When I marched out on my own to pursue full-time blogging, one of the side gigs I maintained was freelance website design installing WordPress sites.
This little side hustle enabled me to make anywhere from $100 to $500 extra each month with minimum marketing effort.
So today I’m sharing my thoughts on this type of business in case any of you would like to pursue it. I’ll try to answer a few questions that I anticipate you might have. But feel free to chime in with your questions (and tips) in the comments below.
What Do You Need to Get Started?
Obviously you’ll need to have (or be willing to gain) a good knowledge of how websites are built. Specifically, WordPress-based sites. This means, at a minimum, you’ll need to understand:
- how to register domains and point them at host servers
- how to sign up for hosting services
- how to install both WordPress (.org) and a theme or theme framework (like Thesis) on your server
- and how to perform basic theme customization.
Most of this knowledge I learned myself by simply creating my own websites (e.g. this blog). These days, the above list of minimum skills is a lot easier to achieve than it might appear.
Isn’t WordPress blogging software? Actually, it’s an open-sourced content management system that is primarily used by bloggers. So, yes, it is blogging software, but it can also be quickly customized to have the look and feel of a static website. Simply navigate to “settings/reading” in the WordPress admin panel and set a static page as the home page.
Finding Clients for Your Web Design Business
The more difficult piece of this business, in my opinion, is finding the right clients. One of the key ingredients to being successful initially in this business is knowledge of the industry and of your competition. This will help you to target the right clients and manage expectations and fees.
Here’s what I mean. In the world of web design, there is a full range of types of services offered. On one end you have the high-end designers who charge multiple thousands of dollars initially to install a completely custom design and then may or may not charge monthly fees for site maintenance. You are not (at least initially) going to be in competition with these designers.
On the other end, you have the services catering to the do-it-yourself small business owner. These are the free platforms like Blogger and WordPress.com as well as the monthly fee only services like 1and1.com. You can’t possibly compete with these free platforms.
What you want is a client who needs something in the middle of this spectrum. They want to control the look and feel of their website, possibly even making some changes themselves. They understand the importance of having their own place on the Internet (not just a business that is piggy-backing off of a free platform).
They also don’t want to pay for monthly fees, beyond the cost of simple hosting ($8/mo). They simply need someone to help them get setup and potentially update the site (outside of the blogging functionality) once a year. For this, they are willing to spend anywhere from $100 to $500, depending on the amount of customization involved.
This is the service I provided my clients. Some call it web design. Some call it a WordPress install service. I like to think my sites were a bit more than just an install though. Here’s one of the sites I did a few years ago:
I then installed WordPress, a free iThemes theme, and a basic suite of plugins. Then, I had a custom logo created. Finally, I performed some basic on-page SEO work, I customized the theme and uploaded several pictures. I normally charged around $500 for this much work (approx. 20 hours).
Bonus Services You Can Offer
On top of a basic install, you can offer your clients services like content creation, logo design (I would typically outsource this), social media account setup, Google local listing, basic on-page SEO, etc. All of these take time, so make sure you charge for these separately or build them into your basic install package price.
How to Get the Clients
It’s not always going to be easy, but there are many ways to find clients. Post on craigslist. Create a website and market it using Facebook and Twitter. Call your self-employed friends and see if they need a new or updated website. Offer your services at 99designs.com, Upwork.com, or similar service. Remember to think about your target client. Where do these people work? How can they be reached? Use that to drive your marketing efforts.
Much to Like About this Business
I think there’s a lot of upside in this type of business. First, you can set your own hours. People paying someone else will expect a web design project to take a few days, so you can work on it at night or on the weekend in your spare time. Once you have the basic process down, most installs will only take a few hours. At that rate, it’s easy to see how you could take on three or four installs in a month.
Secondly, you are developing the basic skills of the Internet. This will serve you for years to come, as the Internet continues to capture more of our daily activity.
Thirdly, the costs to enter this line of business are extremely low. All you need is a basic Internet connection and computer. Technically, you don’t even need that. You could borrow both from your local library if you needed. You get my point. There are no costs. Domain, hosting, and theme fees can all be passed on to the client. WordPress = totally free!
Finally, I like this style of business because it’s the true side hustle. Meaning you do you work, the client pays, and you go about your business. No headaches. Sure there may be a few clients who need follow-up help, but you can either do that work at an hourly rate or pass them off to another freelancer, who wants to deal with clients.
If you’re a freelance web designer, I welcome your tips and advice in the comments below. Interested in starting this type of business and have a question? Ask away.