Are you ready to start your own business, but are not sure where to start or how to accomplish your goal? I was in your shoes a while ago, when I decided I could have more free time and earn more money if I started my own business. I worked as a developer for a large company for almost six years, and I grew tired of receiving only a fraction of the payment and no credit for a website, when I did all of the work! So, two of my friends, a graphic designer, a straight programmer, and myself, got together to start our little multi-media agency. In the process of starting a small freelance web development business with my two friends, I learned plenty about the dos and don’ts of starting a business. We are all web developers and not businessmen, so we stepped into this endeavor somewhat blind; however, we learned a lot along the way, and in the end, we have been fairly successful. Small businesses are hard to launch, and even harder to succeed; so, in no way do I guarantee success, but these tips should give you some guidance. Here is some advice we learned in the process, and I hope you find it useful if you are in the process of starting your own web development business. Feel free to comment and leave your own tips! Enjoy!
Get a Mentor and Research
Before we started our business, we immediately sought out people who had started a web development business, like us, and we asked as many questions as possible. We did as much research as possible and asked as many questions as possible, in order to be as well prepared as possible. Even then, we encountered new and surprising problems along the way, but at least we were not completely blind. Moreover, we kept a mentor throughout the launching process, and we still have him to ask questions even today. He has been so helpful in guiding us, so I recommend finding someone who can assist you with the initiation of your business, as well as answer questions for years to come.
Start your Business Part-time
If you work for a business that allows for you to have work on the side, if you do not have a non-compete clause in your contract, or if the company you work for does not do web development; then try starting your web development business on the side. My associates and I were lucky to be able to do this, since the company we worked for only did work in another country; therefore, we were able to start our small business on the side, advertising to clients in our own country. This allowed us to start small, do things slowly, and build up a clientele. Then, after we had a few clients, we each decided to launch our business for real!
Know When to Start your Business
It is important to start your business at the ideal time, because you will need to be able to put 100% of your time and energy into your business when you are just getting if off the ground. Even if you are starting the business on the side, your mind has to be in the right place in order to succeed. We learned this advice the hard way, because we decided to launch our business in the middle of one of us planning a wedding and another applying to graduate school. We were unable to put all of our time and energy into a successful launch, and it harmed us in the short run. Eventually we were able to devote ourselves completely to the business and that is when we started to succeed. So, in order to give yourself the greatest possibility for success, try to launch your business at the perfect time, in order to be 100% ready!
Have a Business Plan
This tip is crucial for a successful business. The small investment upfront on a business plan could save you time, money, and energy later. It is important to be well planned and organized, so you know the basic structure of your business; everything from how to start it, what you will name your business, which person is in charge of what area, how you will raise money, how you will advertise, how you will split profits, etc. Getting an online MBA helps you learn about proven business plans.
Do not get in over your head by investing your life’s saving in your business. Try to start small and build from there. This reminds me of a friend of mine who wanted to start a small business. He invested over $3000 dollars in the website alone, not to mention the loads of money he spent on the merchandise, employees, and the office. Unfortunately, the business failed, and he lost a lot of money. His problem was not the business, it was that jumped into the business with gun loaded, and was not smart about building up the business. Rather, I suggest starting undersized, and add your office, employees, and essential supplies in due time and as needed. Do not hire a secretary if you are always in the office. Try to keep the business as small as possible initially, and you will greater your likelihood of being successful.
Pick your Partners Wisely
If you are going to go into business as a team, make sure you pick compatible partners. When I say compatible, I do not only mean personality wise; I mean to work with people with different strengths and weaknesses as well. It is very important to get along with your partners and to have similar mindsets on all of the elements of a small business. Furthermore, it is essential that not all of the partners share the same strengths. For example, do not select three designers with the same style, or two programmers that know the same programming languages. Try to diversify and it will be more profitable, because you will be able to accept more types of projects and expand your clientele, for the most possible profits.
There are advantages and disadvantages to incorporating your small business, and for us, it was not necessary initially to incorporate, because our business was not large enough. We started as a sole proprietorship, but as we grew, we wanted to protect ourselves and our assets from personal liability, so we decided to incorporate our business. You need to decide what is best for your business, but you can change the legal organization of your business as it grows, so you do not have to incorporate immediately. A common scenario is for small businesses to start out as sole proprietorships or partnerships and later become incorporated when the business has gotten larger. The important advantages to incorporating are: personal protection from liability, increased income, and tax benefits. The disadvantages include: more paperwork, more complicated taxes, and the expense to incorporate.
This tip goes without explanation, and it also goes hand in hand with the “start small” tip. Try to keep your expenses low, and decide what you need and what is essential. If it is not essential to run your business, try to get rid of that expense in order to increase your profits. Moreover, use expense sheets in order to have a truly accurate depiction of your operating costs. It is important to understand what costs are necessary to run the business, and those that do not fall in that category, should be greatly limited, at least in the initial stages of starting your business. Moreover, when you first start out, beg and borrow as much as you can, and try to keep the overhead as low as possible. For example, for the first six months we were working as a team, we had no office and worked entirely remotely in order to keep cost low. We would borrow offices from other companies to meet clients, and it proved very successful in helping us get our business off the ground!
Be Smart with Prices
When we first started our business, this area gave us the most difficulty. Since we had not done freelance prior to beginning our business, we were all unsure as to suitable prices to charge. It is truly complicated to establish appropriate prices when you first start your business. We did not want to overcharge and push away clients, but we did not want to undercharge and not get compensated for our work and expertise. What we decided was that we needed to be smart with prices, so that we could increase our profits as greatly as possible, and to make sure we increased our clientele. So, we made a plan where we set prices for certain types of websites and applications, and we are very clear with potential clients, and this has been very successful for us. We learned that you have to meet a happy medium with prices, so that everyone is happy. For more specifics on pricing, I will be writing a post in the future, so stay tuned!
Successfully Interact with Clients
No matter what profession you are in, you must regularly interact with clients. In order to make a web development business successful, you need people who want to pay you for your work, and it is most important to keep those paying people happy, so they keep coming back! Please see my post, “10+ Tips to Improve Interaction with Clients.” to see some great tips on dealing with clients, and these tips should greatly improve the success of your small business!
Make a Contract between Partners
I never do any business without a contract, and I always suggest constructing a clear contract with your partners that clearly manifests all the components of the business, such as the payment, time frame, deadlines, expectations, job requirements, roles, and any other essential elements you can think of, so each partner knows their position and job in the business. (Extra Tip: Try to be a equal on payment as possible, so as to keep everyone happy.) So, no matter who you are starting your business with, make sure you make a contract between your associates. Making a contract can avoid a myriad of problems.
Network with People in your Field
Networking is extremely important when you want to have a successful start to your business. With sites like Facebook and Twitter, it is easy to network socially, but these sites can also be used to advance your business. Try to meet with as many people in your field, so that you can have projects referred to you from associates who may not have the same expertise as you, or even network in order to team up on projects. Use social networking sites to your advantage in order to be well known in the field!
As web developers, we are lucky when it comes to advertising, because our work advertises itself. However, we have to show potential clients how to get to that job! That is the key to advertising your web development business. Advertising could be the biggest expense you will incur, but it is also one of the most important, if not THE most important. You should invest in your company’s presentation, as well as a logo, business cards, leaflets, signs, and other types of promotional materials in order to get the word out about your business. Do this wisely though. Do your research to investigate where the best places to advertise are, in order to increase the return on your investment!