When I first started my freelance web design career, I was excited but unsure of where to begin. Opening a design business requires more than just learning how to use Photoshop and edit CSS. You also need to learn about acquiring clients, project management, and most importantly how to run an online business.
Hindsight Is 20/20
There are so many things I wish I had known before I started my business. If someone had sat me down and given me solid advice about the road ahead, I would have been so grateful.
Let me offer that guidance to you.
In this post, I’m going to share four mistakes that I made when starting my web design biz. These are the things that I learned the hard way – and I hope you don’t have to!
Mistake #1: I Didn’t Thoroughly Research My Business Name
As the internet grows, it’s getting harder and harder to find unclaimed domains and social media accounts. But it’s still crucial that you do your homework and thoroughly think through your business name before you open your doors!
When I initially chose “Priceless Design Studio” here’s where I went wrong:
- It’s a long name that feels redundant. I was able to purchase the shorter “Priceless Design” recently. Too bad I didn’t have it from the beginning!
- I didn’t sign-up for, or verify that there were, matching social media handles available for my domain. By the time I wanted them, they were gone. Sidenote: Twitter handles max out at 15 characters so there was no hope for a matching handle for Priceless Design Studio anyways.
- I wasn’t thinking about longevity. There’s not much room to offer eCourses or other services under the “Design Studio” umbrella. In hindsight, I wish I had worked on branding myself instead of a non-personal business name.
Learn from my mistakes. Pick a name that can grow with you! And make sure it’s one that you love, because you’ll be seeing a lot of it!
- NameCheap.com: Free WhoIs Guard the 1st year!
- NameChk.com + KnowEm.com: Check social media availability.
Mistake #2: I Didn’t Pick a Specific Niche
When I first opened shop, I thought I had a niche. “Designing beautiful websites for women bloggers.” Looking back, I realize how broad that category really is! I wish I had narrowed my focus to a certain type of blogger from the beginning.
- Recipe Bloggers, Health Bloggers, Book Bloggers, Style Bloggers, etc.
- Websites for Doctors, Dentists, Realtors, Accountants, Personal Trainers etc.
- Websites for Local Businesses, Non-Profits, Gyms, Restaurants, etc.
Be the biggest fish in a very small pond!
This may sound counter-intuitive, but the smaller the group of clients you target, the greater chance you have of being hired. You don’t want to be a little fish in a big pond. You want to be the biggest fish in a very small pond. Become known in one niche!
Ask Yourself These Questions:
- What category of bloggers or business owners would you like to work with?
- Which categories have money to spend on web design?
- Do you have a lot of connections in a certain area already? Can you ask for referrals?
- Can you create any special services or packages for this niche on your portfolio site?
Mistake #3: I Didn’t Start with WordPress
Shh! I have a secret. Although I’ve removed them from my portfolio, my first projects were all created on Blogger. What a mistake!
With Blogger, you are automatically limiting the possibilities for the coding of site and therefore your income. No homepage, no shops, no control over the functionality.
I wish I had put on my big girl pants and started with WordPress from day one.
THE REAL MONEY IS IN WORDPRESS
Let’s be honest. No matter how much you love designing, the real reason you are opening a web design business is to make money. There’s nothing wrong with that! And the only way you are going to make any serious money is by using a serious content management system (CMS) like WordPress.
I also *highly* recommend working exclusively with the Genesis Framework. Sticking with one framework makes coding so much easier! Purchasing the Pro-Plus All Theme Package from the fine folks at StudioPress gives you unlimited access to their themes. Restored316 also offers beautiful themes that can be customized in a variety of ways.
A Note on Hosting
Don’t waste your time with crummy hosting companies. It will absolutely be worth your money and sanity to start with a managed WordPress hosting with company like Flywheel.
Mistake #4: I Didn’t Open a Separate Bank Account For My Biz
For the love of everything good: open a new bank account for your business! It’s shocking how much easier it is to track your business expenses come tax season when you have a business-only account.
It’s nearly impossible to run an online business and avoid PayPal, but don’t let PayPal end up being your bank account! Sign-up for a proper checking account for your business. Since initially you’ll most likely be running your business as a Sole Proprietor, you may not even need to upgrade to a business account at first.
You can go down to your local bank, or you can do what I did and set up a free Capital One 360 checking account and connect it to PayPal. Then, set up a free savings account and put away 30% of every single dollar you earn for taxes.
Here’s why I picked Capital One 360:
- I could set it up from home
- No minimum balances
- Debit Card + Checks
- Free ATM access at 7-11’s or Capital One ATMs
- 360 Savings accounts with no minimum (for taxes!)
The best free accounting system I’ve used is Wave Apps. With Wave, you can create and send invoices, accept credit card payments, and manage your transactions (PayPal + Business Checking) all in one integrated tool.
Whether your web design business is just a dream or is blossoming, I hope that sharing my mistakes has given you a little guidance for the journey ahead. I have a lot more to share with you and I’m so glad that you’ve found Designer Guidebook!