Book review: How to Open & Operate a Financially Successful Web Site Design Business

How to Open & Operate a Financially Successful Web Site Design Business: With Companion CD - ROM by Charlotte Evans

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After meeting with a few local web designers a few weeks ago, I was inspired to accelerate my plans to move OptimWise into web design. I know how to create simple WordPress sites, but I needed insight into the business side of web design.

This book is a decent primer on starting and running a profitable web design business. It contains very little about the technology and tools of web design, because its purpose is to teach someone who already knows web design the business skills they need to profit. Although the text is mostly dry and not entertaining, it does present good business principles, and each chapter ends with a helpful summary of key points and action items.

The main idea is that a web design skills aren't enough; you need marketing and customer service skills to create the web presence that clients need. The book includes tips for client presentations, client interviews, and being personable. A client's website is an extension of their business, so to properly design their site, you need to understand their business, and market it through their site.

The book advises that that your business be a one-stop shop for your clients, providing everything they need for their web presence: website, blog, graphic design, SEO, e-commerce, etc. If you don't offer those services yourself, partner with those who do. By offering the complete package, you provide better customer service, and create multiple revenue streams for your business.

My favorite chapter was 17, which contains 51 pages of case studies of real-world successful web design firms, sized from a single employee to dozens. There's also a CD full of business plans, worksheets, and checklists for design services, marketing, and advertising.

Disclaimer: this is the first web design business book I've read, so I don't have anything to compare it to. Despite its 2009 publish date, the book seemed dated. Maybe it just seemed that way because the advice was mostly generic and not technology-specific. There were parts that seemed to be recycled from older web design business books, or even non-tech business books.


• Visit the sites of your client's competitors to get ideas for the client's site.
• Design client sites based on their logo, image, and brochures.
• Design client sites to improve the client's business and meet their goals.

• Include ownership of your intellectual property in your contracts.
• Separate the initial design from ongoing maintenance (contract).
• Include the right to place your logo and name on the client's site, and use their site in your portfolio.

Client relations
• Maintain strong relationships with current clients and prospects.
• Become well known in the community by participating in chambers of commerce and nonprofits.
• Empower users to maintain their sites.
• Make every client think you work only for them.
• Be available and over-communicate your progress.

• Use 3rd party payment processors like PayPal and Google Checkout until you have enough sales to justify having a merchant account.
• Clients prefer a fixed project fee. Charge hourly for maintenance and invoice monthly.
• Offer packages of common services.
• Avoid bottom-feeders (cheap clients).

• Include calls to action in your ads.
• Create a flagship portfolio project to showcase to potential clients. Create it at a discount or pro bono if necessary (for a nonprofit or networking group).

Business administration
• Create strategic partnerships with businesses that serve the same clients, but are not competitors, such as graphic design, advertising, marketing.
• Outsource to keep overhead low.
• Spend time and money on good training rather than trying to teach yourself.
• Become a one-stop shop by partnering with writers, photographers, PR pros, graphic designers, SEO experts, etc. Mark up these outsourced services.
• Act like a big, professional company in appearance and behavior.

Rule of Thirds
1/3 overhead: salaries, expenses
1/3 direct production: billable labor (design, development, marketing)
1/3 profit

PPC (pay per click)
target ready-to-buy customers
advertise and link to one specific product or service
position #1 is usually not worth the price
use geographic targeting

Pricing rate recommendations
graphic design: $80/hr
site design: $40/hr
basic site: $400-2000
SEO: $250-500
blogs: $300-1200
PPC: $300+

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