Starting a Web Design Firm from Scratch (

79 points by supersarkar 343 days ago


carrier_lost 343 days ago

Best of luck to you! You already have achieved a major milestone: Actually doing something. Lots of people say "Maybe I should do X..." or "If I were to do X, here is how I would do it..." Fewer people actually do the work to launch the business. Even if your business fails (which I hope it doesn't!) you will have succeeded in that you "showed up," you tried and you ran your own business. That is something to be proud of.

    supersarkar 343 days ago

    Wow! That's so inspiring! Thanks a lot for your inspiring words mate. Actually I have put a lot of project on side many times, this time it ain't happening. A part reason to write the progress is accountability. So that I keep pushing even when I feel like I don't want to.

bamurphymac1 343 days ago

Good luck. I had a moderately successful web design business with multiple employees etc. in the early aughts (early on didn’t specialize but by 2006 our niche was home builders whooops!) and it can be pretty emotionally rewarding work if you develop strong relationships with good clients small biz clients.

Keep your overhead low.

    godzillabrennus 343 days ago

    Few other things I learned: 1.) Don’t personally guarantee anything for the business, including a real estate lease.

    2.) Do create three separate bank accounts for taking money in, for paying your labor, and for paying bills with a debit card. It’s never fun when a vendor dings your card and accidentally adds an extra zero at the end of a bill and you needed to make payroll.

    3.) You are not a Bank, don’t lend money by working first then getting paid, take deposits on phases before you start a phase. If a client has a big project and needs NET terms then use a factoring company to check the credit worthiness of the client and to take over your accounts receivable for your company.

      ams6110 343 days ago

      > Don’t personally guarantee anything for the business

      How do you do this though? Banks/creditors generally demand a personal guarantee on any small business credit cards, loans, etc. Specifically because small/new businesses are very risky.

        godzillabrennus 343 days ago

        If you are running a service business you shouldn't need any loans if you manage the business properly. You can use factoring services to get paid on deals that require terms (negating the need for a loan to make payroll).

        Small businesses are risky. It doesn't pay to put your personal financial well being on the line to sign up a customer. You aren't starting a bank. Good factoring companies do a monthly credit worthiness check on your clients for you. A real asset for this kind of business.

    supersarkar 343 days ago

    Wow! Thanks for your inputs mate, means a lot! :)

    I will keep in mind to keep overhead low, and develop strong relationships with people in my niche.

PaulRobinson 343 days ago

There is a comedy show on in the UK the moment called Bad Move in which the central character (played by Jack Dee), is a web designer.

His father-in-law enjoys pointing out that this is today, a rather absurd career. Anybody can go online and create a website using a builder in an evening and get near professional results.

I don't wish for a moment to suggest that this business is up against it, but I will be curious to see how businesses will react compared to some years ago: most people who want an online presence, are either happy enough with nothing more than a social media presence, or are able to get something together that's good enough in or similar.

Of course for premium brands, they will hire in marketing agencies or even in-house staff, but that's not this niche market approach.

It could be a challenge to make a profit at this sort of gig soon!

    csa 343 days ago

    I love it when competitors think this way. They are basically giving away a potentially huge comparative and competitive advantage.

    That said, there are a few questions:

    1. Do the gains of getting a professionally designed website offset the costs in some way? It should, but in many cases it does not.

    2. (Mentioned elsewhere in this thread) The market has a lot of participants (saturated?), and the median end user is not good at differenting quality other than by personal reference (kind of... sort of...). As such, being a provider in the market can be a bit sketchy.

    3. Anyone who is really good at web design (esp. if it extends to other aspects of the digital experience) will quickly realize that they can make a lot more money (and consistent money) by owning one or more businesses and crushing the online presence aspect of those markets. The startup costs are higher, but the ROI is really good.

    supersarkar 343 days ago

    HaHa, I must watch that show :D

    Yes, the surface of Web Design market has changed a lot in past few years. But I still see lots of people making good money with this. I do not want to earn money by fooling customers tough, I will continue this only if I can make my customers at least 10x their investment in a year.

    I also don't know how this journey will turn out but I want to give it a shot. I have dropped a lot of ideas previously in middle due to self-doubt, this time I want to give this one 100% effort and see what happens.

    noitsnot 343 days ago

    The cookie cutter web builder has been around for years. There are and will be plenty of companies desiring custom solutions. The challenge is saturation, not need.

notjustanymike 343 days ago

You really need to put proper fake content in your demos–they are as much marketing content as your homepage.

"Bla bla bla" is not going to cut it.

    supersarkar 343 days ago

    Oh damn! Those we just for development purpose and I totally forgot to update the demo text. This is soooo foolish. Thanks for bringing this up!

    WA 343 days ago

    I think it's even degrading dog trainers. As if all they said was bla bla.

      supersarkar 343 days ago

      Yes this is so foolish of me. I totally forgot to update the demo text.

pryelluw 343 days ago

Ive had great luck selling squarespace websites for around $3k to small businesses. Look into that.

You need to partner with a copy writer. A business website lives and dies by its copy.

Good luck. There is good money out there. You just need to stand out. :)

    detritus 343 days ago

    Do your clients know from the off you will be using SquareSpace — and, more importantly — do they know what SquareSpace IS?

    Kudos to you, I'm just amazed people will pay that for what I tend to view as a DIY service!

      SnowingXIV 343 days ago

      I have some experience here, I had a client who came to me saying they wanted to use Squarespace but would pay me to setup and maintain it. I was a bit confused because I felt the platform was made for that audience - so they didn't need to come to me and pay my rate.

      I went a bit further and setup a dev environment so I could do custom tweaks if required but almost all of it was pretty simple and could be done from the UI. (There were some wonky responsive things that I had to take care of manually but that was more a personal issue since I hate leaving something I touch looking a little off).

      I handed back the keys and said you're good to go. Weeks later the client attempted to do some updates and the contact form wasn't working and some weird other issues propped up from their changes. I quickly went back and fixed it.

      Many people haven't put in the time nor do they have time (they are likely focused 100% on the literal business!) so this saves them headaches and maybe allows them the comfort to hang out with their family instead of tinkering with a website.

      davidscolgan 343 days ago

      There are many business owners who would look at the SquareSpace interface and be completely lost. We as technical people have thousands of hours put into understanding how the web works, but many people just haven't, and don't have the desire to learn (because they are doing something else). That, or they don't have time to it, and it makes sense to delegate. You can make a good living using tech for other people.

      pryelluw 342 days ago

      Yes, it's one of the benefits they get. Squarespace allows me to provide a turn key product that does not require much maintenance or upkeep. Some know about it but I bring them up to speed quickly with one line: It's like dropbox for your website.

      I tend to go for niche markets and own them through a combination of exceptional service and value. Squarespace allows is one of the services that allow for that. Do know that Im not affiliated in any way. They just make me money.

      ams6110 343 days ago

      People will pay for what they don't want to do, even if they know they could do it.

      A business client will be focused on their business. Their website, while important, is likely not their core competency. So it makes perfect sense to outsource that and they won't care what the underlying platform is.

        detritus 343 days ago

        Sure, I get that - it's probably just me, but I'd expect a site I'd commissioned to be built 'for me' and become 'my property', not merely a fulfillment service that locks me in to two external suppliers.

        I just find it odd, is all.

          jajern 343 days ago

          You're on HN though. When I used to do websites I would give options with tiered prices. Something on SquareSpace (or similar) would be a cheaper option but I would let them know why. A custom, scratch built site would be 3-4x more money so they would usually go with the cheaper option. Very few clients truly cared about the website. They just knew they needed one and didn't really care about the method used to achieve it.

            detritus 343 days ago

            Your last point is very true! it's been a few years since I was a full-time web designer, but I always had my own range of starting templates from which I'd work from - the equivalent these days of which would be the likes of Bootstrap or something. THAT I can get my head around.

            Perhaps I should poke my head back into the space then, help to pay for the occasional holiday here and there!

    supersarkar 343 days ago

    Wow! That's awesome! Reading this is so encouraging to me. Thanks a lot for sharing your experience :)

    Also, any tips on how to stand out?

      pryelluw 342 days ago

      There is a whole industry built around standing out. :)

      I go by one rule:

      Focus on their success not yours. No one cares about a website. They care about more leads and sales. Dont sell them a website. Sell them thr money they will make from it.

throwaway2016a 343 days ago

Good luck and congrats on getting started!

I'm curious about how you decided your niche and pricing. Did you do market research? Specifically, talking to dog trainers and see if they would be interested and how much they are willing to pay for your services?

As someone who has tried to sell to niche markets like that before I've found many niches are very stingy with cash. Some of them are likely sole proprietors and what you are asking for their website might be an entire week's pay for them.

    supersarkar 343 days ago

    Thanks a lot for your inputs on this. As I am doing this first time, inputs from experienced people is GOLD for me.

    Frankly, I have not done such market research. I saw a niche where people are actually buying website (by looking at Insta accounts of Dog Trainers), then checked for competition (there are a few, and that's good; I avoid Zero competition markets).

    Before writing the copy I did some research on Dog Trainers, what they like, what they love and what they hate. Without knowing my target public I can't write a good copy. If you find places of improvement on my current copy then please let me know.

    Also, thanks a lot to mention that the price may be expensive for them. This means I have to do one of two things - either lower the price, or build a copy that make them realize the ROI.

    Thanks again mate :)

      throwaway2016a 343 days ago

      You forgot the third option... I could be wrong and that price is completely OK for them :) I haven't talked to your target audience either, I don't know what there price point is. I have only talked to adjacent markets.

        supersarkar 343 days ago

        True! Oh god there are some many awesome inputs here from you guys, I have to take out my notepad and start taking notes!

bigmanwalter 343 days ago

Good luck. It's tough to compete in a saturated market. You'll need to make 1-2 sales per week. I'll be following closely :)

    supersarkar 343 days ago

    Thanks for your well-wishes mate :)

    1-2 sales per week - that would be a good target for me. Thanks for pointing that out!

noelwelsh 343 days ago

Suggestions for improvements:

Change the headline on your landing page to clearly say what you do. E.g. add "Bespoke web sites for dog trainers" after the "More ..." bit.

The CTA at the bottom is easy to miss on skimming. Make that bigger.

    asciimo 343 days ago

    Dog training ERS might be more familiar with the word "custom" than "bespoke."

      supersarkar 343 days ago

      Great, I will split test ;)

      Thanks for your input friend :)

    supersarkar 343 days ago

    This is such a useful input. Thanks mate, I will update the copy of landing page tomorrow. :)

moretai 343 days ago

Good Luck. You sound exactly like me, for better or for worse. Hopefully you can make something of yourself.

    supersarkar 343 days ago

    Thanks mate :)

    Would like to be in touch with person who thinks I am like him/her!

brianzelip 343 days ago

Appreciate you putting this out there. Best wishes, and keep journaling!