10 tips: How to start your own web design agency

You always wanted to be your own boss? If you work as a web designer or developer, then the prospect of having your own agency or working as a freelancer can be tempting. But a simple task is not, because you have to bring a whole range of skills to succeed in the tough market. The bookkeeping needs to be done and your offer must be placed on the market so that you get to know and get orders. In addition, there should be plenty of seed capital, so you can not only start, but can also stand the stinging sprees. That’s why we give you a lot of good practical tips in this article.

# 1: Customize your mindset

Customize your mindset

Being your own boss is very tempting, but that’s not always what makes it easy. A hired web designer will spend most of his working time in web design. Other colleagues are responsible for winning new jobs, accounting, and setting new goals and strategies for the company. If you are your own master and only work for you, then these tasks are additional to you. Even if you make enough money to provide personnel, you still need to do more.

The more successful your business becomes, the less you will be dealing with your actual web design job. Then you will become a full-time manager. But after all, you are still your own boss and the work as a boss is pretty exciting.

# 2: Find the right niche for your business

Find the right niche for your business

The most important decision is in which area you want to go with your web design. As you surely know, there is the absolute cheap goods that serve the “I can spend nothing” sector. But there are also the individual, more expensive and lovingly designed websites for those customers who are willing to pay. Companies get a public reputation fairly quickly, either as “cheap home” or as creators of high quality end results. That should then reflect your portfolio.

Certainly, it is perfectly fine to be able to offer a slightly cheaper product in addition. But most of the work should reflect the area in which you want to position yourself.

# 3: Be clear about your offer

Be aware of your offer

Web design is already well covered, a nearly saturated market. So it’s important to ask you straightaway what differentiates you from the thousands of other web design companies in the market.

Here, it is important to find the right niche, the area that is not yet covered by many other market participants. Maybe you specialize in lawyers and their special needs? Or you offer doctors your service. Of course you can also try to cover the local market.

Quality can also be a unique selling point. But for that, you really have to be able to deliver first-class and quality work. If you are a newcomer to web design, it may be a good idea to focus on the industry you originally came from.

You can also stand out from other agencies by offering (uncommon) added value. That can be a lot; including things that you do not immediately recognize as added value, but that can be critical to your customers. An example: keep your word and always be as fast as possible. If you promise a customer a quote on the same day before 6:00 pm, then keep your word and deliver it on time. Always set realistic times for project assignments and add a little more time, so you can always deliver on time. Your word is everything in today’s economy. So keep your promises.

Create a network with partners who can do complementary tasks. This allows you to offer larger orders or complete solutions.

Branding with a good name and an appealing corporate identity should also be present. The name of your agency ideally stays in your memory very quickly. Your logo should have a very high recognition value.

# 4: Calculate your financial burdens

Calculate the financial burden well

That’s the most important part of being self-employed. As an employee, every month the money comes on time to your account and you do not usually have to worry about it. As a self-employed person, things look completely different. Can you really afford to be self-employed? To answer this question, you should set up a funding model. At the beginning of your self-employment, do you already have customers who have contracts with you? That’s an important factor.

Otherwise, startup costs are to be calculated. Likewise, the regular operating expenses must be calculated, as well as reserves for difficult times with a slump in orders. Realistically estimate how many new customers you can win and how much revenue they will bring you. Make these estimates pretty low. Optimism is nice, but in money matters more pessimism is needed.

Calculate exactly when you hit the breakeven point, the point at which you earn enough money to cover the costs. If you are just beginning to work independently, you should know in advance that it can take a long time to make a profit. Therefore, you need to know when the point is reached where the costs are covered. Because on this basis you can calculate when you can live from your work and think about what you are doing up to that point.

Also think about whether you want to charge your customers fixed prices or work by the hourly rate. For this you have to calculate a realistic hourly wage for you in both cases. For fixed-price offers must also be calculated very honestly and with a time cushion. At Dr. Web we have here once dealt with the subscription model.

# 5: Train your communicative skills

Become a perfect communicator

If you’re a really good web designer, that does not mean that you’re a good entrepreneur and can run a design agency. Because this requires much more skills than just creating good websites. I already addressed the financial aspect. Now follows one of the most important skills as an entrepreneur par excellence: the communication.

You have to learn to become a fantastic communicator. Creative people often hide in their agencies and only pursue their core tasks passionately. But in business, other things count. Because almost all business problems can be solved by simply talking to each other.

Your project is delayed? Grab the phone and discuss the matter with your customer. You need new orders? Pick up the phone, call potential customers, and sell your services. Everything is going as planned? Inform your clients about it too. Maybe you already have first results, then your customer will be happy if he gets a link from you.

If you are a more introverted person and have problems with cold calling or delivering a sales presentation, then I can understand that well. I feel the same way. But you can practice these important things. The more often you deal with it, the easier it will be for you.

Keep in mind that the more you do these unloved things, the more money you will probably make. Just for marketing or distribution over the phone, there are very good books to buy or even websites that deal with this topic.

# 6: Get help and build partnerships

Get help

If you are not one of the lucky ones who have a lot of money in your bank account, you probably will not be able to hire people right at the beginning. However, this is not a problem because you can look for other people who have complementary skills. You can then partner with these people. Of course, you can also outsource subtasks by looking for the right people on order portals. You can then assign partial tasks to these companies or freelancers.

Everyone has started small and it is no problem at all to admit that they can not do everything. Especially the beginning of a self-employment can be very overwhelming. Do not let that get you down. The absolute priority at the beginning is finding people with complementary skills to form partnerships. Then you can accept larger projects and easily outsource the subtasks that you can not do. As your business grows, you can hire people for exactly those areas.

# 7: Always work on your own projects

Always working on your own projects

It is very tempting to let your own projects grind during the start-up phase of a company. Of course, maintaining your own blog for your small agency takes a lot of time. You’re tempted to invest better this time. But that’s not what you should do. Because the company blog is an important tool for branding and ultimately for the generation of orders. Never underestimate the importance of personal projects. Your brand awareness will thank you.

Just write down for a week exactly what you spend your time on workdays. Often you will find time-wasters to optimize. Even self-employed people only have 24 hours available. This time must be used optimally. Remove the time eaters and replace them by working on your own projects. Always keep your web design know-how up to date and write about it. This helps to increase your awareness and convince potential customers.

# 8: Start part-time or take the plunge into the cold water?

Begin part-time or take the plunge into the cold water?

If you have thought through and worked through all the points in this article, you are ready for your independence. But not everyone wants to venture directly into the cold water of full-time self-employment. Because that’s a question of money and the number of customers you have at the beginning.

If you are fortunate to already have many customers who “threaten” with orders, you can start your own business immediately. Then the use of own money to bridge the start-up phase is manageable. If sufficient reserves are available anyway, the jump can also be ventured. However, if money and clientele are limited, you should consider a part-time job. However, self-employment in addition to a full-time job is an immense burden. That should not be taken lightly. But well organized you can quite cope with the double burden.

This has the advantage for you that you do not have to dare to jump into the shark tank of the economy right now, but slowly build up your place in the web design world.

# 9: Do not neglect the collection

If you look at the bankruptcy statistics, you find that one of the most common reasons for an early failure of self-employment is poor collection and the resulting bad liquidity.

There are internal and external reasons for this. First of all, you ensure that there are no internal reasons. You record your billable working hours very accurately and write timely invoices with a short payment term. Read this post where we’ll show you a whole sack of tools to help you with this work.

Now it’s time to take care of the external situation. After billing your services, keep an eye on your business account and write reminders as soon as the payment deadline is exceeded. Alternatively, you can call your customer and remind them to complete the payment. That’s perfectly okay, because you fulfill your part of the agreement on time. Look in this respect also into our freelancer protection program.

# 10: Secure your services

You do not know the customer. The customer does not know you. He has a vague idea of his website, you as well. Why do you think that’s enough to derive an assignment that will not lead to later conflicts? The fact is: there will be conflicts.

Therefore, it is always better for you and your customers to have a contract that governs the most important obligations. From a legal point of view, it will be a contract of work, in which you owe a work, a so-called success, and the customer at least a sum of money.

Customers from hell: The personified worst case

The more precisely the work is defined, the better. In line with the progressive project development, the payment obligations should then be defined. It is advisable to set a duration and to clarify who delivers what and when by whom. For your side of the agreement, it is important to provide a specification that clearly indicates what you have to deliver for a result.

The same applies of course to the side of your customer. Does he deliver the texts, images and other media? Then do yourself a favor and agree when to deliver what content in which format. And point out that licensing questions about the images or other media used in the case of delivery by the customer are also to be clarified by the customer.

Incidentally, it is customary to link the creation of the functional specification with a payment date. After all, that’s not a little effort. In the course of the project, it is up to you to document exactly which points have already been processed and which are not.

If the customer requires changes during the course of the project, they will also agree in writing as an addendum to the contract, ie as an additional order. Clarify in advance in the contract, who is authorized in the house of the customer to give such additional orders at all and do not just accept every call as an order. If an additional order has been placed, either request a customer’s order letter or send a corresponding order confirmation requesting countersignature.

It is also important to regulate to what extent the customer acquires the rights of use of the work. Copyright is a very difficult area of law. Lawyers circulate the saying: Copyright is expensive law. That’s basically good for you. The copyright can not be filed in Germany. So you are always the author of the websites you create for your customers.

Back to the question of scope of use: Surely you will not want another web designer to disembark and take care of the customer’s presence while you look into the tube. You can do that by reserving changes to the site. The customer then has only a right to error correction, which he may, if you do not do it, otherwise provided.

From my own experience I can recommend that you also reserve the design as such. I’ve seen it more than once that clients have let my websites develop a whole corporate design, but mostly not from me. 99Designs sends greetings. So, if you have also designed the color palette and logo, keep the rights to it.

Of course you can contractually grant the customer a so-called exclusive right of use. Then you do not give up authorship but all rights of use to your work on the customer and henceforth he can do what he likes.

Whatever you agree, agree in any case that any rights of use until the full payment of all agreed amounts to the customer. In case of doubt, this will allow you to turn off the internet presence most of the time.

Prerequisite for a final maturity of your fee should be a joint acceptance of the work in addition to holding the same in a log. This ensures that your customer does not subsequently raise any claims that you have allegedly not previously provided.


Working on your own account and being your own boss has many advantages. But to enjoy it, you have to be aware that it will not be a picnic. You will have to work harder and harder and therefore have less free time. Especially the beginning will be very hard if you have to bite through. If you realize then that you are working independently, however, any offer of permanent employment can remain stolen from you. Because then you will never want to go back there.

Links to the article:

  • Dr. Web: Part-time freelancer alongside a full-time job: no picnicking
  • Dr. Web: This is how freelancers work optimally from home
  • Dr. Web: Efficiency and Satisfaction: How to succeed as a freelancer
  • Dr. Web: Finance Under Control: Online tools for freelancers and the self-employed
  • Trainerlotse.de: My 3 best tips for good icebreaker cold calls

(The article was originally written by Andreas Hecht and was first published in May 2015. In March 2019 it was extensively rewritten and greatly expanded.) The post image comes from the portfolio of the Depositphotos.)