How to start a web design business (with freelancers)

Want to break free from the bondage of the 9-5? Learn how to launch your very own web design business powered by freelancers.
Aug 25, 2020 • 20 minute read
Edward Kost @EdwardKost
Technical Co-pilot
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Dream of starting your very own web design business? We'll show you how.

So you're an experienced web developer yearning to launch your very own web design business. But there's a problem, launching a business is an expensive and lengthy process right? 

Not any more. 

In this post we'll teach you how to launch your very own web design business with a team of freelancers at a fraction of the cost.

If you're ready to take the first step towards your dream career, read on.

How to get web design clients fast 

We decided to begin our guide with the section you're obviously most interested in, how to actually get web design clients. That's understandable, if our client scoping strategy is weak, this entire guide isn't worth reading.

So we'll kick things off with a powerful client acquisition strategy that'll grow the business you establish by following this guide. 

Cold emailing (still the most powerful of them all)

Any sales tactic with the prefix 'cold' scares most people away, but this method is surprisingly welcoming.

What you'll be doing is sending businesses a screen recording of yourself perusing their website while identifying areas of improvement.

This packs a much heavier punch than the common method of just sending a generic cold email (yuck, they never work!).

Let's walk through the process.

Step 1 - Search for businesses on Google

When starting out, you can't expect to land high paying clients. You need to start from the 'bottom' with low budget clients. Then, once your ratings and testimonials are nice and plump, you can upgrade your bait and hunt for large fish.

Blue collar industries such as plumbers, electricians, HVAC companies and cleaning services, tend to have the lowest web design budgets so start with this demographic.

Searching an industry + a location will narrow down your search and give you a tonne more lead options. Once you're done drilling through a particular location, switch to another city and start plucking away.

Keep a record of every business you contact in a Google sheet. Before emailing a new business, check your sheet to see if you've contacted them before to avoid embarrassing mistakes. 

Start by expanding the local business snippet and working your way through all of the pages. Once you've exhausted this list, click back to the main search results and work your way down the organic listings.

how to find web design clients fast

how to find web design clients fast

Be honest with yourself when contacting businesses, don't just blindly email all of them. Only contact the ones with websites you can improve. Your cold email needs to be highly targeted, and your offered value needs to be tangible and compelling. This is what makes this method unbelievably powerful. 

When you find a website you can confidently improve, it's time to reach out to the right people.

You're absolute best friend in your client scoping quest is Hunter.io

When you search a URL in hunter.io, the software scrapes the internet for all email addresses associated with the searched domain. It even identifies the position of each lead to help you contact the decision maker.

how to find web design clients fast

If the domain name search does not yield your desired result, you can slightly pivot your tactic.

Start by searching for the business in Linkedin and identifying the key decision maker (CEO, business owner or founder).

Then, use the hunter.io email verifier to search for different email combinations with the website domain you're querying.

Here are some common email combinations to try:

  • FirstName@domain.com (for example, steve@domain.com)

  • ShortenedFirstName@domain.com (for example, mel@domain.com instead of melissa@domain.com).

  • First letter of first name + last name@domain.com (for example, gsmith@domain.com)

how to find web design clients fast

Note that you can only perform 50 requests per month on the free hunter.io plan. Each result is classified as a request, so if your domain search produces 20 results, that equates to 20 requests. 

If you're serious about landing web design clients, you should upgrade to a paid plan. The $49 a month should be more than enough for you to launch your web design agency off the ground.

Here are the number of monthly searches you get for each hunter.io paid plan.

  • $49/month - 1,000 requests/month

  • $99/month - 5,000 requests/month

  • $199/month - 20,000 requests/month

  • $300/month - 50,000 requests per month

Now that you've got the email of the decision maker, it's time to start formulating your compelling pitch.

If you don't have one installed, you'll need to download a screen recorder. Apowersoft offers a powerful free screen recorder that's perfect for this.

Once your screen recorder is installed, record yourself navigating through the website while identifying it's key design faults (in a gentle manner of course). Speak clearly, don't rush and end with an infectiously positive note. Keep the video short, about 1 - 1.5 minutes max. 

After watching your video, your leads should be excited about the incredible value you can offer them rather than feel ashamed of their horrific website design. 

Publish the video on youtube but make sure you set it to private so that only those with a link can access it. To further demonstrate the video's privacy you should use the following convention to name your video:

Private video: Audit of CompanyWebsite.com

With your video recorded and published, you're ready to start composing your email.

Your email subject is as important as your actual pitch (if not more). If your emails aren't opened, your detailed prospecting efforts are futile.

You want to be intriguing enough for leads to open your emails, but not too cheesy so that your emails end up in the spam folder. 

Here's a list of email subject lines web design clients love to open.

  • Ideas & feedback for [company name] website 

  • Free advice for [company name] website

  • Honest feedback for [company name] website

Here's a highly effective cold email template you can use:

 

Hi [prospect name],

I recently came across your website and wanted to share my honest feedback to help you improve its design.

I took the liberty of recording a video of my analysis. You can watch it via the link below (it's a private link so it's not publicly displayed on Youtube):

[insert Youtube Link]

My name is [insert name] and recently I finished up a website design project for [case study client] who is also in the [plumbing or electrical etc] industry. I have attached the case study to this email as well as the raving testimonial from the owner.

If you're interested in rebuilding your website, please let me know. I am more than happy to schedule a quick Zoom meeting to better introduce myself and further discuss your requirements. 

You can view my complete portfolio of work on my website

[website link]

Thank you [Prospect name] and I look forward to working with you.

Sincerely, 

[Your name]

 

Recording a website audit for each lead spikes the conversion rate of each email because it demonstrates the care and attention to detail you offer your clients.

That being said, recording, editing and uploading an audit for every lead is incredibly time consuming. If you prefer to cast your net wider rather than deeper, you could replace the video audit with a concise bullet point summary of how you would improve a lead's website design. 

A common question web agencies have is whether or not they should include pricing in their email pitch. It's best not to include pricing. The primary goal of an email pitch is to initiate conversation, and the only way to achieve this with a cold prospect is through intrigue. Your goal should be to intrigue prospects enough to entice them to reach out to you to enquire about pricing.

You can still close high priced web services if the value offered is substantial enough. A reply email asking for pricing is an opportunity for you to further detail your services and its corresponding value to the client.

We'll discuss how to price your web design services further along.

Many leads might click through to your website and then get distracted by their work. To make the most of every precious website visit you should implement a lead capture funnel. A simple, yet strategically designed, pop up form should do the trick. 

The highest converting pop up forms offer something of value in exchange for submitted information. You could write an industry specific ebook and give it away for free, or partner with strategic businesses to offer supplier discounts. For example, if you're focusing on plumbing businesses you could contact reputable suppliers and ask for discount codes in exchange for referred customers. 

You'll find some awesome examples of lead capture pop up designs in this post

Now that we're done flexing our superior lead generation strategy, let's take a few steps back to the more preliminary steps of setting up a web agency.

Create an exceptional web design portfolio

Pretty obvious right? Sadly, this is where most aspiring web agencies mess up. You can't expect to convert leads into paying customers if you can't prove your capabilities with a solid portfolio of work.

Before you even commence canvassing for paying clients, you need to have the following in place:

  • A portfolio of work on your website.

  • A portfolio of work for the specific industry you are targeting.

  • A case study for each of the industries you are targeting.

  • A business owner testimonial for each of your case studies.

If you're just starting out, you may not have sufficient experience to create portfolio items. That unfortunately is not an acceptable excuse. You should still create websites for each of the industries you aim to target. Your portfolio items don't need to be for real businesses, you can make them up. 

The goal is to demonstrate your ability to design a website that's specific to its industry. So peruse a range of industry specific websites, take note of their common features, then design and build industry websites with these features.

But you can't create your own case study based on bogus businesses. You need to work with a real client and receive a real positive review from the business owner to include in your email pitches. 

How do you achieve that?

Offer to build some websites for free. Most successful web agencies established their reputations on a foundation of free projects. Don't worry, you don't need to keep offering free projects until your reputation is established, you only need to offer a free project for every industry you want to sell to.

Once that's done, write up a concise case study for each project and ask each business owner to send a brief testimonial of their experience. Most business owners will be more than happy to provide a simple testimonial in exchange for a free website. 

You still need a portfolio of projects on your website when you're hunting for free clients. Even free clients don't want to waste their time with incompetent web designers. Your portfolio of work needs to prove your web design capabilities. 

You can follow the same process above when searching for free clients. Here's an email template you can use.

Subject line options:

  • [first name of contact], I have a free website for you

  • [first name of contact], I'll upgrade your website (for free) 

  • Your free website upgrade (expiring soon)

  • [first name of contact], your free website upgrade (inside)

Email template:

Hi [prospect name],

I'm a professional web developer building up my portfolio of work. I'm offering to upgrade your website for free (yes 100% free) in exchange for a brief testimonial.

If you want to see what I am capable of, you can take a look at my current portfolio of completed work in the [industry category] industry via the link below:

[website link]

I created a quick video audit of your current website design, where I outline what I can do to improve it. You can watch it via the link below (it's a private link so it's not publicly displayed on Youtube):

[insert Youtube Link]

If you're interested in taking up this offer for a free website rebuild, please let me know. I am more than happy to schedule a quick Zoom meeting to better introduce myself and further discuss your requirements. 

Thank you [Prospect name] and I look forward to working with you.

Sincerely, 

[Your name]

Your Web design services

Before mapping out your pricing, you need to finalize your services network. To help fill in the details of your service structure, we'll divide it into two categories, development and design.

Development

All of your clients will have varying website complexity requirements. The complex projects will obviously need to be coded from the ground up. But simpler projects don't require the overkill of customized coding, those can be completed more efficiently with a drag and drop builder.

This gives you an opportunity to offer affordable packages for simple projects you can pump out at a high volume and with a super fast turn around. If clients request some customization beyond the capabilities of the drag and drop builder, you can exercise your development expertise by injecting some custom CSS. This will still be much faster (and cheaper) than needlessly coding a website from the ground up. 

Squarespace and Wix are common drag and drop builders used by web developers for simple projects. You can also transform Wordpress into a drag and drop builder by installing the plugin Elementor

Design

To ensure the time you spend completing projects is most efficient, you absolutely need to incorporate website wireframing into your workflow. There are two categories of wireframes, low-fidelity and high-fidelity. 

A low-fidelity wireframe solely represents the structure of a web page. A high-fidelity wireframe represents the finer details of the web design such as color pallet and element details. It's an exact representation of what the finished website will look like.

website wireframing

Read this post to learn how to wireframe a website with Balsamiq.

Read this post to learn how to wireframe a website with Figma

Read this post to learn how to wireframe a website with sketch

You should only commence developing a website when a client approves both your wireframe designs. A design is much quicker to modify in its wireframing stages than after it has been developed.

But if you're just offering web development services to your clients, you're leaving money on the table. The real profit comes from recurring monthly payments.

What services would businesses be willing to pay a monthly subscription for?

Marketing.

Here's how you reel clients into a marketing subscription after delivering your website project.

About a month after your delivery send your client a complimentary traffic audit. If you're signed up to ahrefs or or Semrush it's a straightforward process. If you don't have the software you can, simply hire a freelance marketer to do the audit for you (more on that shortly).

Alongside your complimentary traffic audit include a solid proposal of how you plan to increase traffic and organic rankings. This proposal should include a comprehensive SEO plan and maybe even an SEM strategy.

For your proposal to be convincing it needs to be thorough, so if you propose an SEO strategy make a list of the keywords you will target and the associated articles you'll get written.

If you can demonstrate that you can increase traffic to a client's website over time they'll be highly likely to sign up to your offer. Who doesn't want more customers?

But what do you do if you're not an experienced marketer? 

Outsource the work to experienced and talented marketers. Freelance marketers to be exact.

On Freelancer.com, you can hire talent across any industry in a matter of minutes. It's also the most cost effective option for sourcing talent because you don't need to pay for benefits and you're not obligated to keep freelancers on board all year. Simply hire them whenever you need them, for however long you need them.

This opens limitless opportunities for growing your web agency in multiple directions. You're no longer limited by your abilities, if there's a service your clients are willing to pay for, you can offer it through hard working freelancers.

If your clients need a mobile app, charge them for the service and hire a freelance mobile developer to build it for you.

If your client needs in-depth data analytics, charge them for the service and hire a freelance data scientistt to run the analysis for you. 

If your clients need someone to manage their finances, charge them for the services and hire a freelance accountant to do it for you. 

The opportunities for growing your business with freelancers are seriously limitless.

But hiring freelancers isn't just a great solution for expanding your services, you should also hire freelancers to help you complete your web development orders. With a team of freelancers by your side, you can keep accepting orders and avoid rejecting them beyond your bandwidth limit.

You can hire wireframe designers to create website wireframes.

You can hire graphic designers to create custom website graphics and logos in line with your client's branding guidelines.

You can hire content writers to write captivating SEO optimized content that reflects the business' unique values.

You can even hire web developers to help you code up your projects.

This solution will alleviate the burden of the entire workload off your shoulders, allowing you to step up to a managerial role. You'll then have more time to strategize the growth and development of your web design agency.

Sourcing freelancers for your web design business

Unlike the logistical nightmare of working with multiple business services, all of your freelancers can be conveniently sourced and managed under the one platform, Freelancer.com.

When logged into Freelancer.com, you can either browse for the talent you need or post a project for your required skill sets. Posting a project is a highly efficient option because the talented freelancers you need come to you, which saves you the effort of finding them. It's also free to post a project on Freelancer.

how to hire freelancers

If you've never managed staff before, this guide will teach you how to manage freelance teams effectively. 

So having a global freelance workforce at your fingertips will equip you to broaden the services of your web design agency, but what about scaling? Eventually you'll have too many freelancers working for you to manage alone. At this point, will you reach the limits of your web agency's growth potential?

Absolutely not. You can still keep expanding with the help of a Technical Co-Pilot.

Technical Co-Pilots manage teams of freelancers on your behalf and become your single point of communication. Just let them know what needs to be done and they'll manage the project and your freelancers on your behalf from start to finish. Once they deliver to you, you can then pass the deliverables onto your client for approval.

how to start a web design business

Technical Co-Pilots also empower you to scale your web design business very quickly. They can source more freelancers on your behalf and manage all of the newly established teams.

So when your Technical Co-Pilot isn't capable of managing any more freelancers, will you finally reach the limit of your web agency's growth potential?

Absolutely not.

Simply hire more Technical Co-Pilots to manage more freelancer teams.

how to start a web design business

Establishing a business powered by freelancers removes the many rigid limitations of the conventional business model.

The flourishing gig economy is dawning a new era of entrepreneurship. Now you can launch a successful business from the comfort of your living room, in just a few days, with minimal overheads. 

Technical Co-Pilots further elevate this innovative model by helping businesses scale their freelancer workforce quickly and efficiently.

Web design workflow: Make life easier for yourself and your client

There should be a set web design workflow you follow whenever you work with a client. This will prevent you from missing important development stages and also help you maintain a dense communication network with your clients.

Clear communication is the common attribute of all successful web design businesses. If you perfect it, your clients will reward you with a continuous stream of delicious referrals.

Here's a highly effective web design workflow you can follow:

Phase 1: Introduction and requirements meeting

This initial meeting is an opportunity for you to better introduce yourself and answer any pressing questions the client might have.

It's absolutely essential that this be a face-to-face meeting. Seeing the face of a colleague develops a relationship that can never be achieved behind the cold digital curtain of an email. If you don't win a prospect over in the initial meeting, they'll leave and partner with one of your competitors. So show them your beautiful smiling face. Be polite. Be magnetic. Be charming.

If social interactions aren't your forte, this shouldn't stop you from building your dream web design business. Social awkwardness is 100% curable with daily practice. Check out this video by Vanessa Van Edwards to learn the science of succeeding with people. 

The Coronavirus has forced businesses to grow accustomed to video conferencing, so you shouldn't feel awkward about suggesting it. There are several video conferencing solutions to choose from. Zoom is a reliable choice. Most businesses are very familiar with Zoom by now, so your precious free time won't be spent teaching each prospect how to connect.

The 22 best questions to ask before redesigning a website

Here's a list of recommended questions to ask in your initial client meeting. These questions will keep your meetings highly efficient and packed with value.

  1. What's the primary goal of your website?

  • To sell your service?

  • To build a community?

  • To publish your content?

  1. What don't you like about your current website?

  2. What is your business’s unique value proposition?

  3. What do you like about your current websites?

  4. What design features and functions are most important for you to have?

  5. Who designed your current website?

  6. What platform is your website built on?

  7. Do you have set brand guidelines

  8. Where is your website hosted?

  9. Do you know how to give me access to your website?

  10. What are the greatest needs of your customers?

  11. Does your website integrate with a CRM? If not, would you like it to?

  • This is a great upsell opportunity.

  1. Who are your top competitors?

  2. Would you like a chat function to speak with visitors?

  3. Would you like to budget for user testing during the design and development phase?

  4. What is the most important information you need displayed on every page of your website?

  5. What is your budget?

  • Don't lead with this question. Learn of your client's requirements first. Sometimes an initial conversation about the complexity of their requirements helps clients understand the need to be flexible with their budget limits.

  1. Are you happy with the amount of traffic you are getting to your website?

  • The answer to this question and the following question will help you personalize the marketing pitch you send a month after delivering the website.

  1. Do you run any paid ad campaigns? Are they achieving your desired results?

  2. How many monthly visits does your website get?

  3. Do you track the behavior of website visitors?

  4. Do you have a specific project completion date?

The aim of this meeting is for you to understand the complete web design requirements of your client. You shouldn't walk away with any lingering questions, have the confidence to keep pursuing further clarification if required.

Client's will appreciate your relentless efforts to better understand their unique business requirements. This will also prevent you from wasting a tonne of time developing the project in the wrong direction.

Phase 2: Create a web design proposal

After your initial meeting, you should summarize your plan of action in a web design proposal. This should be delivered to your client within 24 hours of your initial meeting to demonstrate your confident knowledge of their requirements and key goals. 

The most effective web design proposals are crisp and straight to the point. Quality absolutely trumps quality. Long winded proposals don't only drain hours of your time, they also frighten clients by causing them to overthink the project.

The following video teaches you how to create a concise web design proposal.

Phase 3: Create a brand guidelines document

If your client has supplied you with its brand guidelines you can skip this step. If not, you'll need to create the brand identity of your client. 

This step is quite involved so find out whether it will be a requirement during your initial interview, and if it is, make sure you incorporate it in your pricing. 

A brand identity consists of the following:

  • Color palette

  • Logo

  • Topography 

  • Slogan

Read this post to learn how to design a brand identity. 

Once you've finished designing the new brand identity, send it to the client for approval.

If you want to really wow your clients, you should also create a video summarizing your proposed brand identity.

Phase 4: Create a low-fidelity wireframe

Map out the architecture of your client's new website then represent it as a low-fidelity wireframe for approval.

Remember, low-fidelity wireframes are purposely simplistic because they're intended to solely communicate the structure of a website without the distraction of its design. You can use the free software Canva to create a low-fidelity wireframe.

Phase 5: Create a high-fidelity wireframe

Once the client approves your proposed website structure its time to create a high-fidelity wireframe to represent the final design of the new website. A high-fidelity wireframe should be an exact replica of the final web design so it should reflect the intended color palette, the fine details of all the elements and all of the key functions (eg chat window, dynamic forms etc).

Phase 6: Development

With your proposed brand identity, website structure and website design approved it's finally time to start developing the new website. If you're using a drag and drop builder this should be a relatively quick process, especially if all your web elements were created in the high-fidelity wireframe stage. 

Websites that need to be coded from the ground up will obviously take longer to complete. Make sure you're always keeping your client informed of your progress. Effective communication will elevate your website design business above your competitors. 

If your project is taking longer than expected, be honest and let your client know. Keeping them in the dark is never a good idea.

In the web development world, no news is terrible news. 

As a rule of thumb, aim to never have your clients ask for an update. Be proactive and inform them before they get a chance to question your reliability.

When the website is developed, send it to the client for approval.

Phase 7: Quality assessment

Never ever deliver a website project without rigorously testing it first. Your clients will revoke their positive review and voice their frustrations on social media if your website breaks after delivery.

If you're not familiar with the process, you can hire a freelance QA technician to run a series of strategic tests on your new website. A competent QA technician will make sure none of a website's functions break in extreme traffic circumstances.

You should summarize your QA process and findings in a concise report for the client. This will demonstrate your maturity as a web design business and quell any website stability concerns your client may have.

It's little gestures like these that'll set your web design business apart from all the others. Demonstrate to your clients that you care about the success of their business. Treat them the way you want others to treat your web design business.

Phase 8: Website launch 

Once the new website passes QA it's ready to be launched. It's worth also discussing a strategic website launch with your client. A website redesign is a fantastic campaign opportunity. You could even upsell some of your marketing services to facilitate a successful website launch

How to price web design services

This decision stumps most startup web design businesses. It's not an easy decision to make. If your price is too high, you'll scare off clients. If your pricing is too low, you won't be profitable enough to survive.

So what do you do?

The solution is a two pronged approach:

  • Be passionately value driven.

  • Find the perfect balance between industry average pricing and profitability.

Sprouting web agencies struggle with pricing because they view their services in the context of pricing only. If that's the only variable you are working with, you'll always feel like you're overcharging your clients. But if you view your pricing through the frame of the value you're offering, you'll set a fair pricing point that actually respects your efforts. 

Being confident of the immense value you're offering will make justifying your pricing an easy and highly convincing process.

Many web designers price by the hour, but this might intimidate clients since it remains open ended and vague. When you're starting out, your initial demographic of clients will have a very limited budget, so they'll prefer to have the complete pricing clearly communicated up front.

To calculate your pricing, make a list of all the services and products you'll need to purchase to fulfill each client order. If you'll be working with freelancers, list the pricing for all of their services. Then, calculate the sum of all your overheads and append a profit margin on top of it. A good profit margin to aim for is 20 - 30%. 

Here's a list of some of the services / products you might need to include in your overhead calculations:

  • Web hosting

  • Domain name

  • SSL certificate

  • Logo design

  • Brand identity design

  • Low-fidelity wireframe design

  • High-fidelity wireframe design

  • Web page copywriting

  • Development

  • QA testing

  • CMS integration

  • Database integration

  • E-commerce functionality 

  • Interactive multimedia

  • Email marketing software integration

  • UX design and optimization

Marketing services:

  • SEO

  • SEM

  • Copywriting

  • Email marketing 

  • Social media marketing

For your reference, here's a summary of the industry average pricing for a web design project.

Average pricing for web design by level of complexity:

  • Basic website design: $1,000 - $10,000

  • Intermediate web design: $10,000 - $50,000

  • Advanced web design: $50,000 - $100,000

Brand identity design average cost: $1,000 - $5,000.

Average price for a logo: $100

Average price for writing copy for a website: $60 - $300 per page

Final thoughts

The evolving gig economy is destroying the archaic business model and all of its inefficient processes. Launching your dream business is easier now than it has ever been in history. 

You no longer need to be burdened under the weight of office rental costs, salary benefits and lengthy hiring procedures. Now, all you need to launch and scale a successful business is a laptop, an internet connection, and a reasonably comfortable chair. 

As the world continues to embrace the efficiencies of the remote workforce model post Covid-19, this innovative startup solution will eventually become the standard model for launching a business.

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