How to Start a Web Design Business Installing WordPress Websites

WordPress LogoWhen I marched out on my own to pursue full-time blogging, one of the side gigs I maintained was freelance website design installing WordPress sites.

This little side hustle enabled me to make anywhere from $100 to $500 extra each month with minimum marketing effort.

So today I’m sharing my thoughts on this type of business in case any of you would like to pursue it. I’ll try to answer a few questions that I anticipate you might have. But feel free to chime in with your questions (and tips) in the comments below.

What Do You Need to Get Started?

Obviously you’ll need to have (or be willing to gain) a good knowledge of how websites are built. Specifically, WordPress-based sites. This means, at a minimum, you’ll need to understand:

  • how to register domains and point them at host servers
  • how to sign up for hosting services
  • how to install both WordPress (.org) and a theme or theme framework (like Thesis) on your server
  • and how to perform basic theme customization.

Most of this knowledge I learned myself by simply creating my own websites (e.g. this blog). These days, the above list of minimum skills is a lot easier to achieve than it might appear.

Isn’t WordPress blogging software? Actually, it’s an open-sourced content management system that is primarily used by bloggers. So, yes, it is blogging software, but it can also be quickly customized to have the look and feel of a static website. Simply navigate to “settings/reading” in the WordPress admin panel and set a static page as the home page.

Finding Clients for Your Web Design Business

The more difficult piece of this business, in my opinion, is finding the right clients. One of the key ingredients to being successful initially in this business is knowledge of the industry and of your competition. This will help you to target the right clients and manage expectations and fees.

Here’s what I mean. In the world of web design, there is a full range of types of services offered. On one end you have the high-end designers who charge multiple thousands of dollars initially to install a completely custom design and then may or may not charge monthly fees for site maintenance. You are not (at least initially) going to be in competition with these designers.

On the other end, you have the services catering to the do-it-yourself small business owner. These are the free platforms like Blogger and WordPress.com as well as the monthly fee only services like 1and1.com. You can’t possibly compete with these free platforms.

What you want is a client who needs something in the middle of this spectrum. They want to control the look and feel of their website, possibly even making some changes themselves. They understand the importance of having their own place on the Internet (not just a business that is piggy-backing off of a free platform).

They also don’t want to pay for monthly fees, beyond the cost of simple hosting ($8/mo). They simply need someone to help them get setup and potentially update the site (outside of the blogging functionality) once a year. For this, they are willing to spend anywhere from $100 to $500, depending on the amount of customization involved.

This is the service I provided my clients. Some call it web design. Some call it a WordPress install service. I like to think my sites were a bit more than just an install though. Here’s one of the sites I did a few years ago:

Website Design Example - WordPress Install

For this particular website I setup the client (custom concrete service) with a Bluehost account (using my affiliate referral link, of course) to pay for their domain and hosting for a year.

I then installed WordPress, a free iThemes theme, and a basic suite of plugins. Then, I had a custom logo created. Finally, I performed some basic on-page SEO work, I customized the theme and uploaded several pictures. I normally charged around $500 for this much work (approx. 20 hours).

Bonus Services You Can Offer

On top of a basic install, you can offer your clients services like content creation, logo design (I would typically outsource this), social media account setup, Google local listing, basic on-page SEO, etc. All of these take time, so make sure you charge for these separately or build them into your basic install package price.

How to Get the Clients

It’s not always going to be easy, but there are many ways to find clients. Post on craigslist. Create a website and market it using Facebook and Twitter. Call your self-employed friends and see if they need a new or updated website. Offer your services at 99designs.com, Upwork.com, or similar service. Remember to think about your target client. Where do these people work? How can they be reached? Use that to drive your marketing efforts.

Much to Like About this Business

I think there’s a lot of upside in this type of business. First, you can set your own hours. People paying someone else will expect a web design project to take a few days, so you can work on it at night or on the weekend in your spare time. Once you have the basic process down, most installs will only take a few hours. At that rate, it’s easy to see how you could take on three or four installs in a month.

Secondly, you are developing the basic skills of the Internet. This will serve you for years to come, as the Internet continues to capture more of our daily activity.

Thirdly, the costs to enter this line of business are extremely low. All you need is a basic Internet connection and computer. Technically, you don’t even need that. You could borrow both from your local library if you needed. You get my point. There are no costs. Domain, hosting, and theme fees can all be passed on to the client. WordPress = totally free!

Finally, I like this style of business because it’s the true side hustle. Meaning you do you work, the client pays, and you go about your business. No headaches. Sure there may be a few clients who need follow-up help, but you can either do that work at an hourly rate or pass them off to another freelancer, who wants to deal with clients.

If you’re a freelance web designer, I welcome your tips and advice in the comments below. Interested in starting this type of business and have a question? Ask away.

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  1. Avatar Leonard Anukam says:

    Hi Philip Taylor
    Thanks for this post. I have been wondering how I can get a foothold into web development using WordPress and you have just given me the pathway to start. I will like to have a private conversation with you for help if that’s ok. Here is my email address.

    My Name is Leonard Anukam

  2. Avatar jamesmcinally says:

    Hi PT, it’s a good idea and your ideas for marketing are also good, but I don’t think it’s something that just anyone can do. There are more technical issue involved than you think – even setting up WordPress hosting can be nightmarish with certain hosts and there are a LOT of things that can go wrong and then you’re to hundreds of pounds to get a develop to fix it. Sorry to rain on your parade, but there’s quite a lot more to it than getting some hosting, installing WordPress and adding a theme. In fact, I think that you or anyone who doesn’t know exactly what they’re doing, would be offering friends a disservice by ‘throwing up’ a WordPress website without due process and diligence as there’s many things that can go wrong. Using Parent and child themes for a start to future-proof. Sorry, the more I read this, the more it’s terrible advice. And, if it’s for friends, you;d build it for nothing anyway.

  3. Philip Taylor The Military Guide . Thanks for question and answer

  4. Thanks philip. I am a full time web developer for past 15 years. Just trying to figure out if word press website customization or install as a side hustle is possible.

  5. Thanks for this article.
    As as a website designer for 7 years, I am finding the sexiness of WordPress and am seeing more and more companies offering installation and setup as a service.  I don’t need WordPress to create websites, however I notice that there are thousands of plug-ins and themes which may just make my life a little easier.  
    Phillip I am wondering if when you offer a WordPress service, how do you go about selecting a theme?  There are thousands of themes available for average price $60.  Now, do you have your client do theme searches and find one they like?
    Secondly, knowing that they have paid only $60 for a template, is there a recourse over the fact that you’re charging them $500 just to set it up?  I am wondering if I would have all these problems from using an already designed template.

    1. Avatar Philip Taylor says:

      IshLaos Back in the day, I would show the client a few different options (that I knew I liked) and I just customized what they chose. It was frustrating at times because some themes were more cooperative. These days I would just learn a framework (Genesis, Headway, or Thesis) and be able to customize those. The $100-$500 is for time spend on the customization. If they just wanted a basic install it would only be $100 plus the cost of the theme. I’d probably do it for less if there was an affiliate commission involved with theme or hosting.

      1. Philip Taylor IshLaos  thank you Phillip.

      2. Philip Taylor thanks for clarifying the pricing part

  6. The prices you quote are very low! I consider my prices for similar work on the low end, and I charge just about 3x what you do.

  7. Avatar Theoneandonlymrs says:

    Thanks for the great ideas – I would love to do this but I find myself intimidated by all the jargon. What’s funny is I’ve visited the Classic Crete site looking for information on caring for stained concrete floors. Amazing!

  8. Avatar Delphine34 says:

    As for me, I have been using WordPress for man years now and I find that is extremely SEO friendly. However, it is important to continuously perform proactive marketing and link building to drive power to the blog. WordPress blogs do make your website to the top of search engine results, even the free ones hosted on WordPress’ site. All you have to do is get your company name in the url, and you’re set. It’s really easy.

  9. Avatar ontargetcoach says:

    What a great idea! I know how to do almost all of this already, I paid someone to help set me up originally and I think it probably took them 20 minutes.

  10. Avatar 20andengaged says:

    I’ve been considering setting up this side business a lot lately, but now I’m confident I can go through with it. I’m going to work on setting up my site and looking for clients. Thanks for the push PT 🙂

  11. Avatar SmartMoneyChick says:

    This is actually how I also transitioned from Real Estate Full Time to Blogging Full Time. Now I do other things but this still brings in a good amount of my core income, I have since outsourced part of the process.

  12. That’s pretty cool – I really, really need to learn more about web design, not to start a business but rather so that I dont have to spend a ton of money every time i want to change to look of my blog.

  13. I just learned something new about you. It’s a nice little side business.

  14. Avatar SSmartFinance says:

    This is good. I have used odesk before. And, it works well. I like your article as it shows a simple way to make extra money.

  15. Avatar netclues123 says:


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  16. Avatar SpringCoin says:

    +1 on 99designs & eLance, I’ve used them before for some services and they did a “satisfactory” job.

    1. Avatar Philip Taylor says:

      @Nords Good point, Nords. Back when I did this, WordPress didnt have this yet, so I didn’t have this competition. But now I would just try to differentiate myself using additional services that they don’t offer like social media setup, basic SEO, face to face consultation, blogging tutorials. With just a few differentiators like this you can justify a higher charge vs the guided transfer’s $119.

      Additionally, most of my clients weren’t savvy like us (thus, not having a website in the the year 2010). So they didn’t even know what WordPress was. Most of them wanted a half-way decent looking site that wasn’t going to cost them a fortune (esp not month to month), that they could update themselves if they absolutely had to.

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