering discounts for their services to your client, as they’ll offer discounts to their clients for your services.
2. Digital marketing
Of course, digital marketing is going to be the main focus of most of your marketing efforts. We’ll look at the most important ones you should utilize for your web design agency.
Obviously, if you are selling web design services, your website should be at the highest level. Not only should your website contain all your best work, but your website should technically be your best work.
Your client will use that as a prototype for your style, user experience, aesthetics and much more. If it isn’t impressive, you won’t have much luck at all.
There’s no denying that if you have a business in 2017, you need to be on social media. It is where your customers are, and therefore it is where you need to be.
You should make sure that your business is easy to find. On your Facebook page, for example, you should include all the important details for your potential clients to contact you.
You should also include links to former sites you’ve worked on (with your client’s approval) and images of your portfolio.
Our free ebook The Ultimate Guide to Social Media for Small Businesses and Freelancers provides more information.
Blog or Guest Blog
Blogging can be a great way to get your customers to come into your space to find answers they desperately need. This is known as inbound marketing, where you attract your ideal clients with valuable knowledge.
If you don’t have your own blog, then you should be working on getting guest blogging opportunities. This will put you in front of the right eyes and can potentially drive huge amounts of traffic to your site.
In order to succeed in your new web design agency, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got all your bases covered.
In digital marketing, there are 4 services you should provide:
- User experience (UX)
- User interface (UI)
- Information Architecture (IA)
Before diving into the basics of your design agency, let’s look at the advantages:
- you can work when you want with the clients of your choice
- youcan do a variety of projects simultaneously
- you’ll be doing your hobby and getting paid for it
- your can earn a lot of money
Of course, on the other hand, there are some disadvantages as well:
- you will need to constantly search for new clients
- it will be difficult in the beginning
- there’s a lot of competition
- you will need to keep up-to-date, which takes time, energy and often money
You then need to cover your web design agency basics:
- create a strategic business plan to ensure your success
- use software such as Evernote, Dropbox, InvoiceBerry and Trello
There are some qualifications, licenses and insurance you’ll need:
- a good portfolio is more important than a degree
- you’ll need just a general business licenses
- professional liability, business owner’s insurance and workers’ compensation are what your agency will need
Make sure you set your web design prices strategically:
- fixed price
To get your first web design clients, use:
- traditional marketing, including networking and pro bono work for testimonials
- digital marketing, which includes social media and writing blog posts
These are only the beginning of your new web design agency, but it’s a great start.
Once you get up and running, you’ll be set for great successes.