How to Start a Freelance Web Design Business

By Lindsey Leitner


Photo by Lindsey Leitner


Have you considered starting a freelance Web design business but don’t know where to start? Do you even know if freelancing is a possibility for you?

Freelancing can be exciting but it is also challenging and takes much more time than you would actually think. It is by no means a quick and easy way to make more money. But if you are up for the challenge, starting your own freelance Web design business could be the challenging but rewarding career you have always wanted.

Take the quiz below to see if freelancing may be a good fit for you!

  Yes No
Are you a self-starter?    
Do you have experience?    
Are you comfortable with your experience level?    
Do you have business sense? Or are you willing to learn it?    
Do you have self-discipline?    
Do you enjoy furthering your education?    
Do you love Web design?    


If you answered yes to five or more of the questions, then chances are you may be ready to start freelancing!

Head-to-Head – Real Designers Take on Experience

“I definitely recommend gaining in-house or agency experience before going freelance. I learned so much about organization, client relations, presentations, print production and multitasking at my first job!”    “I don’t think a degree is necessary, although I do think it is helpful. It’s pretty easy to learn on your own, especially with all the resources available online.”

Ciera Holzenthal
Ciera Design

   Allyssa Barnes
Allyssa Barnes Web Design

Are There Any Downsides of Freelancing?

Freelancing may have many benefits such as setting your own hours and being your own boss, but it also comes with a few downsides. It is important for you to think about if they are manageable for you.

Work/Life Balance

Many freelancers work from home, which means there is no clocking in and out of work. You are always at work. You will have to figure out how to balance working and living.


The benefits you get from a fulltime job, you do not get when you freelance: no health insurance, no dental insurance, and no paid vacation.

Steady Paycheck

When you work a 9-to-5 job you are guaranteed a steady paycheck. The company you work for is responsible for paying you for the work you’ve completed. That disappears when you freelance. You could have dry spells and go a while without any clients. No clients means no paycheck.

Personal Interactions

There is no more gossiping around the water cooler or chatting with your coworkers in the next cubicle or office, which can feel lonely.

Unwanted Tasks

When first starting out, you are in charge of everything from design to invoicing.

“I thought I could just jump right in since I had design experience in the real world. I didn’t really think about the business side,” Holzenthal said. “ I have to spend less time designing and more time running the business, networking, pursuing new work, meeting with clients, invoicing, accounting, and lots of other things that I don’t necessarily enjoy doing.”

The Big Decision – Should You Specialize or Generalize?

A big part of starting a freelance Web design business is deciding what service you want to offer. Do you want to focus on just designing websites for a specific industry or do you want to tackle web design and other tasks such as SEO optimization, photography and content writing.

According to Meg Mateo Ilasco and Joy Deangdeelert Cho, authors of “Creative, Inc,” freelancers should focus on skills they enjoy while ensuring there is also a need for them in the marketplace.

A Business Plan, Do You Really Need One?

A business plan is essential for every business, even if no one else will see it but you. It helps hold you accountable and puts your business into perspective.

“Creating a business plan leaves your creativity in a place to grow without being side-tracked,” said Jennifer Krynin, professional web developer, in her article “Getting Started as a Freelance Web Designer” on


– It does not need to be technical

– You don’t need to use technical language (especially if it is just for you!)

Show Your Work and Seal the Deal

A professional, well-designed website is a must if you are starting a freelancing Web design business. It is the place where potential clients make their first impressions, view your services, and possibly contact you.

Your website also acts are your portfolio. It is a reflection of your work and your design esthetic.

Make sure to include a short biography, services page and contact page. Also a clear, prominent call-to-action can help turn visitors into clients.

“A quality portfolio site that draws a lot of interest and links can help a new freelancer to get established pretty quickly, so be sure to give plenty of time and attention to your portfolio site,” said Steven Snell, owner and editor of Vandelay Design, in his article, “17 Tips for Designers on Starting a Freelance Business.”

Before You Start – Tackle the Contract

A contract is needed for every job you do. It protects both the designer and the client.

You contract should include important dates, job details, forfeit details and pricing at the very least, according to Kyrnin.

“I also advise to always use a contract no matter how large or small the job is, whether it is your best friend or a complete stranger,” said Holzenthal. “It is the only way that both designer and client can be on the same page.”

Clients – Who to Work With and Where to Find Them

The type of clients you choose to work with can have a big impact on the success of your freelancing career.

“Knowing your ideal client and the type of person you enjoy working with can make a huge difference in the success of your business,” Holzenthal said.

Potential clients are all over the place. You just need to be friendly and constantly networking. You can find new clients by looking within your local community, selling premade templates along with custom design services, or offering free services (but only once.)

Networking – It’s All About Who You Know

Networking is an essential part of any business. It can make all of difference between the success and failure of your business, so it is important to set aside time to network.

“It’s important to know others in your industry and web design is no different. Forming friendships with other designers is invaluable,” Barnes said.

Costs – Start-Up Money Every Freelancer Should Spend

Every business has start-up costs, but luckily the costs of starting a freelance Web design company are fairly low. One of the most expensive costs is designing and developing a website. Luckily, you are a Web designer; which can save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars you would have otherwise spent on starting your business.

Typical Costs

– Domain and hosting services

– Business cards and stationery or professional email template (You could even design these yourself and save even more money)

– Necessary software, if you don’t have it already

– Subscription to stock photo sites

– Legal costs

Possible Costs

– Health insurance – Check if you are able to get on your spouse or parent’s health insurance plan

– Personal liability insurance

– Business insurance

Making It Official – Getting Off on the Right Foot

It is important when starting your freelance Web design business, to start it legally. Otherwise you could be subject to fines.

According to “Creative, Inc.” here are the steps to making it official:

– Business License – It depends on your city and state, visit your chamber of commerce for details.

– Zoning – Check with your city planning division to see if zoning allows businesses to operate at your location.

– Fictitious Business Name – If you are not using your legal name you will need to register a “Doing Business As” name. Check with your county clerk’s office for more information.

– Service Mark – Not necessary, but it adds a level of protection.

– Business Bank Account – For tax purposes, business and personal money needs to be kept separate.

– Federal Tax ID – Also known as an Employer ID Number. Needed if you do not want to give your social security number to every client that requires a W-9 form.

– Liability Insurance

– Health Insurance – Check if you are able to get on your spouse’s or parent’s health insurance first.

– Domain Name and Phone Line

A Difficult Question – Should You Quit Your Day Job to Start Freelancing?

Freelancing offers no job security. Your income is based on your client flow. So quitting your day job to start freelancing is very risky.

Continue working your day job while you start your freelance career. That means more work, but it will be well worth it. That will allow you to start an emergency fund for when business is slow.

Final Thoughts

“Freelancing itself is a learning process and whether you’ve been doing it for one month or one year, you’ll still be learning,” Barnes said.


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Lindsey Leitner

About Lindsey Leitner

A convergent journalism student at Metropolitan State University of Denver. She hopes to move to New York City after graduation and pursue a career in Fashion. Working at Harper's Bazaar would be her dream.

One Response to “How to Start a Freelance Web Design Business”

  1. On March 18, 2014 at 1:50 PM Melanie Moccia responded with... #

    I am familiar with your writing, and I remember when you wrote this last year! I really like how you split up the story. It makes it a lot easier to navigate. Keep it up and I hope you’re doing well in L.A.!

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