Back when I started my web design business, I priced my websites at around $500. I’d been making websites for years (about 12 at that point) but had only done a few random freelance jobs, and wasn’t confident in my abilities in doing design for someone other than myself.
I even dropped my price to work on projects that I thought I wouldn’t get otherwise. I think I charged $150 for my first ecommerce site (which was a BEAST).
It’s no wonder that after my first year in business I only walked away with $12,000, despite working like crazy.
Over the past five years, I’ve raised my prices, a LOT. Now, the most basic website I design and develop starts at $8,500. Most websites I work on range between $10,000-$20,000. That’s a far cry from where I was just a few years ago. Sometimes I make more in a single month than I did in my entire first year in business. How crazy is that?!
But how did I do it? Let me tell you!
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I improved my skills
I’m not still selling the same level of design or coding that I was when I started out. Thankfully. As I worked with more clients, I learned more, and my skills improved. A lot of what I learned, I learned “on the job” as I made an effort to take on projects that would stretch my abilities and give me opportunity to learn.
I also took courses to learn how to master WordPress (previously, I’d been coding HTML websites, so there was a learning-curve), improve my coding skills, and tighten up my designs.
I built my own WordPress theme from scratch so that I would understand how it all worked.
And I worked on my own projects, so that I could implement features and designs that I wanted to master, but that my clients weren’t asking for.
The thing is, the learning never stops. I cringe at what I built 5 years ago, and 5 years from now I’ll be doing the same with what I build now. That’s okay. The important thing is to keep improving.
I communicated with my clients
Actually talking to and explaining things to my clients gave me the best word of mouth and referrals.
While my design and development skills have improved, the main reason I get hired is because I talk to my clients–when other designers and developers don’t.
Look, I get it, I’m an introvert. But when clients are paying you thousands of dollars to build something for them, you need to communicate!
When you keep clients regularly updated (even a weekly email), they are less likely to get antsy and become a nightmare client.
When you take the time to explain why you designed something the way you did, or the difference between a domain and a host, clients appreciate it.
I don’t mean you need to give clients every single little detail of the project and overwhelm them with information and terms they don’t need to know. But keep them informed, and answer their questions. It goes SUCH a long way in creating a great experience for your clients. And people are willing to pay more for a great experience.
I got organized
When I was new to business, I wasn’t organized. I didn’t know how to be, because I didn’t know what my processes were or what to expect. Even just 5 years ago, there weren’t the resources there are today to help new designers figure out how to organize and streamline their businesses.
So I had to figure it out on my own.
After I had worked with a few clients I sat down and mapped out the paths the projects had gone on, looked for where things went wrong or were confusing, and made note of what had worked well.
From there, I was able to create a plan for future projects, with a clear process that I could follow and lead my clients on.
It was a lot of work, and it took a lot of refinement over 2-3 years, but eventually I figured out what worked for me and my design business.
I still recommend sitting down and mapping out your processes. But you can now get all sorts of maps and plans for you to follow so that you’re not starting from scratch, or reinventing the wheel with each client.
Being organized means you spend SO MUCH less time on admin work, and you can spend more time focusing on paying clients. When you’re bogged down figuring out what you need to do next, you’re not producing billable work. And if it’s not billable, it’s not paying your bills.
I focused on the benefits
Like most designers, when I started out I sold websites. I don’t anymore.
The truth is: clients don’t want a website. They want a solution to their problems.
Once I stopped focused on selling bundles of code and graphics and started focusing on solving my clients’ problems, I was able to raise my prices significantly.
Think about it. You might pay $1,500 for a website. It sits there, looks pretty, and you know you need one, because the internet says so. But if all it does is sit there and not do anything, the amount you’d spend on it is probably pretty low.
But what if that website could get you new leads? Convert browsers into buyers? Reduce your workload? You’d pay a heck of a lot more for that, wouldn’t you?
Clients will pay more for something that will make them more money or save them more time. Instead of focusing on the technical aspects of what you’re doing, focus on how what you do helps your clients achieve their goals.
To do this, you’ll need to learn about marketing and strategy. Study what successful entrepreneurs are doing, take classes, and learn how to funnel website visitors where you want them to go. Once you can do this for your clients, your skills will become invaluable.
I built a team
I’ve never been fired from building a website. I have been fired from doing brand design. Why? Because I’m not good at it. Not for lack of trying, I just don’t get it, the way I get web design. I also don’t have the patience to go back and forth with clients to find the perfect shade of blue.
So I don’t offer brand design anymore. Instead, I hire a brand designer to work with my clients whenever they need branding. She’s amazing at it, my clients are thrilled with what they get, and I don’t have to struggle with something that I’m not talented at, or not excited to work on.
You can’t do everything. To create a truly great website, you need a strong brand, great copy, a functional design, beautiful photos, clean code, analytics tracking, SEO, etc. That is a LOT for one person to do. So don’t do it all.
You don’t have to have employees or even sub contractors, but find others who enjoy and are amazing at the parts you struggle with and bring them in on projects or refer clients to them. Let someone who enjoys the part you hate do that part! Focus on your strengths, and find others to cover your weaknesses.
When you have a team, however formal or informal, you’ll not only produce better work, but have a network for referrals and friendships. Both of which will help you grow your business and boost your profits.
Going from just getting by to making good money rarely happens overnight. But it doesn’t have to take forever.
Work on improving your technical skills. Stretch your abilities and always keep learning.
Organize your business. Map your processes and streamline everything you can. You don’t get paid for admin work, so reduce it as much as possible.
Communicate with your clients. Clients want to be heard, listened to, and know that you’re actually working on their project. A simple weekly check-in goes a long way in making your clients happy. And happy clients pay more, and refer more people.
Sell the benefits. Stop selling code and graphics. Learn website strategy and marketing, and focus on getting your clients results. No one wants a website, they want to make more money.
Get your team together. Stop trying to do it all, and do what you’re best at.
These five things took me from making pennies per hour to making hundreds. Don’t take 5 years to get your business together and charge what you need to charge. Start today, and steadily raise your rates as you improve in each area.