7 Skills you’ll Need to Run a Successful Web Design Business

By / Jun 7, 2012 / Tips
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Launching your own web design business might seem a daunting task, especially in the current economic climate. After all, you will be competing against well-established companies with impressive portfolios and solid experience. But don’t let this stop you. You can do this. I set up a web design business that has been trading successfully 6 years ago. And I did it with very little experience originally.

You can do it in your spare time at first. It took me two years before I could quit my “day job”. The secret is to never give up. Why not focus on the things you can do to start a successful web design business? This article will review the key skills needed in order to achieve your entrepreneurial goals.

1. Having the right attitude

This is the most fundamental factor when it comes to running a successful business. Perhaps you do not have the required skills yet, but you can teach yourself web design. Setting up a web-based business is relatively easy, but do you have the patience that will allow you to see it grow? Are you willing to fully dedicate yourself to your web design business? Is your motivation strong enough to withstand difficult times?

It also essential that you think of your web design business professionally. It goes without saying that your image and demeanor should be professional at all times, and the same applies to your website. You should purchase a unique domain, both for your website and for your email address. Ensure you have a separate business bank account. Printing business cards and starting a blog are other ways of optimising the outward image that your business projects.

When you’re writing emails or writing articles for your blog, always use correct the grammar, spelling and punctuation. Always project professionalism and competence.

7 skills you’ll need to run a successful web design business

2. Organizational and time management skills

Decide on the number of hours that you will dedicate to your web design business and stick to them. It might prove challenging to stop other things from interfering with your work, especially when you are working from home. However, remember to treat your business professionally and to respect your working schedule.

You may be surprised to know that most independent web designers that run their own businesses only spend 50% of their time designing websites! There are plenty of other things to do and you need to plan and structure your days and weeks accordingly.

3. Building long-lasting client relationships

Your best customers are your current customers. They will give you more business and recommend you more than anyone else will. Be empathetic with existing and potential customers and try to anticipate their needs. Exceed your customers’ expectations and they will appreciate your personalised attention, thus guaranteeing return business.

Also, consider diversifying your business: if you primarily offer website design, why not look into acquiring new skills and learn about print design, SEO services, or mobile applications?

7 skills you’ll need to run a successful web design business

4. Networking

Do not limit your business interactions to professionals in your field. Make the most of online communities, social media, business fairs, and any events that might connect you to other experts.

Get out from behind your computer and join some business meetup groups in your local area (Meetup.com is ideal for this). Try to meet up with marketers (marketers always need designers) but pretty much any business person could potentially need your services, and there is no substitute for a face-to-face meeting. You never know where a business lead might take you!

5. Blogging

Put a WordPress.org blog on your site (or power your whole site with WordPress and start a blog). A blog, if you write good articles regularly, is the best way to bring your site in front of your potential customers. And it won’t cost you anything!

Hands down this is the best advice I can give anyone about new business. Again, it is important not to give up. You need to be able to write at least one blog post a week of a minimum of 600 words. Install Google Analytics and you’ll quickly get an idea for what works traffic-wise and what doesn’t.

Write about what you know about. Write about what you’re good at. Become an authority on a certain subject. This will get you readers, links and, ultimately, work.

6. Technical skills

Always be perfecting your skills. Try to build as many websites in as many different ways as possible. When you hit problems ask questions on the forums and on Facebook and LinkedIn groups that other web designers and developers use.

You will quickly learn how to phrase the questions so they get satisfactory answers and your presence in these places will raise your profile. (Remember to always put a link back to your site in your forum signature and you can periodically put links to blog posts in your LinkedIn and Facebook groups.)

7 skills you’ll need to run a successful web design business

7. Using the right tools

Web designers use a variety of different tools – some paid for and some free.

Graphics software packages, the most common being Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Fireworks, will be the most expensive software that has to be purchased. Most web designers purchase some sort of text editor to help them with editing HMTL, PHP
and CSS code.

Other free and cheap software, for example, FTP clients, project management software, back-up software, testing software, etc., needs to be downloaded and installed.

A word on equipment: invest in the best quality equipment you can afford.

What you can do

Lastly, remember that setting up a business is an ongoing task that will require constant attention and dedication. Do not be put off by the challenges: turn them into an opportunity to grow!

It’s possible to set up a web design business from home very quickly with just a laptop, phone, and an internet connection. However, you will need to employ all the above skills and more to succeed. But, once up and running, a web design business can afford you with one of the best and most fulfilling professional lifestyles.

About the Author

Rob Cubbon has been blogging about running a design business for 6 years.

55 Comments

  1. Rob Cubbon
    June 7, 2012

    Great to be published here at Web Design Ledger. Thanks Henry!

    If anyone has any questions about this subject please get in touch and leave comments here, I’ll be happy to help.

    Reply
  2. Daniel Bendzick
    June 7, 2012

    Hey Rob,

    I’m a student that’s just getting into the web development business. I’ve found that the hardest part for me is blogging. Do you have any tips on how to get words to start flowing?

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      June 7, 2012

      Ah, yes, Daniel, that is a good question. It certainly doesn’t come easily at first. What I tended to do was to write at the weekends and think about what I had done that week. What did I learn? Was there any piece of advice I could give myself before that week that would have helped me perform the tasks better.

      I try to write the most helpful blog post I can each and every time and, slowly, it become easier.

      Reply
  3. Anthony
    June 7, 2012

    Spot on advice Rob. I work for a web design agency so I can vouch for every single one of those skills! A blog is such a useful asset to a website, but I don’t think you always have to write 600 words of content. Doing a list style post that focuses more on graphics rather than text will add variety to your blog and I also find short reports on the latest industry news interesting and engaging that makes me come back for more. Would you agree?

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      June 8, 2012

      After a while, Anthony, you’ll settle for any idea for a blog post! Personally I like the posts that are actionable and useful. I don’t like “opinion pieces” but they are really popular! I like posts about both the technical side of graphic design and latest industry news that’s relevant to me. But other people like other things! Thanks for you comment.

      Reply
      • Anthony
        June 11, 2012

        Speaking from experience, opinion pieces are extremely popular and they can sometimes spark up a great debate in the comments. As a result you can unearth more ideas for blog posts! :)

        Reply
        • Rob Cubbon
          June 12, 2012

          Yes, Anthony, you’re right. I’m probably not getting my opinion pieces right as they tend not to spark as much debate as my more “detail-heavy” posts. Or maybe people have come to know me for that and so I don’t attract the readers who like to comment on opinion pieces. Anyway, I’ll keep trying.

          Reply
  4. Web Design Wolverhampton and Birmingham
    June 7, 2012

    “Having the right attitude” is not just about professionalism. It’s also about self-belief and having a “can do” attitude.

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      June 7, 2012

      Absolutely, if you really believe you can do it, you can.

      Reply
  5. Jonathan Rundle
    June 7, 2012

    #3 be so important you’ve added it twice!

    Reply
    • Jonathan Rundle
      June 7, 2012

      *must

      Reply
  6. James Ford
    June 7, 2012

    I hear repeating paragraphs is bad for SEO.

    Reply
  7. puya
    June 7, 2012

    This was a great article. Time management is huge for me. You easily get lost in the amount of hours you put into one project and forget the others. Networking and blogging is another one. You need help and you need it from the right place. Try a partner (even though this hasn’t worked for me).

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      June 8, 2012

      Thanks, Puya, time management is a problem for us all. A partner has never worked for me – or I’ve never found one so I don’t know about that. Best of luck with it, Puya!

      Reply
    • Tiff
      June 11, 2012

      Yes, I started my web design business almost 2 years ago and now that things are steaming along consistently and I have regular clientele time management is more important than ever before. I am really struggling with this at the moment and a taking on a partner is something I am seriously considering.

      Reply
      • Rob Cubbon
        June 12, 2012

        Best of luck with that, Tiff. Of course, there’s always outsourcing but it depends on the nature of the work.

        Reply
        • Tiff
          June 21, 2012

          Thanks Rob, I’ve thought about outsourcing but I’m undecided on which parts of the business to outsource and if it will be viable when essentially I would be handing out money to other companies that I possibly could be doing in house with a partner and expanding the company. I just don’t know it’s a tricky situation but I’m glad I’m in it LOL

          Reply
  8. Louis Gubitosi
    June 7, 2012

    great read! I think another one is having a great invoicing tool. Something that allows you to work quickly, efficiently and shows you’re a professional.

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      June 8, 2012

      Thanks, Louis, I ran a survey of web designers and about half of them used an invoicing tool. It does make the invoices more professional and gives the client less to argue about (not that they ever do that, of course!)

      Reply
  9. Katrina Comyns
    June 7, 2012

    Hi

    Thanks for posting these tips, have put a link on my Tumblr account at http://oxyblu.tumblr.com/

    Another tip i would like to ad is always be up to speed on changing trends, especially in Web design. HTML5, Java Scripts, CMS softwares and anything else that optimises your chances of being one step ahead of the rest. I am currently furthering my studies in Internet Communications, and I have found this to be a valuable tool in consulting business’ not to only create a great web presence, but how to maintain it. Web presence is more than just a website, it’s how you look across every aspect of the Web, through social media sites, email marketing, blogging, apps and much much more. Be more than just a designer of website, be a guru on all thing web.

    Cheers

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      June 8, 2012

      Absolutely, Katrina, I couldn’t agree with you more. I really try to diversify as well as specialise – if that isn’t a contradiction. Yes, always continue to learn!

      Reply
  10. Chokchai
    June 7, 2012

    Great article. It inspires me to think about running a web design business seriously. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      June 8, 2012

      I’m glad the article inspires you, Chokchai, that was its intention.

      Reply
  11. Maneet Puri
    June 8, 2012

    Great article! These seven points often prove to be the foundation of a successful entrepreneurship. I would like to add that in a business patience is the key to succeed. One cannot start expecting profit immediately after a planned investment. However, this can also be included in your first point of attitude itself. Great stuff anyway :)

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      June 8, 2012

      Yes, patience is very important both with your business, I agree, and you need patience with clients, sometimes! I’m really glad you enjoyed the article, Maneet, thank you!

      Reply
  12. Avant-Garde Technologies
    June 8, 2012

    Thanks a lot for posting such an informative blog article. It’s true that Web Design now needs other IT Services like SEO, SMO and SMM also. Even proper & good quality equipment is also required, be it software or hardware.

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      June 8, 2012

      Thank you, Sir!

      Reply
  13. Allen
    June 10, 2012

    Very good tips. Number 2 in my mind is one of the most important. Being organized and dedicating time for the “business” is vital.

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      June 12, 2012

      Thank you, Allen. Yes, important to organise your time.

      Reply
  14. Del
    June 11, 2012

    Great article Rob! Great that such a great site as WebDesignerLedger posting your articles! :)

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      June 12, 2012

      Yes, Del, I was really pleased to be published here! :)

      Reply
  15. Husam
    June 12, 2012

    Thanks Rob,
    Really appreciate your words, I always said that this kind of business needs just programming and some designing skills. I know now I’m wrong. I’ve learned from you something new, but till now even I don’t know what the market needs. As you said there is ability to learn new skills in designing and programming but what is that, can you help?

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      June 13, 2012

      Thanks, Husam. Yes, the funny thing is, most designer and developers that run their own businesses only actually spend half their time designing and developing! There’s so much more to do. Thank you for your comment.

      Reply
  16. Design Turnpike
    June 12, 2012

    Thank you for this, a lot of these are quite helpful in my handmade recycled art line of work as well. I do all my own web design and production for Design Turnpike, so I love this entire WDL website as a resource also.

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      June 13, 2012

      Yes, I’m sure this advice would work for other industries.

      Reply
  17. Joann Snell
    June 13, 2012

    Great information Rob. I think it is hard to keep up with technology. How do you keep up with it, considering technology is always changing?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      July 5, 2012

      Well, that’s a good question, Joann. I guess when you’ve been working with web design a while you tend to pick things up quite easily by the people you follow on Twitter, etc.

      Reply
  18. Michael Mejia
    June 27, 2012

    Hey that is a good post & a good set of conversations too. Keep sharing, that is good…

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      July 5, 2012

      Thank you, Michael

      Reply
  19. Salop Creative
    June 30, 2012

    Can-do positive attitude is important as it comes across even in your work and when networking.

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      July 5, 2012

      The can-do attitude is really important with clients. If you have a problem you don’t need to tell the client about it. And a positive attitude whilst networking as well. Sound advice, Salop!

      Reply
  20. Christina Cruz
    July 3, 2012

    Great advice. I work for a website design company and I love it. I feel that all of these skills you need to work here also. I would have to say that I am good at all of these except organizational and time management skills. I still haven’t gotten that one down yet.

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      July 5, 2012

      Tell me about it, Christina! That’s probably the hardest skill of all. So, if you get bored working for your company, you now know you can start one up yourself! ;)

      Reply
  21. Dave
    September 2, 2012

    Some great tips here Rob and yes definitely adding a blog to a website is a good idea and something I will definitely be doing soon!

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      October 27, 2012

      Go for it, Dave!

      Reply
  22. Neil
    October 2, 2012

    Rob I really love the 7 tips. #2 (organizing) is my biggest downfall :(

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      October 27, 2012

      Mine too, Neil!

      Reply
  23. Dennis
    October 23, 2012

    I enjoyed these tips. I’m currently an Air Force pilot and officer but I’m planning on my career afterwards running a home-based web design business. I may not be taking the most direct path to that career, but I’m learning a lot of skills along the way that might seem unrelated, but aren’t.

    I certainly have the time management, can do attitude, and ability to know which tool is right for the job. I blog a lot in my free time and have realized the importance of writing as both a way to refine communication skills as well as self-promotion.

    What I’m missing are the technical skills. Not surprisingly, my current job hasn’t taught me how to code! What recommendation do you have for how to learn? I don’t have the free time available right to return to school, and my erratic schedule with deployments, etc. means I need to have a flexible learning environment such as an online course.

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      October 27, 2012

      This is certainly something you can do Dennis. You’re right you will be learning some relevant skills at the moment if not all. Also, the ability to write well is incredibly useful in any business because adding quality content is a great boon to any website.

      I have written an article about learning web design here: http://robcubbon.com/how-to-teach-yourself-web-design/ – basically there are some great books out there, start putting up websites and designing them (this is the best thing you can do) and, finally, if you become stuck just look for the answer online – someone somewhere will have the solution for you.

      Feel free to drop me a line if you need any help.

      And, good luck! :)

      Reply
  24. Anna
    November 7, 2012

    I agree that Launching your own web design business might seem a daunting task, especially in the current economic climate. Thanks for sharing this to us!

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      February 15, 2013

      My pleasure, Anna. It may seem daunting but if you do it little by little, start with parttime, it’s not as bad as it seems.

      Reply
  25. Pranjoy
    May 7, 2013

    Hi! Rob, am a Mechanical Engineer with limited HTML knowledge, have been recently affected by meltdown in jobs in India and have been seriously considering Web Designing since I love the idea and am quiet fascinated by it. Do you think I should start off devoting time to this… patience I have lots of it but given my background do you think I can succeed to earn a living through it.

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      May 16, 2013

      You can succeed in this and everything else, Pranjoy, and don’t listen to anyone that will tell you that you can’t. You will need all your patience to learn about the design side. Find what is it you like about the well designed simple websites that work really well and try to recreate them. Buy books about design. Spend time on line learning from designers and asking questions. You can achieve anything with hard work. Best of luck.

      Reply
  26. Howard Steele
    July 23, 2013

    Rob, this is a really great compilation of tips!
    You emphasize on things that many web designers lack – the gene of self-organization and building relations :)

    Reply
    • Rob Cubbon
      December 30, 2013

      Thank you so much, Howard. It’s so true, just basic business common sense, I guess. Sorry it’s taken me a while to acknowledge your comment. :)

      Reply

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