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Any Advice for Starting a Web Design Business?

Cliff posted more than 11 years ago | from the helping-others-starting-in-on-the-ground-floor dept.

Businesses 76

stizoked asks: "Although we both have full time jobs, my wife and I have been doing a little web design/development on the side for some extra cash. Since we've started, we've built up a nice little client list, one big enough for us to consider getting a little more serious about pursuing it as a business. Does anyone have any advice or experience that we can use to dodge young and stupid mistakes? Any advice on some open source project management software or other software that makes running a small business a little easier?"

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honset advice... (5, Funny)

KingRamsis (595828) | more than 11 years ago | (#6852572)

Any Advice for Starting a Web Design Business?

yeah... dont !!

Re:honset advice... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6852617)

I was going to post this exact same thing.

Don't do it. Take the extra cash and realize that web design isn't the place to be.

Re:honset advice... (1)

Glonoinha (587375) | more than 11 years ago | (#6852922)

Damn, bright minds think alike. My first impulse was to come in here and say the same thing.

Too bad I didn't have mod points, nothing like an AC that has been flagged (Score: 2, Insightful)

Re:honset advice... (1, Insightful)

KingRamsis (595828) | more than 11 years ago | (#6852713)

to the mod on crack who moded this as a troll, I was not trolling I was serious, for many reasons this guy should not get into website design:

1.He asked slashdot and that pathetic :-)
2.He is working with his wife and by doing that he is risking a divorce.
3.The web design business is saturated.
4.since he is not a business yet then probably his list of clients are uncle joe and cousin george.

I want my karma backkkkk,.

Re:honset advice... (2, Informative)

stizoked (703706) | more than 11 years ago | (#6852929)

Well, thanks for the response.

1.He asked slashdot and that pathetic :-)

This is informal research to go along with other feasibilty research that I have been doing.

2.He is working with his wife and by doing that he is risking a divorce.

Some couples do have teamwork and relational skills. We're not all cube geeks who don't know how to relate. :-)

3.The web design business is saturated.

You're probably right about this.

4.since he is not a business yet then probably his list of clients are uncle joe and cousin george.

My wife is already an experienced creative designer, and I have more than a five years web design and development experience. Our client list currently consists of two professional organizations, two city departments, and three companies. We are also bidding on a couple of small business accounts.

Hope this clarifies. Thanks for the advice.

Re:honset advice... (1)

KingRamsis (595828) | more than 11 years ago | (#6853142)

This is informal research to go along with other feasibilty research that I have been doing.

and what was the outcome of your research?

Some couples do have teamwork and relational skills. We're not all cube geeks who don't know how to relate. :-)

I'm not antisocial, and I score "fair" with women but seriously do you want to put business in your marriage? starting your own business and strugling with your startup can put you very intense stress, and before you know it business and work will follow you to your bedroom, been there, done that.

You're probably right about this.

not to mention that you will be competing with the "whole" world, anyone can remotely design a website, I live in Cairo and I have a client in London

My wife is already an experienced creative designer, and I have more than a five years web design and development experience. Our client list currently consists of two professional organizations, two city departments, and three companies. We are also bidding on a couple of small business accounts.

so can you sustain them ? do you think that a team of two can scale ? if yes then re-read my stress point

look I'm not trying to to disappoint you...really! just think it over slowly, I know you are excited but do you really want the burden of running a business? is the profit justified? have you considered the social impact of this?

Re:honset advice... (1)

stizoked (703706) | more than 11 years ago | (#6853277)

I appreciate the advice, and I do understand your concerns.

We are taking it VERY slow. It will remain a side job until we have a clear, longer term plan. We aren't going to rush into anything that we're not ready for, financially or socially. Trust me, Slashdot is not the only place we are seeking advice.

As far as competing with the "whole world," we are currently, and plan to keep, serving a couple of specialized, niche business areas, capitalizing on grassroots advertising. We feel that this is a way of limiting the competition somewhat.

Go ahead, disappoint away. We need criticism to make us better formulate our plans.

What business are you in, KingRamsis?

Re:honset advice... (1)

PD (9577) | more than 11 years ago | (#6853376)

If I remember my lessons from school correctly, I'd guess than King Ramsis is a pharaoh by profession.

Re:honset advice... (1)

KingRamsis (595828) | more than 11 years ago | (#6853525)

yep !
back in my days it took ages to etch the source code of kernel 0.0.01-alpha on the pyramids.

honset advice...Leveraging. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6854135)

"As far as competing with the "whole world," we are currently, and plan to keep, serving a couple of specialized, niche business areas, capitalizing on grassroots advertising. We feel that this is a way of limiting the competition somewhat."

How about packaging a "solution" that you can turn around and sell to others, who will deal with the actual customers, aka franchise? Doesn't bring as much money in piece-wise. But it does scale, and takes some of the pressure off of you.

Remember the way to richs is the OP (Other People's)...[money, time, effort, etc] method.

Re:honset advice... (1)

fiftyLou (472705) | more than 11 years ago | (#6852977)

I want my karma backkkkk

And this is where the no-karma-for-a-funny-mod 'rule' is punative.

C'mon, are we really expected to take Slashdot that seriously?

similar honest advice... (1)

Telastyn (206146) | more than 11 years ago | (#6854407)

Go back in time about 10 years.

Nowadays I fear that large companies will require snazzy flashy "professional" sites that will require more than 2 people's spare time to create. And if you're not doing web design for those companies, just do it in your spare time as extra cash, not as a company.

Re:honset advice... (1)

mnmn (145599) | more than 11 years ago | (#6854668)

I was just about to post the same thing.. Yeah Dont!!

Web design is deader than MS Word skills. It is deader than putting MSDOS 4.2 on your resume. HTML is so easy, there are too many high school kids who can code in W3-standard HTML + PHP + CSS + Javascript, which is getting out of web design already.

Now if you're considering learning all about RDBMS, J2EE and building fancy business-oriented web-faced solutions, get right into it, but that is not called web design. At beast, 'Web Design' includes a simple database that usually runs on the same server and contains guestbook entries, articles and the likes.

Now if you have a small bunch of clients like me, its because they know you or know someone who knows you. You wont find someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows you... unlike PC hardware repair, building PCs or cleaning spyware, which is more marketable and reliable as business.

If you plan to start a hosting service as well, throw in colocation servers, shell accounts, use really high speed ISPs and have many online frontends to get clients, now thats a plan. Making a living coding HTML? Learn COBOL instead.

honset advice...The "caring" touch. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6857214)

"Web design is deader than MS Word skills. It is deader than putting MSDOS 4.2 on your resume. HTML is so easy, there are too many high school kids who can code in W3-standard HTML + PHP + CSS + Javascript, which is getting out of web design already."

I should point out that while many may have the technical skills ("MS Word skills"). Few have the "other" skills required to make a good web site.

Does knowing how to use a word processor, make one as gifted a some of our present authors? Does knowing HTML+PHP+CSS+Javascript mean that your web site is well done, pleasing to the eye, and functional?

my answer.. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6852606)

well, I'd start by finding a web site or chat room where lots of geeks hang out, and ask if anybody there has any advice. Be careful though, sometimes these sites are full of jokers that give you stupid answers instead of useful advice!

I did the same (5, Informative)

cdgod (132891) | more than 11 years ago | (#6852614)

It's tough in the beginning. Heck, it's tough still.

To manage the projects I use a combination of Quicken and

Tutos allow you clients to login and view the progress your are making on their website.

A bonus for us is that we are also a small webhost so we provide the domain, the hosting, and the website all in one package. Most of our clients feel much better knowing they only deal with one team.

Here are some tips:

1) Get incorporated. I can't stress this enough!
2) Get insurance. You like your house right?
3) Give estimates first with a deadline. Without a deadline you will be in maintenance mode forever.
4) If things get too busy, you can always count on me to help you out ;-)

Good luck!


Re:I did the same (1)

oDDmON oUT (231200) | more than 11 years ago | (#6852921) [] :
"Closed because of 'Software-Patents'"


Re:I did the same (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6853101)

1) Get incorporated. I can't stress this enough!

Why ? I am serious about this question. I am part of two businesses in which the other people insisted on being incorporated. No one is ever able to show a concrete reason why a small business such as a husband/wife web design team should incorporate. Oh sure, they are able to pull hypotheticals like liability protection and wave them around, but they can't actually offer a case of someone they knew who suffered that, so in fact all the extensive annecdotal evidence is that incorporating costs you $250, makes your taxes a pain, often requires hiring a bookkeeper, subjects you to the state franchise tax on top of your personal income, and gets you zilch. I can only see it in businesses where the parties must put up substantial capital, and need to formalize their relationship.

2) Get insurance. You like your house right?

Excuse me, but isn't that what the corporation was for ? Are you such a moron you got schnookered TWICE on the lawsuit fear card, once by the incorporation industry and once by the insurance ?

Let's presume I don't have the liability protection of a corporation, and I want to protect my house from getting taken in a law suit. What if I just save all my insurance fees and invest them ? That gives me more money on hand, thus reducing the number of outcomes that result in me loosing my house. Have you even attempted any back of the envelope math here, with guessed numbers ? Starting from the observation that historically insurance companies have paid out 1.06 or so for every dollar taken in, because they invest your payments and live off the interest with room to spare, and that currently most insurance companies are paying out less than 1.00 for every dollar taken in, I think any decision to buy insurance has to be justified on the particular numbers. It's not the generally accepted prudent thing, something you can do with much thought and be pretty sure it's not a bad idea, like it used to be.

why bother to incorporate? (1)

jfruhlinger (470035) | more than 11 years ago | (#6853242)

I am a freelance editor and it briefly looked like one of my clients wanted me to incorporate rather than work as an independent contractor. Fortunately, they ended up deciding not to make me switch -- fortunately, because as far as I could tell incorporating would be nothing but hassle. My bookkeeping would get a *lot* more conplicated, and my taxes would go up (since I would no longer get to deduct half of my self-employment tax from my taxable income). So, I would really like to know what the advantges of incorporation are for people like me (and presumably the orginal poster). For a home-based, computer-based business, you're not going to be going into debt to fund anything, so what exactly are you being protected from?


Re:why bother to incorporate? (1)

cdgod (132891) | more than 11 years ago | (#6854106)

There are many reasons. It really depends on your tax code.

Here I can charge my company rent, expense milage, meals and pay myself in dividends which means lower taxes than being self-employed.

Also small corporations ( $200,000 a year) get a lot of tax benefits.

It's easier to apply for corprate loans, grants and raise your hourly rates as a consultant. Corporations can also hire and sub-contract with more ease.

Personally I like the ability to keep all the finances separate. Personally, I am completely broke. The company on the other hand is doing quite well.

Check with your accountant (student accountants are excellent sources for the latest information)

Good luck!

Re:why bother to incorporate? (1)

elton247 (145301) | more than 11 years ago | (#6945016)

I am not the most knowledgeable person about incorporating, my partner handles that part, but from what he explained to me, the above poster is exactly right. You can buy everything through the corporation and get tax right-offs, while showing that you personally make almost nothing. Many accountants we talked with said not to incorporate, but after much research (again, mainly by my partner) we decided incorporating would be the best, not just for tax savings, but to protect our personal assets also. It is a lot of extra work, but we feel it was worth it. And we went with a C corp, not S, which is harder at first, but pays off further down the road.

Re:I did the same (1)

maeka (518272) | more than 11 years ago | (#6855588)

2) Get insurance. You like your house right?
IANAWD, but I am curious what you are in fear of being sued for. If I follow tip #1 (get incorporated) I don't see the reason to get insurance. Maintain the corporate veil and let the devil care if you are sued.
I am also a firm believer that you are more likely to be sued if the other side's lawyers see the potential for a fat insurance payout. Use the corporation to protect your assets.

I would also have to believe that a web designer's name and reputation is worth more than any corporate physical assets that insurance could protect.

Get good advice, (4, Informative)

Zachary Kessin (1372) | more than 11 years ago | (#6852624)

Not about the technical or design parts of it, but about the Business parts of it. Assuming you are in the USA look up the Small Business Administration ( and go threw everything they have.

Another great resource is SCORE, which is the service corp of retired executives. My Grandfather used to work with them before he got too old. Its a lot of older folks who would love a chance to mentor someone young.

Oh and find a decent accountant.

Re:Get good advice, (2, Funny)

Gzip Christ (683175) | more than 11 years ago | (#6854041)

Another great resource is SCORE, which is the service corp of retired executives. My Grandfather used to work with them before he got too old.
WTF? How can you be too old for SCORE? The 'R' stands for "retired". I think you probably misunderstood what your grandfather told you - he probably told you that he was too old to score, not too old for SCORE.

Re:Get good advice, (1)

Zachary Kessin (1372) | more than 11 years ago | (#6856331)

he's 91 years old, and not real mobile these days. When he was 75 he could do a lot some time in his 80's he just had to stop doing work with them. On the other hand he has a sister who is 95 and still doing rather well.

Re:Get good advice, (1)

BenEnglishAtHome (449670) | more than 11 years ago | (#6861092)

Good advice. Also, the start-a-business help provided by the Internal Revenue Service can be a great source of information.

Try this link [] and this one [] for starters.

Portfolio (4, Insightful)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 11 years ago | (#6852674)

Develop your portfolio. Do some pages for your church, a favorite local charity, a group like the Lion's Club, or some club you are a member of. Do lots of them. Include links to your own company's page. Oh, and while you are at church/lion's club/etc., make sure that you say "Oh, and if I'm going to do this for the church, what can I do for you?" It's called networking.

Others suggested getting a corp right away. I actually would suggest that it's a bit premature at this stage. If you get into stuff with DB backends with client/customer data, then it makes sense. If you are doing puffery advertising type pages for local groups and businesses, hold off on the expense for a little while until you see if it is worth it.

What is preventing you from holding down your regular job as well as your new design jobs? Plenty of people who start new businesses wisely wind up working two full time jobs until the new business can support you. Or, segue into it. You work both, but your wife leaves her regular job to focus full time on the web work.

It's a rough environment to enter feet first these days. Anyone with a cracked copy of FrontPage fancies himself a web designer.

Re:Portfolio (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6853134)

Well, they did give you eternal life and all, avoiding that hell place....

Oh, and while you are at church/lion's club/etc., make sure that you say "Oh, and if I'm going to do this for the church, what can I do for you?"

Re:Portfolio (1)

johnraphone (624518) | more than 11 years ago | (#6853759)

Others suggested getting a corp right away. I actually would suggest that it's a bit premature at this stage.

I would aggree with that. Do web design work for awhile and see if your really into it, if you are then incorperate.

The thing about incorpating is that its a hassle. About $2,000 to $5,000 in fees then you have to have to do taxes each year for it too.

Not that much to incorporate for small biz. (1)

WoTG (610710) | more than 11 years ago | (#6856850)

Incorporating a small corporation that is all owned "in the family" is fairly easy (at least in my part of the world, BC, Canada). You can probably do it yourself with an inexpensive "How to Incorporate" type booklet + package from Staples or Office Depot.

Since it's all in the family, you don't need to get a lawyer to teach you about dispute resolution, director selection, etc. Besides, if in the future your company grows, you can rewrite the rules of your company (and pay the associated lawyer fees) later.

Incorporating early will give you (some) liability protection. So do it. Who knows what kind of nonsense will happen with your first client!

Yeah, taxes will be extra work. But the flip side is that you can write off expenses a little more ... safely.

Re:Portfolio (1)

shfted! (600189) | more than 11 years ago | (#6857420)

I'd suggest incorporating immediately, for the simple fact that it limits your personal liability. To go with that, get yourself some business insurance. This will cost several grand, however.

The other biggest tip I can give is to RIGOUROUSLY schedule every hour of the week. It is unbelievable how much more one can accomplish.

Re:Portfolio (1)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 11 years ago | (#6860283)

Incorporation is not a lock. If there is a serious suit that could end with the loss of the questioner's house, any plaintiff's attorney worth their salt will quickly begin tearing down the distinction between corporation and owner. In a single owner (or married couple owned) business, this is far more trivial than you can imagine. In addition, any funding via loans will require personal guarantees that obviate the usefullness of the corporate shield.

One thing I do everytime... (5, Insightful)

Captain Splendid (673276) | more than 11 years ago | (#6852698)

Get a deposit! Many a time have I spent putting together proposals, drafts, or even finished projects only to have the client do one of the following: Die, disappear, decide not to pay, or emigrate to China.

Re:One thing I do everytime... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6853253)

One think I do everytime is quietly mention no money is needed up front until they are satisfied, so that I can take business from you. I get ripped off regularly (averaging 1 out of 5 jobs) but I calculate the extra business I get is worth it.

Re:One thing I do everytime... (1)

JM Apocalypse (630055) | more than 11 years ago | (#6855989)

The last two options happen to me all the time. But it's not China all the time, sometimes it's some other country that doesn't believe in phones.

The best way to get business... (2, Insightful) (262540) | more than 11 years ago | (#6852729) to give business. Look for opportunities refer business to your clients or anyone else. If you have a chance to bid on a large contract, consider subcontracting or partnering for the services that are outside your core skills. (I generally do this with the graphic design work when I have a web site contract.)

I've gotten some excellent referals from people and business who have received referals from me in the past, including one relationship that ultimately led to six figures in follow-on contracts.

Outsource your company to India! (3, Funny)

Numeric (22250) | more than 11 years ago | (#6852730)

It seems like everyone else is doing it.

A way to syphon off some of the netbacking cash (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6852873)

I propose that we incorporate a small piece of East Austin (cheap land) as "India, Texas." One block could be India, the next block could be Ukraine, maybe a few towns named after cities over there like New Deli.

Then we could form a couple of consultancies, with guys named Bob like in that movies where they steal the fractions of a penny, you know the one with the stapler dude, and we could go into IBM and the other big corporations and tell them we will outsource their shiznit to "India" and "Russia" for real cheap !

With out of work programmers will to work for $15/hr around town now, and with those programmers being several times as productive as what they get in the real India for $6/hr, we should be able to scrape by. I have a friend who can talk just like that Apu guy on the Simpson's when he's drunk, so we can have him stay up late and do all the customer calls.

We'll be out-netbacking the netbacks !

What do you guys think ?

Re:A way to syphon off some of the netbacking cash (1)

Organized Konfusion (700770) | more than 11 years ago | (#6855892)

Or you could take the contract and outsource it yourself to India. Operate on a small margine around 5%-8% and you are sorted.

Some suggestions. (5, Informative)

denubis (105145) | more than 11 years ago | (#6852761)

As other's have said. Don't. It's a losing proposition.

However, if you do persist in the notion that web design is a profitable small business, some points to consider.

First, always always always get the requirements in writing and have the customer sign off on them. When the customer changes their mind 75% through the project (which they always will) you can then legitimatly charge them more.

Second, charge what you're worth. Remember when doing charge sheets that unpaid documentation/beancounting will take up 40% or more of your time, have your prices reflect that.

Third, learn php and SQL. Webdev these days is generally not about static pages. If you can design your own implmentations of some of the more common applications, you can roll out projects and get a much higher return on your time. Prefabbed components are worth investing and coding in.

Mock up the entire website in pencil, and when you're showing it to the client, let the client "interact" with the environment.

In essence, don't do web design. It takes too much time, your customers take forever to pay, and it's not worth the aggrivation of keeping up with the various standards.

Re:Some suggestions. (1)

neglige (641101) | more than 11 years ago | (#6853570)

As other's have said. Don't. It's a losing proposition.

Sad but true. If you really want to do web design (and if you are better than all the other designer wannabees), add other design services to your portfolio: create business cards, restaurant menus, invitations, brochures etc. Anything that relates to a website and should have a similar design.

BTW, as far as I know the payment (for multimedia services) is settled in 3 thirds: 1/3 in advance, 1/3 after the final design has been agreed upon, and the final 1/3 after the client has received the final result.

Re:Some suggestions. (1)

AShocka (97272) | more than 11 years ago | (#6854740)

There question is, "Is your approach the same as all the other design companies out there?" If so, that's not much of a business plan. If you really want to do this, because every man and his dog is doing it also, you have to offer far more than there average WD out there.

When clients ask your advice, your knowledge in this area is a major asset, do you have real knowledge in this area? If so, give them real estimates of what sites and strategies really cost, now, in the near future and down the track, and show them how much time THEY will have to invest into the site. If they value you honesty and integrity, they are also clients worth keeping and working with, if they are just out for the cheapest solution, you can't help them when they get burnt (or maybe you can, when they come back to you realising what your expertise is really worth).

That means really learning Markup, HTTP, and server side management, and programming.

Don't just learn Dreamweaver or some Web Publishing Tool. Learn the ins and outs of Markup, learn the W3C standards, how to implement them, where to implement them, and where not to implement them. You have to learn this stuff to set yourself apart or be a class above the rest.

You should know what is happening on the server side and manage it best of practice and HTTP so you know how to best deliver and work with content.

PHP and MySQL are good to learn. One of the benefits is you can find hosting easily. But if you have a growing client base you should think seriously of planning to lease your own dedicated server in the near future. This way you can configure the server, offer more services, better services, niche services. Offer a Control Panel, etc. This also developing expert knowledge in Linux/BSD, or hiring someone to manage your server.

Find one or two CMSs that you can work with and offer this expertise and way to manage content for you clients.

Find other good Open Source products and work with them.

Keep an eye on Apache/Cocoon/Lenya [] and learn that way of delivering content. This will allow you to build specialist knowledge and offer far better solutions than most clients have access too. You'll need you own server for this. But take a look at this when thinking advanced open source CMS.

Take all the other advice here, even the ones that say, "Don't do it!", Think about it at least and write a good business plan that allows you to grow in a way that offers more than the average WD.

dont. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6852765)

let some of us poor unemployed guys get some work. you say you've both got full time jobs already, so you make enough already, let some hungree programmers work.

Re:dont. (0, Redundant)

KingRamsis (595828) | more than 11 years ago | (#6852807)

here... my 0.02 cents.

Re:dont. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6852939)

d00d. n0 w0nd3r UR k4r/\/\4 sux0rz! U p0s7 l1k3 4 l4m3r.

You already have a business (5, Informative)

np_bernstein (453840) | more than 11 years ago | (#6852889)

Get new clients
Sounds to me like you already have a business. I think that the most important thing is getting the word out. Since you already have a client list, you have a great start -- you have people who you have done work for in your community who can help you. I would suggest calling each and every one and letting them know that you are trying to turn this into a full time business. Ask them if they know of anyone who they know might be looking for web design.

Keep your existing clients.
Set up a quick php/mysql database or out look contact list with notes about each or your clients and the last time that they had work done.Set up an email to remind you three months from the last time you spoke to them, and give them a call. Tell them that you are just checking up, and seeing if they needed any updates to the site, etc. Make sure that you keep notes on the conversation that you have, so you can refer to the last conversation: "Oh, I tried that resturant that you reccomended, you were right, we love it." or "So how are those classes going?"

It's expensive to get a full page advertisement in the local paper, but it might be worth it. It's not the only way, though: You can drive around and drop off mailers at small businesses, or offer to do a free seminar on how to use the internet to help your small business at the library or chamber of commerce or SBA, etc. It gets your name out and establishes you as a local "expert"

From what I understand, this is a very hard business to be in, with lots and lots of competition. You can do it, but your best product is your customer service and your best friend is word of mouth. Things like birthday cards help you stand out. Try as hard as possible to never to let anyone leave dissapointed with your service, or product: angry people talk a lot more that people who are satisfied, and it doesn't matter if they were wrong when they tell someone you "ripped them off", the person you told isn't going to take the chance.

good luck!

host! (4, Informative)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 11 years ago | (#6852951)

Also, HOST! Once you've developed the site, that money's set, but if you also offer hosting (get a reseller hosting account somewhere), then you get that monthly check. The more you do, the more you get. A nice sideline that most webdev businesses forget, so the business goes elsewhere. Why send all of that money to someone else?

Re:host! (1)

kiwimate (458274) | more than 11 years ago | (#6859343)

Nice in theory, bit more difficult in practise. If you're going to host, you need to ensure you have not only the obvious requirement of bandwidth, but also a way to achieve a decent service level agreement (SLA). That means a high percentage uptime, and a quick turnaround if something blows up.

So, if you don't have a cluster of web servers for redundancy, you need to ensure you have a highly redundant and highly recoverable web server, monitoring, someone to answer the monitoring when it detects something's broken at 2 am, a maintenance window on your server(s)...get the picture? Just like everyone is saying "don't" on your original question*, they'd be saying "forget it" for exactly the same reasons if you asked about starting up a web-hosting business.

* Note I'm not joining the chorus of "don't" naysayers. You've already got a sufficient client list to make you consider this, so you must be doing something right, not only in your technical but in your business model. You don't say if you're considering doing this full-time, but you obviously want to ramp it up to the next level, so maybe one of you retains his/her day job while the other gives it a go full-time. Or, even better, see if one or both of you can go part-time on your existing jobs.

Re:host! (1)

elton247 (145301) | more than 11 years ago | (#6946019)

I agree. Providing quality, secure, reliable hosting is NOT easy! If you can develop a good relationship with a Host that provides you with a reselling account and feel confident about putting your neck on the line when it comes to uptime, not only site design, then go for it. But Hosting is not simply an add-on, its a whole seperate business. One of the problems with the hosting business is that anyone thinks they can just start up a Host. That is why there are many disgruntled customers of hosting companies.

Single point of advice (1)

nlh (80031) | more than 11 years ago | (#6853103)

is not your friend. Ever.

Never say "no" to business... (1)

Bravo_Two_Zero (516479) | more than 11 years ago | (#6853111)

Never say "no" to business, unless it just isn't something you do or you are uncomfortable with the character/solvency of the customer.

Instead, say "yes" with a price that makes it profitable. "Yes" may include the cost to farm it out to someone, too. This assumes you've made careful notes during discovery so you're quoting accurately on the scope of the project. And keep a list of those prospects who say no to your quote! As long as you've dealt with them in a fair and upfront manner, they're still potential customers.

Ask some other questions of the business customers, too. What's their industry? Who is their competition? How do they make their money?

A former boss once said "you have to make it hurt just a little bit, or the customer doesn't believe they're getting something of value." Not only is he right, he's still in the business of providing sitebuilding at a profitable level. I can't argue with that.

Re:Never say "no" to business... (3, Informative)

greenhide (597777) | more than 11 years ago | (#6853400)


I guess this guy never had a problem customer.

My advice?

Say "no" all the time.

Say "no" to people who want big sites for very little money, say no to people who say "I just want this eensy teensy weeensy little site, so I don't think I should pay all that much", say no to people who say "I've noticed that yahoo only charges $20 to make it myself per month, but I'd rather have someone who knows what they're doing manage it, but I'd like to keep the price pretty low."

Notice the pattern here?

You should say no to people who don't want to pay (much) money for their website.

You're not going to make money off of them, not unless you grow to a company making hundreds or thousands of websites a year, which will be a pain and probably require hiring on more people. You will make money by making a few (20-40) good websites and charging them a decent price for them.

Also, if people don't pay much for their website, they don't see it as all that valuable, and they don't put much time and effort into marketing it or involving it in their business. Which car would you willing spend more effort and money maintaining? a '89 Porsche, or an '89 Cavalier?

If they do see their website as valuable, then they see you as someone not valuable, because you're a chump who gives away good things for no cost. People who use their websites a lot will call you all the time, because they'll feel they're more important than you are.

And there are always customers where there is no "yes" price that makes it profitable. Unfortunately, there are crazy people in the world, and some of them somehow manage to run businesses. Even if they offer you what seems a nice tidy sum, run away, because in the end they will suck the life force from you.

Prospects who've said no to a quote generally don't call me back. They usually are shopping on price and aren't interested in the extras that our company offers -- like superior programming and customer service.

The second to last paragraph also is good from a sales standpoint, because people like it when you express genuine interest in what they do in their business -- it makes them feel that they're working with someone who will make a website that works for their business, not just a generic site.

I agree wholeheartedly with the final paragraph; unfortunately there are a lot of people who don't even like itching over the price.

Re:Never say "no" to business... (2, Insightful)

eddy the lip (20794) | more than 11 years ago | (#6854630)

You're dead on about problem clients. Some clients are not worth what you'll put into them, even if they're willing to pay a lot to get it. We've turned down clients (or said "no" to existing clients) for many reasons. Sometimes it's because we know that what they want can't be done in a way that will satisfy them, often because they've indicated that they're not willing to pay a price that makes it a worthwhile business proposition, and sometimes just because we know they'll be hell to work with.

That last one seems to often be skipped - if they pay enough, it should be worthwhile. It's not. From a business standpoint, you'll end up putting more into customer care than you can possibly make on the project. From a personal standpoint, they will suck the joy of the business out of you.

More generally, charging too little seems to the single most common mistake new companies (web or not) make. You won't be able to charge as much as the big boys right off, but don't undervalue your talents. You're a professional, with experience in a demanding field. If you try to compete solely on cost, you won't be taken seriously, and you'll run out of money damned fast. Let the FrontPage jockeys compete on price. High quality service has to be paid for.

Re:Never say "no" to business... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6855147)

Other clients to avoid:

"Mind if we pay you in 90 days?"
"Mind if we give you only half now and half later?"
"We can pay once the site starts making money."

AKA, people that will probably never pay you for your work. As soon as you hear any of these magic words, run for the hills.

Learn (1)

dacarr (562277) | more than 11 years ago | (#6853150)

The best assumption you can make is that you should be this:

1) Learn everything you can
2) Make no assumptions
3) Stick with a standard
4) Offer alternatives

For 1, people will make weird requests ("You want the frobnitz gonkulator feature?") because they saw a four-colored glossy on it, so it is obviously a good thing. You want to know it at least on the surface so, if necessary, you can give an intelligent answer as to why the frobnitz gonkulator drop-in is a Bad Idea.

One common mistake I see people making fairly frequently is the assumption that everyone who views the site will be using Internet Explorer. Like I sez in 2, assume nothing - it's a universally bad idea to make assumptions. Remember what "assume" stands for, kids? It's why you have a few sites to this day that only come up if you identify yourself as MSIE.

As for standards and alternatives, it comes back around to one thing - what can most people use, and is an alternative feasible? Can you do a text-only page for textmode browsers/blind browsers/low-bandwidth/etc? Is that 2 MB flash animation really that necessary?

Back to assumptions. Don't assume anything on your finances. Like another user said, offer hosting as well.

Re:Learn (1)

exhilaration (587191) | more than 11 years ago | (#6853357)

We make a damn fine product, you insensitive jerk!

- CEO, Frobnitz Gonkulator Inc.

Re:Learn (1)

dacarr (562277) | more than 11 years ago | (#6854191)

That's insensitive clod, you insensitive clod!

Use Web Standards. (4, Informative)

pompousjerk (210156) | more than 11 years ago | (#6853426)

Seriously. Accessibility is the next big thing [] , and the design practices that result (cleaner code, even if it lacks semantics), are worth it in the long run, especially for maintanence.

A basic overview []
Designing With Web Standards []

one thing to look out for (1)

pretzel_logic (576231) | more than 11 years ago | (#6853610)

_scope creep_ read as much as possible on this phenomena that put many a web shop out of business.

Learn (1)

straterpatrick (594954) | more than 11 years ago | (#6853639)

I agree that the market for standard web design is highly saturated but there are some things that have helped me as a freelance web designer:

1. Read a lot. Find out what is good and bad about the web. Use xhtml and avoid javascript and flash. Don't use frontpage (or dreamweaver)!
2. Be a Pro. Take graphic design (or hire a designer). Make you web pages look professional and user-friendly.
3. Become a web application programmer. Use PHP, sql, ASP, etc... and learn to write dynamic, remotely administered pages.
4. Don't over charge. Every client is a walking talking ad. Leave them happy.
5. Keep it simple. Don't get over your head and NEVER take a job with the intention of learning the required skills.

Good luck. There IS money to be made. Just not a lot.

Real Advice (1)

gpmart (576795) | more than 11 years ago | (#6853716)

Well, leave it to /.ers to miss the main point. They asked for advice, not " yea, don't do it. " I run/have been in a web design business, but we weren't able to make it into a really profitable enterprise. The problem is that the market was saturated, and then after .-bomb there were only the big players left. If you want to make it in the web design business:
  1. Accept that you really need to have connections. We have recieved almost all of our business through a marketing firm that we have family connections with.
  2. Generalize solutions and have them handy. Goty a simple way to implement e-commerce, keep it handy. Use it again.
  3. 3. Estimates should include everything, and don't be afraid to ask what a job will really entail in time.
  4. 4. Protect yourself by incorporating as soon as you can, then you can see how the other half lives.
  5. Make clear job specifications and stick to them. Success is all about making it clear what you can and will do and when.

Contracts! (1)

jptechnical (644454) | more than 11 years ago | (#6853782)

I cannot stress the value of good contracts! A good starting point is that has excellent boilerplate proposals and contracts. Think of the professional image you give with a 5-8 page proposal and a legal binding contract. It will seperate you from the amatuers out there that dont know anything beyond dreamweaver and give single page proposals. It displays professionalism and forethought, both of which are vitally important to your potential customers and safeguards you from a major fall.

Reasons why not to do it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6853926)

1. The market IS saturated at the moment, as there are still a bunch of .com refugees out there willing to write html for food.

2. Most medium to large companies want big solutions: they want document management systems, corporate identity stuff, you name it. Unless you have experience with that stuff and a staff of 5 or more, you probably won't get those clients.

3. Most small companies really can't afford a serious web site design. I've had a bunch of clients bug out on me when they saw the estimate. And I'm not overcharging; I'm charging medium-low in the range. But the sites they want are bigger than they can afford.

4. With a small company, you'll end up becoming their main tech support person. With a big company, you'll be nickeled and dimed to death.

5. There is simply no way to do it the right way and please a customer. The customer wants it to use every fancy new feature of flash and IE. You'll wind up wanting out after 2 jobs.

At least, those are my experiences. I don't do it anymore.

I know... (1)

7-Vodka (195504) | more than 11 years ago | (#6854186)

1. Buy a Time Machine on ebay 2. Go back to 1999 3. Make off like a bandit!!!

Actual advice? (4, Insightful)

annielaurie (257735) | more than 11 years ago | (#6854352)

1) Don't.
2) If you really feel you must, work out a coherent, intelligent business plan--one you can take to the bank if necessary to borrow money against. That means 1, 2, and 3 year projections, profit and loss statements, capital and other expenses. Be serious about it. Pay yourself a salary. Know precisely what your monthly living expenses are and how much you need to earn toward them.
3) Be sure that business plan includes (a) an exhaustive study of your target market; and (b) some realistic projections about how you're going to reach that market. Your list of contacts may be the best in the world, but you'll starve if you rely on referrals.
4) How/why should people find and pick you rather than one of the bazillion and one other Web designers out there?
5) Where did you attend art/design school? Know anything about color theory? The color wheel? How color is perceived by a human viewing a monitor vs. a human viewing an actual sunset? How about navigation? Typography and typefaces? Accessibility? Web standards? Any background in fine arts? Advertising? Marketing? How about computers themselves? Networks? ISP's, hosts, e-mail? How does a moitor work? How does HTTP (vs HTML) work? Do you have concrete resources for getting to the information you don't know?

Best to know the answers to all this and more. People who pick up a mouse and a copy of Frontpage make truly unfortunate websites.
I'd have to say that if you haven't puzzled your way through all of this and a whole lot more, you're probably getting ready to waste a great deal of time and money.

I've actually had my business for almost three years, and I earn enough money to contribute my half to a two-income household--most months. I didn't thrive until I did my business plan. I know precisely how much work I need to do each month to survive, and I know how much selling and marketing I need to do to gain that work.

I hope this doesn't sound too grouchy. It is realistic.


Re:Actual advice? (2, Insightful)

GoofyBoy (44399) | more than 11 years ago | (#6870388)

>How/why should people find and pick you rather than one of the bazillion and one other Web designers out there?

I actually find this the most useful piece of advice I've ever had. Every couple of years, I ask this to myself just to make sure that I am on top of my game.

If you can't answer this one to your satisfaction, then your resources would be better off doing something else.

Heh, Not that funny :-) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6854469)

I was going to post EXACTLY the same reply. The landscape is covered [] with [] the decaying remains of many [] others.

If you do want to continue, find a niche, a niche that no one has thought of (unlike Real Estate, which everyone has thought of). Maybe plumbers. Maybe sanitation engineers. It's a very competitive business, and no one could fault you for failure in this market (unless you're like Razorfish or Sapient or Verbind [] and just blow superbucks on luxury accomodations, then you're just retarded).

Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6854521)

Mistake #1: Making things Windows I.E. only. Sure its easy just to validate for the most popular browser, but your shutting anywhere from 3%-10% of your customer's customer base out. What would your boss say if you said "I have this great idea, first we tell 3-10% of our customer's to take a hike..."

Been there, still there (1)

eddy the lip (20794) | more than 11 years ago | (#6854755)

We did what you're doing. The highs are better than you could imagine, the lows much, much worse. You can avoid a lot of the latter by thinking ahead (which it sounds like you're doing, so you're one up on nearly everyone else).

  • Write a business plan. Possibly hire a consultant to help you with this. It is worth it, and without a good one, you can't get a loan or a line of credit, and just as importantly, you won't know what your goals are.
  • Have at least six months salary saved away. This is hard, but it will make your life infinitely easier. You will have slow months, and you need to be prepared for it.
  • Look into incorporation, or some form of limited liability corporation. Benefits of this vary depending on where you are. Consult a lawyer and accountant.
  • Find your professionals. You will need a lawyer to get you set up as a company and help you write out your contracts. Do not, under any circumstances, skip this step. Contracts are your life blood. Get an accountant. The less accounting you have to do, the more of your work you can do. And he'll do it better.
  • Market. Contacts are good, but referrals are haphazard at best. You will need to advertise, network and generally get your name out there. If there's just two of you, this will take up a lot of your available resources. Consider hiring someone who does this, or talk to local secondary schools. They'll often have student marketers on the cheap, but be aware that just as your client's get what they pay for, so do you.
  • Do not undercharge. Do not differentiate yourself based on price. You will not make money by charging less. There are plenty of weekend web slingers with FrontPage to take care of that market. Let them have it. You're a professional - respect yourself enough to bill what your worth. (This sounds very obvious, but it's probably the most common mistake new companies make).
  • You will work like a dog. I was told this many, many times, but no one told me how hard a dog works. They work hard.
  • Have an exit strategy. If it all goes to hell, make sure you have a graceful way to get out. You'll need to know at what point you will have to consider the business to have failed, and allow yourself enough time to get back into the workforce.

We took slightly less than half that advice, and we recently celebrated two years on our own. It would have been a lot less stressful if we'd done all of the above. Dogged persistance and being good at what you do will get you a long way, but dogged persistance stops being fun quickly.

Finally, good luck! Despite all the posters telling you not to do it, despite me telling you that you'll work and suffer for years before seeing the big financial payoff, if ever, it's a huge adventure. There's no feeling like knowing you're the one making the decisions, you're the one deciding what the right way to do things is, and knowing that you're the one that will reap the rewards if you pull it off.

Any Advice for Starting a Web Design Business? (1) (687626) | more than 11 years ago | (#6854816)

Yeah, Flash SUCKS! Also, provide text-based alternatives for people using Lynx.

The Market (3, Insightful)

Ratbert42 (452340) | more than 11 years ago | (#6854859)

Following the "don't" and "first buy a time machine" comments, let me tell you why not. Your market today primarily consists of four groups:
  1. People that have a website with another company and want to go with someone cheaper and more responsive. These are a major hassle. We call them hostage situations because what you usually find is the that old company has the domain registered in their name and they're not hot to give it up. You end up spending hours and hours fighting registrars to get the domain or trying to convince the customer to change urls. If you do go for this business, find a helpful registrar to fight for you.
  2. People that have no idea what they want on a website. That's why they don't already have one. They also have little idea what it should cost. This sounds good, right? But they often know a nephew that can build them a crappy site for free, so they expect you to be slightly more expensive than that. Much more than $500 and they'll just keep waiting.
  3. Customers that want a very complex site. This sounds good, but you can easily get in over your head, or much worse, agree to something that just isn't going to work. They often have grand plans that involve using data or a service available somewhere else, usually violating the rights they have to the data or service.
  4. People that want to start a new company. 95% of these will die before a real launch, leaving you with unpaid account receivables.
The best customers we've found are churchs, realtors, friends with existing businesses and no sites, and non-profit organizations with budgets. We often barter with small companies and that works great. Some realtors' companies have a set budget for web sites and you can milk those.

Find a profitable place to host accounts. Don't try to host them yourself. You'll hate the work. Go somewhere like Hurricane Electric or ValueWeb and let them do the majority of the work while you collect $5/month or less on the accounts. You'll be milking those accounts for several years without touching them.

2. People who have no idea what they want ... (1)

SgtChaireBourne (457691) | more than 11 years ago | (#6857401)

When I did that sort of work, I used to run into people who have no idea what they want on a web site all the time. My solution was to have them give me all their printed literature and have them sort through it. Then as a prerequisited to starting, I'd have them deliver it in electronic form.

from my own experience... (2, Interesting)

Andy_R (114137) | more than 11 years ago | (#6855339)

Part of my business is web design, but that's really an offshoot from doing print and video design work. Here's my advice:

1) Don't
2) Look for clients that got ripped off for a site 5-10 years ago, they paid $50k for some junk, so they think $30k for something good is a bargain.
3) Everyone and their dog can write html, so you need a speciality. Incorportating bits of Flash where it is actually beneficial is my trick, you need to find your trick.
4) People are inclined to buy their headed paper, business cards etc from the same source as they get their website. You can get business put your way (and pass on business for a mark-up) by forming close relationships with local printers/copy shops.
5) See all those people saying Don't? Listen to them!

My $0.02 (1)

JM Apocalypse (630055) | more than 11 years ago | (#6856091)

If you are going to be successful at web design, you have to have something that makes you stand out from the rest. I know of many people that have tried to startup web design companies, but have failed miserably. Most of the reason for this is that they have absolutely no skill, and expect to create a $500 website using the most advanced of tools (ala Microsoft Word and occasionally Frontpage).

If you plan on starting a business, first perfect your skills until you are sure that you can actually COMPETE. If you wish to design web pages, I highly suggest you (create/purchase/steal) some sort of nice administration/templation system that will allow:
(1) You to easily make site-wide changes without editing every single file.
(2) Allow your customer to easily edit pages
(3) Allow hackers to easily deface your site

Erm ... It is best if you ignore that last step.

But, seriously, if you wish to start a company, wait until you believe that you have a service that stands out. Get a nice, easy-to-remember company name, and then start creating services that people can use freely, and just have little links to your site, to draw people to it. An example of this might be a free e-mail service, clip-art gallery, or some other service that might draw users to your site. Even a simple informational site that you create to help people, and to draw attention to yourself. This is not necessary, but in the long run, will give your site much more attention.

Hope this helps

Use version control software if you aren't already (2, Informative)

sudog (101964) | more than 11 years ago | (#6856822)

Suggest you version everything you do--everything. Every page, every object, every database schema, every java class, every graphic.. all of it.

CVS is good and free.. Perforce is a pro tool for a reasonable price.. etc.

You'll thank me later, even though you'll curse me for putting you through the initial learning curve. You'll be able to track who did what, where, when, and (hopefully) why. You'll be able to roll-back changes you made simply by clicking a button and typing in a date. You'll be able to make incremental changes to a live website without bringing everything online all at once (and watching everything break.)

Plus you'll be able to prove you did the work, when you did the work, and how much work you did in all its gory detail.

Trust me, if you ignore all the other crappy advice in this thread, don't ignore your versioning.
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