Whether you currently work for an existing company and dream of setting off on your own, or you’re already freelancing and want to expand, starting your own web design business is a lofty goal—but it’s certainly not unattainable.
Building any type of business comes with numerous considerations, and the business of web design has additional, specific areas of focus that require the attention of any successful agency founder (now that has a nice ring to it).
To help you narrow down some of the most important considerations for your growing business, we’ve compiled the following list of tips for starting your own web design agency, with a focus on the world’s most popular tool for building websites: WordPress.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Building your agency team
While you may have existing clients and projects that carry over from previous endeavors, one of the first things you’ll want to do as you build out your design agency is decide on a core team of co-founders/partners/employees who will be ready to execute on client work once the business is launched.
Agency co-founders and partners may or may not be applicable to your situation, but launching a business with someone who has done it before or who is interested in providing financial backing can obviously be a springboard for success. It can also get complicated, which this article explores in more detail.
When it comes to the core functions of your team, you’ll want to focus on these three roles first, depending on your own background and how much you plan to be involved in day-to-day operations: Design, Development, and Marketing.
For example, if you wish to serve as your agency’s lead designer, but your developer chops are lacking, you’ll want to hire a lead developer as a first order of business.
Alternatively, if your background is in marketing, and you need a star designer-developer duo who can help bring your ideas to life, those two hires should be prioritized.
While it might be tempting to farm these roles out and focus on sales or business development first, your web design agency will be as good as its web design, and you don’t want to cut corners on quality.
It’s also important to remember that your role as an agency founder is to keep tabs on the larger trajectory of the business. If you’re too bogged down to do that as work piles up, your business is likely to suffer.
Defining your agency services
With a crack team in place, you can better outline the types of services you’ll provide to your clients. This is also a good opportunity to decide on the types of clients you wish to attract while tailoring your service offerings to that audience.
For example, you may plan on specializing in websites for a certain industry or niche, or your focus may be on overall UX design for businesses in need of a refresh. Whatever it is you plan to do, make sure you clarify it with specific services and offerings that make sense for your target demographic.
As you get started, these services may include a flat fee for a brand new website, a service fee for a “site audit,” and then individual offerings for things like page redesign, SEO improvements, or custom features for an existing site.
The main takeaway? Spell out what you do and set exact pricing for all of it. As your business grows, you’ll be glad you did this early on, and it will help your clients understand the value you provide as they continue to work with you.
Crafting your agency brand
Now that you’ve crystallized what you have to offer, how do you want both current and prospective customers to recognize and engage with your business?
The concept of branding is (at least) hundreds of years old, but it’s just as important to your web design business today as it ever was. You’ve probably realized that there are many web design agencies in existence today, so how do you set your business apart?
One great way to stand out is to decide on what it is you and your business stand for. This could be as literal as specific design fundamentals, a dedication to open source and the larger WordPress community, or it could tie back to the types of clients you wish to work with.
For example, if non-profits are your target clientele, your brand might incorporate your commitment to fundraising and philanthropy.
Another key factor when it comes to branding—and this is doubly important for agencies that provide web design– is the design of your brand and logo. This is essentially an ongoing advertisement for your specific talents, showing prospective customers the type of work you can provide. Make sure your brand and logo both look great!
Developing an agency marketing plan
While your brand is meant to represent your business and make it recognizable, a good marketing plan should deliver your brand to audiences far and wide, across various channels.
Much like branding, marketing is a huge focus for any business and there are a plethora of resources (and wormholes) you can dive into that cover marketing strategy.
For your web design agency, however, it’s important that you pay close attention to specific areas when it comes to your marketing plan. This includes:
Optimizing your online presence: It’s the first impression visitors get from your site or the sites you build for clients. As you boost traffic to these digital properties using different marketing techniques, make sure they’re shining, easy-to-navigate examples of your work.
Optimizing your online presence also means making contact information easy to find, as well as using social media to reach wider audiences and drive engagement. No matter its size, every agency needs a strong social media presence to thrive. Check out this article to find out more.
Using digital tools to your advantage: there’s a wide variety of digital marketing tools available to agencies today, and the majority of them integrate seamlessly with WordPress. This includes everything from customer relationship management (CRM) integrations with the HubSpot or UpiCRM plugins, to tools for internal workflow and project management, like Asana or Trello.
WordPress plays a star role with your larger digital marketing plans too, as you can create blog content, email campaigns, and specific landing pages all geared towards your inbound and outbound marketing efforts.
Finding your first clients
Finding clients is of obvious importance for your growing business, and we won’t sugarcoat it—finding new clients is one of the top challenges new agencies face.
Nonetheless, providing services to clients is why you started your own agency in the first place, and there are plenty of successful strategies and solutions that can help you do just that.
While your marketing efforts should help generate leads and bring in new business, you can also tweak your outreach strategy and add skills to your toolset to expand your client base—download this informative ebook to find out more!
Overall, your agency’s success won’t necessarily be defined by the number of clients you have. Managing those clients well, and optimizing your projects to build a steady pipeline of ongoing, monthly recurring revenue (MRR) is the real key to sustained agency success.
Ongoing client management
In order to set your agency up for continued growth and positive client engagements, client management must play a major role in your overall business strategy.
While a lot of fledgling design businesses discover this after they’ve exhausted their staff and resources, setting up a good system for client management at the outset will help you achieve your goals for agency growth.
Many disparate, one-off tools exist for the various elements of client management, including invoicing and billing or client reports. Growth Suite, which combines a series of tools for agencies and freelancers into a single, all-in-one platform, is an excellent solution for keeping your clients and their corresponding projects organized and up-to-date.
Not only that, Growth Suite provides an intuitive view into your growing business with a growth dashboard geared specifically towards MRR, and it offers you the ability to schedule invoices and see when bills aren’t paid on time, as well as automated, custom client reports you can use to wow your customers and generate their return business.
Website hosting and maintenance
If you’re starting a web design agency, you may not be focused on all of the technical details a great website requires. Design and UX considerations are of course important, and those may be your areas of expertise. Nonetheless, a great-looking website won’t have much of an impact if it’s plagued by performance issues or an unreliable web host.
With that in mind, it’s hard to understate the importance of selecting a great web host—for your own website as well as those you build for others. If you’re a DIYer, and you prefer to spend your time on site and server maintenance, that’s certainly an option.
But if you want to focus on the core of your business and leave site hosting and maintenance to someone else, there are great options for that route as well.
Partnering with a trusted WordPress host like Flywheel (for growing agencies) or WP Engine (for agencies with larger client needs) will provide you with peace of mind that the sites you’re responsible for are all safe, secure, and running well.
Not only that, but sites running on Flywheel and WP Engine are simply faster than many of the sites hosted with other WordPress providers as well as generic, discount hosts. This alone provides your clients with a leg-up on their competitors, as well as out-of-the-box SEO and user experience improvements they’ll be sure to notice.
Creating additional services
The benefits of working with a top-tier web host don’t stop at site performance, it can also help you expand your own portfolio of services through various maintenance packages or subscription plans.
For example, you might create a maintenance plan for customers that revolves around benchmarks set by your hosting provider. Migrating customer sites over to that platform and providing regular tweaks and checkups to ensure those benchmarks are met is not only a billable service, it’s an extremely valuable offering your clients may desperately need.
Another way you can use your web host in this regard is by reselling their hosting to clients who may not be looking for a UX refresh or a specific design task (right now).
By reselling hosting from a trusted provider, you’re able to provide that extra service to a new client and most importantly, create a relationship. If your clients are pleased with the way their site performs, you can build on that positive engagement for future projects down the road.
Growing with purpose
Hopefully, this article has provided some inspiration for building and growing your own web design agency. While growth is indeed important, the way you grow is also a key part of the equation.
As noted above, growing without tools in place for client management or without the proper design and development roles in place can quickly lead to overload and burnout. Many agencies are so busy taking on new clients, their existing engagements begin to fade, or, they’re so swept up in the day-to-day, focusing on larger business tasks simply gets lost in the weeds.
There’s no single rule when it comes to setting up your web design agency for sustained growth, but one great thing to keep in mind is the purpose of your business and the services you provide.
To really hone in on this, go back to the brand you’ve created and use that as a guidepost for growth. Your brand, your agency’s values, and what you stand for should all be more than simple platitudes—they should inform your caliber of work and your larger business strategy, from the top down.
With that purpose top of mind as you build and grow your web design agency, you’ll be set up for success today and prepared for sustainable growth tomorrow.