Running a successful web design business

Being your own boss does not always live up to our expectations. Often it feels like your company runs you rather than the other way round. Fortunately there are things you can do to make life better.

Once again the wonderful people at Carsonified were kind enough to invite me to speak at the Future of Web design New York. This time they gave me the title “getting down to business: being successful in web design”.

In this talk I asked what it means to be successful and looked at some of the common challenges that are faced by the vast majority of freelancers and web design business owners. Hopefully you will find my experiences of running my own web design business useful in combating the stress and pressure in your own business.

If you enjoyed this talk you will love: ‘40 better ways to work with clients.’

Talk Description:

Many go freelance or set up their own agency in search of more freedom, more time and more cash. However, in reality many web design businesses are more demanding on their founders than even the most unreasonable boss.

Freelancers often work longer hours, take less holiday and have poorer work-life balances than most employed web designers. The business becomes a monster that has to be fed constantly.
In his talk, Paul looks at how to grow your business in a controlled way that facilitates the life you want to live. From sales and marketing to client management and getting work done, Paul shows you how to “work to live” rather than “live to work.”

  • Great stuff, Paul! Looking forward to more like this in the future.

  • Another great talk, Paul.

    This couldn’t have come at a better time, I just registered my own studio as a company. Some fantastic tips and you gave me a lot to take on board.

    Marketing Plan is on my to-do list tonight…

  • They say the Universe sends you what you need when you need it. Case in point. Thank you so much for this video. Some really great tips (Omni Focus, brilliant!) and I feel ‘less alone’.

  • Rob

    Very good stuff Paul. Incredibly informative. Really liked the portion on marketing and sales.

  • Thanks! Great talk!

    btw, which tool did you use to merge the slides and the video? And to get them slanted?
    (always curious..)

    • I use screenflow. A superb app and it is create for recording user testing too.

  • Megan Johnson

    I wish I had this type of advice years ago. I crashed and burned attempting to do freelance. I don’t think I ever really recovered from it emotionally. But as you cited in the video, having a community surrounding you to push off ideas or frustrations is helpful. I felt really alone in my endeavor. I also never had a business plan. I knew it was important but I never put any time into it. Having a niche market would have saved me from taking on less than choice clients. I haven’t done freelance work in years but this video contains lots of good advice for dealing with clients and managing my time better. Thanks.

  • Excellent presentation, I think that each point really struck a nerve.

  • Solid presentation, thanks for the knowledge!

  • Great presentation. This was hugely useful to me as I just started freelancing straight out of school (mainly because jobs are scarce, and I know it would be better to have agency experience before but it is what it is).

    I am dealing with my first “big” client and one area where I failed is managing the clients expectations. This is causing a ton of stress for me and I definitely need to focus on the business side.

  • What’s the best way to get an audio version of this? Can’t seem to find enough time to watch the whole thing and think the best way to listen to it might be in the car!

  • Great Presentation Paul! Inspiring, and a big eye opener!
    Love the moneypenny service, and the omni focus app, very very useful!

  • Great presentation. Really resonates well with my partner and I. It touches on key aspects of what goes on in the life of a freelancer. Thanks for taking the time to do and share this.

  • Am I the only person who cannot get this video to play in firefox?

    It can’t be the service itself because I can rip this url ( from the code and it will play in another tab just fine… well it is full screen but it plays.

    Help please! thanks

  • Very good stuff Paul. Incredibly informative. Really liked the portion on marketing and sales.

    Professional web design

  • Great pre-presentation!

    I liked that last section a lot about hiring employees, I have always been wondering about hiring a freelancer for a one off project.

    But I believe this would be a time of your web design business where you can afford an employee. So to start off most beginners will eventually need a freelancer when you start up to help out.
    Unless you are a master of everything or you’re like me and want to make sure everything is my responsibility which has it’s own downsides.

    The problem with an employee is getting the right person to hire if you can hire someone who has LOTS of strengths then that’s good. I don’t think you should just all out drop freelancers you should more or less look at a freelancer as a “Temp” employee.

  • maxamed

    This is great presentation, I do appreciate it. One question I would like to ask is: Would you mind posting the link of the Application you use for the TO-DO-LIST (You said it’s called ONLY-FOCUS, could not find @bing or @google). Thank you

    • The application is Omnifocus not only focus. Hope that helps.

  • Hey Paul, your talk was one of my favorites at FOWD. Really inspiring. You’ll be happy to know I reduced my inbox from 12,888 to 0. :D

  • Felix

    Dear PAul, this is a very interesting video. Thank you so much for making it! However since there is a lot of information for my little brain to process and remember I would love to be able to watch/listen to it on my smart phone while I am on my travels around the world.

    Do you have a Podcast version or similar that I can download and load to my phone? I noticed that you have this article in your podcast rss but it seems not to be linked properly…

    Thanks again and keep on doing cool stuff!


  • Thank you! This was an excellent presentation full of really high quality information. I really appreciate it!

  • Great talk Paul – wish I was there to see it in person at FOWD!

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Really great stuff, lots for me to think about. Cheers Paul.

  • This was probably the most useful talk for freelancers/web designers I’ve ever seen. Made a whole page of notes and got inspired a lot. Thanks a lot for sharing your experience!


    The part on customer service is very, very true. It’s the same discussion my step father and I had when he started his pest control company.

    It’s about the customer service!

  • Thanks!! Really nice presentation, very helpful for small web design agency starting up! Keep the ball rolling!

  • What it comes down to ladies and gentlemen is Sales and Marketing ! you can be the best damn web designer in the world . but you gotta sell. As far as the client is concerned it’s all about how much money he can make , increase revenue, up his bottom line

  • Thank you for that great talk :) It was really useful!

  • KennethB

    Really, really, really inspiring mate. I took notes… I never take notes. You are truely inspiring – thank you very much.

  • Thanks a lot this was really helpful, I’ve now written a daily routine list on my desktop to help me really focus and get things done! I will stick to it. I also enjoyed watching 40 better ways to deal with clients the other day, which was also helpful, thanks! Just one question- could you please let me know where to find the only focus application? I don’t require you to answer right now as I suspect you’re probably in the middle of a sprint or you won’t be checking your email for another 4 hours..;)

  • Very good slideshow, really made me think about my choice to go freelance and that I should invest some time in getting things set up like you said. Plan how I will do everything. Add structure..

  • the most amazing talk about opening a successful web design company, that gave me more advice on the hiring part, routine and the market plan. need more of this please :)

  • Great talk Paul! Thanks a lot,truthfull and very helpful. Thanks again. A talk dedicated to each of the 4 problem areas would be great.

  • Thanks for this great article! If you don’t mind, it’s featured and linked on our blog (just an excerpt) :-)

  • Excelent presentation!

  • Excellent post Paul thanks for sharing.

  • Ricky

    Great presentation Paul, thanks for sharing. What you’re talking about is what I really need now. I’m currently taking some freelance project and what I experience now is exactly same from what you’re saying. I think I should follow all of your suggestion :)

  • how to make ur biz a success – great insights, fab tips all in plain english (aimed at web peeps but applicable to all)

  • This is a subject I’ve done a lot of work on myself. You’ve covered all the bases here. Thank you.

  • Kaiser Kumar

    Two words… Thank You!

    You definitely hit on some home truths here, seems so obvious now when sitting back and listening but sometimes, when you’re “in the tunnel”, you miss it! 
    Thanks again, dude!

  • oakleys009

    Before you start your business, carefully research the competition, the size of the market and locations to see if this niche would be viable. For example, if there are numerous stores in a mall selling oakley clearance, you may be better off setting up a vendor kiosk in another location, such as on a street corner where there is little or no competition.

  • Thanks for sharing this Paul, you made some really good pointts! Excellent presentation!

  • Hilary Osborne

    Awesome presentation mate, i’m looking at teaming up with a designer and a project manager to start a web design business myself (8 year php programmer). Scary stuff!