So, you want to be a web designer?

So, you want to be a web designer?

You’ve got courage, that’s for sure. You’ll be competing against companies with established brands, impressive portfolios, more resources, and larger staff. Well, guess what? They don’t stand a chance!

Congratulations from all of us at WPMU DEV! You’ve started a web design company. It takes courage, sure, but it’s also smart. Consider this statistic: every day in 2018, an average of 1 million people around the globe used the internet for the first time.

The challenge is to capture some of that growth, but before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s be serious. Are you ready? Are all the pieces in place to give you the best chance of success when you and those potential clients get in a room together?

WPMU DEV was a startup not too many years ago, so we get it. You’re working with limited resources and small staff (or no staff at all). You’ll be looking for an edge that saves both time and money and helps you work smarter than the competition. This post will offer some ideas on how to do that.

What we’re not going to do here is tell you how to write a business plan or what to include in your client contracts. Those are important, of course, and if you’re looking for that type of advice, see Brenda’s post, 8 Steps to Starting a Kickass WordPress Business.

Which Platform Will You Build Your Business With?

One of the first things to consider when starting a website designing business is what website building platform to use.  You want a platform that works for you now but which can also grow as your business grows.

Your options are, generally, Content Management Systems (CMSs), or hard coding (HTML) websites yourself. As the term implies, a CMS makes it easier for you or your clients to manage content, and (time-saving bonus!) it’s a faster and cheaper way to service more clients. HTML coding, on the other hand, requires advanced technical skills to build and maintain sites.

If you’re happy being a boutique shop and you have a highly-skilled code developer, maybe HTML is for you. If you’re trying to save time and money while still delivering outstanding web designs, then CMS is the only real choice (hint: avoid options that include the word “hard” in their definition). You can learn more about the benefits of using a CMS at WhatCMS.org.

While there are almost 500 different CMS platforms to choose from, let’s focus briefly on the 3 most popular:

WordPress Vs Joomla Vs Drupal

CMS
WordPress
Joomla
Drupal
Website Description
(Sourced from their website)
WordPress is open source software you can use to create a beautiful website, blog, or app.
Joomla! is an award-winning content management system (CMS), which enables you to build web sites and powerful online applications.
Drupal allows you to create a unique space in a world of cookie-cutter solutions.
Software
Open Source
Open Source
Open Source
Cost
FREE
FREE
FREE
CMS Market Share
(Source: WhatCMS)
53.5%
4.8%
3.9%
Ease of Use
Beginner-friendly
Somewhat beginner-friendly (suitable for web designers with experience using code)
Requires Coding Skills
Installation
One-click install or manual installation.
One-click install or manual installation.
One-click install or manual installation.
Design
(Themes & Templates)
4,500+ Free Themes
47,500+ Paid Themes
NO Template Directory
1000+ Paid Templates
Functionality
(Plugins & Extensions)
54,000+ Free Plugins
Thousands of Paid Plugins on the web.
44,300+ Free Modules
Visit Website

You should choose a platform that you’re comfortable with, but the fact that WordPress powers one-third of the world’s CMS websites says something about the platform. We’ve worked with thousands of WordPress web designers and developers over the years and have seen that more web designers are choosing WordPress because it offers many powerful time and money-saving features, like customizable themes and extensible plugins.

WordPress is also great for bootstrapping your webdesign business and offers many opportunities to increase revenue by offering clients additional WordPress-related services like WordPress consultingweb site redesign servicesWordPress maintenance, and website hosting services. (Related: Pricing Your Services: A Guide For WordPress Developers.)

If you’re focused on saving time and money, we recommend WordPress. It’s free, open-source, and lets you easily build beautiful, functional, and professional websites faster and cheaper than other CMS platforms.

Leverage Resources Through Automation

Many successful business men and women can point to an experienced mentor who helped guide them during their first challenging years.  If you’re starting a web design business with no portfolio or a very small one, you may be less skilled than your competition. WPMU DEV can give you the leverage and support your business needs to achieve success faster.

As a WPMU DEV member, you won’t grow your business alone. We provide 24/7 support that doesn’t point you to a procedure and then wish you good luck figuring things out, but with access to real humans who not only understand the pressures of running web design companies but can also provide your business with the tech support you need to focus on delivering better customer service.

In other words, we’ll work behind the scenes managing your technical issues, leaving you free to focus on designing and building websites that your customers love.

WPMU DEV Review from reviews.io
We provide support to thousands of website developers and millions of WordPress user sites. (Source: reviews.io)

No doubt, you have the talent and determination to succeed. But what about leverage? The digital landscape is always changing. How will you keep up with the latest trends?

That’s where WPMU DEV can also help you. Part of our job as one of the world’s leading WordPress development companies is to stay on top of the latest trends and be a valuable resource that our members can leverage 24/7. We have people whose only job is to evaluate market and technology trends and then keep our developer teams busy improving existing products or developing new solutions to help grow your business.

WPMU DEV members have multiple tools available to them which were developed with web admins in mind. They are designed specifically to leverage resources by automating as many recurring tasks as possible.

For the record, we’re going to cover several of our products and services, and, yes, we would love it if you concluded that we’re the right fit for you. There’s another goal, however, and that is to provide you with ideas on how to save time and money while giving you a competitive edge.

Centralized Website Management

The Hub is WPMU DEV’s answer to the common dashboard. Developed with web admins in mind, The Hub is highly customizable and allows admins to automate several recurring tasks that are too critical to ignore, and yet, can be extremely time-consuming … like daily backups.

The Hub Dashboard - Backups screen.
Save time setting up and automating daily site backups for clients with The Hub.

You can set up and automate all of your client’s website backups from The Hub dashboard. In fact, there is no limit to the number of sites members can connect to The Hub, nor is there any additional cost.

The Hub main dashboard screen.
Manage all your client’s sites from one central location with The Hub.

The Hub also lets you set up and automatically generate customized reports for your clients. This lets you monitor the health of your clients’ sites and be proactive in your services.

The Hub New Report screen
Automatically generate customized reports for your clients from the Hub.

Automated Website Security

Website security is a huge area of concern for all businesses and you’ll want to avoid leaving your clients’ sites exposed to risks and vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities are found from time to time in WordPress plugin and theme files and once they become common knowledge, hackers jump at the chance to exploit these, so updates must be installed as soon as they become available because a hack could be not far behind.

But … who has time to check every customer’s website every day to make sure that an update is waiting? The Hub allows admins to automatically update every theme and plugin for every connected site the moment updates become available. That’s a huge time and money-saving feature that can be fully automated.

The Hub also lets you install plugins in your clients’ sites, like Defender, WPMU DEV’s powerful all-in-one website security solution.

Defender Pro - WordPress security plugin dashboard.
Defender automatically protects your clients’ websites from hackers and malicious attacks!

Defender automatically protects your clients’ websites from hackers, brute force attacks and malicious bots. With Defender installed, you can design and build sites for clients with built-in security and protection for their and your peace of mind.

Integrated Video Tutorials

The average web designer earns between $56-70k US or € 50-63k per year, according to Salary.com. Exceptional web designers earn considerably more. So, ask yourself, how many experienced web designers can I afford to hire at those rates?

The reality is that most startups rely heavily on one or two skilled designers, who manage and mentor a team of less experienced employees. Therein lies a dilemma. Is your most skilled designer more valuable teaching basic skills to novice designers or building incredible sites that attract the attention of more potential clients? Right, kind of a no-brainer, isn’t it.

This is why WMPU DEV developed the Integrated Video Tutorials (IVT) plugin for our members. IVT is a library of +45 professionally produced, fully-hosted, always up-to-date, white-label WordPress training videos that you can make available right in the dashboard of your sites.

Give your clients access to WordPress training videos inside their dashboards.

No more bouncing around Google and YouTube hoping to find what you’re looking for. Learn new skills in 5 mins or less, limit who can see the videos (staff but not clients, for example), and perhaps best of all, use the branding feature to add your own brand, such as a logo or introduction, to the beginning of any video. Still better, you can add your own custom videos to the library to address issues unique to your shop.

Branda

Someday, perhaps when you’re shopping for food or out with friends, you will mention your company’s name and someone will say, “I’ve heard of you!” Go ahead. Admit it. You can’t wait for that day. It’s not all about ego, though, is it? Brand recognition has real value.

Take a moment to look around any new WordPress site, and you’ll see WordPress branding everywhere. It’s on the login page, the dashboard, in system emails, the footers, the menus… everywhere! This may not be a big deal for a personal blog, but for a web design company trying to break into the big league, a finished look with a complete brand package is important.

Enter Branda, the ultimate branding plugin.

In simplest terms, if it says WordPress, you can hide or replace it with your own brand or that of a client, if you wish. More than that, you can completely redesign the Admin Area to your liking. Remove widgets you or your customers never use, redesign menus or completely customize the admin area color scheme. You can even apply different customizations for each user type.

Branda management module screen.
With Branda, you can fully customize your clients’ sites.

Branda provides customizable templates for login and maintenance screens. When users or your customers log in, they’re reminded right from the start who’s responsible for creating this site. No more generic system emails, either. Branda offers templates for those as well, or add your own HTML templates so even system emails bear your brand.

Customized WordPress login screen using Branda whitelabel plugin.
Use Branda to create sites with your company’s or client’s brand.

Solve Problems With Reliable Hosting

No doubt, your clients will be quite impressed with their website (and wonder how you were able to build it so quickly). There’s only one thing now that can go seriously wrong and if it does, it could ruin your reputation: hosting.

One of the challenges of building a web design buisness is that your clients will blame you for almost anything that goes wrong on their sites, even if it’s not your fault. If a server crashes or runs out of memory and their website goes down, you’ll still be blamed and left with the headache of having to fix it.

Choosing reliable hosting with enhanced support can help solve many of your technical problems. That’s because many issues can be easily identified by the way a site interacts with a server. This requires a combination of reliable hosting and technical expertise.

For example, with our Managed WordPress Hosting, your clients’ sites are hosted on blazing fast, fully dedicated, compartmentalized, and managed reliable servers with auto-scaling and redundancy, while a team of dedicated WordPress experts and support heroes 24/7/365  take care of all the technical issues, handle server security, provide automated backups, advice, and more.

As a WPMU DEV member, you get 3 hosted sites included in your membership that you can resell at whatever price you set, so your business can start generating a profit right away. (Related: see our guide to pricing your WordPress services).

WPMU DEV - WordPress Hosting screen.
Don’t let someone else’s failure ruin your reputation. Offer your clients fully dedicated WordPress hosting on our reliable and blazing fast servers.

Be The Solution

If you’ve never lost a client, brace yourself, because it will happen. It’s all part of doing business.

Take heart, however, in the fact that every web designer loses customers, which means that there is a steady supply of clients looking for someone else to manage their sites. Knowing why clients fire their web agencies and being prepared to address those concerns will dramatically improve your chances of reducing your churn rate.

Clients fire web agencies for a variety of reasons, but a common complaint is a lack of attention after launch. It’s easy to understand how it happens. New clients and those with dysfunctional sites tend to monopolize attention, leaving little time for clients whose sites seem to be working fine.

Startup web design businesses, desperately trying to build a client base with a small staff, are particularly at risk of alienating clients through lack of attention. Establishing internal policies will help you avoid this.

Whether it’s once a week or once a month depends on the client, but whatever the time frame, simply saying, “Be sure to look after your clients,” isn’t good enough.

Be proactive. Insist that clients be contacted on a regular basis by whoever is responsible for the account. Establish a system to verify that it’s actually happening and periodically check on clients yourself to be sure they feel well cared for.

Tip: You can use the reports generated by The Hub to touch base with clients, provide feedback, discuss how things are going, and even upsell your services.

Avoid Client Complaints Before It Happens

Lack of attention is not the only reason clients fire agencies, of course. Here are some other common complaints and the solutions we offer to help you avoid making the same mistakes.

“My Site’s Not Generating Sales!”

Although sales is a product of an effective marketing strategy more than a function of great web design, businesses hire web designers to help improve their marketing results, so clients will expect you to build websites that are proven to convert.

Don’t worry, however, as these plugins from WPMU DEV will have you covered.

Boost Website SEO With SmartCrawl

SmartCrawl dashboard.
Help your clients’ sites rank higher in the search engines with SmartCrawl.

SmartCrawl is our premium SEO plugin and provides everything you need to boost your clients’ search ranking in minimal time. Use it to assess a site’s SEO effectiveness and identify areas where improvement is in order.

Some of the time-saving SEO features of SmartCrawl include:

  • Automatic keyword linking – Build backlinks, share affiliate content and improve navigation by automatically linking keywords to pages or posts on your site or to other related content across the web.
  • Page Analyzer – Set a keyword and SmartCrawl will provide recommendations for improving page content. Plus, SmartCrawl can analyze readability so you can push more relevant content.
  • Moz integration – Link your free or pro Moz account and get reports delivered directly to your dashboard. Connect and track how your site stands up against the competition with ranking, links, and authority stats.
  • Keep Authority with Redirect – Moving a post, updating content, or optimizing your links? Take advantage of your page authority. Use 301 Redirect to keep traffic flowing when moving content from one URL to another.

Increase Subscribers With Hustle

Hustle modal example.
Adding Hustle to your clients’ websites will help them convert more visitors into subscribers.

Hustle is our premium email opt-in, pop-ups (and slide-in) and social sharing plugin. Adding Hustle to your clients’ websites will help convert more visitors into subscribers, generate leads, and grow their social following. That’s a whole bunch of marketing automation in one feature-packed plugin.

Some of the features include:

  • Easily create custom pop-ups, slide-ins, social sharing & email opt-ins. Make them as simple or as elaborate as you want. Even add animations to ensure your client’s marketing does not go unnoticed.
  • Place floating social sharing icons anywhere on the site. Also, create exit-intent and adblock-aware popups, all with a variety of custom design options.
  • 3rd-party email integration. Hustle integrates with multiple third-party email and ad campaign applications, including Aweber, CampaignMonitor, MailChimp, Constant Contact, GetResponse, Sendy, InfusionSoft, Mad Mimi, Mautic, SendinBlue, Hubspot, MailerLite, ActiveCampaign, iContact, ConvertKit, Zapier, SendGrid and e-Newsletter.

“I Have No Idea What I’m Paying For!”

I once helped a client save $10,000 dollars in online advertising costs simply by adding tracking codes to their ad campaigns and then showing them how poorly their ads were converting. Using the right analytics tool can save your clients thousands of dollars and reward you with loyal lifelong clients.

Help Your Clients Make Intelligent Business Decisions With Beehive

Beehive analytics dashboard
Help clients make sense their analytics data quickly and efficiently with Beehive.

Beehive is WMPU DEV’s premium analytics plugin. It brings your clients’ Google Analytics stats to their site’s dashboard or to the dashboards of an entire multisite network, where admins and customers can view them in highly customizable charts and graphs. Use Beehive to make data-driven decisions and to show clients how your efforts are paying off.

Some of the benefits of installing Beehive include:

  • Makes connecting WordPress to Google Analytics super simple.
  • Lets you quickly analyze site health and user behavior across a site or network and create reports to share the data.
  • Filter data by geography and/or time period.
  • Create custom reports for internal use or for clients.
  • Enable or disable GoogleAds for a given site, right from the site’s dashboard.

“Our Site Was Slow And Kept Getting Slower, But They Never Did Anything About It!”

One of the fastest ways to lose a client is to deliver them a slow website. You could also end up inheriting a client’s existing site that takes ages to load and be asked to help them fix it.

WPMU DEV can help you get out of this predicament with two of the most powerful plugins available for optimizing and improving site speed.

Optimize Images With Smush

Smush image compression plugin dashboard.
Smush compresses and reduces image files to make pages load faster.

Even if you build lightweight, fast-loading websites, the fact that most people can upload photos to websites directly from their smartphones makes it almost inevitable that at some point, you may be asked to help a client fix a slow eCommerce site filled with large product image files. You can’t expect clients to know how to use Photoshop to reduce their image files or even to understand things like image optimization.

Smush is an award-winning plugin that automatically compresses and optimizes images to help reduce page loading speed. This plugin is so good it can even help save the planet.

Some of its features include:

  • Set & forget image optimization. With a quick 30-second setup wizard, easy configuration settings, and in a few clicks, Smush goes to work quietly in the background automatically optimizing every image your clients upload to their websites, delivering the highest possible quality at the smallest possible size to make their pages load faster.
  • Automatically compress and resize huge images. Is your client’s site getting filled with large photos? No problems. Smush will automatically optimize images up to 32MB.
  • Fix Google PageSpeed. If a client has an existing site that’s running slow, run a speed test before and after installing the plugin and take screenshots of the results. Your clients will not only be impressed but you’ll also have great case studies to help you land new clients.
  • Blazing Fast CDN. Smush Pro uses a global content delivery network to serve stunning, high-quality images from 45 locations around the world.
  • Packed with optimization features. Smush is the must-have plugin you will want to install on every clients’ website. It optimizes JPG, PNG, GIF and WebP images, improves performance in other plugins like NextGEN Gallery, Amazon S3 with WP Offload S3, WPBakery Page Builder, Envira Gallery, Avada Fusion Builder, and WP Retina 2x., integrates seamlessly with WordPress Multisite, compresses images in any directory, automatically strips metadata to reduce file size, offers features like lazy loading for offscreen images, unlimited lossless image compression, and so much more.

Make Sites Fly With Hummingbird

Hummingbird Pro dashboard screen.
Hummingbird keeps your clients’ sites finely tuned and optimized for better performance.

Hummingbird continually scans, analyzes, reports, and fixes up any issues affecting your client’s site performance. Use this plugin with Smush to give your clients the fastest possible loading websites.

Some of the plugin’s powerful features include:

  • Full caching suite. Set up a complete range of cache tools for your clients, including full-page, browser, RSS, and Gravatar caching. In just a few clicks, you can help your clients deliver faster pages and temporary files to their users with less load on their server.
  • Faster file transfers. Features like Gzip compression make files smaller for quicker load times in web browsers and can save your clients money on hosting.
  • Uptime monitoring. Get notified instantly when a client’s site goes down and take proactive steps to ensure there’s minimal disruption to their business.
  • ‘Fix it’ reports and recommendations. Hummingbird continuously monitors site performance and provides reports and recommendations on ways to finetune and improve speed settings.
  • Advanced optimization settings. You have complete control over individual files that are affecting your clients’ sites’ performance with an asset optimization engine that lets you shrink, combine, and store files on our global CDN for faster content delivery.

Starting A WordPress Web Design Business? Here’s The Next Step…

The competition for web design services is growing. Finding new clients is tough and it’s only going to get tougher, especially if you’re competing against established agencies with the resources and the capabilities to provide business clients with end-to-end digital services.

If you are thinking about starting a web design business, you will need to plan for success and work with partners that have your back.

At WPMU DEV, we make it our mission to help our members save time and money and make sure that businesses like yours have the tools and support they need to grow and succeed.

The next step is to sign up for our no-risk, completely free 30-day trial and experience for yourself the benefits of becoming a WPMU DEV member.

Martin Aranovitch
Martin Aranovitch A WordPress trainer and educator, Martin has authored many WordPress guides, courses, and tutorials. Martin believes all problems can be solved with plugins.
Are you planning to start a web design business? What are the most challenging areas you think you will face after launching your web design business, and how can we help you address these challenges? Share your thoughts and comments in the discussion section below.