Getting started in freelance web design is an exhilarating process. Along with the added stresses of daily work you actually become your own boss, set your own hours, and even choose who you will work with. It's truly a great way to earn a living!
Now consider the steps required to move from a freelance artist into launching your own design studio. Under your own brand name you can land much higher-quality projects and build up a solid portfolio of works. In this guide I would like to share some tips for planning out your own web design studio. How should you begin such a project and what are the most important tasks to complete?
Well there is certainly a laundry list of answers here, so I'll focus on just a select few. But we should begin with discussing your first steps in getting started.
Creating a Brand
When sitting down to plan your business model you'll have to consider a number of factors. Of the most important ideas is your studio branding. This would include your company logo, domain name, and possibly alternative references(logos, mascots, etc).
The official branding for your agency may only take a few hours to complete. Except not a single brand was created and popularized in a day - or even a week or a month! Plan to be in this for the long haul if you venture into working professional design. Below are just a couple more ideas to consider when building your company branding:
- custom profile avatar photo
- accounts on social networks(Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest)
- business cards
- contact e-mail addresses
Build What you Can
The biggest factor in failure rates of startup design studios is overextending your workload. If you plan on starting out on a solo venture then you'll be performing all of the web work by yourself. This includes wireframing, prototyping, building the design and coding the frontend interface in HTML/CSS/JS.
Be realistic with yourself and your clients. When first getting started keep focused on one single project at a time. You'll feel a lot better as you complete the work and you won't be distracted by stress and looming due dates. It may be worthwhile to over-estimate the initial time frame to give yourself a bit of room for slack.
Working on demanding client projects is also the best time to force yourself into new areas of web development. We are all constantly learning new things and this requires a lot of patience to keep up. Don't be afraid to accept a project which requires you to work in a new area such as PHP, MySQL, Flash, or even smaller topics like designing e-mail newsletters.
Work for Consistency
If there's any one trait to aspire towards it should be consistency in your project work. The longer your agency is up online the more credibility you can build as a designer. You want to prove to any potential clients that you're in this for the long haul.
The best way to accomplish such a goal is by managing your workload properly and communicating honestly with clients. If you need to work with another designer or developer then reach out and contact someone! It can be really fun to collaborate with others and you'll generally produce higher quality work in the end. Plus you may learn something new in the process.
Prove Your Knowledge
In today's age it's simple for even a teenager to setup their own portfolio online. It's a cheap trick to explain all of the skills and development languages you know as "design services". Instead prove to your clients that you know what you're talking about.
This is obviously best accomplished through a portfolio of past works. If you have been working freelance for a while then you should have even a couple of projects to show off. Building your own website ideas is another route for populating decent portfolio content. But you shouldn't just leave this area blank, even if you only have 1 or 2 works to show off.
Another method for proving your design knowledge is through a company blog. It seems like everybody is blogging nowadays and it's more common than ever before. Design studios can get a crazy amount of attention from just a few blog posts going viral. Your best bet is to offer free content like open source code or a free PSD download.
Network Like Crazy
In this world it's all about who you know and what you can put together. Designers need to stay close and have each other's back, but we also need to communicate efficiently with other digital professionals. Never be afraid to open a new relationship with a project manager or web developer.
Sometimes these connections can land you a gig in ways you would have never imagined. Working in the digital world it seems like everybody knows everybody else one way or another. And the best method to promote your agency is through targeted marketing and word of mouth. Happy clients will recommend friends, and this can snowball into a huge opportunity for growth.
These tips can only get you so far in planning your design studio. But at some point you'll need to sit down and actually code a site layout. This will most likely require some keen inspiration. Check out my small showcase below consisting of some personal favorite agencies. These companies may give some insight towards how you would setup a business model and what type of content would appear on your design studio's website.
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