10 Things to Avoid as a Web Designer

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Lesson Overview

In this lesson, we’ll discuss my 10 Things to Avoid as a Web Design Business:

  1. Scope Creep
  2. Offering Everything
  3. Paid Advertising
  4. Miscommunication
  5. Skimping on Servers
  6. Freebies
  7. Insecure Websites
  8. Toxic Clients
  9. Not Learning Code
  10. Not Keeping Up With Trends


Lesson Transcription

Welcome! I’m Leighton, your webmaster. In today’s lesson, let’s consider my 10 Things to Avoid as a Web Designer.

  1. Scope Creep — We recently talked about this in the Designing & Developing Websites Lesson. This is when a minor job turns major. When you’ve already agreed to a set amount of work, gotten the down payment, then sloowwwllyy the project creeps bigger and bigger to the point that you’ve sunk several more hours than you expected. For example: now they want a blog… a few more pages… and they want to sell some products! You didn’t agree to any of that, but they keep adding it onto the project! So how can you avoid Scope Creep?  Address it. See it for what it is, address it, and offer a quote for the requested extra work. The client will either nix that idea… or pay you for it; either way, you win! 
  2. Offering Everything — So the basic advice is: If you aren’t good at a service, don’t offer it. The temptation is to please clients by offering as many services as possible, whether that be video, graphic design, photography, marketing, advertising… it’s easy to be enticed by the amount businesses are willing to pay for those services, but if you aren’t good at a particular skill, you are doing the business a disservice. Instead of taking their money and pretending you know what you’re doing, either take the skill seriously and learn it, or refer your client to an expert — somebody who prefers that type of work. Make connections with specialists who can handle the skills you either don’t possess or don’t enjoy. Don’t offer every skill; only the skills you excel at.
  3. Paid Advertising — If you have advertised successfully in the past, then go ahead and do it. Run some ads. But if you’re new to advertising and website design, ads can be a hot waste of money. Pharmaceuticals, car dealerships, mattress stores, those are heavy on the traditional advertising methods, like TV ads. Digital options include platforms Facebook Ads and Google Ads. On Facebook, you can pay a few dollars to “boost” a post, which means more people will see it, and there are other ad options on there. You can rack up a hefty bill, and for what? Likes and comments?  If you do advertise on Facebook, you need to install your Facebook Pixel and really fine-tune your audience. Make sure the people you’re paying to be in front of really are people who could use your services. Otherwise, you’re completely wasting your money showing posts about web design to people who don’t even own businesses. On Google Ads, you PAY PER CLICK. PPC. That means your ad is shown in the Ads section of a Google search result, which is at the very top, and you’ll be charged $5, $10, $20, $50 when someone clicks. The cost varies. You can set the PPC to auto or manually choose a budget. Auto will take into consideration what other web designers are bidding for that spot and rank you competitively. If you’re running ads like this, your landing page needs to be top-notch, you need your phone # and contact form prominent, clear headings, a call-to-action, and some way to capture their email address. Your landing page needs to be optimized to convert visitors into clients. If you aren’t doing that, your ad dollars are completely wasted. Your better option as a website designer is referral and network marketing. Meet business owners, build referral partners and nurture these relationships.
  4. Miscommunication — This is one of the greatest cause of problems, both in business and in relationships. Miscommunication is where you’re not communicating effectively. Let me give you a few examples: You quote a client for a website and deposit their down payment. A week into the project, you realize they actually wanted eCommerce, not a standard brochure site. But you agreed to build whatever website they wanted for that price. What’s the problem?  Miscommunication. You did not interview them properly, they neglected to relay this to you, or a little of both. Another example: You take a down payment. 2 weeks later, you’ve received no content, and the client reaches out asking how the website is doing. What’s the problem?  Miscommunication. You did not explicitly outline what content you needed, nor did you follow-up throughout those 2 weeks. Nor did the client think to ask you what you needed. A third example: You build a website for a client, then start charging them your monthly website maintenance fee. The client receives this invoice and is very confused. They paid for the website? Why are they receiving another bill? What’s the problem?  Miscommunication. Apparently, somewhere along the line, assumptions were made but agreements were not. People like to know exactly what to expect when their bill comes, so when you’re dealing with money, be very clear how much is being charged, the sales tax, credit card fee, and how often. Clear communication can solve problems before they even arise. Avoid miscommunication, and business will be a lot smoother.
  5. Skimping on Servers — Hosting is the #1 most important piece of a website’s infrastructure. As appealing as the cheap, economy servers sound, $10 bucks or so for a server, don’t fall for it. You’re setting yourself up for all kinds of problems, like hacks, slowness, server time-outs, to name a few. For your first few projects, you can get away with the top-tier economy server, but as you grow and earn more clients, especially higher-dollar clients, you really should look into the dedicated servers. Plus, the more clients you put on the server, the better you offset the cost! Higher quality servers will be faster, more reliable and more secure. While the top-tier IONOS shared server served me well for so many years, now I’m renting their more expensive Dedicated Servers. Your budget will expand as you take on more clients, so keep your eyes focused on the importance of your hosting server.  
  6. Freebies — This is where you do a website for free in exchange for exposure. Sounds like a decent arrangement if the company you’re building a website for is popular, but listen to this: Every for-profit website you build is going to increase your exposure and reviews. So if you’re already getting that with a paying client… why do it for free? You’ll especially come across this with family and friends, they know you’re a web designer, they want to support you, but at the same time, you’re trying to raise your rates and land higher-value clients, you don’t want to give away work for free but you also don’t want to milk your family. So what do you do? Well, I can’t make this decision for you. You have to factor in their budget and marketing plan. If they’re willing to work along with the website to drum up business. My suggestion is to charge them… a discounted rate… and clearly communicate exactly what you’re offering and what they can expect from this transaction. Put it in writing and make them sign your contract so they feel like a client. And yes, absolutely get a review from them and add the website to your portfolio, if it qualifies as an impressive website.
  7. Insecure Websites — These are websites without an SSL certificate. Several years ago, you only needed an SSL certificate when the site had credit card transactions and sensitive data. It wasn’t necessary for a typical brochure site. But now, as we’ve learned in several lessons, SSL certificates not only encrypt your website’s traffic, but it also improves your search engine rankings and removes the “not secure” icon in your browser. All benefits! Plus, the cost of SSL certs has really come down. Now, you can get one for $20 in IONOS, or, for $100, you get an Unlimited SSL for all of your websites. Avoid insecure websites as they don’t look good for your customers and will only cause problems down the line. So go ahead and secure your site as soon as you launch it. 
  8. Toxic Clients — These are the clients that cause you the most stress. The ones that make your heart stop when they call. The ones that give you grief about your prices. They say that 10% of your clients will cause 90% of your problems. And let me tell you, that is true! The key is, first, identify your 10%… which clients of yours cause you the most stress. It’s not always easy to avoid toxic clients because their toxicity might not come out until later in the relationship. But once it does come out, identify it for what it is, and 2nd, where appropriate, pass them off to another web designer or discontinue your maintenance on their site. Setup their own hosting account and transfer the website into that. Once you cut ties with toxic clients, you’ll feel much, much better, and you can redirect that energy to gaining and maintaining quality clients. But are there any warning signs when you’re first interviewing a client?  From my experience… let me give you a few ideas… Balking at your price. Negotiating it lower than you’re worth… Requesting several revisions to your contract… Complaining excessively about their previous web designers… Insisting on a certain WordPress theme other than Divi… insisting on a different CMS, like Joomla or Drupal… insisting on hosting the website themselves at their own GoDaddy Economy Server… repeatedly stressing how the project needs to be done ASAP, therefore not respecting your time… demanding to be on page 1 of Google without acting on your practical SEO suggestions… see, there are tons of warning signs, and these come with experience, but once you see these patterns for yourself, you can avoid a stressful situation before it even happens.
  9. Not Learning Code — I’m not saying you need to turn into a full-time web developer and spend your hours coding websites instead of designing them, but it’s valuable to at least have a basic understanding of Code. Fortunately, it’s completely free to learn HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP and other programming languages. I highly recommend spending a few hours on each of these languages. Go to one of the free resources like W3Schools.com to get a foundational education. You’ll feel far more confident when problems arise, like error messages, PHP warnings, or other things that you can’t solve through the front-end of WordPress and Divi. Code will empower you as you polish your production-quality websites. HTML will teach you how websites are framed. CSS will allow you to refine the design of your website. Javascript will help you polish your site’s functionality. And PHP will especially come in handy when you need extra functionality and edits to your WordPress website. 
  10. Not Keeping Up With Trends — Technology is changing all the time. There’s always new software to either embrace or get distracted by. There’s new updates to programming languages. There’s new features in WordPress and Divi to learn. New updates to Photoshop and other Adobe software. New updates and features in your Hosting server. New browser and operating system updates on your computer! New desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones coming out. As a tech company, you have to keep up with these trends. Follow the tech blogs like TechCrunch and Mashable, listen to quality podcasts, and keep learning. My only caveat here is to balance that by not getting distracted with unnecessary tech. Tech that isn’t going to increase the value of your business. Software that isn’t going to stick around. New WordPress themes. New CMS. New WordPress plugins. Basically, anything that does the same thing as your tried-and-true software, you can keep on your radar, but don’t be quick to jump ship. Stay focused on providing the best service to your clients, which means sticking to your dependable software while keeping up with the note-worthy trends and implementing what becomes mainstream. If you avoid all trends… refuse to pivot… you could get left in the dust. You have to be adaptable to be successful.

I’m Leighton, and now you know… 10 things to avoid as a web designer!


Lesson Notes & FAQs

  • Question: Hey Leighton – do you have any podcasts you recommend listening to? There are so many out there, it’s hard to filter through all of them to find the good ones. I was listening to the Elegant Themes podcast, but they haven’t had a new episode since 2017.
  • Answer: Great question! I am very much enjoying “The Josh Hall Web Design Show,” “WP the Podcast” and “SPI Smart Passive Income.”