10 Things I Wish I Knew Starting Out

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Lesson Overview

In this lesson, we’ll discuss my 10 Things I Wish I Knew Starting Out as a Web Designer:

  1. Sell Website Maintenance Plans
  2. Market Yourself
  3. Focus on Quality Clients
  4. Identify & Set Your Processes
  5. Join a Networking Group
  6. Build Referral Partners
  7. Build Long-Term Relationships
  8. Limit Support Hours
  9. Embrace Pivoting
  10. Raise Your Rates


Lesson Transcription

Welcome! I’m Leighton, your webmaster. In today’s lesson, let’s consider my 10 Things I Wish I Knew Starting Out My Web Design Business.

  1. Sell Website Maintenance Plans — I fought this for the first 4 years. I had the attitude of, that’s a waste of money for a client! “Why would they pay me $75 when they could get their own hosting for $10? It’s more ethical for me to setup hosting in their name.” Well, years later, I’ve had a change of mindset. A quality website maintenance plan is such a good deal for your clients. Ideally, a live, functional, content-driven website on a secure, fast server will bring in leads that far exceed the cost of a maintenance plan. So the value is undeniable. And on your end, these maintenance plans can accumulate to a handsome recurring revenue over time. With this course, you learned both the value of a maintenance plan and what services are involved, so go ahead and start marketing your hosting & maintenance plans to your clients!
  2. Market Yourself — I fought this for the first decade, until it became undeniably clear: People want authenticity! They’re done with the corporate, impersonal feeling. They want to see you and feel connected to you, especially if you’re looking to establish a long-term relationship. So how do you starting marketing yourself? Get a professional headshot, put it on your website, record some video, introduce yourself, and don’t be afraid to share some humor or personal hobbies. This will go a long way to endearing people to you.
  3. Focus on Quality Clients — When you’re first starting out, I know you’re hungry for any gig you can land. And that’s understandable! You have bills, mortgage, groceries to buy, so it’s natural to take on any website project you can find. But as you grow, build your portfolio and reviews, you can start being more selective. Maybe steer clear of low-budget and DIY projects. You’ll find a lot of DIYers who calculate the value of a website by the Wix or Squarespace Pricing page. As if a website only costs $20 or so per month. That’s okay! Let people manage their own budget. Offer them your quote and allow them the dignity to decline. You, though, focus on the quality clients, those who can invest more in their marketing and take their website seriously. The ones who will pay you on time, appreciate you, and offer suggestions while working along with your expertise.
  4. Identify & Set Your Processes  I can’t overstate this. When you’re first starting out, you might not have a process, since everything is so new. You don’t know what your process is! Either figure out for yourself what works, or just follow the processes I taught in this course. Either way, write down your process and follow it. That means template emails, template proposals, template contracts, template quotes, it’s rare you’ll come across a project that’s completely custom and requires re-writing the book for that client. You can save SO much time by having these SOPs, or Standard Operating Procedures, in place. Your Projects Timeline, your Launch Checklist, are terrific examples of this. Review the On-Boarding Clients Lesson for a refresher of this.
  5. Join a Networking Group — I joined a BNI chapter 9 years into my business, and growth exploded ever since. Networking and referral marketing is the absolute best way to grow your business. Shop around for the right networking group, find one that works for you, and stick to it. Whether that’s BNI or a local networking organization in your area, embrace networking right from the inception of your business. By joining early on, your networking skills will grow along with your business. Plus, the personal growth in BNI is incredible too! Benefits all the way around. And, if you need a refresher, review Part 8 of the Earning Clients Lesson.
  6. Build Referral Partners — This is absolutely golden. Remember, mortgage companies network with title companies and realtors. Realtors network with landscapers. Auto insurance agents network with lawyers. These connections are mutually beneficial because they naturally come across opportunities to pass business, and their businesses can grow together. In your case, network with local photographers, marketing companies, advertising agencies, logo designers, graphic designers, content writers, and even website designers! Why might you include web designers in this? Aren’t they your competition?  Well, technically, but there’s plenty of business to go around. Furthermore, you aren’t going to be the right fit for every project that comes your way. Maybe you don’t want to conduct business with a certain industry… maybe a project’s budget is too low… Or maybe you don’t think you could fulfill their needs… There’s plenty of reasons why you might pass on work! And instead of leaving the company hanging, suggest they call your fellow website designer, if you think they could handle the project. The benefit of networking with those other specialists if anytime they take on a client, provide services for their website or marketing, you will be top of mind if their client needs website design or maintenance services. Nurture these referral partners, be a giver, not a taker, and you will gain business in return. Trust me. The right referral partners are absolutely golden.
  7. Build Long-Term Relationships — Several industries sell goods and services to one-and-done customers. You, however, don’t have customers. You have clients. A client is someone you regularly service and conduct business with. Some clients I’ve had for 10+ years. It’s incredible to look back on how our businesses have grown together. The longer you keep your clients, the more they feel like family. You feel a connection with your clients. Plus, not only will they keep paying you, but they’ll be your greatest advocates! When someone in their family or network needs a website, you’ll be top of mind. So when you meet a business for the first time, don’t think of it like selling a customer. Instead, you’re building a relationship. So be friendly and authentic. Have a client mindset, not a customer mindset. When I first started out, I had a customer mindset, and the gigs I got from the freelancing websites were one-and-done projects. Once I started networking and landing serious clients, my whole philosophy shifted, and now I see the superiority of building long-term relationships.
  8. Limit Support Hours — When I was first starting out, I was so hungry for accounts that I bragged that you could get unlimited site updates per month! Sounded awesome! Businesses loved that. Truth be told, most accounts only required between 0 and 20 minutes per month anyways, but a handful of clients would request hours of updates. That was difficult. I mean, I made a commitment to honor unlimited updates, and I intended to keep that promise, but for future, I had to include in my sales pitch and contract that only the first hour was included. Again, for 90% of clients, their support fell within the first hour. But for that 10%, I was compensated for my time. So my suggestion to you, the thing I wish I knew starting out, is to limit support hours. Include the first 1 or 2 hours in your monthly maintenance, but cap it. And don’t present this cap in a negative tone; rather, the positive side is they get 1 entire hour of website support for FREE! Included in the cost of maintenance!
  9. Embrace Pivoting — Have you heard of pivoting?  This is when you’re in a certain industry and you “pivot” to another. Or within an industry, you pivot from one specialty to another. Or one skill to another. Why is this important? Well, let me explain by example: Back around 2010, I was using Adobe Flash. Do you remember that technology? It enabled video and all kinds of cool animation for the Web. Well, for several reasons, it didn’t work out in the long run. It wasn’t mobile-friendly and was prone to all sorts of security vulnerabilities. So do you see anyone using Flash nowadays?  No! The Flash experts had to pivot to different Web animation technologies, such as HTML5. In the early days of CMS, WordPress was pretty equal to Drupal and Joomla. So at that time if you favored those other options, over time it may have been wise to pivot to WordPress, which grew exponentially larger than the other CMS options.  Pivoting is not failure. Failure is refusing to pivot. Let me repeat that. Pivoting is not failure. Failure is refusing to pivot. Those who refuse can be left in the dust. One final thought on pivoting: keep a close eye on your financials. Categorize your clients by project size, revenue generated, referral source, and categorize your income by website design, website maintenance plans and other services. When you break down this information, you can see what’s working and what’s not. Cut out or at least limit what’s not working and give what IS working your full attention.
  10. Raise Your Rates — When you’re first starting out, you’ll literally take anything. You’ll do a whole website for a few hundred dollars. And that’s kinda okay! Ya know, when you’re new to a business, you haven’t really built up the experience or credibility to charge higher rates. And if a business has a high budget, you’re probably not on their radar, and that’s fine, but what do you do over time?? Once you’ve landed clients, successfully completed several projects, earned some 5-star reviews, it’s time to gradually raise your rates. I wouldn’t double or triple them overnight, but try increasing within the same price bucket. For example, if you charge $495 for something… charge $895. From $1295 to $1595. From $1595 to $1995. Those aren’t drastic increases, and they won’t make or break a new client, but you will gain both money and confidence. The more clients you land in higher price buckets, the more valuable your time will become. I was always scared to raise my rates, but once I started doing it, it really empowered my long-term personal and business goals. So don’t undervalue yourself. At first, do what you gotta do to gain experience, but over time, keep your eyes on your prices, and raise them along with your experience.

I’m Leighton, and now you know… 10 things I wish I knew starting out my web design business!