Whether you want to work part-time or full-time, you can create an awesome portfolio and an even better income taking on web development projects. Web development is one of the fastest growing online industries today. People struggle with a lot of issues in this line of business, however, it is always helpful working with a plan and structure. Here we shall take a quick look at five key issues you need to consider in setting up your web development business with a good freelance business structure.

1) Do your Research

  • Know the tools you need and Calculate start-up costs

Make a list of the basic equipment you’re going to need. At first, it might just be a computer and a phone. You’ll want to factor in the cost of registering your domain name and hosting your own website. You might want to get business cards printed, a dedicated desk, stationery supplies and so forth. Will you need new software? As you start out, download free trials of popular web design software – like Espresso, Coda, Aptana, or Adobe Dreamweaver. Do you need an office space? Business registration? Insurance? etc. Talking things over with people in this line of business is very essential.

2) Establish Your Brand & Portfolio

  • look for voluntary or low-cost services to boost your portfolio for references

How are you going to brand yourself? Many freelance web designers use their name as their brand. This is attractive to clients seeking a personal touch to their projects – clients know that they’re getting an individual, someone who maybe have a bit more flexibility in their availability, someone they can hire probably a bit cheaper than a fully fledged agency.

Alternatively, you could consider using a more formal name for your business, especially if you envisage your business becoming more robust in the future. If you have plans to maybe turn yourself into a studio, with a couple of people working for you, you might want to start out with a more formal company name. Think about how you would like to be perceived – as an individual brand, or as a young company. Think about how you want to position yourself in the mind of your clients.

Furthermore, you will need something to prove your expertise. Your own website should at the very least clearly state the services you offer, provide a clear means for people to contact you, and wherever possible refer to some of your work – do some pro bono work for charity organizations, social clubs, religious groups, etc. you could provide them with a new website, a Facebook page, some banner ads, a blog, or whatever. You can do it for free or very low cost and suddenly your new portfolio is looking quite respectable.

3) Figure Out How Much to Charge

There are so many ways you could approach this, but the most important thing here is to work out a system to effectively establish your rates up-front or over time so you don’t end up working for peanuts or find it difficult to ever raise your rates. You should try and get as specific as you can – although this can be difficult as you are looking for your first client. But the resources below will help: Freelance hour rates calculator, Estimate time for web projects more accurately

4) Keep Positioning and Promoting your business

It is important you are technically competent to handle your client projects and that you also make them believe this. However that is not your core focus – you’re in the business of selling. Your only real job is to promote your services.

Being a fabulous web designer might make you feel all tingly inside, but it means nothing if you’re unable to sell your services adequately. You need to formalize a sales cycle: a process for finding prospects, cultivating your relationship with them, educating them about your services, offering your services to the right ones, fulfilling their expectations, and developing that relationship with them.

5) Develop a routine, network and learn

  • Organize a good daily work routine
  • Identify yourself with good networks and community
  • Sign up for with good learning sites

Your day is going to need structure. It’ll help you if you can have a consistent structure for your working day. Have a daily schedule mapped out which works around when you are most productive and when you are more likely to get things done.

The great thing about the freelance economy today is that there is a tremendous community of professionals who can support you in what you do. It’s a very open, communicative bunch of people. So start following people on Twitter, getting to know them on LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media hangouts. There are other people out there in similar situations and they have a lot to offer. Also, be sure to get involved in the communities where you customers are. If you’re targeting a specific niche, what online forums do they use? Are there newsgroups that you should belong to? Are there regular meetups that you should be attending? Immerse yourself in the communities in which you operate and you’ll build up a really strong network – of partners, potential clients and referrals.

Be on the look out for resourceful conferences and other opportunities out there for you to keep on learning your craft. The important thing is to make time for yourself to develop your craft, to continue learning and to share what you learn with others.

Overall, freelancing to earn extra income is all well and good. To position it as a business that generates a full-time income, you must be determined to improve your freelancing craft too and be conscious of some pitfalls peculiar to the web designs or development portfolio. We wrap up here with a few of these:

Web Design is a commodity: Low barrier to entry and an abundance of do-it-yourself options means clients are spoiled for choice and have little or no basis upon which to make the best decision. Learn to break out of the commoditization trap and position your business to overcome that challenge.

You must actively prospect for business: If you’re just starting out and need clients right away, go out and find them. Cold calling works, follow up on leads and referrals. Be active and effective about this. However, the quality of your service delivery will add the much more valuable word-of-mouth referrals also.

Your biggest competitor may not be who you think: You may lose more clients to “the decision to do nothing” than to other web firms. As Seth Godin says: “Are you really worth the hassle, the risk, the time, the money?” Before getting too cozy with that prospect, know how to they prioritize your project if it’s critical or if “doing nothing” is an option.

Writing a proposal is a poor way to close a deal: But when I first started out, I’d offer to write one instead of simply asking for the sale. Once I learned otherwise, I found I could close a deal on a verbal agreement, then write the proposal to finalize the sale. So don’t write a proposal unless your prospect has agreed to sign it.

Try to clone your best clients as soon as possible: Chances are, you stumble on some good clients by accident. You know the type – the ones who give you plenty of ongoing work, always pay on time, never badger you for a lower price, etc. Once you land a few of these types, figure out what characteristics they have in common and by all means, go after others like them.

Above all, always keep an open mind – quick to learn trends and new imaginations in your line of business. Persistence and the determination to succeed are the most important skills you bring to the table . . .

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