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How to scale up from freelance web developer to a small business

Like many freelancers, you might find yourself in the situation that you have to turn down work from clients or pass it onto other freelancers in your network because you just don’t have enough hours in the day to do it all. It’s always a shame to turn down exciting projects because you don’t have the capacity – but what if you didn’t have to?

Turning your freelance operation into something more like a web development agency means that you can build a team, take on bigger projects, and potentially earn more.

If this is something you’re considering, here’s a few things you’ll need to think about:

Partner up or go it alone?

Not every freelancer will make the jump to small business in the same way. If you know other freelancers who are thinking of creating an agency or small business, you might choose to become partners. This lets you manage the bulk of work between you, and hire additional freelancers as and when you need to. Since partnerships are generally less formal, this business style is often preferred by freelancers.

If you’d rather have full control, you can set up as a sole trader or limited company and hire the employees you need. This gives you additional responsibility for things like salaries, holiday entitlement, pension contributions and employee liability insurance.

Pick your services – and your niche

As a web developer, you might automatically lean towards starting a web development agency. This is the easiest option to start with, as you already have the right skills and knowledge, will probably already know lots of other freelancers, and have a reputation with your clients for your development work.

But you could also consider offering a broader service with more skillsets. Teaming up with a designer and writer would mean that you can help design a site, populate it with content, and build it too – meaning clients can come to you to complete projects from start to finish.

It also helps to find a niche. Do you specialise in social media apps? Emails? Finance websites? Do you have the skills to build complex journeys? Or is your USP that you build simple sites at a low cost?

Finding the right people

Recruiting the right people for your small business can be tricky. If you’re involved in the freelance web developer community, you might already have lots of friends who are developers, but you need to make sure whoever you hire is the right fit for your new business and the projects you’re looking to take on. There’s no point hiring your best mate if they’re a web developer and you’re mostly taking on mobile app projects.

As an employer, you’ll need to think about the things that will attract people to join you. You might not be able to compete with bigger agencies when it comes to salaries, but you can offer things like a great working culture, flexible working, remote working or even a dog-friendly office.

Scale up your work and your clients

This can be a tricky balance – you can’t ask your clients for bigger projects or extra work until you’ve got a team in place to complete them, but starting a business and hiring a bigger team can be risky if you don’t have any big projects to work on yet.

If you’ve already been offered plenty of work that you’ve had to turn down, then this is a good sign that there’ll be plenty of work for your new business. And remember – even if your current clients don’t have extra work for you, you can still look for new clients in the same way you’d look for new clients as a freelancer.

Plan out the logistics

Running a business and managing other people is a bit different from managing yourself as a freelancer.

Instead of diving straight in, create a detailed business plan that lays out everything from your business aims, your elevator pitch and your strapline, to your target customers, market research, marketing plan and financial forecast.

You should also consider the day to day running of your business. Will you need an office? Can employees and freelancers work remotely? Make sure you know who your employees will report to and what everyone’s responsibilities will be.

Build your brand

As a freelancer, you’ll be used to marketing yourself. Now it’s time to work on marketing your new business! Pick your business name, build your website and work on your branding. You’ll need to think about things like your proposition, your tone of voice, and what makes you different. If you’re keeping your existing clients, make sure they know about your new website, the new services you offer, and how they can contact you.

If you need help, why not reach out to other freelancers, like marketers, copywriters or designers?

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