start web design

How to Start a Web Design Business (Step-by-Step Guide)

Have you always wanted to start a web design business but don’t know where to start? This article will take you by the hand and lead you step-by-step as you start your web design business.

Web design is one of the most in-demand skill on the internet right now. It has always been so in North America and Europe.

But the rest of the world has woken up.

When Covid-19 hit, the need for businesses of all kinds to have a web presence beyond social media became more evident.

Now is a perfect time to start a web design business.

In this article, we’ll cover:

Why Should you Start a Web design Business?

Every serious business needs a website, now!

Unfortunately, worldwide, there are apparently less than 10 million web designers, according to one estimate.

The world is 8 billion people strong. Do the math, there’s an abysmal shortage of web designers, especially good ones!

Check out Fiverr, Upwork and the other skills marketplaces online, you’ll understand the demand for web designers.

And that’s where you come in. If you are able to read this article and understand, you can start a web design business.

Make no mistake, straight 8 to 5 jobs are fast disappearing. The gig economy is in full swing. And who says you can’t hold a full-time job and do web design as a side business?

By starting a web design business, you are positioning yourself in a high-demand industry.

Learn Web Design

This one is obvious. You want to get a firm grip on the skill you’re getting paid for. 

The good news is that you can learn to build basic websites in 4 hours or less!

No, you can not learn everything about web design in 1 year, not to talk of 4 hours. But you can learn to create basic business website that can be sold for $500 or more in just 4 hours.

 Let’s break it down. When we say web design, the focus is generally the visual part of a website.

So this is what you need to learn to start a web design business: 

1. Learn Html

HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language. HTML is the basic language of the web. If a website is the human body, HTML is the skeleton- but a living Skeleton.  When you design with HTML, it is like typing in Microsoft Word.

You can make content bold, italicized, underlined, bigger or smaller, add color and everything else. The edge with HTML is that browsers (Chrome, Safari, Firefox), will understand and render your HTML as a web page.

HTML is simple and you can get a basic grasp under an hour.

While it is not compulsory that you learn HTML, it is essential knowledge. It helps you understand the structure of web pages and it is a foundation for further learning in web design.

2. Learn WordPress

WordPress is the most popular website builder in the world. Indeed, WordPress powers about 40% of websites on the internet today.

With WordPress, you don’t have to touch any kind of code, not even html. WordPress uses themes and Plugins to get everything done behind the scene. All you do is drag-drop blocks and copy-paste content.

You can deploy a basic WordPress website in 30 minutes or less. And you can certainly build almost any kind of website with WordPress. Blogs, online learning, ecommerce, and job board websites can be created with WordPress.

Once you learn WordPress, you’re ready to build your first Pro Website. There are web design agencies that do only WordPress. The same can be said of other popular website builders like Wix, Jimdo or Webflow.


I. Learn CSS

CSS is Cascading Stylesheets. CSS is used to style html content. HTML is barebones, remember? It is CSS that adds flesh to the Skeleton. CSS makes HTML beautiful and structured. With HTML and CSS, you can build truly stunning websites.

WordPress is not magic. HTML and CSS work behind the scenes as you drag and drop. WordPress only abstracts that part from you. And in fact, you can change the CSS of WordPress, once you’ve learned CSS.

II. Learn Javascript

JavaScript is the most popular programming language for modern web developers. JavaScript is everywhere. It is the third part of the Web design Trifecta. JavaScript listens to user actions and act in a pre-defined way. So for instance, when you roll your mouse on a website’s menu and you see a drop-down with sub-menus open, that is JavaScript working.

Again, JavaScript is coupled into WordPress’ boilerplate. You don’t just see it. And you don’t have to. But if you want to go beyond drag-drop web design, you should learn html, CSS and JavaScript.

Build a Portfolio

A portfolio is a collection of websites you have built. No it doesn’t have to be “real clients” websites. Just build something stunning and functional.

Check online for websites of big business, especially in a niche you’d like to specialize. It can health, travel or fashion. Then clone the design. Do so for at least 3 websites.

For millions of design inspiration, you can check out Themeforest and Behance.

Don’t just leave them on your laptop. Host the websites online, if possible with different domain names. You can get domain names from $2 from Namecheap.

For WordPress websites, Bluehost is the perfect host. A cheaper alternative is Hostinger.

Find Your first Client

Don’t look to far. There’s got to a family member or friend, or associates of associates, that has a business. Build them a website for free. Make sure your website would immediately benefit that business.

How would you convince them you could build websites? That is why building a Portfolio as discussed above is super important!

If you can afford it, create at least 3 such websites for free. Now you’ve got three real clients! And real world experience, along the way.

Set Pricing for your Web Design Services

However, getting pricing right is a skill in in itself. You may decide to have fixed pricing for different kinds of websites.

For instance, you could focus on ecommerce websites and charge a flat rate. Or you may tweak things further by creating 3 plans in your ecommerce website offer. Think names like Starter, Pro and Ultimate.

Starter will have a basic offering that sets the ecommerce website up and gets it running. Pro would be your recommended plan that takes the Basic plan several steps further. Ultimate, on the other hand, will be top drawer for say big enterprises who wants to compete with Amazon in their state or country.

Charging per hour is another option. But we would advice against this, especially when you are just starting up.

Most clients don’t care how many hours it took you to deliver a website. They just want to pay for the project and get it online in live with a delivery timeframe.

So rather charge per hour, you should charge per project, module or deliverable. Here’s a typical example.

A client wants a website for his dental practice. After your first meeting with them, you’ve got all you need as to requirements.

You know with WordPress, this job would only cost 8 hours of your time. If you charge per hour at the rate of $50 per hours, that comes to $400. Yes, that is the industry rate and you should be happy.

But here’s a smarter way. Something to remember is this: Clients don’t pay only for your time, they also pay for your expertise! That expertise was gained over the years as you honed your web design skills.

With that in mind, think about it: How long would that same Dental business website take me if If I had zero web design skills right now? Now the hours turn to months, even years!

That way, you can easily charge $2000.

Another factor to consider is the value of the website to the client. A client may have more than enough walk-in customers.

Creating a website may only be for branding purposes or just because everyone is launching a website these days. So charging a high price may turn such a customer off.

On the flip side, suppose it’s a new Dental business and the only strategy being pursued by the client is online marketing. The website is central to all their marketing efforts.

Suddenly, the website is the heart of the business. Your asking price can soar.

You should also think about the long-term business relationship with your clients. Little compromises in pricing may serve you well in the future. And think of referrals.

If you charge $1000 for a website and the client offers $700.

Consider: Is this client likely to refer me to friends in the future? How valuable is the client’s business network? [Tip: LinkedIn is your friend here!] If you envisage future referrals, then agreeing to $700 may be a good thing in the long run.

If this first job gets you 5 more in the future, $700 X 5 is $3500. Isn’t that a win that losing the business because of a price difference of $300?

The point is when it comes to pricing, flexibility and discretion are vital. But do ensure that you do not underprice your services!

Get Referrals

When your real clients refer someone to you, do the job well, no matter how little they’re going to pay.

In my experience as a web designer, the power of referrals can not be over-emphasized. 80% of the websites I have ever built for people came from referrals.

Before spending money on paid Ads, aggressively leverage referrals. You can even incentivize by offering to pay your clients a commission for referring new customers to you.

Keep rolling like this and you’re getting super popular- with more money in the bank!

Get on Fiverr and Upwork

The past decade has seen the popularity of online marketplaces experience a boom. You probably know of Amazon and Etsy.

An online marketplace is a website where multiple vendors offer their products or services to end-users. The marketplace owner for example, Amazon, takes a commission each time the vendor makes a sale.

Nowadays, there is a marketplace for pretty anything. A deeper thinking will quickly reveal that the marketplace model is followed by billion-dollar companies like Uber, Udemy and Airbnb.

But is there a marketplace for skills like web design. Yes! And there many of them. But the top two are Fiverr and Upwork.

As a beginner web designer, you should try both Fiverr and Upwork. True, you have to give up some of your earnings as commission and perhaps lower your rates to attract shoppers, the experience would be a gem. Moreover, there are thousands of Web designers that make all their money from Fiverr and Upwork.

Just a little heads-up: Fiverr offers almost automatic acceptance of new Web designers. Upwork may reject you at first until you have a solid portfolio or experience in web design.

Both marketplaces pay via Paypal. Fiverr also pays via Payoneer.

While waiting for Fiverr customers, you can ask your next non-Fiverr clients to buy your gig on Fiverr. That way they can leave good reviews for you.

Fiverr is a review game. The more positive reviews you get, the more jobs come your way.

You can replicate the same for Upwork.

Acquire more Skills

You must seek to add value to your services continually. Here are some other skills to learn and add to your web design business:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
  • Social Media Marketing (SMM)
  • Branding

But please do not bite more than you can chew. It is perfectly Ok to do only core web design and outsource the other services listed above. That’s where Fiverr and UpWork come in handy, again.

So what have we covered: To start a web design business, do these:

  1. Learn Web design
  2. Build a Portfolio
  3. Get Pricing right
  4. Find your first Client
  5. Get Referrals
  6. Get on Fiverr and Upwork
  7. Handle Branding and Legal Stuff
  8. Acquire more Skills

If you need tips and support as you begin your web design business, follow us on twitter @koursee.

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