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How to Start a Web Design Business from Home

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If you’re a self-proclaimed art and tech enthusiast, then starting a web design business might be the path for you! Although there are a growing number of platforms offering content management systems and templates for easy-to-build websites, many companies still prefer to hire a professional web designer. If you have the skill set, our guide can help you begin a journey towards owning your own web design business.

Below, we’ve done the legwork for you to provide a free guide to starting a home-based web design business today.

Not interested in starting a website design business?
Visit our generic Start A Business Guide.

What Does a Web Design Business Do?

Web designers use their creative minds to design or redesign websites for their clients. This may include selecting colors, fonts, layout, and images while making sure the site is functional and content is easy to access. Although web designers and web developers are often referred to interchangeably, there are distinct differences between the two. A web developer is responsible for building the overall structure of a website using coding languages such as Java, HTML, or CSS. A web designer makes the website attractive, engaging and user-friendly. To bring their designs to life, designers may do some development themselves or work with a developer.

There are two specialties that most web design businesses will focus on: UX (User Experience) and/or UI (User Interface). As the name suggests, UX designers focus on user experience—deep diving into brand strategy, user reviews, Google Analytics, visual design, and testing. UI designers concentrate on the controls used to interact with the website. They’ll decide the shape of buttons, icons, sliders, and scroll bars, establishing a style guide to ensure consistency throughout the website.

Steps to Starting a Web Design Business

1

Create a Business Plan for Your Web Design Business

Before you get started, you’ll need an idea of what resources you’ll need—and how to monetize your business in a practical way. We’ve answered the biggest questions about clients, costs, and profits below.

How do I get clients?

Becoming a successful freelance web designer requires a lot of patience, determination, and self-discipline. In the beginning, a lot of your time and effort will go into landing your first client. Here’s a few steps you can take to quickly start building your client list.

  • Get social: Sharing your portfolio on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest is one of the best ways to promote your business. Social media is an inherently visual platform, allowing you to show off your beautiful work and approachable personality. Link to pages you’ve designed and use relevant hashtags to consistently engage with your audience. You can also showcase your work on websites such as Zerply or Hunie.
  • Reach out to locals: Contact your favorite coffee shops, retail stores, or nonprofits within your community. Although they may already have websites, there may be room for improvements and/or updates.
  • Check out freelance marketplaces: Toptal, AwesomeWeb, and Behance are popular marketplaces focused on connecting businesses with web designers. On your profile, you can list your resume, work samples, rates, and contact information. It’s also a great way for satisfied customers to leave positive reviews.
  • Design landing pages: Using programs such as Paperform or Unbounce, you can create a series of “generic” landing pages to show off your creativity, skill level, and range.
  • Find your niche: There are 1.5 billion+ active websites-and plenty more just waiting to be created. So, while the demand for web designers will certainly continue to rise, there’s also a lot of competition. Finding your specific area of expertise will help you stand out in an already crowded profession. If you have previous experience in retail or manufacturing, then you may want to advertise to those types of businesses-you’ll already know the language, how people operate within the industry, and their target audiences.

How does a web design business make money?

A web design business typically accepts full-time or part-time work, depending on contract terms and required commitment. For example, some clients will hire you to create and maintain an entire website, while others may only need basic set-up or a redesign. In addition, you may need to work with a programmer, developer, and/or graphic designer to complete the project.

Most designers prefer to charge an hourly wage since projects can often take longer than planned and clients will often ask for several changes before the website is finalized. If you choose to offer a flat rate, make sure you speak with the client before settling on a price—this ensures you understand their budget needs and the project requirements.

How much money will it take to get started?

Your start up costs will depend greatly on what equipment and software you already own. If you need to purchase a new computer and software your initial costs can quickly climb.

Design software is an absolute necessity for any web design business. However, you’ll also need a computer that can support and effectively run the software. A reliable laptop will cost a minimum of $1000. Weebly, WordPress, Joomla! and other content management programs can cost several hundred dollars a year, so some designers will start out utilizing the free versions—keep in mind, however, that you’ll eventually need to pay for a subscription. Design software such as Adobe Dreamweaver—which allows you to code your designs—will cost a minimum of $20.99 a month.

Another essential item for your business will be a website, which will act as the marketing hub for your company. As a web designer, clients will look at your site closely as an example of your design style and capability. Your site should include a portfolio of your best work, ideally with a lot of variation.

How much do web design businesses make each year?

According to Salary.com, the average web design business makes $64,908 per year. Alaska, California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts are among the highest paying states—over $70,000. Although most states pay around the national average—between $64,000 and $67,000—a small handful such as South Dakota, Montana, and Nebraska are on the lower end at just over $55,000.

How much should I charge?

New web designers typically charge between $30 and $80 an hour, based on experience. In addition, you may choose to include a flat rate as part of your service pricing. For example, you may choose to charge an hourly rate for designing a new website and then transition to a flat rate for any additional maintenance needed later down the road. Or, you could offer a series of packages that include set prices. It’s also important to be specific about what each package provides—clients want to know what services they’re paying for. On average, a website can cost between $500 and $5,000-depending on the complexity of the project and required support.

2

Select a Name for Your Web Design Business

Have a great name idea? Before you start marketing and branding your business, you’ll need to ensure your name is available. Most states prohibit or restrict businesses from adopting names that are already in use. Even if it’s legally allowed, a copycat name puts your business at risk of a lawsuit.

See if your business name is available in your state with our Free Business Name Search.

Trademarks and Domain Names

Plan to trademark your business name? You can see if the trademark is available on a website like Trademarkia. It’s also a good idea to see if the domain name is available, which you can do on websites like Network Solutions and GoDaddy. Even if you don’t plan on putting together a website right away, you can buy the domain name to make sure no one takes it in the meantime.

3

Choose a Business Structure

Should you form an LLC? A sole proprietorship? Your choice of business structure will affect many aspects of your business, from liability to taxes.

Sole Proprietorships & General Partnerships

If you don’t file any paperwork to legally form a different kind of business—you have a sole proprietorship or general partnership. Essentially, these are “default” business structures. A sole proprietorship has one owner, and a partnership has multiple owners.

These structures have a few initial benefits. They’re easy, fast and cheap to start and maintain. However, the limitations and risks of these business structures quickly become more apparent as your business grows. In both of these business types, you are your business, legally speaking. Your company’s legal business name is YOUR name—so you’ll need a DBA to operate under any other name. Any business debt is YOUR personal debt. If anyone sues your business, they are suing YOU personally.

LLCs & Corporations

Limited liability companies (LLCs) and corporations are business entities formed at the state level. The entity is legally separate from its owners, meaning the owners are not personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business. As a separate entity, the business also has multiple tax election options. For example, both LLCs and corporations can choose to be taxed as S-corps if they meet the requirements.

LLCs and corporations are not quite as simple and inexpensive as default structures. LLCs and corporations come with formal requirements like state reports. They also have more fees than default structures, such as formation and annual report fees. However, the benefits of an LLC or corporation—especially liability protection and tax flexibility—are significant.

Check out LLC vs Corporation and Why Turn a Sole Proprietorship into an LLC to learn more about choosing the best structure for your business.

4

Legally Form Your Web Design Business

If you opt for a sole proprietorship or general partnership, there’s no formal paperwork to file to legally create your entity—you just start selling your product or service. However, you will not have any liability protections or tax flexibility.

LLCs and corporations are formed by filing paperwork with a state agency, typically the Secretary of State. To start an LLC, you file articles of organization. To start a corporation, you file articles of incorporation. In most states, you can file these forms online or download a paper form from the state’s website.

Whether you’re forming an LLC or corporation, your articles will require certain basic information about your business, such as your company’s:

  • name
  • business address
  • registered agent and office
  • business purpose
  • members/managers or directors/officers’ names and addresses
  • number and type of authorized shares (for stock corporations)

You’ll also need the signature of someone authorized to sign on behalf of the business, along with the state’s filing fee. Fees vary by state but are typically between $100 and $200. If you hire Northwest to form your LLC or corporation, we complete and submit your formation paperwork on your behalf for just $100 plus state fees.

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5

Create Internal Policies and Procedures

It’s important to put your company’s internal policies and procedures in a written document, especially if you’re starting your business with others. Partnerships have partnership agreements. LLCs have operating agreements. Corporations have bylaws.

These documents look a bit different for each kind of business, but they serve the same general purpose. They ensure there’s a clear path forward for any major issue that may arise, from changes in ownership to closing the business. LLCs and corporations also typically need an operating agreement or bylaws in order to open a bank account.

Get a free template for an LLC operating agreement or corporation bylaws.

6

Get an EIN and Register for Taxes

Nearly all LLCs and corporations will need to request a federal employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS. If you file corporate income taxes, have employees, or file certain franchise taxes, you must have an EIN. An EIN is also a common requirement for opening a business bank account. Most businesses can request an EIN by filling out the IRS’s online form.

Your EIN is for federal taxes—but you’ll likely have state and local tax obligations as well. You will most likely need to set up an account with the state’s Department of Revenue, and you may need to apply for a state tax ID or a sales tax license as well.

Learn more about how to Get an EIN for your business.

7

Open a Bank Account

A business bank account keeps your personal finances separate from your business finances. For LLCs and corporations, keeping separate finances is essential for maintaining liability protection. To open an account, LLCs and corporations typically need to bring to the bank a copy of their articles, their operating agreement or bylaws, and their EIN.

8

Obtain Required Licenses and Permits

Many businesses will need a business license to operate. Licensing information—as well as any zoning requirements or other permits—can usually be found on the city or county website.

If your home is part of a homeowner’s association, you’ll also be subject to any of their restrictions for home-based businesses. Some areas may also require home-based businesses to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy (a document certifying the property owner has given the business permission to operate).

Next Steps for Your Web Design Business

After your business is up and running, there are a few additional steps you may want to take as you grow:

  • Get business insurance: While LLCs and corporations protect you from personal liability, you don’t want your business to go bankrupt in the face of an accident, injury or other disaster. At minimum, it’s a good idea to look into general liability insurance. Home-based businesses can sometimes add insurance onto their homeowner’s policy.
  • Hire employees: Hiring employees requires quite a few steps. You’ll need to collect W-4s and I-9s from employees, report the new hires to the state, set up withholding, pay for unemployment insurance, distribute any required documents and notices to employees, and display wage and safety info in the workplace. Employer.gov is a good place to start, followed by your state’s tax or labor office.

 

How Do I Know if a Web Design Business is for Me?

What’s it really like to work in a web design business?

In addition to designing websites, web designers are often required to work with programmers, developers, graphic artists, and marketing professionals. Web designers must work closely with clients to determine their goals and aesthetics along with the site’s overall purpose, pitch, and target audience. They also research consumer behavior and create logical paths on each page—making sure the layout is user-friendly.

What does it take to succeed in the world of web design?

Because the web design business is an ever-growing industry that continues to be in high demand, it’s important to separate yourself from the bigger crowd. It’s useful to develop your skills in UI and UX, demonstrating a strong understanding of visual design and website users. Consistently showing passion for your client’s project as well as their customers will help leverage your genuine personality. Also, ask yourself if you can you bring extra web skills to the table. Can you code or offer SEO or pay-per-click management? Are you willing to offer support and maintenance packages? Have you worked in a specific industry before, such as manufacturing, education, or retail? When you play to your strengths and area of interests, it will make all the difference when seeking clients.

A successful web designer must also be able to listen and communicate clearly. Clients are often unsure of exactly what they want to see or even why they like or dislike a design. A skilled designer can clearly articulate and justify design choices and interpret the source of a client’s dissatisfaction. Although you may not always agree with your client, you must be able to work collaboratively and take constructive criticism.

 

Ready to Form an LLC or Corporation?

Northwest Registered Agent is here to help with all of your small business ideas and needs. Answer a few simple questions about your business, and we’ll prepare and submit your formation paperwork to the state. We also provide your new business registered agent service, free business forms and guides, and much more.

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