Covered in part 3:
You’ve made it. One full year of being the owner of your own web design business.
While there are still certain challenges you’ll need to overcome, your first full year in business is something truly worth celebrating. Simultaneously, now that you’ve made it this far, it’s a good time to start thinking about the future.
In part 3 of this guide, I’ll cover the key things you should begin thinking about after starting your web design business and working with clients for one full year
Still need to read parts 1 or 2?Part 1 – How to Start A Web Design Business in 2023Part 2 – How to Start A Web Design Business in 2023
Scaling up, after your 1st year
The most successful web design businesses I’ve spoken to have once thing in common:
They all started as one-person operations but evolved into full-scale agencies with multiple team members.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with staying small, and you can absolutely build a profitable business as a solopreneur or freelancer, I want to share something that may cause you to reconsider:
The value of scaling up, even if you would prefer to stay small:
I love to cook. After the sale of Brighter Vision and before I went on to co-found Motion.io, I considered opening a food truck. I did a ton of research into how to go about it, but eventually decided against it for two big reasons:
- I would almost always, without question, have to work weekends
- Food trucks are often generally not sustainable with just one truck, but scaling up to serve additional customers is time-consuming, expensive, and risky
My reasons for not going into the food truck business aside, throughout my research, I was surprised how frequently resources about starting a food truck provided the same simple explanation for why scaling up is so beneficial:
Scaling up to serve additional demand is a pathway to building a more profitable and sustainable business.
Long story short?
While bringing on additional help may mean more work for you in the short-term, long-term, it will allow you to have a better work/life balance and more predictable income.
How to hire your first employee
I recommend you begin thinking about scaling up/hiring your first employee (throughout this section, I will use the two term interchangeably) once you reach 60 – 70% of your total capacity for new clients and make your first hire once you reach 80%.
That said, several factors go into hiring outside of getting the timing right. This section will provide the knowledge needed to ensure your first hires support your goal of scaling up.
Task-based work vs. Project-Based Work
Before going any further, it’s important to distinguish between task-based and project-based work.
Task-based work is work with clearly defined steps to complete each task, which doesn’t substantially change from task to task. Examples of task-based work might include:
– Writing copy for a web page
– Completing SEO on a client website
– Handling one specific type of client support requests
Project-based work is more complex work that cannot be defined or documented with a simple checklist. Project-based work requires owning a process from start to finish while iterating throughout. Examples of project-based work includes:
– Launching a new marketing initiative
– Completing a client website project from beginning to end
– Handling of all client support requests
At this point in your business, you may have already handed off some of the task-based work you no longer had time for to someone a contractor or virtual assistant. Because of this, my focus for this section will be hiring for project-based work – i.e., a full-time employee.
How to decide what role to hire for first
While the food truck example I shared in the previous section can help you understand the value of scaling up, there are some other powerful things that web design businesses and food trucks have in common for helping you understand who to hire first:
– In the same way one location/truck is the bottleneck to growth in a food truck business, one designer is the bottleneck to growth in a web design business
– In the same way owners of food trucks need to hire other cooks so they can focus on marketing, sales, and other larger operational pieces of the business, owners of web design businesses have to step back from designing
As a web design business owner, you need to understand what bottlenecks prevent you from working with more clients, then hire the person to remove that bottleneck.
If you’re beginning the hiring process for your first full-time employee once you’ve reached 80% of your capacity for new clients, the bottleneck is your limited bandwidth in providing services for each new potential client. This means the person you hire full-time for your web design business will almost always be a designer.
“If I hate sales and marketing, shouldn’t I hire for that first?”
I strongly discourage web design business owners hire anyone sales/marketing related for their first hire. Here’s why:
If you’re struggling to create enough demand for your services, hiring someone for sales and marketing isn’t going to solve this problem, at least not initially. As a business owner, if you haven’t figured out strategies and channels that allow you to generate consistent demand, you’re setting up anyone you hire to do the same for failure. While down the road there will likely come a time where you’re bandwidth is limited and you need additional sales and marketing support, your first hire is neither the time nor place.
Once you’re ready to begin the hiring process
Before you’re ready to post your first job listing, start documenting everything you do related to the role you are hiring for.
Documentation is especially important when hiring a designer, as there are likely many things you do within the process of working with your clients that have been added or changed over time that won’t be obvious to the person you’re hiring.
As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to set the person you are hiring up for success by having clear documentation for things like:
- The process for onboarding new clients
- What emails get sent and when during a client project
- Tools used during a client project and how to use them
- How to respond to common questions that clients often ask
Once your first hire is onboarded
Hiring your first full-time employee is a huge first step to scaling up your one-person shop into a full-scale agency, and it’s a tremendously exciting time.
If your first hire was a designer, once they are fully trained and you start shifting your client work over to them, you’ll hopefully start to feel some breathing room. Still, during this time, there are a few important things to keep in mind:
Don’t be alarmed by a temporary drop-off in profits
Full-time hires are incredibly valuable for helping you scale but come at a cost. During your first few months after making a hire, anticipate that your monthly profits are likely going to be lower than they were in the previous months.
For this reason, it’s critical that you continue to focus on your sales and marketing efforts. To make up for the cost of your newest hire even faster, I recommend using any time freed up by bringing on additional help to focus on new marketing initiatives and double-ing down on initiatives that already work well.
Keep a pulse on customer satisfaction
If you do scale back some of your work directly with clients, it’s critical that you stay in tune with how they are feeling and what they are saying.
Whether you like it or not, you are now the face of your company, and you should establish a process for checking in with customers even if you are no longer directly responsible for their project. While your customers will appreciate hearing from you, checking in with them is critical to providing quality assurance and addressing points within your process.
Become a leader and own the role
Leadership might not come naturally to you, and that’s okay.
This is something I wish I knew sooner, and why I want to share my own story about becoming a leader for you now:
At 27 years old, I stepped into my first big leadership role at Brighter Vision – managing our sales, marketing, and customer success teams. What I found incredibly uncomfortable is that some of the people I was managing were more than ten years older than me. Not only did my age cause me to feel like an imposter at times, but when I took on the role, it was at a time in which we were going through some serious changes, requiring me to be in the room for hiring, firing, and end of year reviews.
While I felt extremely uncomfortable at the time, I finally learned that the only way to improve as a leader is through practice. After some time had passed, I started to get much more comfortable with my age and navigating challenging conversations. But, more importantly, I started understanding how to empower people to do their best work while building an environment that allowed each team member to feel safe, trusted, and confident.
My single biggest advice for anyone moving into a leadership role for the first time:
Find a mentor.
Feeling comfortable and confident in your leadership abilities takes time and experience, and it doesn’t happen overnight. That said, regularly speaking with someone who has overcome similar challenges already and can offer their advice can help you feel confident in your leadership abilities faster.
Even though I can’t cover every single aspect, I hope this 3-part series provided you with the knowledge needed to feel confident in your ability to start, grow, and scale your web design business. If there are any topics you’re interested in more in-depth coverage of, send me an email directly at [email protected].