Q: I am a webmaster in the Silicon Hills of Austin, Texas. From what I read and what people tell me, the skills I have for creating Web sites and Web applications are still in high demand. I have been successful working for others and making them money, but I'm confused as to how to use my skills for my own gain. How can a Web professional market themselves and their homebased start-up?
A: Because you evidently have a number of Web-related skills, the first step for you will be nailing down precisely the kinds of services you wish to offer. The actual business start-up and marketing of that start-up come after that. For purposes of this article, I'll just talk about Web design services in general, since that seems to be the area that interests you the most. But these ideas can be applied to almost any homebased business.
Although several Web-related businesses have failed over the past couple years, there is no doubt that the Internet will continue to be a major influence on 21st century business. So you are correct in thinking your skill set will continue to be in high demand in the years to come. Compelling Web sites that are both pleasing to the eye and highly functional are essential to any business's success, regardless of whether they are involved with e-commerce. Web design software might be enough for a skilled business owner to put up a decent Web site, but those seeking something more sophisticated will turn to people like you. Therefore, you need to have a command of both front-end and back-end design-or have access to specialists and resources that can help you integrate both elements.
Here are some major issues to keep in mind as you plan your business:
- Internet service providers. Find out who can support what so you can match their offerings with your client's needs and your site design.
- User needs. If you aren't already familiar with what users want when they visit a Web site, from colors to navigation, find out. This will help you approach potential clients confidently-you'll be able to explain why you would design something a certain way to attract customers.
- Client needs. Potential clients want to know that you understand what they want to accomplish with their Web site. Familiarize yourself with every aspect of a client's company so you can present solutions to their problems.
When you're ready to start marketing your business, there are several ways to attract clients. In The Best Home Businesses for the 21st Century, Paul and Sarah Edwards suggest the following:
- Create a Web site of your own with links to other sites you've designed to demonstrate your abilities as a Web designer.
- Identify potential clients, and contact these companies directly to express your interest in working with them.
- Contact local ISPs to describe your expertise-these firms often offer Web site design and hosting services to their clients and subcontract out the design work.
- Network through local and national organizations, chambers of commerce and other business groups.
Karen E. Spaeder is editor of Entrepreneur.com and managing editor of Entrepreneur magazine.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.