If you are starting your business at home, which I greatly encourage you to do, it's fairly easy to get started.
In simple, easy terms you need: a space to work, a computer, an internet connection, and a phone. You computer needs to be fairly powerful to work comfortably; enough for you to work in graphic design programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, without dramatically slowing the computer down.
Fortunately many computer sold these days have enough power for this purpose. But a slow computer can slow down your work process, and the time missed waiting for your computer to catch up can add up. So it's important that you make sure your computer is sufficient.
This is most likely going to be the largest cost in setting up your business, but it's going to be the primary tool of your trade, so it's important the tool is in good shape. Whether you like PC or Mac, it does not matter here as either will do the job just as well.
It's also important to make sure your internet connection is sufficient for your purposes too, both with downloading and uploading. A website sits on a server out there in cyberspace, and each website is made up of a number of files that exist on that server. In order to get the files on the server you will need to upload them from your computer to the server. And in the making of a website there's often a number of revisions and changes that you will need to make which requires uploading the modified files a number of times. So a steady and reasonably fast internet connection is important here.
It's also prefer to have an internet connection over optic fiber, cable, or ADSL as opposed to a mobile broadband connection like 3G or 4G, as it promises to be more reliable and cheaper this way.
It's also important to have a phone with which customers can contact you, but I think it's best to only use this initially, and then communicate with the customer via email as you design their website. The communication is less open to interpretation when you have it in writing. It gives it more clarity.
Becoming a web designer, your own website is going to be serious to getting started. It can be helpful to check out what your competition is doing, or to look at some web design awards pages such as Awwwwards just to see what kind of trends are happening. Whether you like to work with a trend or against a trend is up to you. But it's important to find some kind of inspiration at first.
You might like to look at some books on web design, and there are many. Try searching Amazon. It's a good idea to keep a notebook, and record your ideas. Some websites tend to try to reflect every day scenarios, or objects in their themes. After awhile you will learn which ideas are worth pursuing further, and those that should be left behind.
Choosing a name for your business is another important step. I've known some people to find this process easy, and others who find it really difficult. I've known others who have known for years that if they ever started a business they would call it: ____________.
You might have a great name for a business only to find there's already a business with that name, and that the domain name is already already taken. I found it helpful to brainstorm names, and then narrow down those I really liked. I would then Google each name to see if it was free. You may also find it useful to use the Google Keywords Research tool , and see what keywords are popular, as using some keywords in your name can be helpful in creating an online presence.
Some web designers simply just use their birth name as their business name, and it works for them. Fortunately in web design we can afford to have a bit creative with our business name though, as it reflects the creative industry we are in. It could be helpful to choose something fun and colorful, as it might make it stand out. You also need to find out whether your business name is available on your countries business name register.
After you've sorted out your computer, you need to think a little about software. When it comes to graphic design there's the Adobe Creative Cloud which is the industry's most popular choice. There are alternatives such as the Corel suite of applications that are similar to the Adobe programs but in some areas they lack certain features, and the cross-platform compatibility that Adobe's suite has.
Programs like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign are considered the industry standard for professionals, but many designers' still use applications like Corel Draw and are happy with the results. I personally use the Creative Cloud as it's where I've learned graphic design, and designing for the web. The links between the applications is also another draw card for me. But I suggest you look at all of your options and see what works for you.
The other piece of software that you need is a code editor. If you were to subscribe to Adobe's Creative Cloud you get access to the Dreamweaver application, which is a good start to coding with as it's friendly to beginners. But if you've been comfortably coding for some time there are a number of programs out there that are fantastic for long coding sessions. I use Sublime Text 2 and it works on both PC and Mac. It's user-friendly with a number of color schemes to highlight your code. There's a free version that has full functionality, and it only reminds you to buy the program every so often. There are other text editors that are either PC or Mac based. One for Mac called "TextMate" is popular, as is Notepad ++ for PC.
These are just the first steps to starting a web design business. But with a little effort you can quickly get on your way to making it happen for yourself. After setting up the fundamentals coming promoting your business and your website, which I will discuss in another article soon.