Starting a Web Design Business

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  • WEB DESIGN
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I've been building websites on and off since the early 90s. I started out in HTML, then FrontPage (ugh) and now I've built sites in Joomla, but mostly Wordpress. Joomla was cool, but not as user friendly, particularly if I've got clients who will be updating the site who aren't tech savvy.

So I've got a few clients already. I've been charging $20 an hour and the sites are made up of static pages and then articles are done in blog format if they want articles. I'm good at making the site look professional and in editing .php and .css to remove or add things that don't look right. (i.e. "Comments are Closed").

I'm planning to move to a host with unlimited domain access and hosting my client's sites for free until I can afford a reseller account. (Will be billing it as "one year of hosting free with the purchase of a domain name" kind of thing). Right now, I've gotten my clients from people I know or people I meet in the course of my other avenues of income (mostly the farmer's market). I'd like to branch out into the community, but I'm not sure how to go about it. I'm thinking about starting with local businesses that HAVE websites that suck. I'm also considering going door to door for small businesses that might be interested in getting a web presence.

What kinds of companies should I focus on? Am I better showing up in person, sending letters, or cold calling (I hate cold calling on the phone). I've been told that $20 an hour is extremely reasonable and the sites are generally 5-10 pages long with a contact form, TOS and privacy policy included. I want to get off the the right foot, so any advice would be much appreciated.

(P.S. I've seen in other threads that people scoff at building professional websites in Wordpress, but I've found that it's pretty easy to accomplish and my clients gush about my site - it's been a big selling point and it's built in WP).
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  • Profile picture of the author Steve Wells
    Originally Posted by OKFarmgirl View Post

    I've been building websites on and off since the early 90s. I started out in HTML, then FrontPage (ugh) and now I've built sites in Joomla, but mostly Wordpress. Joomla was cool, but not as user friendly, particularly if I've got clients who will be updating the site who aren't tech savvy.

    So I've got a few clients already. I've been charging $20 an hour and the sites are made up of static pages and then articles are done in blog format if they want articles. I'm good at making the site look professional and in editing .php and .css to remove or add things that don't look right. (i.e. "Comments are Closed").

    I'm planning to move to a host with unlimited domain access and hosting my client's sites for free until I can afford a reseller account. (Will be billing it as "one year of hosting free with the purchase of a domain name" kind of thing). Right now, I've gotten my clients from people I know or people I meet in the course of my other avenues of income (mostly the farmer's market). I'd like to branch out into the community, but I'm not sure how to go about it. I'm thinking about starting with local businesses that HAVE websites that suck. I'm also considering going door to door for small businesses that might be interested in getting a web presence.

    What kinds of companies should I focus on? Am I better showing up in person, sending letters, or cold calling (I hate cold calling on the phone). I've been told that $20 an hour is extremely reasonable and the sites are generally 5-10 pages long with a contact form, TOS and privacy policy included. I want to get off the the right foot, so any advice would be much appreciated.

    (P.S. I've seen in other threads that people scoff at building professional websites in Wordpress, but I've found that it's pretty easy to accomplish and my clients gush about my site - it's been a big selling point and it's built in WP).
    Your underselling yourself, but if thats the price point that people are only willing to pay in your area, you gotta do what you gotta do I guess.

    I personally do not charge by the hour, I find it better to charge by the project, and if you bite off more than you can chew, you learn not to do it again.....
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  • Profile picture of the author DPWeb
    I agree, I charge by the project and almost always use WordPress to design sites. Why wouldn't you use WordPress? My clients almost always request it. If they don't directly request it, they say I want something that makes it easy to edit my pages.

    I think WordPress is a lot more user friendly than cPanel File Manager, and I KNOW its more user friendly than FTP.

    I never cold call, but you could consider making brochures and taking them into local businesses. That way you can make one and just copy it. Take it into the store (where the owner may not be present) and leave it for the owner. The owner is going to be the person with these kind of decision making powers. Managers will scoff at the thought of expansion. Why would they want to work harder to manage something for the same pay.

    Good luck in your ventures, but try not to be too lucky because I need clients too.
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    • Hi Eileen,
      Don't apoligize for using Wordpress, it's becoming a standard for small sites like you are doing, easy for you and your customers.
      How long does it take you to set up a site? If you are doing it in 2 or 3 hours, you are really undervaluing your work. I second the idea of a fixed fee, you gotta eat.
      For working locally, build a site for yourself and get it on google places,so the locals can find you.
      I hate cold calling, but I'm an introvert. It can get discouraging, but does work. E-mail and snail mail would be my choice. Activity in local affairs, like chamber of commerce, kawanis, optomist club, etc is always helpful.
      Best of luck, Mike
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  • Profile picture of the author OKFarmgirl
    What great advice! As an example, I set up a website for a client and it took me four hours to get the theme set, and her pictures, text, etc. inserted. She wants me to spend two hours showing her how to use Wordpress, so altogether, I'm looking at $120 and maybe more if she wants me to do any additional changes.

    So it sounds like I'm underpricing. What would you charge for a 5-10 page WP site for a small business? Would you charge additional for SEO (I'm assuming yes), and how would you price that? I guess the hourly seemed to work since I could track it easily and since I'm just starting out and my few clients have been people I've met along the way, I thought I'd start cheap for my portfolio. On the other hand, I used to make $130 an hour to work on networks and computer repair/upgrade, so perhaps I AM undercutting.

    I guess I'm just new to this. I have no idea what's a reasonable price. I live in a pretty economically depressed area, so I can't go nuts on the pricing, but I don't want to starve either. Thanks so much for your advice.
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    • Profile picture of the author brandon2664
      Go through the yellow pages and pick out service businesses that need websites or have websites created by yellow pages. That may be a good start.
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    • Profile picture of the author Tim Franklin
      Hi, OK Farm Girl, so much depends on the client, some can afford to pay a nice wage, I remember back in 1995 when the average website went for around $7500.00 for just a five page website, but that was before they started advertising on TV about how you can get a $4.95 cent website tonight, (yes I know you get what you pay for at least most of the time)

      But still there is room for making money, a lot really depends on what the client is doing, to be totally and brutally honest, all this off line riches, stuff is a big boo, I know this because I work with small business owners all day long and most of them are struggling to make the light bills, in fact, in many areas, more then 40 percent of small business owners have gone out of business.

      So if you have a client that is willing to pay you a fair wage, go for it, the thing is this, when you treat someone fairly they will not forget you, I have been working with one client in the real estate business for more than ten years, He always calls me when he needs help because he knows he can trust me to be fair, I guess the point I want to make is that just because you can charge more does not mean you should charge more.

      Have a good one,)

      Originally Posted by OKFarmgirl View Post

      What great advice! As an example, I set up a website for a client and it took me four hours to get the theme set, and her pictures, text, etc. inserted. She wants me to spend two hours showing her how to use Wordpress, so altogether, I'm looking at $120 and maybe more if she wants me to do any additional changes.

      So it sounds like I'm underpricing. What would you charge for a 5-10 page WP site for a small business? Would you charge additional for SEO (I'm assuming yes), and how would you price that? I guess the hourly seemed to work since I could track it easily and since I'm just starting out and my few clients have been people I've met along the way, I thought I'd start cheap for my portfolio. On the other hand, I used to make $130 an hour to work on networks and computer repair/upgrade, so perhaps I AM undercutting.

      I guess I'm just new to this. I have no idea what's a reasonable price. I live in a pretty economically depressed area, so I can't go nuts on the pricing, but I don't want to starve either. Thanks so much for your advice.
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      • Profile picture of the author Angie44
        Maybe the definition of small business is different than what I am thinking but $60 an hr is a lot it seems (although a lot depends on how fast you are). My husband has 250K worth of equipment & 2 guys when he gets on a jobsite and he charges $95/hr which some think is high but he is very efficient and get twice as much done in an hour as other guys.
        I think a lot depends on where you live & what the normal market is.
        I would think in rural OK- $60 would be a little high. Business owners here in rural OH are having a hard time of it and don't usually make $100/day let alone 20/hr. There are a lot of Ma & Pa places that have really cool stuff but don't have that kind of cash to get a website built to let people know about it.
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  • Profile picture of the author BlakeM
    I'm also interested in getting into the web design business. I know a good amount of html and some css. Wordpress is very easy to me and I know how to FTP in order to change themes etc.

    That being said I'm no pro by any means and I would far prefer just emailing over meeting or cold calling (or talking on the phone at all for that matter).

    Would you guys mind posting a website or two that you've made for customers so that I can see if I'm qualified enough to create them?

    I'm still young and so $20/hour sounds good for me while I'm starting off.

    Any help is appreciated. Thanks a bunch!

    P.S. I also agree your undercharging considering your experience level. Good luck getting the price you deserve!

    P.P.S. I'm also taking a web design course and will be taking an "advanced" web design class next year so that should help a good bit.
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  • Profile picture of the author Steve Solem
    I started off ten or so years ago with FrontPage then moved up to Dreamweaver - but since Wordpress came on the scene I do just about all my website with it now.

    You can do so much with just the default 2010 theme, but spend $40 on a template from themeforest that you can tweak to your liking and you've got a website you could easily sell for a grand or more.

    I can appreciate the bargain rates you're charging as I always felt those that charged thousands for a 5 - 10 page site were taking advantage of businesses, but at only $20/hr, I think you're letting people take advantage of you. I've always charged about $60/hr which I felt was middle of the road myself, and most sites I've done have averaged out to about $100/page which I think is more than reasonable for any small business to afford.

    Of course I did a number of websites for free when just starting out to build my portfolio a bit, but once you've got a few clients under your belt, I'd at least double or triple your rate there. I get the idea of being an affordable option for those living in your neighborhood, but there's no reason you can't get clients in other areas that can more easily afford what you're charging.

    I've never actually done any work for anyone local so don't limit yourself to just those clients you can meet with personally.
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  • Profile picture of the author DominicF
    If you are wanting to get a few clients, you could try advertising in the Warriors for hire section. It's only $20 to post an ad and it worked for me and more than covered the cost of advertising.
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  • Profile picture of the author hireava
    Market yourself as a web designer that not only designs nice looking websites, but who builds effective and complete online businesses for their clients.
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  • Profile picture of the author Transcripts
    I understand where you are coming from in that you are in SE OK. I'm in East TN and was just doing some research and you can find qualified website designers here at $35 to $50 per page, and then they offer free or dirt cheap hosting. Of course, there are the more expensive ones here as well, but this area, like yours is fairly low pay.

    On the other hand, if your area is like mine, then customer service, communication, professionalism, and timeliness, are likely qualities that are very hit or miss. So, perhaps you could exploit these areas to your advantage.
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  • Profile picture of the author WealthWithin
    If you run a business, you should not charge by hour as you get on a day job.

    With a business, the hourly rate should also include other expenses. Such as taxes, equipment costs, internet, phone bills, home office rent, software subscriptions etc. On top of that you'll spend about 40-50% of your time on lead generation and getting new business.

    So your hourly rate should cushion all those costs. If you charge $20/hr, you'll actually have about $5-7/hr left for yourself.

    About SEO, charge a setup fee (to install Analytics, keyword & market research etc), then charge a monthly fee. This varies depending on the location and competition.
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    • Profile picture of the author biznics
      I would also add that try to adopt the pricing structure on "project" basis; instead of hourly basis. WHY! Because most of the time client might not be aware of the number of hours you put in; in bringing up the website.

      And when you are going with the project based pricing, both parties (client and you) know what they will get and are paying for? And it also reduces the chances of confusions from clients' end.

      Good luck
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  • Profile picture of the author KyleLogue
    I have a lot of experience in this area. I used to create Joomla websites for churches and then after 3 months I would turn the website over to them.

    Here's the pricing structure I used:
    $2700 for the design
    $300 per month for 3 months to train staff and make minor design changes

    This was in 2007 and I made a killing. The key to my success was having a portfolio of websites before even talking to the client. When I didn't have any clients yet, I offered my services at a severely discounted rate just to build up my portfolio.

    The best form of advertising you can do is referrals. If you do a good job for a client, ask the client to give you the names of a few businesses that they think would also benefit from your services. Go visit the client in person dressed nicely, and mention the person who referred you upon your arrival. Don't waste your sales pitch on secretaries either! You want to talk to decision-makers. Make sure you have information to leave with the potential client too.

    I'd be more than willing to help you out on this. Let me know if you want some personalized help.
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    • Profile picture of the author Nspire
      I agree with Biznics Working by project verses hours Works better i think for both client and for your business. This way the clients know exactly what he/she is getting and you know how much time it will take you to complete the project. Client don't get over charged and you don't get over worked for less than you should.
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  • Profile picture of the author OKFarmgirl
    Thanks so much for all of this wonderful advice. I would l like to charge a package price, but I guess my concern is that if the customer is super nit-picky, I could end up with a ton of hours with no increased income. If I were to package it, I think I'd do $300 for a 5 page website initial setup if they provide all of the content and any images. That couldn't include SEO though, and I'm not sure what to make that monthly (because it would have to be monthly). If I can swing an unlimited account here in the near future, I would offer hosting for free to start.

    I guess my mom kind of got me worried since I spent weeks and weeks working on her site, making little changes constantly and then, when it was all said and done, she decided to go with another host and a totally different page. I got a LOT of experience with .php and .css from that project, so it wasn't a total loss, but I'm not sure how to make customers understand the limits of what I'm willing to do for a set price. I guess I'd just have to spell it out and answer any questions in the initial consult.

    It's scary starting something new, but I really need a supplemental income and my own website, snazzy though it is, isn't going to be giving me a massive passive income anytime soon!
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    Eileen

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    • Profile picture of the author pwtmike
      Originally Posted by OKFarmgirl View Post

      Thanks so much for all of this wonderful advice. I would l like to charge a package price, but I guess my concern is that if the customer is super nit-picky, I could end up with a ton of hours with no increased income. If I were to package it, I think I'd do $300 for a 5 page website initial setup if they provide all of the content and any images. That couldn't include SEO though, and I'm not sure what to make that monthly (because it would have to be monthly). If I can swing an unlimited account here in the near future, I would offer hosting for free to start.

      I run a web design business and can assure you that you will get some customers that are very nit picky. and your $x,xxx project price can end up netting you $10/hr if they request alot of updates. I do alot of my work on joomla and have custom templates built for each client. They are allowed 10 revisions maximum to tweak the design. And this can be a 1-2 week process if you are working with a good designer from odesk. After that you can then have the template sliced to div/html and made into a joomla/wordpress template. From there you can add any functionality or components they require. This can be a 30-60 day project based on complexity. I usually find that I am able to get a small business to invest $2500 easily for a custom website that they can update on their own. If you can land two clients per month, and spend $500 building each, your can easily make $4k/month just off of landing 2 clients a month. Not a bad earnings, but you are stuck in client services business. This can be a good income source as you practice more IM and AM methods.
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  • Profile picture of the author evilprincess
    This is pretty much the exact reason I joined this forum today.
    I've been designing websites for about 10 years. I'm self taught. I design static sites. I think you need to start by getting a website for yourself to prove what you can do. Add some portfolio pieces to it, do your own SEO if you know how. I do not. Which is why I'm here, lol. That will also help you get clients that aren't local.

    Rarely do I get local clients. Most of my business is from answering CL ads or posting my own. But the downside to that is when I have people reply, "You better offer to design my 10 page website for $50 because I can do it myself in WP for free." Umm...ok? LOL

    And KyleLogue...OMG $2700 for a site!! I have been offering $75 per page and people tell me I'm too expensive! Makes me want to email some churches, haha!

    I ordered some postcards from vista a few days ago. I plan on sending them to local businesses. I am going to search for local shops, check their site and if I think it needs an overhaul, slap their address on one of my postcards. I have no idea if this will work or not. And the businesses don't even have to be local. Just something new I was told to try by a friend.

    I have had my fair share of super-nit picky clients. Try to ask for all of your content up front or as soon as they can get it together. Offer a discount if they give you the content in the first 5 days. Then tell them your price includes "5 revisions" or how many you want to offer. I had one lady emailing me frantically every time she wanted an em-dash changed to an en-dash! Then she kept emailing me every 2 minutes, asking if I was getting her emails! Jeesh!
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  • Profile picture of the author interestingindeed
    In my opinion, you should be billing at - at least $50 and outsourcing the work. I've been doing web design for 5 years and it wasn't a worthwhile endeavor until I switched to this model.
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  • Profile picture of the author beltane
    I've been running my own web dev business for 9 years, and the way I handle the super picky clients is to have revision rounds on all my designs. I offer three rounds (once an overall concept is chosen). Each round can include as many changes as they want (things like background colour, position of elements etc, the overall design is decided in step one), but it has to be presented as one complete list, and they get three of these rounds.

    Once exhausted, each extra round required has a fee attached. I've found this helps clients get organised, actually stop and think about what they really want, and saves us both time in the long run.

    As far as fees are concerned, definately charge per project. After 9 years I've got this down to an art and rarely find myself short on projects, but it will take you some time to get used to different things that can throw a project out. I've found though, that clients far prefer to know what they'll be up for in advance, rather than a surprise bill at the end. I won't reveal how much I charge on a public forum, but it's way more than $20 an hour, and business is prospering. A lot of it has to do with perceived value, IMO.
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    • Profile picture of the author Vanfenix
      Running a Web Development business is not the easiest thing to start up. The market is quite full of large corporate companies. The Key is to ensure that you understand the needs of the prospect and then selling them on those needs. Essentially they will be happy to hire you so long as you can do the job. What I recommend is do some websites for free for Non profits. This will build your portfolio and allow you to get yourself established.
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      • Profile picture of the author evilprincess
        Beltane and anyone else willing to share how they get more clients when referrals run thin? Do you rely on organic traffic? Favorite method to get new clients? Find some websites that need an overhaul and email them a sales letter? :confused:
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        • Profile picture of the author steveeakin
          Originally Posted by evilprincess View Post

          Beltane and anyone else willing to share how they get more clients when referrals run thin? Do you rely on organic traffic? Favorite method to get new clients? Find some websites that need an overhaul and email them a sales letter? :confused:
          Network w/ local businesses. Find their website, find ways to improve it even if it's awesome already then go buy something in their store and meniton "i would have bought it earlier but [reason why their website needs work]". If you can put a $$ value on why they should improve their site through your services, it helps.
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  • Profile picture of the author steveeakin
    I charge "by the hour", but it's really per project and I do some bistro-math to make the hourly rate look like a special deal.

    My advice for "who to target" is EVERYONE. Just talk to people... network like it's 1982. Talk to people wherever you go, especially local businesses / shops. You never know who will turn into a future client, plus it builds the trust factor since they can put a face to the name.
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