Double the Price of your Next Web Design Project

Part of my job is consulting with web designers to help them make more money.

I get to hear about a lot of pain within the web design community.

It never fails. The #1 painful comment that I hear more than anything else is “we can’t get paid what we are worth.” Do you have this issue?

Business owners are infamous for putting downward pressure on prices for website projects, but its not their fault.

It’s yours.

Prior to selling my web agency, HotPress Web, last year and starting uGurus, a new venture to help web professionals become more profitable, I pitched a lot of website projects. I got paid really, really well for the work I did. And my clients were happy to oblige.

Am I an anomaly? Do I have some secret voodoo magic trick?

Is Everyone Cheap?

No.

When a business owner views a website as a commodity, your chances of getting paid well go out the window.

“The more specific meaning of the term commodity is applied to goods only. It is used to describe a class of goods for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market. A commodity has full or partial fungibility; that is, the market treats its instances as equivalent or nearly so with no regard to who produced them.”
(Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodity)

More simply said: when your offer looks like all of the others, price is the only thing that matters.

Instead of building value for a unique offer, we fall into the trap of selling a ten page piece of brochure-ware that will be thrown away in twelve months because it didn’t solve anything for the business owner.

The problem is most web designers try to sell websites.

It might sound like I’m talking crazy. Why wouldn’t web designers sell websites? Afterall, we are web designers right…?

Wrong.

Websites Are Just One Piece of the Puzzle

For the millions of small businesses active in the United States, having a website is a requirement. But it no longer stops there. Websites are the hub for online strategies with countless spokes springing off of them.

It used to be just having a website was enough. Now businesses need:

  • Email Marketing
  • E-commerce
  • Social Media
  • SEO
  • Local Search
  • Content Development
  • Mobile App
  • Inbound Marketing
  • Customer Relationship Management
  • Analytics
  • …and so on

I call this the Online Business Ecosystem. Businesses have a physical bricks and mortar existence, and then they have their online equivalent. Each business owner needs a point person to help them navigate these waters.

In my experience, web designers have the premier opportunity to take the reigns.

You Own the Hub

Any kind of Internet traffic and conversion strategy ends at the website. Rarely do you want to send traffic away from your website to another medium. If a business owner has a visitor on their website, they don’t want to send them to Facebook (world distraction headquarters).

But if a visitor is on a Facebook page or reading a tweet, the Holy Grail is for them to follow through to a website.

When a business owner sends an email to their list for a new offer, the landing page will live on their website.

Almost every social, search, and app strategy ties in a business’ website on some level. This puts you at the helm of the Online Business Ecosystem. The business owner is begging you to take the lead.

Website projects are much more powerful when they tie into other elements of an online strategy. There is no such thing as “build it and they will come” for web projects.

Yet every day web designers are pumping out proposals for website projects void of any mention about traffic or conversion strategies to tie in the other online components.

Time to Double Your Prices

Pricing

“You are the most expensive company we are looking at, but feel we must move forward because no one else is offering what you are.”

– Quote from every client that signed a contract with me in the last three years

I stopped selling website design services and created online business solutions that solved real problems for business. On average, I would have eight meetings with a prospective customer before signing a deal.

I spent a lot of time deep diving into the business to find their root concern: usually the problem of getting more customers. Even though most businesses had the same concern, it was packaged differently.

I couldn’t just exclaim on my first meeting, “I, BRENT WEAVER, WILL HELP YOU GET MORE CUSTOMERS.” I would have been a fraud. Instead, I worked to understand what was holding them back from getting more customers. After I understood their issues, I could draft a plan to solve their problems using my skills as a web professional.

My average project went from $3,000 to $5,000 and then to $10,000. Then the average went to $15,000. I started closing deals that broke the $20,000 mark, and eventually $30,000.

Not only that, but I was slam dunking almost 90% of the deals I would draft a proposal for.

Some Pruning is in Order

Going from being a mere web designer to a full-fledged online business consultant will take some work. You will have to acquire the skills necessary to speak a language with your prospects that goes beyond HTML, CSS, and WordPress.

You will have to carve out some of the time you spend on web design to line up some expert subcontractors that can help you with certain services that are a requirement in an Online Business Ecosystem:

  • Search marketing
  • Email
  • and so on

But it will be worth it. You will spend less time competing with other web designers, your clients will tell more people about you, and champagne will rain down from each of your deal-winning celebration parties.

Brent Weaver

I'm currently CEO of uGurus. For sixteen years I have dedicated myself to selling websites. You can follow me on twitter @brentweaver or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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23 Comments
  1. Marlon Nolraw May 18, 5:30 pm

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Reply
    -6
  2. Gega May 18, 5:42 pm

    Nice post.
    But you know, every start is difficult. I became last year a freelancer, before i was an employee.
    In the beginning i had to go down with the prices, otherwise i wouldn’t get jobs.
    Now it’s much better, i have more opportunity, more clients, and i get more money for the sites i make.
    But this is true, we have to offer a full package, not only websites. This is a good point.

    Reply
    +1
  3. Alexander Goncharov May 18, 9:54 pm

    OMG, it’s awesome! I mean, you kinda feel it this way, some of the things are even obvious, but the whole post is pure inspiration! Thank you Brent!

    Reply
    -2
  4. Karl Gephart May 19, 4:13 am

    I agree with your SEO/SMO beliefs to market a website wholeheartedly. However, it’s unfortunate that no matter how big a proposal is, many times it can’t be sold for anywhere near the amount of work time involved. In my company’s years of experience, most people don’t want to think “big price tag” or long term. Why? Any number of reasons:

    1. Many prospects my company’s talked to don’t even understand what SEO or SMO are and how they’re an investment, no matter how long these concepts are explained to them. They really do believe “if you build it, they will come.” Many of those are technically-incompetent (and educationally illiterate) and don’t know how to follow stat sites, like Google Analytics or Statcounter.

    2. Their finances are shaky and they want to piecemeal payments or be financed. Many are on the brink of bankruptcy and trying to use the web as a last resort. They have no business strategy. Web designers
    shouldn’t be forced into being business consultants.

    3. They’re antisocial or don’t believe in transparency and will never be able to continue meaningful social media engagement on their own to funnel traffic to their websites. Further, most don’t realize that about themselves and are trying to learn what to do from marketers so they can stop paying them as quickly as possible, before they even have a rudimentary understanding of online marketing. Just on the web design aspect alone, we agree with many designers we talk to about piecemealing proposals. Many, like us, believe that a prospect should not entertain the time of a designer for long term if the designer has no shot at getting the contract; it’s just business etiquette.

    For most businesses out there, that’s the unfortunate reality of it.

    Reply
    +9
    • spacebird May 19, 6:15 am

      “Further, most don’t realize that about themselves and are trying to learn what to do from marketers so they can stop paying them as quickly as possible, before they even have a rudimentary understanding of online marketing.”

      I couldn’t agree more as i have seen this first hand.

      Reply
      +2
    • Brent Weaver May 20, 5:23 pm

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. You have a pretty negative outlook on your customers…

      Once I learned how to sell and build value for our agencies services, I had no issue selling large price tags for large projects to my customers. If a customer is not educated enough to understand the value, then welcome to my class. I am your teacher.

      I have also only about 5 of my customers (out of hundreds) actually close their doors and go out of business. So I’m not sure where you are finding these “brink of bankruptcy” customers.

      I completely disagree with your statement “Web designers
      shouldn’t be forced into being business consultants.” Websites for businesses are more than just HTML & CSS. If you think you’re job is to simply assemble ingredients in the prettiest fashion you will fail as a company and continue to struggle to break the $3k mark for projects. It is your job to make sense of what online strategies and tactics will work for a business. Think about it…when you go to a restaurant, you don’t get the ingredients just slammed in front of you. You get a delicious Fettuccine w/ Bolognese that was well thought out and appeals to you as a customer. If you aren’t willing to learn your customer’s customer, what makes them tick, what will make them convert, and what will drive them to your client’s site, then why would I pay you more than bottom dollar?

      I can get outsourced drones to do that work on elance for $6/hour.

      Step up to the plate for your clients and perhaps you too will stop being quite so cynical about them.

      Reply
      +6
      • tj May 22, 7:27 pm

        you say:
        when you go to a restaurant, you don’t get the ingredients just slammed in front of you. You get a delicious Fettuccine w/ Bolognese

        I say: nice analogy but it doesn’t apply because developing a slick finished website is not some raw “ingredient” a client has “slammed in front of them”, its a significant slice of the “online business solutions” pie. Hell to some having a website is a central part of their business.

        i get that stepping up and offering more can be good, but some of us just wanna be designers and developers of websites. and while there is a “ceiling” as to how much you can make by only providing websites, i think instead of one or two persons learning new skills to stay ahead they decide to become a firm and hire others dedicated to the tasks that allows for web designers to call themselves business consultants.

        as if coding and designing isnt hard enough you think we should take on the cumbersome tasks of marketing and social media and other business consulting things

        WEB DEVELOPER:
        – HTML, CSS, jQuery, PHP, SQL, Photoshop, Illustrator, Identity Branding

        ONLINE BUSINESS CONSULTANT:
        – Marketing (Search, Email, Inbound, E-Commerce), SEO, Social Media, Content Development,

        as you can see above, two different job titles with totally different responsibilities.

        Reply
        +2
        • Michael Montgomery May 25, 11:16 pm

          TJ, I hear you, but a slick modern web site that doesn’t deliver the “goods” for a client is simply a “Brochure Site”, we can purchase awesome themes at ThemeForest ( I even sell on TF ) that would look great, what designers need to do is to learn marketing skills, adapt or die, unless you’re employed by a design firm that offers the services Brent suggests and you are afforded the opportunity to only design :::

          Reply
          +5
  5. Ria May 20, 4:11 pm

    “2. Their finances are shaky and they want to piecemeal payments or be financed. Many are on the brink of bankruptcy and trying to use the web as a last resort. They have no business strategy. Web designers
    shouldn’t be forced into being business consultants.”

    AMEN. As I read this article, this is what I was thinking to myself, and along the lines of what I had intended to comment — but Karl has already summed it up perfectly.

    Reply
    +2
  6. Patrick J. Sparrow May 20, 6:00 pm

    Great article. I guess the TL;DR version would be “Understand what your clients need. Don’t just sell them a product.”

    Reply
    +1
  7. Farouk Hosni May 21, 1:31 pm

    Great! Hope someday I get to that point!

    Reply
    -2
  8. Karl J. Gephart May 22, 1:08 am

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Reply
    -7
    • Brent Weaver May 22, 1:24 am

      Hi Karl,

      I think we got off on the wrong foot. I really appreciated your feedback, I guess I just got the wrong impression from your comments.

      Here are the comments I found negative about your outlook on your customers:

      “Many of those are technically-incompetent (and educationally illiterate)”

      “Many are on the brink of bankruptcy and trying to use the web as a last resort. They have no business strategy.”

      “They’re antisocial or don’t believe in transparency and will never be able to continue meaningful social media engagement on their own to funnel traffic to their websites. Further, most don’t realize that about themselves and are trying to learn what to do from marketers so they can stop paying them as quickly as possible, before they even have a rudimentary understanding of online marketing.”

      Perhaps I misunderstood those comments.

      My primary customer is owner-operated small businesses doing $1,000,000 to $20,000,000 annually.

      I typically found that I needed to do 8 interactions (or more) with a customer to fully understand their business and educate them on a strategy that would work online for them. Many times I charged for this time as a paid discovery. When clients understand this value, they are happy to pay for that time.

      I rarely outsourced work (if ever). My company and full-time team is based in Denver and most of our subs are local.

      If all I needed was someone to rip up some code mindlessly and not get the business of growing businesses, then I would seek out bottom dollar on eLance. Web design as a craft is a commodity. If you want to get out of that race to the bottom you need to get business or non-profits or whatever market you are working in. You need to be able to quantify and deliver on value beyond websites.

      My restaurant analogy was specific to needing to deliver more than just a core set of ingredients. As a web chef, you need to know the recipe. You need to have the technique. And you need to know what your customer wants.

      Don’t unsubscribe. You know your stuff and I really like your points / perspectives (even if we might disagree a bit). I enjoy anyone that knows how to write well enough to catch my grammar mistakes :)

      Reply
      +1
  9. Ahmed Bolica May 26, 12:48 am

    I think it`s the best tips for web designers specific freelancers . Thanks a million

    Reply
    0
  10. Aaron May 27, 7:12 am

    I agree with your post, 100%. I’m relatively new to the business, and have always been able to sell from the perspective of online business consulting rather than “building a website.” The few clients I’ve had have been happy.

    I’ve do all the work myself, from planning to writing copy/content, coding, and taking care of logistics for the client. I do find that all exhausting so am thinking of specializing and outsourcing the rest.

    Strangely, I find myself drawn more to the design/develop side of things. I still have a lot of thought to put into this and how to position myself within a small-ish (and competitive) community.

    Reply
    -1
  11. Michael Montgomery May 27, 10:22 am

    I read about a designer that doesn’t have a Portfolio on his site, in fact he went as far as to remove his dribbble account. On request he would send you a .pdf with a portfolio.

    This got me thinking, how important is a portfolio? Does it really add value, is it expected by potential clients?

    I personally have a portfolio on my site, but its not a true reflection of my services. it seems to me that a portfolio is merely “window” dressing because every client has different requirements.

    Am I right or Wrong ?

    Reply
    -1
    • Brent Weaver May 28, 4:33 pm

      Hi Michael,

      Think less about “having a portfolio” and more about “establishing credibility.”

      Clients don’t really care about a portfolio per se. What they care about is knowing that their investment is going to be safe and you will be able to do what they need (and what you say you’re going to do).

      Portfolios help establish credibility. Will they get you the job outright? Nope. But if you have a strong portfolio with a nice presentation, then you can probably bet your credibility bucket will be a little more full which will help get you towards that deal closing.

      Reply
      +3
      • Michael Montgomery May 28, 5:19 pm

        THX for your reply Brent, I’ve been wanting to refocus my “web” business for some time moving away from “web design” and more into consultation, this post and related articles ( http://ugurus.com ) enforce what I envisaged for quite some time. I’m fortunate that I sell themes on TF so if the “consulting” side takes some time to gain momentum I’m under no pressure.

        Reply
        0
        • Brent Weaver May 28, 9:35 pm

          Very glad I could be of service Michael. We just launched our Web Designs Sales Kit: http://www.ugurus.com/wdsk

          I suggest you take a look at that if you are heading out on this journey. LOTS of great insights on a consultative approach to selling. It’s all of my secret sauce.

          Reply
          0
  12. Michelle V. Jul 31, 6:58 pm

    Hi Brent – I love your perspective on offering solutions rather than a commodity. I come from a world of consultative selling and was finding it rather difficult to market myself in this very commodity-based industry. I think what some web designers miss is that consultative selling takes time on the front-end but results in bigger projects and, by logic, bigger paychecks. There isn’t a company out there that is going to hand over a check for $10k or more without investing a significant amount of time vetting and working with their chosen vendor beforehand.

    I don’t think your time estimate is unreasonable at all and would highly recommend that anyone seeking to make a real living in the online business consulting world take the time to invest in learning the consultative approach to selling. There are some really good books out there including New Conceptual Selling by Miller Heiman and Spin Selling by Neil Rackham. You’ll stand above the typical competitor and land more projects.

    Cheers, All!

    Reply
    -1
    • Brent Weaver Aug 1, 12:27 am

      Hi Michelle,

      You are spot on here. I get push back sometimes from web designers who say “but I don’t want to be a consultant, I just want to design.” Which is ok, but the accepting factor there is that they have to be ok competing in the market as a commodity. Crowdsourcing, design templates, and a global market have made sure that getting a website designed is highly competitive. What businesses of all shapes and sizes need is someone that can provide “context” to the design. And context is all about understanding, which comes from doing up front discovery with your prospect.

      Discovery isn’t “what do you need me to do” either. Discovery is research, questions, digging, and so on. In our business, getting to the deal fast doesn’t do you or the prospective customer any good. It’s all about getting to the right answer.

      I’m glad you saw those insights here Michelle. Your book recommendations are icing on the cake.

      Reply
      +1
  13. Klemont Wright Jul 29, 11:51 pm

    I know this is a really old post, however, extremly timely for me. I completely agree with the post as I came to this revelation on my own as I launched my firm last year. It was great to read this as it confirmed some ideas that I had about re-structuring how I was doing things before…….everything from how I presented my firm, to the content sections in my statement of work to potential clients.

    Concerning the restaurant analogy: I think you should re-phrase the analogy a bit. We (designers/developers/agency owners) should consider ourselves as the chef/owner of the restaurant. It is not always just the food that people come back for. The best restaurants create a unique experience beyond just the food that is prepared. People come back because the entire establishment works for them……everything from the food, the lighting, the soft music in the background, the smiling hostess, the waitstaff, the silverware, the menu presentation,…….I think you get the idea. What will give your clients the impression that they received more for their money, even if they really didn’t? It’s the intangibles.

    It’s been said that “people are more likely to frequent a restaurant with sub-par food, but with AMAZING service.”

    If you just want to simply be a designer, your best bet for growth would be to stop approaching clients on your own, and partner with as many firms as you can to take on subcontract work. This will help with consistency and longevity of projects.

    Reply
    0
    • Brent Weaver Jul 30, 8:30 pm

      Fantastic feedback Klemont – glad you finally found this post :)

      Reply
      0

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