I am new to this forum.... looks like a good one
I am interested in starting my own web design business, but am unsure about exactly what I should do to get started, besides just design. I have one site, going on three, that are still under development.
So how do I start designing for people? Do I just do a couple free jobs to get started? Do I need a site, that displays my work, etc?
Thanks in advance!
Sounds like you are about where I was a couple years ago. I actually started in high school -- figured out I enjoyed graphic design and web design, and decided I wanted to do something with it. I currently run my business as a side project, usually accepting only one or two clients at a time since I have a regular job and take college classes full time as well.
Where do you get started? Probably after you finish up with the sites you are currently working on, you should settle on a name for your business (unless you are simply going to use your own name) and design/build a simple portfolio site to showcase your work. Ultimately, that will become your best selling tool for explaining who you are and what you do. If you can, do this while you have the time and aren't busy with client projects. As I have learned, the longer you wait to do it, the better chance that you won't. It's hard to spend time on personal projects when you have paying projects to think about. smile
Depending on your skills, it may be a good idea to come up with a logo and some basic templates for your business, (letterhead, business cards, a design proposal template and an invoice template). You are about my age, and I have found that having some of these items has boosted my credibility and made people take me a bit more seriously as a designer and entrepreneur. If you can't do this yourself, perhaps see if you can find another professional or student who you can trade services with -- they'll do some identity work for you in exchange for a website.
As far as getting started and getting more clients, the best way I have learned is through word of mouth, and also through online. If you offer good service and reasonable prices and keep your client's happy, they'll refer you to others. Also, it helps if you take some time to create a quality website that is optimized for search engines. My latest client is someone who found me via my website (how the did that, I really have no idea, since I don't rank highly for anything at the moment...) and they have quickly become my highest paying client.
Should you do free work? It depends on the skills you have and your situation. Unless it is for a non-profit organization or a cause you feel deeply about, I wouldn't suggest it. However, you may offer clients that since you are just getting started and need the experience, you would be able to offer them a deal. That way, there is a clear understanding that you won't always be cheap, and they won't undervalue your services.
Setting up a business does take a bit of legal understanding... Where are you based? If you're in the USA, I'll go into that a bit more. Otherwise, you'll have to do that research on your own.
Also, right now what my skills lack is image creation, since I am not very good with either gimp or photo-shop, most of my sites lack very many images. Any suggestions/help in this regard? Also, how do I know what to charge clients?
Thanks so much for you help!
OK, this applies primarily to California, where I live, so you may have to check on your state's rules if you live in a different state...
If you live in California and operate a business that does not include your name, you need to register your business name with your County and set up a DBA (Doing Business As). Basically, this registers your business name and your contact information with the state, and allows you to legally operate. In addition, once your DBA is approved, you have to place an ad in a local paper stating that you have started a new business. Usually, after you register your DBA, a couple local papers will contact you with ways that you can post your ad in their paper -- it's pretty easy. If I remember correctly, registering the DBA costs about $20, and the newspaper ad costs somewhere between $30 and $50.
Also, if you are using a business name that does not include your own name, you may want to double check that it is not in use with some major corporation. While the chances of you getting sued over a business name is probably pretty low, you could be pressured into changing the name to avoid legal hassles.
There are tax rules that you will need to research more, especially if your business will be your sole means of income. I need to go back and refresh myself on those rules, so I really can't cover it in much detail. However, if you are self employed, the government will take out about 25 to 35 % in taxes, and if you are earning a significant amount per year, you are expected to file estimated payments with the IRS four times a year to cover the tax bill that will come due in April. However, (as in my case) if you have another job where the employer is paying part of your taxes for you, and you aren't making a great deal of money working freelance, it is much less of an issue.
One thing I forgot to mention in my previous post... It really helps to have a standard contract that you use and ask clients to sign before you start work with them. The contract would cover what services you are offering the client, what the cost of the project is, and which parties have which responsibilities. This document should also protect you in case the project falls apart and either side decides to cancel the project and other legaleze if things don't work out. When I was first starting out, I didn't use a contract, but I have found that it is very useful to have a document that lays out the exact agreement between me and my client. I simply won't do a project without a signed contract.
As for your lack of image creation skills, that is definitely something you will want to improve in. There are many sources of online tutorials out there online that may help you, or you may consider taking some classes at your college or a local junior college -- that is what I have done. Knowledge of photoshop or a similar program is very useful, since that is the part of the website that most people will see directly and understand. Most clients don't want or necessarily need to understand the coding that is involved.
What do you charge clients? I don't think anyone has an answer for that one. =P It depends on your skills and confidence level, and often where you live as well. If I remember correctly, I started at around a $20 an hour figure, and worked my way up from there. It does vary greatly though, depending on who you ask. I've found the average figure for design work (at least in my area) seems to be around $50 or $60 an hour. It'll often depend on the client too, and what they are willing to pay. Obviously, you would charge a large corporation that will get a lot of publicity more than a tiny one person business.
Two books to recommend... One is "How to start a home based web design business" by Jim Smith. (Amazon Link It doesn't go into things in great depth, but I found it useful for some general business knowledge, and it has a useful contract template that should get you started. Also you may want to look at the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines (Amazon Link) which contains some useful legal/pricing information.
Any other questions?
As far as the images on your sites are concerned, do create these or get free images from the internet?
Thanks so much!
Depends... You could always accept a signature by fax. I don't always ask that my clients physically sign the contract. Often, I'll simply accept a written acceptance via email (though I'm not quite sure if that would hold up in a court of law).
Recently, however, I have been developing a client backend to my website in PHP, which allows my clients to login and view project details. In that area, it includes the contract, and the client can electronically sign it, which sends an email to both parties saying that the client has signed the contract and stores the agreement in a database.
Images on the sites I develop are a combination of free stock photography (sxc.hu, specifically) and paid stock photography (istockphoto.com or dreamstime.com). If the site will require a significant amount of stock photos, I usually ask the client to agree to cover the costs of the photos.
Originally, I started out with HTML and CSS, and have been slowly adding to my skills. A bit of knowledge of PHP or another dynamic programming language is quite useful, and I'd definitely encourage you to continue learning. It'll help set you apart from all of the rest of the coders out there that only know HTML and CSS. Most of my PHP knowledge either comes from personal experimentation, PHP books or tutorials on killerphp.com or phpvideotutorials.com.
If a client asks you to do something for their site that you do not know how to do or can't do, do tell the "I can't do that" or do you hire a third party to do it for you?
Secondly: This is a issue I have been very perplexed about. Once you design a site for someone, how do you handle updating it? Do you allow them to update it via a CMS or are most of your sites pretty stationary?
Thirdly, do most of your clients already have hosting and a domain, or do you include that in the price as well?
Lastly, if this a area that is going to be profitable for me once I get started, so that maybe I could do it full time, or is it more of a "chunk-change every-once in a while" hobby?
Thanks for your experience and input!
If a client asks me for something I can't do... it depends. If it is something that I could do, and just may need a bit of experimentation, I usually tell them it isn't something I have experience with, but I will get back to them in a day or two and let them know if it is possible. If it isn't something I could learn quickly enough to do it yourself, I may check if a friend or contact can/would be willing to do it (though that may cut into your profit.) If you can't do it and you can't find a friend to do it, I usually would pass on that project, and perhaps suggest another company in my area that might be able to help.
How do I handle updating sites? Depends on the site. Up to this point, most of the sites I have designed are static sites that I take care of updating for a monthly fee. However, as I have found this to be sometimes stressful and timeconsuming, I have been moving towards using a CMS. It's just a matter of finding the necessary time to learn. Especially with larger clients, they tend to assume that they will have the power to edit content, so it is important to either know a CMS or be working in that direction.
As for hosting, I usually offer hosting services via a resellers account at hostgator.com. Most of my clients want hosting, but don't want to deal with the hassle of setting it up. I usually include that in the contract as a quarterly fee that they pay me.
Will this be profitable? It really depends on your experience, your energy and your networking skills. Doing it yourself is tough work, and I have had a few friends burn themselves out trying to do it. At this point, even after a couple years experience, I don't feel ready to try and do it myself -- it'll stay part time for me, at least while I am busy with school. The longer you do web design, the more there seems to be to learn. At least while you get started, I'd suggest doing it as a hobby or part time job, and thus don't expect to get paid a lot. Don't make it your primary source of income -- that's just asking for trouble. However, as you build up experience and improve your skills, yes, I do think it has the potential to be profitable.
You may also want to consider, after you have more experience, trying to get hired by a web design firm in your local area and working for them for a while. You'll get a lot of good experience, and will be able to build some of the skills needed to do it full time.