Ideas for Expanding Your Web Design Business

May 18 2011 by Alex Kehayias | 25 Comments

Ideas for Expanding Your Web Design Business

So your web design company is ready to roll. You’ve got happy customers and more people coming to the door every day. But where do you go from there?

This article shares a handful of strategies for growing your web design company.

Partner With Other Businesses

Who else do your customers interact with? Identify those companies and organizations, and approach them for ways you can work together to better serve clients together.

Here are some types of organizations your clients may already be interacting with:

  • IT solutions
  • Accounting services (surprisingly a lot of referrals come from here)
  • Marketing agency
  • Graphic design
  • Web hosting
  • Local chamber of commerce
  • Industry groups (not necessarily your industry)

Implement a Referral System

Set up your own referral program to give people and other organizations incentive to refer business to you. Give them a discounted rate or commission in exchange for sending you more business.

At its most basic form, all you need is to set up a web page about your referral program and then track it manually by asking potential clients how they found you.

If your website has an e-commerce component — for example, along with development services, you might also be selling premium WordPress themes — look into integrating a referral system into it. To make this easier, check out systems such as Google Affiliate Network or Commission Junction.

Here are some simple rules to keep in mind as you craft your referral system:

  • Keep it simple. No one wants to deal with tiers and weird conditionals for commission. Don’t make it complicated.
  • Make payouts easy. This applies to both paying out commission on referrals and, if you have a reseller program, making it easy for others to pay you. No one wants to have to pick up the phone or send in a fax to cash out or pay you.
  • Give potential referrers information about what makes your service great. That can mean providing them with web copy they can use on their site, print materials, stickers, t-shirts, vector versions of your company logo, etc.
  • Stay in touch. Relationships take time to develop. Even if you don’t see a lot of activity from them, it always pays to cultivate your relationship. Oftentimes, there are other opportunities to work together that you wouldn’t have uncovered if you didn’t check in with your referrers occasionally. Consider sending out an email newsletter once in a while. Keep them updated with what’s new with your company.

Resell or Refer Products and Services

Every time you purchase a product or service on behalf of your client (such as web hosting) or refer them to another service (such as content-writing services) you have a potential to generate commission. You can make more money per client by becoming a reseller or affiliate and getting a percentage of the transaction as commission.

Remember that you’re adding value with every component you sell to your customer. Your other value is that you know what’s good because you use the product or service yourself; or at least, you should be, because if it’s not good enough for you, it’s not going to be good enough for your clients either.

Some examples of products and services you can be reselling:

  • WordPress or Drupal themes
  • Web hosting
  • Shopping cart software
  • SSL certificates

Affiliate vs. Reselling

Affiliate programs are attractive to those getting into the habit of making money off referrals because it’s typically hands-off and really simple to implement.

Reseller programs, on the other hand, have more potential for generating revenue through negotiations with the seller, contracts, and flexibility.

The difference often comes down to the margins or commission you will get. Resellers typically make higher margins and are based on volume. Affiliate programs tend to be fixed and will produce lower margins.

Some things to watch out for in reselling programs:

  • Minimums: You don’t want to get burned if suddenly no one wants their product. Sometimes this comes with better margins, but if the volume they are looking for is a stretch, it may come back to bite you.
  • Bad marketing support: they should be helping you sell to your customers with content and ideas.
  • Poor customer support: Even if it has nothing to do with you, it will still reflect poorly on you, since you vouched for the company.

Organize and Host an Event

Events, meet-ups, conferences, seminars, and activities that bring industry professionals together are a great way to reach more potential customers. They can be expensive to run, but you can share costs with other companies (by partnering up with other companies or by getting event sponsors). By combining forces with other companies, you can get more people to come and have other people raise awareness for your company.

Make it newsworthy and invite the right people to speak. Don’t try to do it alone; the point here is to increase your reach by working with other companies that will expose you to their customer base.

Webinars work too, just make sure it’s useful and not a long advertisement about how awesome your company is.

For instance, check out what Carsonified is doing with FOWD to see how to host an event effectively.

To learn more, read How to Host the Perfect Design Conference.

Some Parting Thoughts

It’s important to know what you want before you start expanding your business, otherwise you won’t have a unified and consistent approach. Treat business development just like any other parts of your business — invest time, effort, and human resources as needed.

When it comes to partnering up with other companies and services, treat it like any other relationship. People have been burned before. A partnership is a two-way proposition, and the moment both parties are not benefiting, things will get tense.

Be good and be honest, and you’ll see just how eager other companies are to team up with you. Business karma, so to speak.

Share some of your favorite tips to growing your company in the comments below!

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About the Author

Alex Kehayias is the co-founder of BeanSprout, a platform that helps companies find business development opportunities like a dating website for businesses. He has experience as a product manager and marketing manager for technology companies and hacks some Python/Django. Follow him @alexkehayias.


Josef Milan

May 18th, 2011

Hey there web master. This is very excellent post for me. Lots of information are you given which I will not know. Thanks dude!

Rick Sloboda

May 18th, 2011

Some terrific strategic tips, Alex! Interesting you mention accounting services. That’s a great example of what business gurus like @MarkWardell call Centers of Influence (COI), where one connection or partnership can link you with a valuable network comprising dozens of prospects. These sorts of arrangements take time to plan and arrange, but reap long-term rewards.


May 18th, 2011

really nice article.

Another idea (and a more longer term play) is to design in a specific niche (like web design for lawyers or menu designers) and create a blog focused on it.

Jim Lockwood

May 18th, 2011

Thanks for a great post. I’ve just recently launched a web design company and as still tweaking the marketing strategies. These strategies where immediately added to my growing bank of ideas.

Suchit patel

May 19th, 2011

Excellent tips and precise information on how it should work to the next level.
Great stuff mate. Was wondering if you mcan elongate the accounting services bit.


May 19th, 2011

Great article! Referrals is the bread and butter of any business, so I say go for them. And take care of them, they will take care of your money too.


May 19th, 2011

good article, i’ll follow it :D

John Hendricks

May 19th, 2011

Excellent Post! Very informative. Good strategic tips u have provided in the post. I completely agree with you. Thanks for sharing.


May 19th, 2011

Excellent tips!it is all about creativity in the business. partnering with associated business lines would be a good option.

Ian Harte

May 19th, 2011

Great ideas here! We have always found you are best off been involved in a lot of parts of the internet, such as design, marketing, eCommerce, when one part takes a drop the other can hold it up! It’s good, don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket eh?


May 19th, 2011

Good post. You could also partner with copywriters. They are a great compliment to graphic designers.

Alex Kehayias

May 19th, 2011

@Rick thanks! I’ll need to look more into @MarkWardell, but we’re definitely on the same page. Partnerships are key to accelerating your business. I agree that they can take some time, but good planning helps. In my opinion what people fail at most is defining what they want out of a partnership. Always good to get your head around that first. I wrote a blog post in December about why deals move slow


May 19th, 2011

A good idea is to shower and shave before meeting with clients too. Sorry…couldn’t avoid it based on the title photo.

One serious tip about referral and affiliate agreements: Get it in Writing. Your memory will be very different from their memory 6 months down the road.

S.K. (Insfired)

May 19th, 2011

My tip for using referral systems with service businesses (I’m not a designer): make sure it doesn’t affect your standards, and that you’re not eating more than you can chew.



May 22nd, 2011

gr8t post for me i was looking for smothing related


May 23rd, 2011

That’s right Alex,”Poor customer support” will reflect the image of your business in the web-design industry. This factor will not gain referrals from clients who are dissatisfied with the poor customer service.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
[email removed]

Saeed Ahmad Rafay

May 25th, 2011

You have mentioned some of the top ideas to promote web business. Its a very well-written article and great source of motivation.

Evert Albers -

May 25th, 2011

Looking at the keywords by which your visitors have found your website may be another way to get ideas to expand your business


May 26th, 2011

I think it’s all about word of mouth. just tell your happy clients that you’d be happy to work for their customers or partners, and maybe offer them to promote their business as well. Happy customers make more happy customers.

Okyere Adu-Gyamfi

May 26th, 2011

I found out the hard way, how important it is to research a little about the company you intend on partnering with. Most importantly whether they have any bad record of reneging on their partnership agreements or what their general attitude is towards their competition.


May 27th, 2011

Points well iterated…

Pracas Upreti

May 27th, 2011

i liked the idea of Partner With Other Businesses, its fantastic , the thing which has stated above is very precious suggestions,

by the way , we r also looking for the same options to expand the business in web designing.

thanks alex

Tidy Design

May 30th, 2011

A very interesting read and some good food for thought… thanks for sharing :D


June 2nd, 2011

Great advice. Over the past 11 years running a web design company, I have learned to get a referral fee for everything a client could need. Domains, hosting, marketing, seo, other web related services.

The effort is a little time consuming at first, but finding a company you can recommend with your heart is important. Our company gains a nice little profit each month from these various services.

Good luck out there!


August 6th, 2011

Great article, i’ve found referral systems can be great, especially if you can benefit both parties

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