Podcast 43: The business of web design

In this week’s show, we cover: running a web design agency, what employers look for when hiring a web designer, the best stats package in the world, should we stop testing in IE 5, and running multiple versions of IE on a single PC.

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User questions: Running a web design company

This week’s show is a little different. We answer a series of questions from listeners about running a web design company. Questions include:

  • How do you go about pricing projects and in your experience what hidden costs are there?
  • How do you bill projects? Do you use payment points? Do you have different rates for different people? Do you charge by the day or by the hour?
  • What skills does a freelancer need beyond the basic CSS, HTML and graphical skills?
  • How do you assess potential web designers when hiring?
  • How do you manage a company that primarily works from home offices?
  • What is your number one tip for running a successful web design company?

In the news

There are some interesting news stories in this week’s show:


This week sees the launch of a new online stats tool. Nothing particularly newsworthy about that I hear you cry. Well actually there is. ClickTales has an awesome set of new tools including the ability to view flash movies of your user sessions.

Visit the ClickTales site

Read the techcrunch review of the service

Gerry McGovern speaks out

This week sees the posting of an excellent article by usability guru, Gerry McGovern. Gerry gives a gentle reminder to all designers not to forget the basics of web design in our rush to implement the latest cool piece of technology.

Read Gerry’s Article

Read my response to his comments

The end of support for Windows 98

Microsoft has finally decided to stop supporting windows 98. On the show, we discuss the ramifications of this for web designers. Is now the time for us to stop, by default, testing in IE 5?

IE 7 Beta 3

It looks like the third beta of IE 7 is facing some problems. Users have been reporting a plethora of bugs including problems with installation and slow performance. Could this spell a delay in launch?


In this week’s show, we look at your options for testing in multiple version of IE on the same PC. In particular, we focus in on running free virtual machines either using VMware or Microsoft Virtual PC.

For more, view my post; Why IE doesn’t play nicely.

Download any version of IE (or indeed any other browser) from Evolt.

Also in the show…

Paul talks about the need to develop in compliant browsers first. Marcus shares his thoughts on presenting your proposals and we both discuss the new look and feel for boagworld.

  • Paul,
    I know from your previous comments that a lot of work goes into each podcast, so I guess the following request / suggestion is very cheeky.
    Have you thought about splitting up the podcast into multiple tracks / downloads? One download per topic?

  • No sure I understand what you mean. Are you suggesting people could choose to download news but not the questions? If so then no I havent. I havent seen any other podcasts take this approach so I am not sure of the benefit.

  • Good podcast, and good tips.
    Looking forward to the podcast on sales, really hope you do it. I am sure there are tons of different ways to go about finding new clients, maybe have users e-mail in ways they have?

  • Great show again! I am also excited about the sales podcast because I understand that if you can’t sell yourself then you aren’t going to get to any of the techie stuff anyway! SO thanks for that upcoming podcast.
    Maybe you could announce in the next podcast which design you are planning to choose for the new boagworld.com design as I have been fascinated by the process since your post on boagworld’s blog!
    A suggestion – why doesn’t Mark get to post on boagworld around things like Project Managing or even his famous jokes? Or does he already have access but is too lazy to do anything ;) ?

  • Stuart Lucarotti

    Great Podcast But
    I just heard about the comments about IE7 beta 3 but I’m running it and it seams to be running fine. It installed it fine and it rending well. I understand that certain users find it hard but I throught I’ll let people know that for some of us other users find the IE7 beta 3 is working well for some users.

  • You stated that the hacked versions of IE from evolt did not always work correctly. I havent noticed any differences between the hacked version and the original as of yet, can you tell me what they dont display correctly? Thanks

  • Using conditional comments seem to be the main problem area.

  • Byron

    Hi Paul,
    Great stuff, so stop worrying that the podcast may be too long – in fact they end all too quickly.

  • Austyn

    Just wanted to say great podcast. I find it very informational and wanted to add a few things I’ve found.
    First there is a 10 week AJAX online class http://www.javapassion.com/ajaxcodecamp . All you have to do to join is send a blank email to [email protected]. It sounds like it should be really good. It’s put on by an employee at Sun Java.
    I also wanted to add another option that should be good for installing beta software so that it doesn’t change your system files and is easier to uninstall. If you read the comments they talk specifically about IE and offer some suggestions. It’s at lifehacker.com: http://lifehacker.com/software/installation/hack-attack-safely-install-software-in-a-virtual-layer-162910.php .

  • Austyn

    I also forgot to add a bit about IE 5 and if it is still put on computers by default. It is still put on 98 and 2000 on a fresh installation. However when you go to update them and get the required Service Packs it is one of the critical updates and is required to view the latest Windows Update page.
    As someone who has done computer support for various companies and family members I would be so happy if designers added a conditional statement to tell users of IE 5 to go to windows updates, contact their tech support, or give them the direct link to the IE 6 download.
    For some of the spyware and such that 98 and 2000 machines get the only real solution is to reformat the computer. While updating IE and applying all security patches isn’t perfect it helps alot.
    Sorry for the rant it’s just something I have delt with recently and it can be prevented!

  • Ed

    There was another error with the IE 7, Beta 1 stand-alone hack: it could freeze IE.
    Nice of MS to say how to fix it though.
    Thanks for the tips, Austyn – very useful.

  • Hi Guys,
    Nice podcast. I’ve been looking at a few different podcasts lately to get a bit of scope on the quality can I keep coming back to yours because of it’s conversational tone.
    With starting up you business…I was wondering what your take is on working with partners as you have seemed to with Headscape. Obviously it has worked in your case but would you have started solo if other like minded people had not come along?
    If my view on the founding partners of Headscape is wrong I’d be interested to hear how it all started.

  • Hi Guys,
    Nice podcast. I’ve been looking at a few different podcasts lately to get a bit of scope on the quality. I keep coming back to yours because of it’s conversational tone.
    With starting up you business…I was wondering what your take is on working with partners as you have seemed to with Headscape. Obviously it has worked in your case but would you have started solo if other like minded people had not come along?
    If my view on the founding partners of Headscape is wrong I’d be interested to hear how it all started.

  • Hey Paul,
    Regarding your comment in the podcast: “Don’t develop on IE; develop on a more compliant browser.” I agree completely. However, it contradicts, if only just a bit, the position you take when it comes to Mac vs. Windows, i.e. that you should develop using the environment that the majority uses. If nothing else, your comment about IE punctures a small hole in your Mac vs. Windows argument. I’m personally a Windows user, but I must admit, like you, that Macs are, by far, more stable, more reliable, more resilient, they have a much more attractive user interface, they can handle much, much greater loads.
    If, according to you, I can develop on Firefox as my primary browser, and just make sure it looks right in IE; then by the same argumen, I should be able to develop on a Mac as my primary OS, and just make sure it looks right in Windows. :) By obvious implication, you have just said it yourself. Absolutely brilliant. ;)
    Love your show, by the way. You’re doing a great job.

  • F D Yocum

    You mentioned free virtual machines which run on Windows. An Intel Mac option (not free) that fullfils the same purpose is Parallels from http://www.parallels.com. It allows you to run multiple virtual versions of Windows and/or Linux. Same issue with Windows licenses, however.
    Good podcast! Keep it up.

  • Ed

    Another, more convoluted method of testing beta software is by using the Microsoft Shared Computer Toolkit for Windows® XP. This free software is intended for use in shared PC systems (such as at Internet cafes), so that any changes the user makes will be “forgotten” after a reboot. Changes can be stored, and reversed after any number of sessions too. I could imagine you could install IE 7 when using the toolkit, and then get rid of IE when you want to, just by rebooting and choosing not to save the change.
    You could try to install IE in a virtual layer.
    Both of these options would require no extra licence.

  • Looks like an informative podcast. Can’t wait to download and listen to it.

  • Denis Fort

    I would love to hear about how you would compete with off-shore pricing and sites like http://www.scriptlance.com where people can obtain a full website & logo for under $100.00
    This is something we face all the time, dealing with clients that have very “limited” budgets.
    What type of typical hourly rate would you guys charge on a project?
    Any insight on this would be GREATLY appreciated…

  • We deal with it very easily Denis, we dont compete in the same market place. Bitter experience taught me early on in my web design career that competitng at the bottom end of the market wasnt worth the trouble. The reason is that a small business owner is paying for his site out of his own money. A couple of hundred pounds to him has a bigger emotional cost attached to it than a marketing director spending £30,000 on a corporate website.

  • Hi just listened to this podcast and heard you talking about having IE5 installed on XP and having to remove IE6 inorder to install it. I am personally a mac user but I do have a install of windows for testing which contains every version of IE known to man IE4 IE5 IE6 and IE7. Below is the link to where you can download standalone copies of IE.

  • Sorry Scott, those versions are buggy. Use them with extreme caution.

  • Cheers Paul, Just got to the end of the podcast. I’m always learning from you guys (-: now to try and install virtual PC on my mac running bootcamp, could be confusing.

  • Aussie John

    Boagworld site
    2:05 Redesign discussion
    4:18 site stats package
    8:27 usability article
    11:22 Microsoft
    15:23 IE 7.0 bugs
    16:15 pricing projects
    22:13 billing projects
    28:09 skills needed to land a job
    33:10 Employees, what qualities matter
    36:45 Working in a home based business
    43:23 key thing for success
    44:52 Multi versions of IE
    51:12 Testing
    52:05 Proposals presentation
    53:08 joke

  • Aussie John

    To me the key is to being successful is a good team. People with diverse enough skills to fill all the roles need to run the business. Sales, Development, Design and management are rarely skills found in one person to the degree that will mean a successful business.
    A good team are people who trust each other, get along and have fun working together. Also I don’t think one skill set is more important than the other, each are equally important.
    Without sales there isn’t the money for the business, without a good design and development team you wont get loyal clients and referals from those clients, and without good management there is a lack of focus and direction to sustain the growth of the company.
    I also believe that when finding a new team member the interview is always about evaluating the personality. Whether they will be a positive addition to the team and that they have the right attitude. Degrees, portfolios and work experience are the things that usually land you that interview to begin with.

  • Ruth

    Re IE 7, MS are saying it will be a “high priority” automatic download.

  • Ed

    Re I7 rollout:
    Microsoft Issues Tool To Block IE7 Auto Updates

  • I’m slowly, but surely, going back and listening to all your past episodes. They make great listening when I travel, which I do frequently for my job.
    I found myself puzzled for most of this episode, however, because several times I heard you refer to ‘beata’s, and I had no clue what you were talking about. Somewhere toward the end, when you said the word again in a context I could more reasonably understand, I realized you were saying, ‘beta’, as if the Greek letter.
    I’m just another stupid Yank, I suppose. :)

  • Great podcast guys!
    As a fledgling freelance designer I was particularly interested in your discussion of pricing. A question that came to mind: how do you handle a situation in which your initial estimate doesn’t turn out to be accurate? Are there established norms for how far overbudget you can go, or do you just eat the difference?
    I’d also love to hear you guys talk about contracts, starting with the basics.
    (As a side note, I had an extremely hard time hearing Marcus on my car stereo.)