We were recently contacted by an individual seeking a career change into web design and digital marketing and this really got us thinking about the pieces of advice we wish we’d heard when we first started out. The email went something like this:
I’m currently an Analyst Programmer working in the IT department of a large manufacturing company in Belfast which is currently downsizing and I’m facing the possibility of redundancy. I’m considering going out on my own to set myself up for creating and supporting websites for small businesses in Northern Ireland. I’ve being doing research into the types of services and prices that independent web developers like yourself provide and came across your website.
I was wondering if you would be willing/able to proved me with some tips/advice on how to set up my own web developing company, get customers, types of serves to provide, pricing, and anything else you feel would be helpful to someone starting out.
Once we’d replied to this email we thought that it would be helpful to others to produce a more comprehensive list of things we would have liked to be made aware of in the hope that it benefits more future web designers, digital marketers and freelancers.
So with this in mind, please find the list of things we wish somebody told us when we first started in web design.
1. Taking care of your own website
It’s easy to overlook your own website when you’re trying to make everybody else one. Some designers get away with not even having one in the early days but we think this is the minority. You need to make sure your own website paints you in the best light, is optimised to load quickly, shows your creativity and ultimately that it is a powerful marketing tool. All of your potential clients will be judging you on this even if they don’t realise it.
2. Virtual address and landlines
If you plan to work from home to keep costs down (and because that’s where the TV is), we’d highly advise you look into a virtual office address and landline telephone (even if you get a virtual number and redirect). Having these certainly looks more professional and through your inevitable research on local SEO you’ll realise what a pain it is to change any element of your business details online after you’ve been going for a while. When it comes to your business address and phone number we certainly recommend that you start as you mean to go on – especially since neither of these services are particularly expensive.
3. Coworking and meeting rooms
On a similar note to the above, working from home isn’t a great idea for some people. If you get lonely or easily distracted you may wish to consider utilising a coworking space. These environments are fantastic for networking, productivity and most offer free coffee! Similarly, with most coworking spaces you’ll get discounted use of professional meeting rooms. Many of your clients won’t have premises of their own when you meet them and it doesn’t always create the right impression if you need to meet in a coffee shop.
4. Proposal formats and other templates
You’ll want to do a lot of initial research around your official documents. Things like your proposal, contract and other important templates need a fair bit of work to get right and it’s likely you’ll continue to tweak them as time goes on. Just remember, you shouldn’t be using your written proposal to sell so you don’t need to go overboard on all of the details and features – this is off putting for most customers. Equally make sure you devote time to making sure your contract includes important clauses around late content, missed deadlines and non payment of fees. You’ll encounter these common issues of the industry soon enough and you’ll thank me.
Depending on your aversion to risk, it’s a good idea to look into some insurance to cover you and others in the event that something goes wrong. You can be directly responsible for accidents that cause injury to other people, even if you are on somebody else’s premises. For this reason and many others you’ll want to investigate what insurance you need to be covered for all eventualities.
6. Accounting software
Your books and financial reporting/practices are something to get right from the start. Come tax deadline you’ll hate yourself if you collect paper receipts or manually update an excel spreadsheet. Almost instantly you should sign up to an accounting app service like Quickbooks or Xero. As well as managing all of your invoices, tracking your income and expenses, these apps also output everything you need each year to complete your tax return.
7. Getting clients early on
Probably (and obviously) the hardest part when starting out is building up your client base. The more websites you do the more referrals you’ll receive, but finding those initial customers can be tricky. In the way of a little inspiration for you all:
– We found it really useful to reach out to all IT businesses, PR companies, Marketing agencies and basically anyone that we thought would come into contact with possible referrals. They get a finders fee and you get clients – perfect for everybody.
– Try adwords and other pay-per-click advertising options to drive traffic to your site initially. Only do this after some hefty research though.
– Local SEO is a massive opportunity that you should devote a lot of time to researching and implementing. If you can do it for yourself then you have the skills to sell this service to others!
– Don’t bother trying a “Free web design” offer. People don’t see value if something doesn’t cost money so you’re better off offering a discount to early clients.
We hope you’ve found these tidbits useful. Of course we are always available if you require any further advice – just get in touch!
Liam is a website designer and digital marketer based in Leeds, West Yorkshire. He spent many years working within the charity sector before moving into the marketing space a number of years ago. Liam always strives to do something slightly different with every project and always designs to deliver results, not just pretty websites.