10 Ways Designers Can Earn More from Projects

10 Ways Designers Can Earn More from Projects

When it comes to expanding per-project revenue, service businesses are at an immediate disadvantage. As our "product" is essentially our time, increasing income on a per-project basis almost always comes with extra work and an increased time commitment. Office hours increase, personal time slips away, and before we know it, the "extra" $300 weekly income has turned into little more than lost time.

Product-based businesses have a distinct advantage when it comes to increasing revenue. Rather than increasing per-hour costs or per-project estimates, all that’s required is an increase in scale. Expand your operation, ship more units, and earn more money. While service businesses can take a similar approach–more employees, more projects, and relatively more income–scale can again become a problem.

These ten approaches to per-project earnings could help you boost total revenue and profits. Of course, they’re not foolproof, and some businesses will inevitably invest time into a strategy only to have it prove ineffective. However, they do work, and with the right balance of time investment and experimentation, they could become the changes that drastically increase your per-project, per-client, and per-hour revenue.

1. Don’t take on stressful or high-risk projects

Don't take on stressful or high-risk projects

Risk is a part of business. While service businesses operate at a slightly lower level of risk than a major product-based business or global company, they’re still taking cost-related risks whenever they accept a new project. The amount of time required could surpass expectations, the project’s complexity could be deceptive and surprising, or the entire project could be a stress-test disguised as something simple.

Whenever certain revenue is the goal, take on projects that offer security and relatively smooth income. Increasing revenue can be as simple as taking on more work, which is made easier when you’re not juggling complex projects.

2. Keep a network of contracted designers for project overflow

Keep a network of contracted designers for project overflow

There are hundreds of reasons to network with other designers, and managing work overload and excess projects is just one of them. As with any business operating at 100% capacity, there are going to be times when your clients will expect you to take on work that’s simply not possible. Rather than scrambling to find new designers, managers, or developers, it’s best to keep a relatively wide network of professionals ready to offer contracted work to.

This selective and optimized outsourcing also gives you an opportunity to increase overall revenues. While your design team works directly on clients projects – earning on an input basis – outsourced design teams can bring in a relatively stable per-project income for you.

3. Use affiliate programs to help clients with hosting

Use affiliate programs to help clients with hosting

If your design business specializes in local businesses and low-tech companies, it’s not unlikely that your clients will need their own hosting space or dedicated server. While it’s unwise to take care of hosting entirely on your own – problems can often arise, and client support is not a business that you want to be involved in – passing clients on to an affiliated hosting company is never a bad idea.

A range of hosting providers offer affiliate programs, some of which are more lucrative than others. Whenever possible, aim to provide hosting that meets a clients needs, not those of your business. It’s worth eating a small commission to keep a major client, and it’s never worth selling out a client for a one-off hosting kickback.

4. Don’t use a reseller hosting program for clients

Don't use a reseller hosting program for clients

Reseller hosting programs are often viewed as an ultra-simple passive income solution for web designers. Unfortunately, they’re about as far from passive as anything can be. Whenever you take responsibility for web hosting, you also inherit every problem that would otherwise be directed to the web hosting company.

Every second of downtime becomes your concern, every connection speed issue becomes a phone call  to your office, and every time a client forgets their cPanel password, you’re the person that’s called for support. Focus on low-maintenance revenue increases, not income streams like reseller hosting which require ongoing support.

5. Market yourself as a premium provider

Market yourself as a premium provider

Don’t want to deal with clients that pay poorly? Then don’t market to them.

Whether you’re a freelance designer or part of an established design business, the audience that you market your services to is by far the largest influence on your per-project income. Audiences that have come to expect low-cost services will expect the same from you, and explaining a premium cost structure instantly compromises your ability to offer services.

Study the market that your business operates in, and approach premium clients with your services. Most businesses don’t mind paying a higher price for high quality services, and if you can back up your promises, those clients can be great long-term assets.

6. Network other creatives and online professionals

Network other creatives and online professionals

Networking gives you an opportunity to hand off work to extra designers in the event of a quantity crisis. It also gives you an opportunity to market your services to other online workers, increasing your professional network and creating another stream of incoming clients.

However, there’s another benefit to networking, one that can do wonders for per-project earnings. Most online services businesses are happy to pay for business leads, or at least offer a commission for valuable projects. Create a professional network between yourself and some online marketers, copywriters, and other service businesses that are beneficial to new businesses.

That way, when you’re approached by a new client, you can offer them extra value through related services, and yourself more per-project income through related commissions. Win-win.

7. Offer extra services in project updates and pitches

Offer extra services in project updates and pitches

There’s nothing wrong with a friendly, non-pushy upsell. By including an ‘extra services’ rate card or list of related products or services with every project email, you’ll find your business increasing and your professional relationships extending. Most clients want your web design services to increase their long-term business income, and extending projects to incorporate long-term marketing, design, or website upgrades can often do just that.

8. Aim for ongoing business relationships

Aim for ongoing business relationships

Short-term projects can be a hassle. While they’re often worthwhile from an earnings perspective, the amount of stress and unnecessary headaches that come with them can drive a sane business owner crazy.

There are two ways to deal with short-term projects effectively. The first, and most effective method, is to ignore them completely and focus entirely on long-term projects and ongoing work. The second method is to make your short-term work more immediately profitable and effective. Charge higher rates for short-term projects, let your clients understand that you work with other clients too, and create accommodating timeframes your yourself.

9. Prioritize clients that have long-term growth potential

Prioritize clients that have long-term growth potential

When seeking out new clients, it’s tempting to fall for the "take all" approach where you let accept almost any project, so long as it meets your income criteria. While this strategy is great for filling out a schedule, it almost never works effectively for maximizing per-project income and total revenue.

Opportunity cost is a true nightmare for a service business. Product-based companies can pass over opportunities only to focus on scale, but service businesses with set resources and time allotments are always stuck with the projects that they’ve taken. Taking each and every project that’s offered to you leaves you with no room to focus on the most profitable and valuable clients.

Whenever possible, prioritize new clients that have massive growth potential. The brand new marketing firm with a dedicated owner is more likely to need your ongoing services than an aging local business with relatively low online needs. Give time to clients that have huge potential to expand, and you’ll end up getting it back again in projects that are lucrative, long-term, and very secure.

10. Say "No" more often

Say "No" more often

Saying "yes" wins you clients, opportunities, and information, but it also locks you into deals that might not work in your favor. Despite the old "customer is always right" maxim, the reality of service businesses, particularly design businesses, is that the client often isn’t right. Design is subjective, and when a project comes coupled with a client that just doesn’t know what they want, things can become a major headache.

Increasing per-project revenue isn’t just about optimizing what projects you do have, but making sure you pick the right projects not to have. Every potential opportunity can be a drag for your business – an ongoing annoyance that brings in income but leaves you shut out of more lucrative products. Fight away per-project time-killers by saying "no" more often. It hurts at first, but the more you do it, the more effective your business will become.

Have you ever experimented with different revenue streams or per-project income strategies? There are hundreds of ways to increase per-project earnings, and we’ve just scratched the surface!

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About the Author

Mathew Carpenter is an 18-year-old-business owner and entrepreneur from Sydney, Australia. Mathew is currently working on Sofa Moolah, a website that teaches you how to make money online. Follow Mathew on Twitter: @matcarpenter. Follow Sofa Moolah on Twitter: @SofaMoolah.

This was published on Mar 22, 2010


Niubi Mar 22 2010

Great advice here, but you neglect to mention working with startups with real promise in the future. By growing with that business, you can grow your freelancing too. Too many examples to list, really, but DubLi is a pretty good example of what I mean.

Helpful tips. But still need to increase my designers Network. Thanks anyways

Bekka Mar 22 2010

Wow! I love these tips. Saying “no” is probably one of the hardest things for me. I feel like I need to say yes to every job that comes my way. Thanks for the reminder, I’m going to say no to the next job that is sure to bring on added stress.

Very good tip dud. thx

Mladen Berakovic Mar 22 2010

I always like to read this kind of suggestions. Saying no is really hard sometimes, but as like in every business some boundaries we need to have. :)

P.S. Is Mathew 17 or 18 years old? Here it says 17, but on his Twitter profile it says 18. ;)

BEBEN Mar 22 2010

good good
thanks for the tips…

These tips sound perfect, like Marxism, in theory. Perhaps more suited to a freelance designer running his own personal business. I noticed the writer is 17 years old, and although the article is written very well and I agree with him for the most part, I’d like to hear the opinions of some long-term studio owners on the topic for comparison. Thanks for the article.

Helge-Kristoffer Wang Mar 22 2010

Hi, and thanks for those tips. I kinda knew on before I read them, but I have never thought of them “loud”.

Thanks for reminding me! :)

Samir Tuladhar Mar 22 2010

“Don’t use a reseller hosting program for clients” I liked it. This has often been my problem. Might think your way for new clients.

helpful tip. may be i can make more benefits from this. but i need to learn more and do more

Courtney Mar 23 2010

I’m a web copywriter and found the blog looking for some mobile design tips for a project that I’m working on. Anyway…this post is excellent and very appropriate for writers too. I am a recovering “girl who can’t say no” and the more I say no and carefully weigh a project’s merits, the happier I am and the more my income increases (because I actually look forward to delivering quality content and my turn around time is better because I work faster). Building a long term relationship instead of just looking for “quick money” is also an excellent tip.

Web Design Mar 23 2010

Good post. Getting good projects is really difficult these days.

Logobird Designs Mar 23 2010

Keeping a network of quality designers on hand for overflow is a great idea. Managing your network of designers is often difficult however. My advice is only form a network with those you can trust and know will deliver the work to your expected standard time and time again.
If you are fortunate enough to form a great team, do whatever it takes to keep it together.

guci0 Mar 23 2010

@Mathew – “Say No more often”. Last but not least :)

cameyz Mar 23 2010

Nice it’s helpfull thx !!!

@stuartflatt Mar 23 2010

Some good points, but I don’t agree with number 4. Why take a very small percentage of hosting and pass on your client to someone else?

Using a CMS system my clients don’t ever get access to their Cpanel as they simply don’t need it, and rather than making say £100 on 10 client, you could make well in excess of £1500 – £2000 assuming you do it right and manage it well.

You may get the odd ‘my email isn’t working’ but worth the extra K or so as a freelance? Definitely…

Very Useful Tips

Syed Balkhi Mar 23 2010

Learn to say no is the key!! Sometimes, you will find yourself wasting a lot of time when you say YES to everything.

Barry Mar 23 2010

Although I’ve read some of these tips before, it’s nice to re-read and hopefully let some of them sink in. Thanks for a great post.

Noel Wiggins Mar 23 2010

What a difficult balance, it seems as though the only way to grow your design business is to partner with other designers and studios, which in my experience brings on a whole new set of challenges that lead to frustration, I personally would rather focus on trying to do the work myself because the rigem and roll you have to go through to lay out what it is you would like to have done versus what they do and dealing with that back and forth can often times take more time than if you just hunkered down and did the work, plus now you have to pay em…

This idea of volume is a great problem to have that only a few designers will actually experience but if/when you do it will be an entirely different ball game, that will feel more like your a project manager/business owner rather than a professional graphic designer…

Kristie Mar 23 2010

There are good tips here certainly. Thanks for the advice and I’ll keep it in mind with future clients. Bravo also, for speaking with such confidence/experience at your age!

Jordan Walker Mar 23 2010

great advice!

Metin Mar 23 2010

Noted! thanks.

Aaron Moody Mar 23 2010

All good points, I have to start saying No more often.

Melody Mar 23 2010

It’s astonishing how more and more young designers are getting out there in the design post..
You can always benefit from being a rockstar designer! :)

Torniquetes Mar 24 2010

I like your tips. Thanks

Demir Mar 24 2010

very helpful and useful tips. Thanks.

Young Mar 24 2010

Great tips.
What’s everyone’s favorite hosting service?

TheAL Mar 25 2010

Taking steps to earning more and being more valuable/skilled is definitely a better approach than what a lot of freelance web developers I know do. They all basically look at what firms charge and try to emulate it from day-one. Being 21, fresh out of college, and possessing an intermediate level of well-rounded skills doesn’t mean you can charge $30-50 an hour the day you put up a portfolio. Work toward it.

Chris Mills Mar 25 2010

I’m interested to know how a 17 year old happened on this good advice. – Call me a “hater” or skeptic but I’m approaching 30 with around 10 years in the biz and not qualified to write a “10 step” anything.

Avşa Mar 26 2010

its really great article thanks alot of

Chris Pierre Mar 26 2010

Great Article, sometimes you have to understand how to say no to some projects because in the long run sometimes they may end up costing yourself money do to the lost TIME.

Thanks for the Article!

Stuart Mar 27 2010

Good article. Thanks. I’m interested to know more about the pros and cons of reseller hosting. It was only yesterday that I got my own reseller account with the intention of using some server space for myself and selling any surplus to clients in need of a hosting package. I was aware that there could be technical issues that result in me getting a call by the client, but are they really going to be all that frequent? stuartflatt wrote thay he had encountered few problems with this approach and I’m interested to know if anyone else has had any experiences they could share before I make my decision on whether to proceed with a reseller plan with clients. Thanks all.

Trung Mar 28 2010

Thanks, i like it.

Derek Mar 30 2010

Very nice and simple. I was just looking for something like this

Thank you for sharing

Chris Horton Mar 31 2010

I must admit I haven’t been taking advantage of using affiliate hosting. I’m certainly planning on doing more of this in the future.

Great post! You had a couple of things listed that it took me years to pick up, and a couple of things that I hadn’t. Keep up the hustle… I look forward to reading more great articles from you in the future!

Rex Sacayan May 18 2010

Nice article… Nice tips.

Great article! I’m a designer looking to increase my rock star designer & creatives network. If you are too come say hi.

Arlington May 27 2010

Mathew- Well written article with a lot of useful information. I would have to dis-agree on one point though about not doing reseller hosting. With the right hosting company and the right email configuration (Google Apps, etc) you can setup a client’s hosting and email at launch and never receive a support call. We host all of our clients and do many of their email services with great success. This also provides a “sticky-ness” that reduces the chance of our clients leaving us for a competitor.

BLUEROCK Designs May 28 2010

Excellent article for fellow designers! Thank you!

good tip,very helpful.

Jonothan Wilson Apr 16 2011

I think that say “NO” more often is the most important point. I always only work with with customers that are profitable and do not mind turning down a customer if the deal is only benifits the other party.

Casey Strouse Jul 05 2011

#2, #3, #5, #10 .. spot on!

David Sneen Jul 19 2011

That flow chart for example #1 gave me a thought. One could map out your suggestions, and use them as a flow chart in obtaining and declining projects. Great work, Matthew!

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