How to be a Web Developer – Part 8: Handling Your Business

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This is Part 8 of our How to Be a Web Developer Series. If you’re just joining us, here’s what you’ve missed so far:

Once you’ve built a few websites and found a few clients, it’s time to tap into some of your non-coding skills to really get things rolling. If you’ve decided to create a web development business, whether you’re a one-woman shop or you’ve got team members, there are a few things that all entrepreneurs need to do to get their business set up and running smoothly.

None of the advice in this article is necessarily unique to web developers, and there are many wonderful resources out there for small businesses and entrepreneurs in general. However, I wanted to pull together a quick starter guide to give a high-level view of what starting a business looks like. Some of the advice below is targeted at web designers (rather than web developers), but it’s all applicable to anyone in the web industry with a few minor adjustments.

I hope you’ll use this list as a jumping off point for your own research as you decide the best path forward for you and your business. Also, keep in mind that most of the information here isn’t one size fits all. Yes, ALL entrepreneurs need to pay taxes (and organize themselves accordingly), but how you go about that might look different from someone else. Do your homework and, when necessary, reach out to professionals, and start planning your business!

Getting Started

Forming A Business

The first step is deciding what kind of business you are going to start. These two articles from Sweeter CPA give an overview of the most common business options for online entrepreneurs (she works primarily with small business owners and creatives). In these articles, she explains each option, the pros and cons, how to set them up, and tax considerations for each.
* The Sole Proprietorship
* The Limited Liability Company (LLC)

Different states and counties have different laws about whether or not you need to register your business name, so it’s a good idea to research the laws in your area.
* How to Register Your Business Name

Bookkeeping/Accounting

This article from Shopify gives a great overview of the steps necessary to get your business finances in order. Not every step will necessarily apply to you (especially since the article is targeted at product-based business), but the general process is the same.
* Small Business Accounting 101: Ten Steps to Get Your Startup on Track

Even if you have the logistics in place, it might be tricky to know how to focus your financial planning as a freelancer. This article from Bench blog summarizes a few best practices for freelancers.
* 6 Ways to Manage Freelance Finances

Of course, there are a million accounting programs and apps to choose from. They all offer different services at different price points, but if you think you want to DIY your accounting with some software help, this article offers some advice on narrowing down the options.
* How to Choose Business Accounting Software

Estimated taxes might seem intimidating, but since you’re on a path to becoming a successful business owner, they are most likely in your future. Here is an overview of estimated taxes that will answer some of your questions.
* Five Things You Need to Know About Estimated Taxes

Once you’re up and running…

Contracts

Having a contract might seem stodgy and impersonal, but they are a best practice in the freelancer world, and I’ve never had a client show any discomfort with signing one. Reaching out to a small business lawyer is the best option for making sure your contract is airtight, but this article from Smashing Magazine gives some great insight into what a contract should cover and includes a list of additional resources.
* Freelance Contracts: Do’s and Don’ts

Sometimes it helps to see some examples, so this article gives several contract templates for web designers (these could potentially be edited for web developers).
* 5 Free to Use Freelance Design Contract Templates

Pricing

Pricing is one of the hardest parts about running a business, especially when you are new. This comprehensive article by Elegant Themes discusses the different considerations for website pricing. It also includes links to a series called “How 20 Designers Charge Their Clients.”
* How to Price Your Services: A Guide for Web Designers

And, again, since seeing an example can help, here is an article from web developer Zoe Rooney that shows her pricing process (please note that this is an older article, and her prices have increased since it was written). In the second article, she offers some specific feedback on flat rate invoicing to ensure you are charging the right amount.
* On Pricing
* Tips for Project or Flat Rate Invoicing

This list might seem intimidating, but keep in mind that you’ll probably be fine-tuning these processes as your business expands and matures. You don’t have to get everything perfect the first time, but it’s important to research and have a plan as you embark on your exciting new venture of running your own web development business!

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