Thursday, February 22, 2024

How to Build a Web Design Business

With all of the free HTML editors available, building a Web site is a snap. For those less savvy (and with a bit of money) there’s Website in a Box, Website Wizard and Mr. Site Takeaway. Just think, with a little money and time, you too can build Web sites for profit. Are you ready to start a small business? No!

Publishing a couple Web pages can be accomplished by just about anyone, but to build a self-sustaining business one needs the right tools, planning, experience and training. Businesses paying $500 for a Web site quickly discover that their site rarely provides repeat business or referrals – the life blood of any business.

In this series of articles you’ll learn about the must have tools and skills to build a Web design business. This week our focus is on tools.

The Importance of Planning

Not every Web design firm chooses the same target market. Your target market depends on your skills, experience and the number of people in your organization. Many designers dream of targeting large businesses with big budgets, but before you jump, ask yourself the following: Do you have the ability to support this type of client? Can your cash flow sustain large projects that might only provide progress payments every three or four months? Do you have the expertise to comb through a large RFP (Request for Proposal), find cost effective solutions that meet all the requirements and implement what the client requires? Can you afford to spend hours preparing proposals which may never turn into actual paying projects? If not, choose the target market that fits your abilities, finances and needs. Look for a niche, but most of all look at what potential customers want.

Professional Tools for a Professional Job

Web design isn’t a business to start on a shoestring. Like any other business you need the right tools. The “right” tools depend upon the way you work, your skill level, your budget and your familiarity with professional authoring and imaging programs. You might need to try various pieces of software before you decide what’s right for you.

Web Authoring Tools

In a later article we’ll discuss why HTML knowledge is necessary. Every Web designer needs to be able to create a simple Web page by hand coding in HTML. Some designers feel comfortable using a simple text editor such as Microsoft’s Notepad. There are many open source versions of this type of simple text editor, such as Notepad ++. We prefer WYSIWYG Web authoring software that provides both a design and code view. WYSIWYG editors can speed up the design process, but the ability to view the code and make changes there is critical. The Web design area at about has a questionnaire which will help you narrow down the choices for your operating system and needs. Some of the most used Web authoring software for professionals include Adobe’s Dreamweaver and Microsoft’s Expression Web.


We start this section with a note about the importance of respecting copyright laws. It’s surprising how many people don’t understand that images and graphics can be (and usually are) copyrighted, thereby requiring a royalty payment for use. Copying graphics and images (off the Web) to incorporate into a design without permission of the owner can land you in some serious trouble. It’s important to find a source of royalty free (or rights-protected) images that you can afford to use. A few options are: Jupiter Images, iStockPhoto, Royalty Free Photos,

[Ed. Note: WebReference featured a series on Stock Photography for Web Developers, which covered, among other things, copyright law. If you have any doubts about how an image can be used, read the fine print.]

Graphic Design Tools

Once you have a good source of royalty free images, you need graphics editing software for resizing, manipulating and editing images. Like Web authoring software, graphic design programs come in a variety of flavors and depend on your skill level and working methods. Probably the most well known image manipulation program is the most expensive and complex to learn – Adobe’s Photoshop. The down side is that Photoshop can be a overkill for the usual Web designer since it excels in print applications as well as Web graphic design. Adobe now offers Fireworks, a much simpler program to learn. Fireworks usually meets all the needs of a Web designer. GIMP is the new open source graphics design program for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It works on many operating systems, in many languages.

Business Savvy

The Small Business Administration reveals that approximately 50% of all small businesses fail within the first five years. Poor planning leads the reasons for failure, but the top 10 reasons for business failure lead back to the owners lack of business savvy. Many would-be entrepreneurs simple fail to realize that running a successful business is a skill, takes a certain type of personality and requires long hours and commitment. A business owner not only needs capital and a desired product or service, but the ability to sell that product or service while interacting with vendors, customers, accountants, lawyers and bankers. Decision making while dealing with deadlines and stress is another critical skill for running any business.

If you aren’t a self-starter with foresight about the needs potential customers, the economy, its effects on your products and service and can’t organize and compartmentalize, business ownership isn’t for you. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a Web designer, it simply means that the business related tasks are best left to others while you concentrate on your Web design skills.


To make sure you collect on the fees you charge for your work, you need a standard contract for use with every project. A written agreement documents what the parties agreed to and can save a lot of headaches when it’s time for payment. Without a contract you’re dealing with memory which can be highly variable depending on which party is doing the remembering.

Contracts demonstrate professionalism, document for the client the work you promise to do, what you will charge, dictate when payments are due, spell out who owns what, and provide methods to increase the overall scope of the project (usually with written change orders).

Legal and Accounting Advice

Before starting any business, the owner needs to know the type of business entity that best suits their business and personal needs. A business attorney will help you sort out the tax benefits and pitfalls of various types of business entities and will help you select what fits your specific requirements. Starting a business without forming a legal business entity might cost you your business and your personal assets as well. A business attorney can also tell you what requirements must be met in order to form and keep your business in good standing. Skipping this step is foolhardy and could be very expensive in the end.

Unless you’re both an accountant and tax expert, you also need an accountant. Your accountant makes sure that the requirements for your business entity are met and both income and expenses are correctly recorded and reported. A good accountant advises you when periodic tax payments must be made, how to offer benefits, what items maybe expensed or depreciated and if your business inventory or equipment is taxable.

In our next article we discuss critical skills and education for the Web designer.

About the Author

Peggie Brown is an owner and the president of Brown Holdings LLC. She runs a Web design and development business under KatsueyDesignWorks (, in business since 1997. As a financial manager for 15 years and a paralegal for 10 years, Peggie incorporates her business and legal knowledge into her Web site design and development business along with writing content, tutorials and software instructions through ContentXperts.

This article originally appeared on

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