The business side of web design: tips for first-time freelancers

The joys of freelancing aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be, but self-employment can offer you a lot of creative scope and freedom as a web designer.

If you’ve worked for a web design company, then you’ll have gained a lot of skills and experience in the design and development aspects of the work. However, that doesn’t necessarily equip you for the task of running your own business.

The chances are that the business operations side of the industry passed you by. As long as you were working to briefs, successfully producing what the company and clients wanted and getting paid regularly, it’s likely that you didn’t get much of a handle on the administrative side of how a business is run.

If you’ve been working on web design on your own and want to turn your hobby into a business, you will also need to get to grips with the basics of running a business. There’s no reason that creative workers should be bad at business; after all, running a business is a creative activity in itself.

But when you’re starting out on your own, you need to put the appropriate tools in place to develop a viable operation that will pay you – and others, when that becomes appropriate – and be an organization set up to succeed.

Research the market

Today there are many web designers looking for business, and many have a broad level of skills. You need to check who’s out there, get an understanding of the size of the businesses you will be competing against and get a sense of exactly what your competition does and who their clients are. Going into the market with eyes closed is a recipe for disaster.

Keep your skill levels high

Whether you’re self-taught because web design has always been a passion of yours or you have a qualification, you need to keep abreast of all the most recent technological developments in the field. You may want to do online courses or go to your local college to help develop new skills.

By keeping your skill set sharp, you give yourself many more options when you are pitching for work. Companies that need a web designer need to be confident that whoever they employ is right up there with the technology and can deliver exactly what they need.

A good web designer will work closely with the client and can often suggest many improvements to the initial brief.

The business side of web design: tips for first time freelancers

Plan your business

You don’t have to write pages and pages of details about exactly what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it, but it’s sensible to put some guidelines in place that you can follow. Here are some aspects you need to consider when starting up your own business.


Get the financial side right and you’re a good way down the line to making your business a success. If you need an initial loan to get going for specific equipment or to rent a small office (which often looks better to clients), ask family and friends where possible or go to a bank for support.

Show how your financial plan will work, including any loan repayments, and don’t undersell the value of your skills. You may be in competition, but if you price your services too low, you’re not going to make much money.


This sits with finance but is important enough to warrant its own section. Cash flow is the lifeblood of any business, and if you don’t get accurate and timely invoices out to your clients, with a clear understanding of when they should be paid, you could be in trouble.

You could take an initial deposit and invoice for staged payments. Invoicing is a lot easier than it may seem, though there are some basics to follow. Your company name and contact details are essential to include, as is the date of the invoice.

You should detail what the invoice is for (e.g. web design services supplied,) and each invoice should be numbered so that you can keep a record for tax and accounting purposes. Make sure the amount you bill is accurate and specify the terms for payment.

Rather than start from scratch, you can find templates at to free up some of your time.

Sales and marketing

You need to develop a presence in the market, so that means your own website should be of very good quality. After all, it’s your shop window and you’re selling skills, technology know-how, and creativity.

If you’re not showcasing that through your site, then potential clients are unlikely to be very impressed. After all, they want a website for themselves that shows off what they can do, so it’s vital that you entice potential clients by showing them what you can do.

Consider specializing

It’s not for everyone, but it’s worth thinking about going down this route. Naturally, you want to take whatever work you can, and as a creative designer, you’ll be confident working to any brief in any sector, but you could choose to research and specialize in a specific sector.

Universities, colleges, charities, and museums are all used to outsourcing projects, so some concentration on sectors that suit your interests could be worth exploring.

Keep control of projects

Some clients want more than they originally planned and may try to persuade you to keep changing things, so beware of “scope creep.” Be clear when you sign off the spec what’s expected (from you both) and ensure each agreed production stage is signed off.

Be firm but fair when a client asks for things not originally agreed upon so that your resources aren’t drained. Remember, you deserve a fair price for any work you undertake.

Have a positive outlook

Your personal approach to clients (and employees as when you have them) is a key part of doing business.

Take care of the people you work for and with, keep your business administration well organized and use your creativity to develop a company that will make a lasting impact.

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