Web Design Blog

How to Become a High-End Web Designer

How I got started and became a successful, high quality, web designer

This whole article  comes from my own experience and might be different for other designers.

I never did any mass mailings or direct marketing, but I got started just by talking to people. My first website, not a very good one, I did for a friend of mine who had a home inspection business. He was very patient with me because there was so much to learn while doing my first website. All I knew was some HTML from doing eBay listings after all.

I lived in a house by myself that I bought for only $56,000 and my mortgage payment was very low. I kept all my bills down as well. I didn’t want money problems to come in the way of learning and being creative. Still there were times where I sometimes needed some financial help from my parents.

BTW, I still have this first customer today, 12 years later, and he just gave me a nice, new, big job!

Most of my business is word of mouth.

Outstanding customer service, besides high quality web design, leads to referrals

The key to getting good referrals is to give amazing customer service, but you need customers first to give it to. More on how later.

However you get your first customer, it’s almost unavoidable to make mistakes and to have things go haywire or wrong with their website. What makes this okay is if you always confess to your client that it was your own mistake and that you will fix it ASAP  I always do. Don’t make excuses.

What I did when I had no work:

When work was slow, and it often was in the beginning of my career, I spent all my time learning and learning. I still do that today, even when I am super busy. I squeeze it in somehow.

I happen to know of another web designer who is only 21 years old, just out of college. In fact, I think he even dropped out of college to start his web design business. He studied graphic design. He is much more business savvy than I ever was in the beginning, and he did a mass mailing to get his business started.

This young guy lives in Venice FL, just like me, and he marketed himself to Sarasota. A city much larger than Venice but not too far away.

He optimized his website for the search engines for the Sarasota area as well. He went for volume. He uses developers in India to whom he outsources the work that he doesn’t know how to do or doesn’t want to do. This is a totally different way of how to go about this business, but it works for him.

About outsourcing:

I rarely outsource and I mostly do everything myself. Maybe I’m a control freak. When customers find out it’s not you who is doing the job, they don’t like that. They hired you, after all. To get a little help in order to make something work that you can’t do yourself, is perfectly fine, as long as you supervise it and do the real work yourself.

I have only outsourced complicated programming jobs, never any design work. Sorry, that is not true, I once did outsource design work and was disappointed with the results. I ended up having to redo the entire job. I learned that it didn’t work for me.

Nevertheless, this young guy is doing very well with his business! So apparently it can work. It just hasn’t worked for me that well, except for the small programming jobs.

Now onto something else…

Remember something very important regarding design work, another reason I won’t outsource this part of the job ever

Money is in the details!

Make every little element on the website count and think of how you can make it look and function the best possible. If you don’t know how, go learn it.

It will set you apart from other designers. It takes a lot more time doing the same job this way, but it is worth it! This is how you can become a high quality web designer and a successful one.

About marketing yourself.

When I first moved to Venice 5 years ago I once went around a bunch of local business and introduced myself and gave them a coupon for a discount and my business card. Maybe even a flyer. I got a little bit of business out of this. I didn’t enjoy doing the knocking on doors but I did what I had to do because I was new in town here. It did opened the door to a new market for me. I still had my upstate NY customer base as well, of course, but I wanted local customers because I believe in meeting my customers in person.

The Chamber is a good place for networking, but I never joined. I’m not as social as I should be. Another good place to connect with is a small business help center or education center. They always tell their students or business owners that they need a website for their business, so often they keep a list of web designers on file who they refer them to. I made sure to be on that list. Make sure you are, too, in your town!

There are so many other ways to advertise for free so just do some thinking on how. Also ask any of your friends to refer people to you.

Once you get a customer base built up, you can live off referrals alone, I promise!

When business is slow, never give up, keep learning and improving instead

The key is, if you can afford to, of course, is to never give up when times are slow, be persistent and keep believing in yourself. It took me many years to become successful. I never gave up. Also, I always try to improve on my skills, my service, myself. When business is slow, improve your product, they say. That includes yourself. Don’t blame others or the economy.

Here is another tip. Whenever someone asks you, how is business? Always answer: Great! Even if you feel it isn’t. When you exude success and stay positive, people will want to do business with you. If you say business is slow or if you start complaining about the economy or previous customers (a real no no), they won’t blame it on the economy or your previous customers, but on you. They think he or she must not be doing a great job. So keep that in mind.

When you tell yourself business is great, you will believe it yourself and will act accordingly. Success is not determined only by how much work you have at the moment or how much money you are making. It’s also about how you have learned and have gained experience.

What some other web designers are doing wrong

Here is what I see some other web designers are doing wrong when it comes to interviewing potential customers.

My new clients tell me about this after they have spoken to other web designers when interviewing them, and this is how I know. Since I am almost always the one who gets the job, pay close attention!

What others are doing wrong apparently, is they push features and ideas on people. They also brag about how well they did for other customers, and how great they are themselves. They drop big client names, etc. and they focus more on themselves than on the potential customer. People can feel that they are not the focus, a similar feeling they get from a pushy car salesman. They don’t like that.

Instead, what I always do, is ask lots and lots of really good questions to really get to know my customer, their business and their needs.

After introducing myself in a professional and friendly manner (yes, with a nice smile), I will let them tell me all about themselves and their business. This makes the potential customer feel very important to you. They are and should be important to you.

You really need to listen and listen and listen to your customer. Prevent yourself from thinking of what you think they might need. That comes later. Focus on listening only.

You need their information to do a good job for them. So many of my customers who transferred over from other web designers complained that their previous designer didn’t listen to them and didn’t give them what they asked for, either. With other words, they were very unhappy.

Ask lots of questions!

Ask them any question you can think of in order to get the full picture, to understand what they need. Take lots of good notes. You’ll be surprised at how handy they will come in later when you do the job.

No bragging, no telling them how good you are. None of that. It is not needed.

If they already have a website, ask if you can take a look at it and give them a free and honest opinion, but keep it nice and without pushing for a sale. I often say, I really would like to take a look at your current website for myself because I’m so curious and I also would like to see if I can help you by giving some suggestions.

No pressure. Say to them, you are free to choose whoever you want to go with, and you can even take my suggestions to another web designer, but I really would like to help you.

Now they feel you have taken a serious interest in them and in their business. Wow, you’re giving something for free also, without sales pressure.

People appreciate that. If you keep an attitude where you make the customer feel important, make them feel completely free to decide what they want, who they want to work with, etc. you will always win over others who don’t.

People will start really liking you and everyone prefers to do business with someone they like and trust! So be super friendly and kind, yet low key.

Do compliment them on their success or on their product or service, or on their innovative ideas. It’s not easy running a business these days so do show some admiration.

Once you have established a good rapport with them and you suddenly do get this great idea for them, do tell them about it without pushing it on them. What I always say is, if this were my website, I think it would be great to have that option on my site. Many times the potential customer hasn’t even thought of that before and they love it and are open to it.

You are working for THEM

Don’t forget, you are working for them so make it very clear that your goal is to give them what they want, need and more, to see them be successful with their website. It is ALL about them. Not you.

To keep your customers happy once you have had them for a while, is to keep thinking about them, to keep thinking of ideas for them,  communicate and tell them about it.

Many times when I do research online or in stores or just in life, I will get an idea that I think would be prefect for a particular customer. Then I call or email them and tell them about it, without pushing. You will be surprised at how your customer will love this. He still feels important to you, even after the job is done.

So many designers do their job and never stay in touch afterwards, they don’t even answer anymore questions or emails. This is such bad business. The fastest way to lose a good customer. Another designer will come along with ideas and such and your customer is gone. Forget about getting any referrals from them either.

Follow up, stay in touch, and do even more…

So do follow up, come up with new ideas for your customer. They will LOVE that! This will keep your customer happy and will give you work that you need to survive.

Don’t forget that your current customers are a great source for more work for you. When times are slow, often you can think of great ideas for existing customers and then you will have some work again to tie you over.

Quoting, can you ever get it right?

Regarding the business of giving quotes. This might be the hardest part of your business to do right. When you feel insecure, it often happens when business is slow, you tend to quote your jobs very low, just to get the job. Don’t be that way. If you believe in yourself and the value that you are bringing to the customer, then just stay with your prices but be reasonable and somewhat flexible as well.

It’s okay to give a discount because people love that, as long as the final quote is still good for you also.

Be careful of this trap, it’s hard to get out of

Be so careful not to fall in the trap that many other web designers have fallen into, by quoting super low. I’ve been there and it never worked out well for me. You tend to go after and attract customers that only look at money, not value, and those customers turn out to be the most demanding ones also. Not that demanding is bad, but you do deserve to get paid also.

When you quote way too low, potential customers also feel that you must not be very successful, you come across very desperate, or not even good at what you do.

When you quote appropriately, people believe you must be bringing really good value to the table and psychologically, it’s been proven that when something is cheap, people will perceive it as not the best product or service. So never do that.

It takes many years and lots of experience to become a good quality web designer, and that is worth something. Be proud of it!

I still fall prey at times to underbidding jobs. It’s a fact that it is really hard to judge how long a job will take. Take this from me, it ALWAYS takes more work and longer than you anticipate.

If you are proud of yourself, your business, and your work, the money will follow from customers who feel good about having chosen you for the job and are more than willing to pay you what you are worth.

It took me many years to understand this concept and to get it close to right, and I consider myself a very fast learner, just not when it came to submitting quotes.

First impressions really count in this business!

Lastly, when doing any type of marketing with printed materials, such as business cards, flyers, or postcards for direct mailing,make sure that they make an impression. You are in the design business so appearance is of utmost importance. Don’t be cheap by printing out your own cards. The same applies to your own website. Put some real time and effort into it.

If you do a mass mailing or give out a business card, make sure it catches people’s attention and it doesn’t look amateurish, but  really eye catching and professional instead. First impressions  do count!

Finally. What makes a web designer really, really good?

If you are lucky enough to have talents. If you are very creative, quite technical, can put yourself in the customers’ shoes, have wonderful people skills and are a great listener and learner, as well as have great ideas for all types of businesses to make them successful online, you are gold.

A successful customer is your best advertisement!

My motto: Live and keep learning! Always give more than you promised!

I hope this will help other web designers in their business. Feel free to leave a comment!

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