Researchers predict the number of web design businesses in the United States will reach 75,531 this year, with an annual growth rate of 6.6%. As a web developer, you’re competing against big agencies as well as freelancers. Although the growth of web development businesses in the U.S. is on an upward trajectory, there is also competition from around the world. If you want to compete against all the other options available, you must consider some factors that help web design businesses stand out from the crowd and gather a loyal group of clients.

1. Learn Your Craft

The most successful web designers specialize in one or two areas. While they might know how to create parallax scrolling and can deliver that if a customer wants it, their specialty might be in mobile design. It’s essential to not only understand the basic concepts of design, but also to know coding, such as HTML, SQL and PHP. You don’t need a formal education to become a web developer, but you do need knowledge. You can gain know-how from college courses, online courses, self-guided study or hands-on learning where you intern under a more experienced designer.

2. Find Clients

One of your first steps as a web design business is finding clients. Without clients, you won’t have any income, and your business will flounder. At first, your clients may be small local business owners you know personally and gigs through sites such as Fiverr and Upwork. With time, you’ll develop contacts and receive referrals from happy clients. Ideally, your client base will consist of a couple of big accounts and many smaller accounts. The larger accounts bring in plenty of cash, while the smaller ones keep the lights on and help you if you lose a big client unexpectedly. Tell everyone you know about your new business, pass out cards and network with business owners in your area.

3. Track Value

Understand the key performance indicators for your business and ask your teams to work with accounting to track how much time you’re spending on each client versus the money that client brings into your agency. Analyze the cost for each invoice you send to that client. For example, one client might love every design you create and sign off on the changes with only a minor tweak. Another client might hate every design you send their way and ask for revision after revision. The value of the client who rarely asks for changes is higher because they take up less of your time for the same amount of money.

Even though it’s difficult to let those first clients go as your company grows, if you want a profitable business, you must release the smaller clients who are eating up all your time. Each year, take a look at your bottom 20% in key performance indicators. Consider if the client brings in additional people through referrals and the actual cost of doing business with the people in that bottom 20%. Release the ones who are not benefiting your business so you can make room for other, better-paying clients.

4. Fix Problems

As your business grows, you’ll run into a variety of growing pains. Every three to six months, look at the efficiency of your operations. Are customers complaining about wait times? You may need to hire another designer to keep up with demand. Are people failing to pay invoices? You may need to go to a model where clients pay 25% up front and then in increments throughout the design process.

Only about half of business startups make it past their fifth year. The most common cause of failure is due to cash flow problems. Pay close attention to money going out and money coming in, and ensure there is a balance between the two. If your employee costs are higher than your income, you’ll run out of money fast. If you’re not quite ready to hire a full-time employee, but you have more work than you can handle, hire freelancers or temporary workers to get you through the growth phase until you can afford to bring someone new into the company.

5. Develop a Great Team

When you are ready to hire people to help you run your business, find the absolute best team possible. While you might not be able to pay workers the same as a large corporation, you can offer other perks a big company might not, such as bringing pets to work or offering extra days off. Create a strong company culture that feels more like a family than work, and you’re more likely to attract and keep top talent.

6. Improve Your CX

Customer experience, or CX, is one of the most vital elements in attracting and keeping new customers. Around 67% of consumers say they expect a good experience more today than ever before. Not only should your company’s website draw in the user and keep their attention, but the CX carries on to the customer service you offer once the buyer makes a purchase and how easy it is to work with you. Excellent CX requires attention to detail and ongoing training for your employees.

Grow Your Business

When you’re ready, growing your business is often as easy as asking your current customers for referrals. Word-of-mouth advertising is one of the most effective ways to reach new clients. If you’ve developed a specialty area, use social media and advertise to that market segment. Keep a close eye on your growth, with the understanding that growth is often a tipping point in cash flow issues, and you should be able to steadily grow your business year after year, making it profitable and secure.

This is a guest article by Lexie Lu. Lexie is a web designer and UX strategist. She writes for Marketo, Creative Bloq, Manta, Website Magazine and Cats Who Code. Check out her design blog, Design Roast, and follow her on Twitter @lexieludesigner.

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