20 Ways to Streamline Your Web Business

written by aext on February 1, 2010 in Freelance & Business and Popular with 78 comments

If I told you that there are twenty different ways you can streamline your web design business, make more money and work less, would you believe me? What if I showed you – would you believe me then? In this article, you will find twenty different ways you can streamline your web business. Some of which will cover work aspects while others will cover administrative tasks, but all in all, the end goal is the same:  making more money and working less.

1. Create pre-made xhtml/css files for reuse


Create pre-made xhtml/css files for reuse

This was one of the first things I did when starting to streamline my web design business and I can’t tell you how much time I’ve saved since I’ve done this. Think about it: how many times do you actually create a website that has the same structure (header, sidebar, content, footer)? By creating a simple, minimalist xhtml/css structure for your website designs, you can cut your coding time down by a few hours (depending on how good you are at coding).

2. Buy a filing cabinet and use it


Buy a filing cabinet and use it

Something I’ve recently started doing is filing paper copies of files, sketches and other notes/contracts into a filing cabinet. Something so simple can help streamline your web design business because finding information when you need it becomes 10x easier when you use an organized filing cabinet with tabbed folders, utilizing a system like alphabetical or by date of completion.

3. Create a design brief template


How many times have you had to ask the same questions over and over again? With every new client comes the same types of questions: what type of website are you looking for, who is your target market, what websites are you fond of, and so on. Instead of retyping this countless times in a month, why not do what Brian from The Design Cubicle did and create yourself a form for your new contacts to fill out? That is sure to save you a bunch of time.

4. Have 2-3 different elevator speeches ready at all times


Have 2-3 different elevator speeches ready at all times

You never know when you’re going to run into someone who could become a client, so preparing an elevator speech will help you get your foot in the door. I mention to make 2 or 3 different elevator speeches because you want to be prepared for different types of clients. An elevator speech that appeals to an older gentlemen in a suit and tie will not likely be as effective if you try it out on a younger woman, so making sure you’ve got a couple stashed away can definitely help hit the nail on the head when delivering your elevator speech.

5. Use a Project Management for larger projects


Use a Project Management for larger projects

I’ve sworn against project management apps for months now, but then again, I usually work with one person only for each job I currently have open so I never really had a need for a project management app. If you find yourself working with 2 or more people from the company who hired you, a project management app might do you some good in order to keep all files and notes in one central place instead of playing email tag with both of the people you’re in touch with from the company.

6. Make use of the canned responses in Gmail


Spending a lot of time in your email isn’t good for productivity. What can we do to cut down the time we’re actually inside our email in-boxes? One simple way is to utilize Gmail’s canned responses. By making simple replies that you normally send out numerous times, you can just click a button and POOF!  It’s all there for you. I use the canned responses for my follow up email if I haven’t heard back from a potential client in a week or so as well as job board introduction emails and other various things I tend to rewrite a lot of the same information on.

7. Use a copy & paste design contract


Writing up a design contract can be a bit weird if you haven’t had any legal experience or guidance, so taking a bit of time to have a lawyer draw up some legal paperwork for you can be a great idea. You can also utilize the sample contracts from these various places, adjust them to your needs and keep them as a copy & paste contract system – changing out the names, dates and prices, but leaving all of the other legal information in place.

8. Offer referral bonuses to current clients


Tired of marketing? Feel like you’re spending too much time on the social media websites trying to find people who need your services? Why not utilize your current client base and let them know you offer a bonus for any referrals they send. After all, word-of-mouth is the most powerful and effective form of marketing. Ensure that they know the person they refer has to be a paying client (often keeping the referral bonus until the new client’s project is done, to ensure they’re not referring flakes to you) and you’re sure to find some clients that are willing to spread the word. Obviously, if you’re creating killer work, they should already be doing this for you, but just in case, offer them that incentive.

9. Create a pre-populated Photoshop file


When designing in Photoshop, if you tend to make a lot of the same layers and folders for your designs, it’s a good idea to make a stock Photoshop file for website designs. In mine, I have folders for the following: header, footer, sidebar, content and I also have some sample text built into each section and a 960 grid layer over the top (I recently added in a baseline grind to make sure the line height for my text matches the spacing between my boxes). This saves me a good 10-15 minutes every time, so multiply that by 50 clients and you see how many hours you can save.

10. Subscribe to job boards in an RSS reader


After writing a post on my blog that showcased 10 active job boards for freelancers, I realized that I could save time by just having them all in a folder inside of my google reader account. So now, instead of having to go to 10 different job boards to view the information, I can view them all right in my reader and click through to the ones that interest me. This is definitely going to save me some time, and could save you time as well if you keep up with job boards to find leads for jobs.

11. Outsource the design related work


Are you a coder who doesn’t like designing as much as you like digging into codes? Why not outsource the design work? If you’re currently just offering coding services, you could open yourself up to a wider variety of client by finding a killer designer who can create Photoshop layouts for you to slice, dice and turn into fully functional web designs. It’s a win/win for you because you get more work, yet you don’t have to do any of the extra stuff :)

12. While you’re at it, outsource the coding too


If you’re a designer, follow the step above but change designer to coder. If you’re a coder and you’re now following the above item, why can’t you outsource the coding too? Maybe not all of it, but if you’re full in your scheduling but come across a kick ass job, take it and put your project manager hat on for a bit, outsource the design work and then ship it over to an awesome coder who can code for you. Find out the pricing for each item that you’re outsourcing and add 10-20% into the pricing so you make some kick back from it as well.

13. Hire an accountant


Why worry about things that you really don’t need to worry about? With an accountant, it’s their job to crunch numbers all day and find out how you can save money when it comes time to file taxes, so why would you put that added stress on yourself? Accountants are a great way to let you focus on what you do best and also keep your web design business running in the back end, glitch free.

14. Make a FAQ sheet for the most common questions you are asked


Clients in your field will tend to ask the same questions, over and over (and over) again. Instead of being bored, typing out the same answers over and over again, why not take those questions you see the most, put them into a page on your website and just send that link to each new client?  There are also many open source tools to help you automate your FAQ page, like FAQ-Tastic for WordPress or phpMyFAQ (a standalone application which was just updated today).  This is also helpful for web design projects because you can give step by step instructions (in a separate page) on how to upload, activate and customize the work you’ve done for them (great for WordPress themes that have options panels).

15. Use a WordPress theme framework (or two)


Speaking of WordPress, take some time to build a framework that you can use over and over again. Spend time on all of the small details and then you’ll never have to worry about them again. I’ve done this with my web design business and it cuts down the coding time by about 3-4 hours every time. I still have to customize the code to fit the specific design I created (sometimes more than others) but it’s a hell of a lot easier than starting from scratch every time, knowing that there’s a header/nav/footer/sidebar/content/post div just waiting to be saved for later use. Another thing I do is use a dummy post file that puts in posts, pages, tags, categories and comments into my WordPress install, which allows me to see how the theme looks populated, without having to type the same information over and over again.

16. Use the texter program


Along the same lines as the canned responses, I use a program named Texter which allows me to set pre populated blocks of text or code and insert them anywhere I feel like with simple commands. For instance, if I type in the letter p and hit the tab button, it puts paragraph codes in and inserts my text tool right in between for easy typing. Makes it a lot easier than typing these things out. I also use it a lot for WordPress images. Typing the “<img src=” and putting the php code in for the stylesheet takes time, so instead, I just type in “wpimg”, hit the tab key, and voila! it’s there for me. You can check it out here on lifehacker.

17. Hire an assistant (virtual or on-site)


This is something I personally haven’t done yet, as I’m still adjusting to the idea of having someone else do my work for me (coding), but I hear a lot of great things about assistants from a lot of killer people like Chris Brogan and others. Think of a few things your assistant can do each day, for 1 or 2 hours and let them go at it. I’m going to personally have an assistant (keyword: maid) come to my house and clean my office once a week because it gets pretty bad :)

18. Find (and use) a to do list


I personally use Teux Deux (see my review of it here) and it’s a great way to keep up with what I need to do for the day, which in turn makes me more productive, which in turn makes my business run smoother. Also, by having a to do list, you can make sure priority items are getting done (usually quicker too) and allow yourself time to build other aspects of your web design business, or a side business.

19. Invoicing made easy


Instead of typing out your invoices every time you have to send one, why not use a site like Invoice Machine or Freshbooks which allows you to easily send invoices, accept payments via PayPal and it keeps track of who’s paid, who hasn’t and allows you to print off copies of the invoices for safe keeping. It’s a pretty simple process, which allows you to spend your time elsewhere, like doing the work you just got paid for ;)

20. Use a code framework (php, jquery, ect)


If you’re building websites and using the same bits of code over and over again, you might as well check out frameworks for that too. There are a ton of PHP frameworks out there as well as jQuery, Rails and CSS. Take some time to get used to them and you’re sure to pick up an extra few hours here and there because you can now breeze through some of the tasks that used to take you a while to complete. Check out some frameworks on delicious.

Conclusion


Streamlining your web design business can be as easy as you want it to be, and the rewards can be outstanding. Waiting to do these things might not seem like that big of a deal, but I promise you: once you do a few of them, you’ll be finding yourself with less to do during the day and more time to enjoy life - which is what we’re all going for as freelancers, right? The ability to do what you want for a living and spend time doing what you love with the people you love. If you don’t follow these steps for your own benefit, follow these steps for their’s – they’ll thank you every time you have a couple extra hours (or days) to spend with them.