Starting a career as a web designer is no easy feat. There’s uncertainty, there’s worries, there’s “I’m not good enough” complex, there’s fears that you’ll under-deliver and make clients mad. And on top of all that, there’s no money, hence making the whole endeavor even more challenging.
But that’s okay. We all went through it. No one is born with freelance web design engraved in their DNA. In fact, I doubt there’s any successful designer out there who hasn’t been afraid of this or the other when they were just starting out.
And there’s a lot of successful people working in this space, by the way. As it turns out, the decision to go freelance is “the decision of their lives” for around 60 percent of freelancers (data says), allowing them to earn higher salaries than in their former, traditional jobs. Furthermore, 75 percent of those 60 percent achieved that within their first year of freelancing.
The path to that is not always as obvious as you’d imagine, though. On the flip side of that aforementioned statistic, since 60 percent earn more, then it means that 40 percent earn less…
Therefore, here’s a handful of specific tactics you can implement to not find yourself on that less desirable end of the spectrum:
It’s not about websites; it’s about solving problems
This might sound a bit counter-intuitive at first, but your web design clients don’t need websites, per se. What they have is a business problem that they want to have solved. Most of the time, that problem involves a website playing an important role – likely delivering a solution.
So that’s where you come into play. Instead of listing the features that you’re going to create for the website, focus on starting a conversation about the problem itself.
Get to the bottom of things, and name the problems clearly. Make sure that you’ve fully immersed yourself in the client’s world and that you do understand what their business is all about, and how you can really help them.
This is the path to increasing the budgets of your projects. At the end of the day, the client just wants things to be taken care of. And they want them to be taken care of as effectively as possible. So when they come across a person who understands their needs thoroughly, they will be confident in giving that person – you – more freedom, and thus increasing the budget to let you really deliver the best results you can.
Cater to a different kind of client
One of the harsh truths of salesmanship is that a more expensive product is not necessarily more difficult to sell. The only trick is who you’re selling it to.
To put this into more applicable words, catering to clients who are willing to pay premium prices works pretty much the same as catering to those who aren’t.
Plus, as most of us already know, the less someone pays, the more they tend to expect, which isn’t the perfect scenario for financial growth as a web designer either.
Okay, so how do you bump yourself to working with high-paying clients? A couple of things:
- (a) talk money as early on in the conversation as possible,
- (b) ask for a big chunk of the paycheck up front.
Let’s discuss (b) in just a minute. When it comes to (a), talking money as early in the conversation as possible achieves two things:
First, you’re preselecting only the clients that can afford higher rates, that’s obvious. But more importantly, you’re also scaring some people off, which actually works in your favor, contrary to what you might think. The thing is that all of us only have 24 hours in a day, 8-ish of which are our working hours. And within that time, we can only handle so much workload. Thus, by scaring some of the clients off, we’re actually making room for other clients who might be more than okay with higher rates. I know that this sounds mad at first, but it really works.
Now, one more important caveat … so when is a good moment in the conversation to talk rates? I’d say that it’s immediately after you’ve proven to the client that you understand their problem and that you know the solution. Strike the iron while it’s hot.
Don’t be a better designer; be a better marketer
I’d say that the one superpower that top-earning web designers have over those who earn less is that they are significantly better marketers.
Yes, they might also be better designers, but that’s only a “might.” However, they are certainly better marketers.
And don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that success is all in the marketing. But I do mean that if you have, say, one hour every day to work on your self-development, that hour is much better spent learning marketing than learning strictly “design things” (tools, techniques, methods).
For instance, one trick that high-earning freelancers often have in their sleeve is that they know how to offer the client more than they initially wanted. Or, as it’s known in marketing, they understand upselling.
“I know that *A* will work great for you, and that it’s going to make ____ much more effective. But if we do *A+B*, then you can not only do ____ better, but also make ____ more straightforward too.” – just an example of a conversation you can have with a client. (Note. That’s not the designer in you talking, that’s the marketer.)
So, learn marketing. Learn it deeply!
Regain your time
I did already mention that we only have 24 hours in a day, and 8-ish of those are our working hours. Not everyone realizes this … but that’s really not a lot.
Sometimes it feels like you’ve just turned on your computer in the morning, and it’s 4PM already. Now, if you’ve spent this time on design work then it’s not bad at all. But what if you’ve just been emailing, going back and forth with prospective clients, managing your schedule, and so on – aka. not billable work?
This is not good, to say the least.
The solution is simple, though, and it’s all about the magic of the 21st century + the tools it brings us. In other words, delegate some of the work to tools, rather than to your brain.
There are only a couple of recommendations on my shortlist. After all, getting every helper tool imaginable wouldn’t be that productive either. So here we go:
1. Pitch more effectively.
Okay, so first of all, one of the main bottlenecks when working as a freelance web designer is pitching prospective clients and then converting them to actual clients. Everything I said above about having problem-focused conversations still stands, but even with that, you won’t be able to convert 100% of those conversations to projects.
Therefore, when the time comes, you should have a good system in place for sending your pitches to clients, and then monitoring how they interact with those pitches (if they even read the proposal, etc.).
The tool which I recommend for that is called Bidsketch. In a nutshell, it lets you create client proposals based on great templates that have been tested to perform, and then send and monitor them on a per-client basis. Huge time-saver if you work with more than a handful of pitches each month.
2. Manage clients more effectively.
Email is okay for client management, I guess, but a good CRM, or Customer Relationship Manager, is better.
A CRM system gives you three main things:
- It helps you organize better. For instance, with email, you never know what’s the stage with each client communication. To make sure, you have to go through the entire email thread each time you come back to a client. With a CRM, you see the progress right away.
- It helps you grow your relationships with clients. You can see at a glance who you haven’t contacted in a while, or what other opportunities there are based on the previous conversations.
- You get data. You get data on which methods are the most effective when selling new services, which email templates work best, which are the most effective workflow processes, and much more.
All this makes your working day much more efficient.
3. Email more effectively.
Since you will be emailing a lot as a freelance web designer anyway, I can’t just omit this. No matter what email environment you use, the main problem is always knowing whether or not your recipient has read the message.
Just a simple example, so a client opened your email yesterday but still hasn’t responded … maybe you should write them again and follow up? But how do you know if they really opened that email? A tool like Adobe Marketing Cloud will help.
4. Don’t waste time looking for graphics everywhere.
As a web designer, you will likely need new graphics very often, and a lot of them too! With that in mind, you can either visit multiple places every time, or you can elect to use just a single library instead. This brings a couple of benefits:
- With a single library, you know the licensing restrictions much better, and you don’t have to look for them every time (as we know, media licensing is key, and can cause a lot of headache when neglected),
- With time, you also become much more familiar with how the library works and you can find your media much quicker, in comparison to, say, going to Google and starting there each time.
Unsurprisingly, I recommend this neat catalog of stock media. It’s huge. I dare you to not find a perfect graphic for your next project there.
The three exclamation marks are no typo here. The practice of asking for a large chunk of the total sum up front is the easiest way to not only improve your cashflow, but also improve your financial security, and even make more money in the long term. Here’s how:
First, asking for money up front ensures you that the client indeed has the funds for the project, hence, you can save yourself a lot of frustration later down the road.
Secondly, with part of the money up-front, you don’t need to invest your own funds in assets required to complete the project. This can include stock media, or even sub-hiring movie makers or photographers for a complex project.
Okay, so what is an acceptable up-front payment?
No joke, but some clients will be perfectly happy paying even 100%. If you are not comfortable asking for that, start at around 50-70%. Setting the bar this high is good for one main reason. If you collect 70% of the payment up front then even if the client has trouble paying the balance later on, you are still probably profitable on the whole project. If you instead play it “safe” and ask for just 20% or so, you are nowhere if the client stumbles upon financial trouble later down the road.
In the end, if you want to make more money as a freelance web designer, you do this by delivering more value, and not by simply insisting that you are the best in the game.
This concludes this guide. Feel free to ask if you have any questions. And if not, I have one for you: What is your no.1 challenge in your freelance web design career right now?