How to Set Up Your Own Web Design Agency: Tips From the Pros (2022)

Do you want to be your own boss? If you’re working as a web designer, the prospect of going out on your own and setting up your own agency can seem tempting.

How to Set Up Your Own Web Design Agency: Tips From the Pros (1)How to Set Up Your Own Web Design Agency: Tips From the Pros (2)How to Set Up Your Own Web Design Agency: Tips From the Pros (3)

But it’s not a simple task. You’ll need to learn a whole new set of skills, from bookkeeping to marketing, as well as taking practical steps like figuring out whether you have enough money to get started and survive until you're breaking even.

So for this tutorial I got in touch with some web design agency owners, and asked for their best piece of advice for people who want to follow in their footsteps. Here are some of their tips.

1. Adjust Your Mindset

Being your own boss is an enticing prospect, but keep in mind that the boss’s job isn’t always easy.

If you work as a web designer within a company, you probably spend the bulk of your working day actually doing web design. It's up to other people to win the clients, set up the contracts, handle the finances, set the company’s strategy and objectives, and so on.

When you set up your own web design agency, all of those other tasks fall on you. Even if you can afford to hire other people to take care of some of them, you’ll still need to manage those people.

The bottom line is that the core activity of designing great websites is likely to become a smaller part of your workday when you go out on your own. And if your business becomes large and successful, you may stop doing it altogether, and become a full-time manager.

That may not be a bad thing—the job of an entrepreneur is pretty exciting in itself. And we’ll cover things like the finances and managerial side of running a business later in this tutorial. But it may take some getting used to, particularly if designing websites is what you love doing.

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Another adjustment you may need to make involves your sense of what websites are, or what they should be. I asked Francis Barbero, Managing Director of Starfish Internet Solutions in the Philippines, for his best piece of advice for people setting up a web design agency, and he wrote:

“Beware of your own ingrained perception of what websites are. A website means different things to different people. For some people, it can be a cheap commodity, and for others it’s an essential business tool. Give thought to how your typical client, in the market you will have access to, perceives websites. Adjust your image, price and service accordingly.”

As an employee, this is probably not something you’ve had to think about too much. You get a brief, and you work with the client to create the site they want. But as a business owner, you’ll need to attract new clients, and that means talking in a language they understand, and structuring your service offering to cater to that.

You may think that you can be all things to all people, offering both the “cheap commodity” sites for clients who want that, and the more expensive, thoughtfully designed sites for clients who are prepared to invest more.

But business doesn’t tend to work like that. Companies get a reputation for doing a certain kind of work, and your agency’s portfolio will reflect that. It’s OK to have some variations, and different levels of service at different prices. But make sure that you think through what kind of website and service your typical client will want, and position yourself to meet those needs.

2. Get Clear on Your Offer

Web design is a crowded field. What makes you different from all the other thousands of design firms out there?

Perhaps you’ve done a lot of work for law firms, for example, and understand their unique requirements. Or maybe you’re going for the local market, aiming at small businesses in your town and offering them the local touch.

You can also aim to differentiate yourself purely on quality, but you’ll have to be very, very good, and/or work super-hard. Here’s some advice that Ryan McKay, owner of Japan-based Studiomochi, sent me in an email:

“Under promise and over deliver. Go the extra mile and surprise the client with something they didn’t request. Add value where they least expect it. And always, ALWAYS stay true to your word. Your word is everything in business. If you say you’ll send an estimate by tonight then send it tonight. If you say the site will go live by Friday, send it live by Friday. Don’t over-promise. Set realistic timings for project tasks and then add more time to be safe. Chances are your client has promised her boss a deadline and when you break it she looks bad.”

You could also differentiate yourself by the type of service you offer. Paul Boag, founder of UK web agency Headscape, wrote in a blog post that agencies these days need to do more than just design websites. Clients typically also need more long-term help with maintaining the site, keeping it up-to-date, measuring its success, and so on.

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“You may have noticed that on the new Headscape website we don’t call ourselves a web design agency anymore, we refer to ourself as a web agency. That is because we believe our clients need a lot more than pretty pictures and development. Increasingly the work we do is as much about strategy, governance and measurement, as it is about building sites.”

So think about what else you can offer clients. What are their goals, beyond just having a beautiful site? How can you help them achieve those goals? Even if you don’t have the expertise yourself to offer something like a broader digital marketing solution, can you partner with someone who does?

When you’ve got clear on your offer, you need to create a compelling identity. Come up with a good name (see this series for advice on naming your business), craft your design and branding message, and of course it goes without saying that you need to put it all into an impressive website with a great user experience.

3. Get Financial Clarity

One of the things that may be holding you back from starting out on your own is the financial burden. Can you really afford to give up that regular salary, and start up your own business from scratch?

To answer that question, you need to create a full financial model.

Begin by defining your business model, and making some assumptions about how many clients you can get and how much they’ll pay, as well as how much your expenses will amount to—both startup costs and regular, ongoing business expenses.

Then you can calculate the break-even point: the point at which you’re making enough money to cover your costs. Obviously the goal is to make profits, not just cover your costs, but when you’re just starting out you need to know how long it will take you to break even, and calculate whether you have enough money saved to carry you through to that point.

If all of this sounds complicated, don’t worry—I wrote a tutorial called From Idea to Break-Even that takes you through the full process for creating a financial model for a startup.

To make sure you keep control of your personal finances, you can also read AFreelancer’s Guide to Effective Budgeting. And if you’re not sure how much to charge, see this guide to pricing.

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4. Communicate

Being a great web designer doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to run a great web design agency. I’ve already mentioned the financial side of things, but there are other new skills you’ll need.

For example, here’s another piece of advice from Ryan McKay of Studiomochi:

“Learn to be an awesome communicator. Often web designers are tucked away in agency studios where they can focus 100% on being creative. In business you have to master the art of communication and get out there. Almost all business problems can be solved by simply speaking up. Project running late? Tell the client as soon as your foresee a delay. Need new business? Pick up the phone and sell your services. Even when a project is running smoothly, send your client cool articles or links they might find useful. Become a business problem solver and the first person your client thinks of when they need help.”

If you’re not comfortable with things like networking, picking up the phone to make a cold call, or delivering a sales presentation, don’t worry. As I’m an introvert myself, I can sympathise. You may not ever love doing those things, but you can certainly become better at them, in the same way that you become better at anything: with study and practice.

A good place to start is the Envato Tuts+ series on Presentation Fundamentals. There are also some one-off tutorials like How to Start (and Continue) a Conversation With Anyone. And for the sales side of things, check out the course on Promoting Your Services and Winning Work.

5. Get Help

Unless you have a lot of money in the bank, you probably won’t be able to hire employees right from the start. But even in those early days when you’re doing everything yourself, start looking for opportunities to outsource work, partner with other people, or eventually hire employees to help you.

“In the beginning you will need to be all things in the business, and it can seem a bit overwhelming,” Nalla Design founder Vicki Young wrote in an article for Creative Bloq. “It helps to write down all the jobs that need to be done and all the positions you are filling your day with, log what you are spending time on in a day. This then gives a clear vision of what you’re spending the most amount of time on and what would be the most productive way to invest in a new team member, to help you out.”

Keep in mind that getting help doesn’t necessarily involve taking on a full-time member of staff. You can start by outsourcing individual tasks through sites like Upwork, orFreelancer. Also, if you need a dedicated virtual assistant, you could look on a site like Zirtual. Then as your business expands, you can gradually start hiring more contractors, and then building up a team of full-time permanent staff. For more hiring advice, see this tutorial.

6. Keep Doing Your Personal Projects

With all the work that’s involved in setting up a new business, it may be tempting to let some of your personal projects slide. You know, the blog that takes up so much of your time, or the forum where you contribute so much expert advice for zero reward.

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But web designer Daniel Howells, owner of Howells Studio, told me that’s exactly what you shouldn’t do.

“I get a massive amount of new business via my blogsiteInspire.comwhich has been a labour of love since 2009. Never underestimate the power of personal projects, even if you never earn a cent from them: they’ll help enormously when it comes to brand recognition and generating leads.”

Of course, you have to be selective. Starting a business will take up a lot of time, and something has to give. But maybe what gives can be your latest TV addiction, not the blog that could help you get your name out there.

So take a look at how you spend your time—maybe even formally record it for a week or two—and identify areas where you could free up some more of it. But try to keep doing anything that shows the world something about your web design expertise, knowledge or opinions, even if there’s no immediate tangible result.

Next Steps

The next step is to start your business. At first I wrote “take the plunge”, but actually that’s the wrong metaphor. You could quit your job tomorrow and sink your life savings into your new firm if you really want to, but most people will probably be better off taking a more gradual approach.

Start by doing the initial research I’ve outlined in this tutorial, so that you’re clear about the approach you’re going to take and how the finances will work. If you’re confident that it’ll work, then go for it. But if you’re not sure that the numbers stack up, then perhaps start by doing some freelance work in your spare time, setting up the website, and doing things like marketing and networking, so that you are starting to build up clients and referrals, while continuing to have the safety net of your dayjob.

That way you can gradually build up your business, and only go full-time when you feel comfortable doing so. Starting a new venture doesn’t have to be a sudden plunge. It doesn't have to be scary or risky. You can go at your own pace, taking into account your own life situation and responsibilities, and only diving in deeper when you're OK with the temperature of the water.

Editorial Note: This content was originally published in 2015. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.


Graphic Credit: Meetingicon designed bySlava Strizhfrom theNoun Project.

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What makes a good web design agency? ›

A good web design agency should offer a variety of different services variety of different services alongside web design and development such as SEO, app development, digital marketing, website maintenance, and branding.

What are the 7 guidelines for a successful web design? ›

7 rules of good web design
  • #1 Functionality. Every website visitor has some goals and expectations when scanning through a site. ...
  • #2 First impression. ...
  • #3 Site structure. ...
  • #4 Consistency. ...
  • #5 Whitespace. ...
  • #6 Responsiveness. ...
  • #7 Break the rules.
1 Nov 2017

How do you develop an agency? ›

  1. Focus on a specialization. ...
  2. Build your agency around a “Personality” ...
  3. Focus on building a brand. ...
  4. Become your own client. ...
  5. Find strategic partners to increase your growth. ...
  6. Hire based on fit, not (just) resume. ...
  7. Hire (and fire) at the right time. ...
  8. Build relationships with clients and focus on referrals.

How do I start a successful design agency? ›

How to Start Your Own Design Agency in 7 Easy Steps
  1. Step 1: Create your brand. ...
  2. Step 2: Build a portfolio. ...
  3. Step 3: "Expose" yourself. ...
  4. Step 4: Pricing your work. ...
  5. Step 5: Add your value. ...
  6. Step 6: Have a quality gatekeeper. ...
  7. Step 7: Care about your clients.
18 Feb 2021

What makes an agency successful? ›

A marketing agency's success is dependent on the skills and success of its staff. Your staff should work well together, understand each other's individual roles, and be able to rely on one another to fulfill those roles. To meet all of a client's needs, your staff should be varied in their talents and abilities.

What is the golden rule in web design? ›

Keep it simple.

Cramming too much into each page creates confusion. Visitors get frustrated when they have to scroll through a cluttered interface to find what they need. Keep your pages simple and your website will be easier to use.

What are 10 elements of a good web page? ›

The Top 10 Most Important Elements of A Website Design
  • 1 Navigation. The website design should be easy to navigate and the menu items should easily accessible from any page. ...
  • 2 Visual Design. ...
  • 3 Content. ...
  • 4 Web Friendly. ...
  • 5 Interaction. ...
  • 6 Information Accessibility. ...
  • 7 Intuitiveness. ...
  • 8 Branding.

How do I get people to join my agency? ›

Get Help from Current Members
  1. Host a “bring a friend” meeting. ...
  2. Reach out to former members. ...
  3. Encourage members to share your newsletter. ...
  4. Invite members' families to events. ...
  5. Help members develop an “elevator speech” about their membership. ...
  6. Ask your members for recruitment ideas. ...
  7. Offer club business cards to your members.
9 Aug 2019

How do agency get clients? ›

Research has shown that agencies usually end up on a client's shortlist by recommendation. A whopping 93% of marketing agencies rely on referrals to generate all their new business. What's more, 80% of clients will recommend you to another client if you just ask.

What will be the three main roles of the agency? ›

Administrative agencies serve three distinct functions: Executive - Enforcing Law and Regulations. Quasi-legislative - Making Regulations. Quasi-judicial - Adjudicating violations of laws or regulations.

How do I market my design agency? ›

Social Media
  1. Set Up Profiles at the Major Social Networks. One of the keys is to be where your target audience will find you. ...
  2. Design Custom Graphics for Your Profiles. ...
  3. Showcase Your Work Through Your Profiles. ...
  4. Run a Contest. ...
  5. Promote Your Blog Posts Through Social Media.
18 Dec 2020

What are the four creation of agency? ›

Agency by Express agreement. Agency by Operation of law. Agency by Ratification. Agency by Implied authority.

What is the most common way of creating agency? ›

Express appointment is the most common and standard way of creating agency, where a person in writing or speech appoints a person to be his agent. The scope of an agent's authority is confined to those which are expressly conferred on him by the terms of his appointment.

How do design agencies get leads? ›

10 Ways to Get More Inbound Leads For Your Agency or Consultancy
  1. #1 Scrap your generic enquiry forms.
  2. #2 Speak at small, industry-specific events.
  3. #3 Use webinars to out-teach the competition.
  4. #4 Low-frequency content marketing.
  5. #5 Automate prospecting & outbound sales.
  6. #6 Build your referral network.
28 Jul 2021

How can I attract my design talent? ›

Here are 5 tips you can use to engage with design talent.
Content Creator
  1. Write an interesting job advert. ...
  2. Allow WFH. ...
  3. Promote your internal design culture. ...
  4. Build your brand. ...
  5. Be clear and realistic in your hiring process.
21 Apr 2021

Why do agencies fail? ›

Most agencies' biggest issues boil down to one of three things: poor cash flow, underutilized teams and insufficient data tracking.

What are agency skills? ›

  • Authenticity. While being yourself seems to be the most obvious skill, it's hard for young professionals in today's multimedia, social network-driven world. ...
  • Agility. ...
  • Customer Empathy. ...
  • Customer Experience Design. ...
  • Design Thinking And Data Science. ...
  • Killer Collaboration Skills. ...
  • Content Production. ...
  • SEO.
10 Apr 2020

What are the essentials of agency? ›

Essential Requirements of Agency
  • Principal Must be Competent to Contract. ...
  • Competence of Agent is not Mandatory. ...
  • No Consideration is Necessary. ...
  • Expressed. ...
  • Implied. ...
  • By Subsequent Ratification of Unauthorised Act. ...
  • Conduct the Principal's Business. ...
  • Reasonable Skill and Diligence.

What are the 7 C's of website design? ›

The 7 Cs are: Context, Commerce, Connection, Communication, Content, Community, and Customization. Context: A website's layout and visual design.

What are the 7 steps in planning a website? ›

How to plan a website in 7 steps
  • Identify your website goals.
  • Identify your target audience.
  • Define your unique selling proposition.
  • Secure a domain name (and hosting).
  • Pick a website builder.
  • Create and collect design elements.
  • Create content for your core website pages.
20 Jun 2019

What is the most important factor in a website? ›

Navigation, menus and links must be simple and clear to all users. A good example are online sales websites where customers often give up before they make a purchase because (for example) the shipping cost is not visible. Responsive web design is considered the most important feature of modern web sites.

What is the number 1 rule of web design and development? ›

1. A good website should be easy to navigate. A website that is easy to use is crucial because if the visitor finds it difficult to navigate from one page to another, he or she will get frustrated and leave the website.

What every website needs? ›

Here are the top 10 things every website needs:
  • An easy-to-update CMS. One of the first problems people run into is that it's difficult to update their website. ...
  • Responsive design. ...
  • Helpful navigation. ...
  • Strong brand identity. ...
  • High-quality content. ...
  • A blog. ...
  • Clear calls-to-action. ...
  • Contact information.

What Every website must have? ›

What You Should Include in Your Website Homepage Design
  • Headline. Within three seconds, a website needs to tell visitors what the business has to offer. ...
  • Sub-headline. ...
  • Primary Calls-to-Action. ...
  • Supporting Image. ...
  • Benefits. ...
  • Social Proof. ...
  • Navigation. ...
  • Content Offer.
28 May 2021

What are the 5 elements of good design? ›

The Elements of Design are the things that artists and designers work with to create a design, or composition. The Elements are: line, shape, space, value, color and texture.

What are the 3 types of web design? ›

Web designing is of three kinds, to be specific static, dynamic or CMS and eCommerce.

How do I build a strong website? ›

Quick Summary
  1. Start with a clear navigation.
  2. Use conversational English.
  3. Apply SEO best practices in mind.
  4. Provide all the relevant information.
  5. Leave out the hype.
  6. Make your home page a to-the-point summary.
  7. Create unique landing pages for specific topics.
  8. Let pictures help tell your story.

What is the most powerful elements in design? ›

Lines are the most seamless and most powerful elements of design. They have a vast spectrum of functions and purposes. We use them to separate and organize space, outline and contour objects, emphasize certain elements, draw attention, and so forth.

What makes a website bad? ›

There are six things bad websites have in common. A cluttered layout, hidden navigation menu, lack of color contrast, non-responsive design, and inconsistent typefaces are a few hallmarks of bad website design. Still, the main issue with sites with poor design is a lack of user-centricity.

What is the first page of a website called? ›

The first page of a website is called homepage.

What makes a website look nice? ›

So it's important to be visually appealing, polished and professional. Allow white space, uncluttered layouts with quality photographs and graphics look and let your message shine through. (See examples.) Equally important, the site must work quickly, correctly and as expected.

What are the 4 design strategies? ›

Design strategies
  • collaboration.
  • user centered design.
  • a systems approach.
  • iterative design.
  • avoiding design fixation.

Is a web development agency profitable? ›

We cannot ignore the fact that web design and development services have immensely helped in the development of businesses. Not only does it contribute to the advancement of your business, but it can also bring you a lot of profit.

How much a web development agency earn? ›

The average entry-level web developer's salary in India is ₹232,074.

How much does it cost to start your own agency? ›

It typically costs anywhere from $3,000 to $250,000 to start a staffing agency. Depending on your location, size, and if you need an office, the costs can vary greatly. It also depends on how much you want to outsource and how fast you want to be up and running.

How much does it cost to have an agency build a website? ›

The cost can range anywhere from $100 to $3,000 or more. A simple custom website design from an agency can range from $15,000 to $30,000. Bigger and more complicated websites will cost between $40,000 to $75,000 or more.

How much do web agencies charge per hour? ›

Average web developer hourly rate:
National hourly rate$50/hour
Low-end rate$25/hour
High-end rate$85/hour
26 Aug 2020

How long does it take an agency to build a website? ›

In our experience, building a website usually takes anywhere between two to four months if you're working with a professional agency. However, you also have the option of using a website builder if you need to create a site more quickly.

Do website owners make money? ›

Estimated income:

Bigger websites can earn well over $10,000 per month. The average conversion rate for an ecommerce business might be of 2%. This means that for every 100 people who visit your store you can expect 2 people to make an order. The average order value for small ecommerce stores might be $45.

Which country pays highest for web developer? ›

Top 5 highest paying countries: Switzerland ($63k), Australia, United States, Denmark, Germany. Top 5 lowest paying countries: India ($4.6k), Indonesia, Egypt, Kenya, Argentina.
Web Developers.
Country (Currency)Annual Salary (USD)
Kenya (KES)$9,467.00
Hong Kong (HKD)$29,713.00
33 more rows
5 Oct 2020

Which web developer has highest salary? ›

Highest salary that a Web Developer can earn is ₹7.5 Lakhs per year (₹62.5k per month).
These are the top skills of a Web Developer based on 8122 jobs posted by employers.
  • Javascript.
  • Web Development.
  • HTML.
  • PHP.
  • Web Technologies.

How much profit should an agency make? ›

The rule goes like this: For every 1 unit of revenue you have, 1/3 should be your direct wages cost, 1/3 should be your overheads, and 1/3 should be your profit. So what this implies is that in a mature service-based business, your net profit (before tax) should be around 30 per cent.

What is a typical agency fee? ›

The standard agency commission is 15 percent. If the advertising medium does not offer a commission, an agency commission-based fee of 15 percent could be added to the net charge of the vendor. The formula is net dollar amount x 1.1765 will provide you with the gross figure for the advertising.

How do I start a profitable agency? ›

If you want your agency to be successful, you need to start out by selling to clients yourself.
10. Make sales and marketing a priority
  1. Hire a salesperson right away.
  2. Outsource selling to a partner/referrer.
  3. Position your agency as a subcontractor to bigger firms that will feed you work.
12 Dec 2017

How much should I pay someone to run my website? ›

Website maintenance costs vary depending on the website's size and type, but they are often around $5–$5,000/month or $60-$60,000/year. The exact number in your case will depend on your website type and needs.

How much should I charge for a full website? ›

While prices differ from person to person, web design professionals typically charge between $50 to $80 per hour, with skilled freelance website designers making upwards of $75 per hour. A flat fee for a standard business website can range from $5,000 to $10,000, with an average of $6,760.

What should be included in an agency website? ›

Your agency's about-us page should:
  • Tell the story about how you started your agency.
  • Explain your business to prospects in a few paragraphs.
  • Express your agency's core values.
  • Clearly state your unique value proposition.
  • Show the faces behind your company.
  • Use persuasive copy that appeals to your prospects' emotions.


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