Running a successful freelance web design business
I am writing this post to give other web designers an idea on what it takes to make a freelance web design company work and what you need to do to avoid being just another web design firm, struggling for clients and sitting on the low end pages of Google.
As I have been on both sides of the fence I know the joys and desperation of each situation. The joys included getting around 8 quotes a day, having the opportunity to pick and choose the work you wish to do and ranking highly for a multiple of keywords.
If you are reading this post no doubt you have had the anguish of the only emails coming through your web design contact form are the dreaded spam. So hopefully by the end of this post you will have a better understanding of what you need to do to run a successful freelance web design business.
1 HOW IS YOUR WEBSITE DOING?
Firstly and most importantly are you getting the most out of your website? Rule 1 put your head in the mind of your potential clients, then look again at your website. As freelance web designers we understand our website is the shop window for winning or losing a client. Sometimes we get lost in our own little world while designing our own websites and forget the main important factor; the website is not for us it is for everyone else.
So firstly get your friends and family to go through your website as if they were looking for some form of web design service, Checking usability and making sure all their questions can be easily answered in a non-tech savvy manner. Make sure they critic you honestly and explain where your website may be losing them.
The beauty of it being your own website is the fact it is never finished, it is always evolving just like the web itself.
Once you feel you have your website at a user friendly point and potential customers know what you do, how you do it and how much your services will cost, plus have easy access to contact you, you are ready to continue.
You need to make sure your code is clean and as light weight as it can be (the loading of unnecessary code and files can severely slow the load time of your website). Next make sure your META tags are all correctly filled in, and you are making the best use out of each and every one.
2 QUALITY OF YOUR WORK
Ask yourself; how good a web designer are you? I understand this is a tough question to answer but never the less it needs to be answered. Just how good a web designer are you? From a personal perspective I feel I’m pretty good at what I do and feel comfortable with the prices I charge. Each project I undertake (providing the clients budget allows me to) I aim to get their websites featured in CSS gallery awards, which is not only a great source of traffic, and acknowledgement of your work, it gives you an idea of your quality of work, plus these sites are the best sources of inspiration.
Don’t be discouraged if your websites does not make it in, sometimes it is worth sending over a polite email asking why you never made it and maybe some pointers to get you on the right road to web design brilliance!
I wrote a post on Where to get web design inspiration which may help you out on this road, and remember always aim for perfection, one day you will get there.
3 SOCIAL MEDIA AND BLOGGING
In this day and age we cannot fail to understand the importance of social media. Building up a Facebook business page can generate many new leads by networking with other businesses and individual people.
The same goes for Twitter which is a mouth piece to all your followers, your allowed 140 characters per tweet, which is plenty to give a brief summary and a link to the subject.
Please note these social media systems only work for your business if you work on them, what I mean by that is you need to work on these daily and try to keep the content as relevant as possible.
Blogging these days is a must! Not only does it keep your website fresh and continually evolving, it also gives a simple voice to your company. The most important thing with blogging is ensuring your content is relevant and well written and as informative as possible.
If your website does not have a blog yet, head over to WordPress and download yours, remember keep it fresh, keep it readable and slowly, slowly build up a following, make sure you set up your RSS feed so your viewers can be notified when you release a new post. Be sure to let your fans on Facebook and Twitter followers know about it.
4 LINK BUILDING
There are many ways to get links pointing to your website, there are the right ways and of course the wrong ways. The best links are a link from a high page ranking websites that has relevant content to your site. The first and easiest ways to generate leads to your site is reciprocal links this is done by creating a links page on your website.
How reciprocal links work is you place a link on your links page pointing to their site with their desired keywords. You then email them asking to exchange links explaining you have already placed their link up and expect your link up on their site as soon as possible. (Give them time but after 7 days a polite reminder does not hurt).
The question I here you ask “why do I need links to my web site?” Well how it works is the “clickable” link is the key phrase you wish t0 rank well for in search engines.
To give you an example if you type “click here” into Google search number 1 will be Adobe reader or Adobe Flash player this is because the amount of “clickable” links that say “click here” when people do not have Adobe Flash player installed and need it on their computer so the links takes the user to the Adobe site.
A handy way I use to find sites willing to exchange links is by typing for example “web design links” and that normally takes me to relevant web sites that are happy to exchange links this should work for whatever sector you are in.
Another way to get leads to your site is to comment on relevant blogs these do not hold as much power as reciprocal links as most do not “follow” but it is still a link all the same.
5 BUSINESS CARDS
Business cards, never leave home without them! You’re a designer; design your own business cards you never know who you will bump into. Business cards are a great way to generate business by leaving them in your local shops and post office.
I have used the company Vista Print for a few years now and I find them very affordable and quick to deliver.
6 WORK TO TAKE
This particular point has always been a thorn in my side, and what I mean by that is, there will always be a point in your freelance web design career where you get presented with a challenge. A potential client will ask you for a service that you have never done before and have no idea how to do it.
So what do you do? Well of course you could always say no, but is that in your favour? If you say yes there are many options open to you. Firstly before you give a yes or no, spend some time researching what it is you will be facing and work out if this is something you can do, bearing in mind the web design community is one of the best and most helpful out there.
You also have the option to outsource particular work that you are not 100% comfortable with. I myself have never outsourced but I know many other web designers that have and I have only heard good feedback.
Remember the only way we learn is to face our problems head on and jump in the deep end!
7 JOB SITES
I know of web designers that only make their steady income from these websites. These are websites where you create a profile, potential clients advertise for work they require and you bid to do the work.
This is how these sites are supposed to work, but from first hand experience I find these sites can be extremely frustrating. I found the biggest hurdle was getting off the ground with winning my first project, because of a catch 22 situation most people hire web designers that are already graded and have done work. So I always seemed to be stuck not getting a client to allow me to be graded to build up a good reputation.
8 USING TOOLS TO MONITOR YOUR WEBSITE
These are the tools that are as important as the tools we use to build websites. The first thing you should do when you launch any website is to include Google Analytics code to the footer of your website. This is the best way to track visitors to your site plus give you an idea of how they go through your website.
Once your website is settled I suggest you use the Google web master tools, all you do is add a verification code to the header of your website. This tool is most handy to find faults and track your websites position in Google.
There are other great tools out there some free, some paid subscription to check various factors to improve your website.
9 READ OTHER BLOGS
The knowledge out there is vast and wide and is there to be absorbed. There are so many people out there happy to write excellent content that teaches us many things. I always found instead of sticking Family Guy on through my lunch breaks I would check on my favourite web design blogs to take in information and learn new things.
Below is a list of a couple I go to when I fancy a good read.
10 BUILD WEBSITES FOR CLIENTS YOU DO NOT YET HAVE
What did you say? I hear you ask, well firsthand experience this does work! Let me explain; I built a website for a client who decided he was going to change his profession. I completed the website which was for a landscape gardener, so rather than discard this project to the nearly completed pile, I finished it and put it live.
I then typed into Google “freelance gardener” and went to page 20 and looked at 5 websites, if I felt my website was a vast improvement I would email the company and explain my situation with a live example and offer the website at a lower but fair cost.
By doing this I secured another great website for my portfolio plus made some money for my time. So next time you have free time, pick a sector and build a website for it, not only do you gain experience you also have the opportunity to sell your work to a very happy customer.
11 BUILD LANDING PAGES
Firstly what is a landing page? Well a landing page is a web page buried in your website that is solely there to attract visitor’s straight from search engines for certain key phrase. For example, I am based in Barnet so I want to get as many people as possible who type “web design Barnet” to find my site so I will create a web page that is solely targeting that key phrase.
I have created one here web design Barnet
I have made sure all the title and meta tags contain the key phrase as well ensuring the content is filled with the phrase but not too much, you don’t want to be to spammy.
Make sure you add the new pages to your site map and let them settle in Google. To get the best chance to be found in the search engines it is a good idea to set up a link campaign to target the desired key phrase.
12 PRATICE PRACTICE PRACTICE
The only way you get better at something is to keep doing it, for this trade you have to love what you do otherwise you would never succeed. Need I say more?
To run a successful freelance web design business you need to be willing to put the hours in and to go out there and make clients come to you. Sitting at home putting up a few posts and getting a couple keywords pointing to your site won’t work.
You need to scream who you are and what you do, build up a following on social network sites and keep them on your pages with helpful and useful information.