How I Started a Web Design and Consulting Freelance Business with Zero Capital when I was Sixteen – Part 1

Posted on 2nd August 2011



When I was 16, I started TJ Dzine, initially a graphic and web design sole proprietorship, which later became more focused toward web and SEO consulting. I started this with a whole zero dollars (yes, not even money for a domain and hosting), and although this isn’t the way I recommend doing it, in this  series of posts, I am going to describe how I went about it and post some thoughts, lessons and advice about it.

Background

I had been dabbling in design and development since I was 15, mostly in personal projects. As I got better at it, I wanted to test my experience in the real world by taking on some real clients. My reasons for this were three-fold:

  • I felt I could become better at web design and development quicker by taking on real clients rather than simply doing personal projects
  • I wanted to dip my feet into the business world, and see what it was like running a business
  • (Not as important) Money

How I Got Started

As stated at the beginning, I started with absolutely no money, and with little real world experience. I didn’t even have a portfolio apart from some personal projects I had done. So, initially, I did some pro bono design work for Grassroots, and did some logos for people at DigitalPoint and the like for really low rates($10-$20) and even participated in some contests on 99Designs. I wholeheartedly recommend Grassroots for someone looking to gain some more experience and help out charities. DigitalPoint is a difficult one to have a strong opinion on. Although I do believe that in general webmasters such as those found on DigitalPoint should not be your primary target, it is a good place for amateurs like I was, to get started and make a bit of money. I made about 5-10 logos on DP, and this provided me with the confidence, experience, and capital I needed to start TJ Dzine.

Portfolio Website

Immediately, I used the money to register a domain and hosting, and began on making a website. Rather than freelancing under my name, I decided to start a sole proprietorship, and called it TJ Dzine. After spending a week or so on designing my company’s website, I was at a loss of what to do. I had naively expected clients to simply start flooding in. I waited a couple of weeks, hoping that as my website got indeed in Google, clients would start coming in. But guess how many clients I got. Zero. Nada. Zilch. I was a bit demoralized, but was determined to keep going. I did a lot of reading on the business side of things – marketing, sales, cold-calling, and search engine optimization. Also, very importantly, I took to blogging about design during this time(not on this blog). The next month or so, I didn’t get any clients, but focused on getting my name out their among professionals via my company blog and twitter, and building my brand.

Cold Emailing

After this month or so, and after I thought I had established a reasonable online presence, I decided to try to get clients by sending cold emails. I decided that sending out a couple of emails couldn’t hurt, and so I emailed about ten or so small businesses listed in Google places which didn’t have websites, trying to educate them about the importance of having an online presence in today’s age, while simultaneously trying to sell my service. I didn’t expect it to work, and it largely didn’t, with only one business replying. But, to my pleasant surprise the business that did, seemed genuinely interested, and I was able to close the deal fairly easily, I had just landed my first client, a small flower store which wanted a business website.

Takeaways

I think I’ll continue my story in another post, but just some takeaways from the time I had the idea of starting a business to the time I got my first client:

  • Go ahead and start! You might feel terrified of failure at first, but trust me, the experience is worth it, even if you do fail. “Try and fail, but don’t fail to try.”
  • The importance of networking with other professionals in the industry. Twitter is great for this, especially in the tech industry.
  • The importance of expressing your views and having a voice. Yes I’m talking about blogging. It was my blog which brought professionals and potential clients to notice me. Writing good content is extremely important, but marketing it is equally so, especially early on, when no-one knows about your blog. There were a number of ways I marketed my blog initially, which I intend to cover in a later post.
  • Cold Emailing can work. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about cold emailing and cold calling, and most of it has been negative. I was skeptical too, at first, but it worked for me, and I suggest you give it a try, it might work for you.
  • For web design/development/consulting, you should be targeting small and medium sized businesses, not webmasters on Internet marketing forums. It is your job to educate the potential client on why they need your service (I shall cover this in another post).
  • Running a web design business isn’t just about designing websites. There is a reason it is a business. There is a lot of business stuff to do – marketing, sales, pricing and so on. I shall elaborate on this and continue my story in the next post.