5 Ways to Add Value to Your Work as a Web Designer

Oct 7 2010 by Nathan Hangen | 40 Comments

5 Ways to Add Value to Your Work as a Web Designer

Let’s face it… we’re in a day and age where someone can buy a domain, hosting, and install a premium WordPress theme in the same time that some designers take to respond with a job quote/request for proposal.

On top of that, many designers are attempting a race to the bottom by lowering rates and adding a myriad of services they wouldn’t have offered years prior.

It seems to me that times are a bit rough, and as a result, designers loosen standards in order to get — and keep — more clients.

But there’s a problem with that: You don’t have the stamina to race to the bottom. None of us do.

Our time is worth much more than that, and our sanity even more so.

But what do you do? How can you compete with people that offer cheaper services or are willing to do the work you don’t want to do?

The answer is simple: You don’t.

Here are some tips and ideas for adding value to your work as a web designer.

1. Stop Racing to the Bottom

Rather than chase nickel and dimers, consider moving in the opposite direction — chase the people that have money and are willing to spend it. This might even mean raising your rates (scary, I know) or being more selective with the clients you take on, but it’s an important step in making the game work for you.

I recently had the opportunity to interview several of the top designers in my field and one of the similarities between all of them was the fact that when the market wanted them to go lower, they chose to go higher. And it worked.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but the reality is that if you’re fighting over scraps, then you’ll have nothing but scraps. However, if you can raise your rates and take fewer clients in the process, then you can focus on doing nothing but great work.

2. Cater to a Specific Demographic

Obviously, if you are going to raise your rates, then you need to be able to provide the value to match. One of the best ways to do this is become the go-to guy or gal for a specific niche rather than trying to become a one-stop shop.

If you do best with mini-sites (e.g. single page websites and vCard sites), then become a mini-site designer. If you do best designing niche blogs, then brand yourself as the niche blogging design guru. If you prefer corporate sites, then pitch corporate clients.

It’s easy to think that in trying to serve everyone, you can make more money, but the truth is that as a consumer, I want to know you are an expert in doing what I need you to do. If I need a logo, I go to a logo designer, and if I need a blog, I go to a blog designer.

Brand yourself as a specialist rather than a generalist, and you’ll be much more of an attractive option for your target market.

3. Know What Your Market Wants

Now, if you’re going to target a specific audience, then it’s important that you know how to best serve them. For a Silicon Valley startup, you might need to focus on high conversions and optimization. If you’re working for authors, maybe you need to learn how to make their books look great.

I’ve been on both sides of the coin, and each time I’m amazed by designers that prefer the harmony of their design over my ability to get more newsletter subscribers, buyers, and readers.

On the other side, it’s important to remember that not every client knows what works best in their industry, but that doesn’t mean you should turn them down. Remember, you’re the expert — so act like one. Don’t be afraid to share your expertise. In many cases, this will give them even more confidence in your vision.

4. Don’t Forget the Little Things

Aside from my work as a freelancer, I also own a few web shops, from which I sell a variety of eBooks and other learning courses. When I’m designing these sites, it’s important that the product, logo, and website all match. That being said, I’m amazed by how many designers might offer to design eBooks but not the website hosting the book. It happens the other way too. Designers love to stick to one thing, such as site design, while completely ignoring a client’s need to have a book to match.

Don't Forget the Little Things

There are many little things that designers miss (nuggets of opportunities). Here are a few examples:

Your clients might not know they need these things. Take the initiative to start the conversation.

Now, I’m not asking you to become a one-stop shop, but try to put yourself in your client’s shoes. What do they need? Many times, it’s more than what you’re offering.

5. Follow Up

I’m amazed by how many designers miss this important part of the marketing process. You’ve done all of the work to get the sale, to design something amazing, and to make money, but then you forget about follow-up.

Why?

A customer is your greatest asset. Not only are they a perfect feedback mechanism, but they also make great returning customers.

Do you keep your clients on an email list? If not, how are you going to let them know that you’re offering a sale or a new service?

Sometimes, they might contact you for a quick favor, or a question about their site. I believe that it’s important you respond quickly and with an offer to help. Believe it or not, good designers are tough to come by, and people love to hold on to the good ones.

Simply offering help, post-sale, is a great way to build a referral marketing funnel.  If you keep them happy, they might tell a friend, or several. Heck, they might even blog about you.

In my experience, referrals not only make the best customers, but are the easiest to obtain.

Simple Strategies Work

You don’t have to become a marketing freak, but using a few techniques from that Marketing 101 class can come in handy, especially when times are tough. Instead of looking for more ways to cut rates and reduce costs, look for more ways to provide value and differentiate yourself from the competition.

This is how you build a reputation and become an asset to the community rather than someone just groveling for clients.

If you don’t value your own work, then who will?

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About the Author

Nathan Hangen is a serial entrepreneur and author. He’s the co-founder of Soundtrackster, a premium shop for royalty free music, as well as The Fountainhead Society, an entrepreneurial movement taking the world by storm. Follow him on Twitter to learn more and check out his personal site.

40 Comments

Giacomo Colddesign

October 7th, 2010

I like very much this kind of article, thanks to posting it!

sanjay

October 7th, 2010

nice post! as a noob in web design, this is useful to know my place in the industry. keep it up man!

OfficeCavalry

October 7th, 2010

Great Post! I agree with it all, but in particular no. 2, you do not want to be a jack of all trades!

Scott Annan

October 7th, 2010

Great article for designers just getting into the field.

I would add relationship management (although you touch on it in the follow-up section). A lot of designers build their portfolio with clients who are physically located somewhere else and building a strong relationship without ever meeting a client is a new skill that everyone should focus more attention on.

We launched webcollaboration.com as a way for designers, developers, and freelance consultants to improve their communication with clients, build stronger relationships with them through online collaboration, and (maybe most importantly) provide a really professional online interface to clients.

Ultimately client satisfaction goes beyond the final deliverable and building strong client relationships helps grow your business faster.

Thanks for the post.

Alfie

October 7th, 2010

I am a designer for a long time now, and I feel the crunch that’s been happening. Your article is a reassurance not to go with the norm but rather stick with being exceptional! Thanks for the inspiration. Back to the game.

woody

October 7th, 2010

Very very impressed! I used to be a graphic designer and also tried freelancing for a short while. This is the post that I want my graphic/web designer friends to read. :)

Ryan

October 7th, 2010

I really wish some of my past bosses would read this article. They always want to rush to the finish on things, without really thinking everything through. These are definitely 5 tips for having a more successful website imo.

Charlie

October 7th, 2010

Great post, couldn’t agree more, especially your first and last points. I was chatting to a web design I work with from time to time and he said he is seeing real pressure to create fanatic web sites for next to nothing (talking sub £ 500). We just retrieved a client that we lost last year, because the big shiny web design studio that re-designed their site couldn’t be bothered to fix a couple of small issues that literally took 10 minutes. When he asked the client for a testimonial on linkedin he still didn’t put the client first, amazing!

TFG

October 7th, 2010

“Stop Racing to the Bottom” this has been a big learning curve for me and something I am currently working on.

Pamela Wilson

October 7th, 2010

Nathan, you nailed this one, and I’m off to tell my Twitter followers. This should be required reading for newbie designers and those of us who have been working in the field for many years. Thanks for putting together an article full of great advice!

Ariel

October 7th, 2010

Awesome article, I really enjoyed, I had work on both ends design & development, now I’m back as a designer, and this is a keeper for sure keep it up, I’m sharing this article with my friends.. thanks so much and I also agree with Scott’s comment.

Kristy Ewing

October 7th, 2010

Excellent article Nathan. Thanks for reminding us that raising the bar is oft times the BEST business decision.

Greg Bowen

October 7th, 2010

Great article. WHen selling a website, or a banner ad – you are not selling an asset, you are selling a person – namely YOU. Businesses that understand this make wiser decisions and are the kinds of people you want to be working with anyway. If someone is not interested in developing a relationship with me, they can download their own WordPress theme.

Roger Smith

October 7th, 2010

Nice article. A must read for all designers. I will refer my designers to this site.

Aaron Moody

October 7th, 2010

I found this article verry interesting, thanks!

I’m going to have to start a mailing list of my clients, good suggestion.

-Aaron

Francis doody

October 7th, 2010

Thats what i do. But great article! New tips are always welcome.

Luke

October 7th, 2010

Brilliant post, agree with a lot of the comments too !

Libby

October 7th, 2010

Great post! I especially agree with you about maintaining relationships with your clients. I always make an effort to keep tabs on the websites that I have designed in the past. Another great way to maintain good relationships with past clients and to gain return clients, is to go back to the client whenever you learn or discover a new design technique or skill and offer to add to or modify their site using your new skill, etc. This makes the client feel like you care about the success of their site, helps you keep the sites in your portfolio up to date, and often turns into a great, ongoing working relationship with your clients.

Gabriele Maidecchi

October 7th, 2010

Love all your points, especially #5, designers really, really forget about following up a customer. Done this mistake in my old company lots of times.

Thomas McGee

October 7th, 2010

Nice article. This is similar to another one that was recently published on WinePress of Words (http://bit.ly/deDYT0). Good points as well that it’s important to consider all of the clients needs, even if it doesn’t fit into the medium of design we’re use to. E-books are good, and even better when they go along with an offset-print run version as well. Thanks for the article!

Rashid Rupani

October 7th, 2010

Very nicely written article.

Allen

October 7th, 2010

Great article to read. Definitely do not go lower but higher with your rates!

Blair

October 7th, 2010

this hits the nail right on the head…kudos

Curtis Scott

October 7th, 2010

This is a great write up and perfect timing Nathan.

A while back I started to raise my rates on clients that always had me chasing them down for content and payments. In some cases you even have to turn down these clients. Like you’ve stated the stress is really not worth it.

Now I have great clients that are serious about their projects and it’s getting easier to turn down the bad ones when the red flags start to appear.

SJSW

October 8th, 2010

Your point is well taken. If you are good…NEVER EVER GIVE IN! I use the fast-food (i.e. cheap) web guy as a foil to my filet mignon. It’s really very easy to differentiate yourself from fast-food…if you’re good. It just takes a little more effort on the marketing front (I joined my local Chamber of Commerce) and the ability to show “value” in what you have to offer vs Mr. Drive Thru. The good news is that savvy business owners (the kind you want to have as clients) understand that “you get what you pay for”. Your job is to show them the difference between a burger and a filet. In my case I sell “custom design”, a “turnkey” experience and service, service, service. I give them what they could never get for cheap and therefore while I’m considered “expensive” I’m also known as being “worth it”.

When I do run across a business owner looking for a $500 web site I politely explain to them that in that price range they’re not looking for a professional designer or a professional site and that they might as well do it themselves on Google or GoDaddy and save their $500. You’d be surprised at how many of those exchanges have led me to selling a project at 10 times what they were originally thinking they would spend. It’s all about education and exposing Mr. McWebSite for what he is…a hack! Anyway, sorry for the rant but McWebsites and hacks are a pet peeve of mine because they hurt the “craft” that I’ve spent years learning to master. I mean seriously, who does a website for $500? Or a logo for $75? A hack…that’s who.

Igor Ovsyannykov

October 8th, 2010

I just can’t stand those websites that have people compete for design work, like 99designs. This makes the quality of the product go way down and Asian designer do it for dirt cheap. They can’t help it its just a currency issue.

mike i

October 8th, 2010

I agree with raising rates instead of lowering rates. If you lower your rates you’ll have less time for the project. You’ll be making sites that don’t look as great as they coul’ve. By raising rates you’ll have more time, bettter end results, and in the future other clients with higher budgets will be more impressed with your portfolio and want to hire you.

Nathan Hangen

October 8th, 2010

Some great comments/feedback, thanks everyone.

I agree with you Igor that crowdsourced design is a potential dangerous business model, however maybe it’s good that it gets the cheap clients out of the way so you don’t have to worry about trying to guess what their magic number is.

As the economy tightens and competition gets a bit tougher, it’s become necessary to stand out in as many ways as possible.

Johnny

October 8th, 2010

Lovely tips for beginners, although I imagine most seasoned designers have already realised them *_*

Heath Waller

October 8th, 2010

I have recently come to the conclusion that I want to build amazing websites, rather than middling one – and building such sites take more time and therefore, cost more to make. The fact that I keep hearing from clients who want dirt-cheap sites is my own problem for failing to market myself to the right demographic.

I have picked up a lot of pointers from your article – so I offer you my immense gratitude.

Parth Patel

October 8th, 2010

This is great read! Number 1 is very true!

Heath Waller

October 8th, 2010

Sorry to post again – but you mention: “I recently had the opportunity to interview several of the top designers in my field…”. Do you have these posted somewhere? I’d be very interested in reading them.
Thanks!

Nathan Hangen

October 9th, 2010

Heath,

Sadly no, most of them were unrecorded, but I did publish a few of them as part of a course.

I don’t want to spam the comments, but you can check it out at feartofuel.com

Mark

October 9th, 2010

Great tips, but I think No. 2 conflicts with No. 4 a bit. I find it easy to become overwhelmed when reading tips like these. It makes me want to halt the way I’m working, and do a 180. Then later I’ll read something else telling me I should do things another way, or even the way I was doing them before :P But all this is good to know, none the less.

JLyles

October 9th, 2010

Wonderful. I’m definitely taking notes. Consider the survey at A List Apart to find out what many web professional earn and how long they’ve generally been in the industry. This advice is great for beginners, but it’s timely information for experienced entrepreneurs as well, and it comes at the right time. Thanks.

Pedro Da Silva

October 9th, 2010

Thanks for this post.

For the last 10 years, I’ve been a generalist. Not that being a generalist is a bad thing, just that I now sell my time for a smaller set of design services that generate more income. As a poly-skilled person, all the skills that I have gained are valuable as I am able to provide them to a smaller group of quality clients.

Over the last few months however I have started concentrating on a specific demographic instead of chasing tight, web-illiterate clients who are looking for a “nickle & dime” web guy.

In regards to pricing, I’ve pushed my prices up by 100% to avoid my time being wasted by people and businesses that don’t appreciate the time and skills required to execute a good job.

Mike B

October 11th, 2010

This is a great article, it takes a lot of nerve and some time to get established in the design world (as well as some killer work of course) and turning down projects or not undercutting yourself in the bidding process is a tough thing to resist when your bank account is nearing empty. You make a lot of good points here, stick it out and put effort into building relationships and the quality work you REALLY want to do will follow.

Windows 8

October 15th, 2010

Not forgetting the “little things” is high up on my list – adding little touches makes an excellent design stand out from just a good one… and not surprisingly, the extra money you can gain from this is well worth the effort!

shenoyjoseph

November 25th, 2010

i thinks these make a alot of time to create it

techsmash

November 4th, 2011

ya its a time consuming

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