Business model for web design company


I have been developing websites using dreamweaver and CMS (joomla, wordpress) for a couple of years. Mostly for friends and non-profits. I do the design, send a bill and go onto the next project. It’s been fun, but not a very good business. We are good on the technical and design end, but not very good on the business end of things - ie. we work hard, make a good product, have pretty good support but we do not make much money. We are small and maybe do 5-10 sites a year on a part time basis.

Does anyone have any suggestions how to make it more profitable? I’m trying to find a way to pay for my kids education. Some questions that keep floating around in my mind, but I have no way of finding answers are:

  1. what are maintenance contracts about, and how do they work?
  2. what are reasonable prices to charge for design and build services?
  3. what are other ways to generate income besides the “i’ll make the site, and you pay me x amount?”
  4. are there any books on this or discussion forums that are dedicated to these questions?


It is good to always look for opportunities.

But, the persons you will ask should not be designers, programmers, or developers. Do you think you should talk more with your customers? What do the customers want?


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One thing I’ve seen a lot of is people who provide the whole solution to their customers - a full hosting package with setup and maintenance. You can either do this on a reselling basis or just with “administration” rights/duties. The latter is somewhat more comforting to some customers because they retain ownership of the domains and of the hosted files, databases, etc.

I don’t do either but there are several nice people who hang out here who have a great deal of experience with this.

It’s an attractive model to many businesses who want a web presence but who aren’t interested in getting involved in the barest technical aspect of hosting a website.

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Others have given some responses, but to address some of your questions:

  1. A maintenance contract is basically a monthly/yearly charge for specified work. Real ones are probably as well thought-out as a prenuptial agreement. If your client sells products, you might cover 50 updates per month in your maintenance contract, and other such services.
    My personal experience with maintenance contracts is hardware related. For gobs of money per year, the vendor will show up within 2 hours and get busy. Replacement parts will arrive within 6 hours.

  2. “Reasonable” rates vary with the level of work. Check out the competition and what they charge.

  3. Generating income is a matter of creating a menu. You’ve got the basics, but someone who’s really driven and creative (that should be you) needs to come up with the rest. Someone already suggested you find out what your customers want.

  4. You could start reading through the Web Design and E-Commerce forums for ideas, and start browsing Amazon for small business books.

Back to my #3 suggestion, really, if you’re not very good with the business end, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do. If you’re really in a hurry, find a partner who can help. Without this knowledge, you’re like 50,000 other web designers out there trying to make a buck.



If you’re in UK, try setting up a meeting with either BusinessLink, or a free consultation with an accountant or solicitor. It’s important that when you phone up to book a consultation, that you ask if they have experience in web design/web dev business. If not, their information might be too generic for you.

They might even be able to put you in contact with a “mentor” in the industry.

The main things to focus on are your target market - go into the meeting knowing who you want to target, and the kind of things they want. The professionals can then give you relevant advice.

As other people have suggested, customers are golden in your decision making process. Try putting together a questionnaire to send to your existing/previous clients. Try to ascetain such things as:

  • Their industry
  • How much they value a web presence
  • How much they know about the internet as a marketing tool
  • How much they originally felt a sensible amount to spend on a website (ie before they had one).
  • How much they now believe to be a sensible amount to spend on a website (now they see the benefits of having one).

This information should be great for you as it’s directly from YOUR target audience. Nothing you can ever be told could be more valuable - the results are only circumstantial to you.

Hope this helps :o)