In this post I’ll address some of the challenges web designers face when trying to sell web design services, and offer some solutions that you can implement in your own business.
For practical tips on actual strategies for pricing your web design proposals, click here.
Part 1 – Selling Web Design Services
Why are you so afraid to charge more for your web design services?
One of the main reasons why web designers don’t charge more for their services is because they’re afraid of getting a no and losing the potential client.
There are lots of different reasons for this fear.
Different reasons might be valid for different people.
The common denominator of them all is that these fears are standing between you and higher paying web design projects.
If you can overcome your fear, you’ve got a darn good chance of getting higher paying web design projects, and making more money.
This is probably the toughest challenge out there, which is why I’m tackling it right off the bat. If you desperately need money NOW to pay rent, buy food, pay your mortgage, buy diapers (you get the idea), then you will be terrified of losing any potential web design work, and you’ll be willing to work for much less than you would under less stressful circumstances.
I hear you brother!
I’ve been in that situation myself and I feel your pain. So let me be very clear — if you desperately need money, then by all means take any web design gig you can get to get some cash to pay your bills.
But just because you are willing to take anything does NOT mean you cannot ask for the amount you actually want — particularly if you have built some sort of relationship with the potential client or can negotiate during a meeting.
In cases where you are simply sending out a web design price quote that will be thrown in a basket with a bunch of other quotes, then you probably will want to present your lowest price right off the bat and hope that you win the race to the bottom.
But if you have some sort of relationship with the client, and can present your web design proposal in a “face to face” meeting (in-person, video, phone), then you have the opportunity of presenting an initial price and seeing the client’s reaction.
If the client doesn’t push back on your initial price then you’ve scored a big one. But if you get some push back you can negotiate by either adding value or discounting your price.
Don’t be afraid that the client will never want to speak to you again just because you quoted them a reasonable price that they felt was too high. That’s how business works. People bargain and negotiate on pricing.
On the contrary, the fact that you initially quoted a higher price might give you more credibility and make you seem more valuable in the client’s eyes and give you more negotiating leverage.
In addition, everyone loves a discount, especially if they gained that discount through bargaining. So the client might feel like he’s getting a better deal by getting a discount off of your original price than if you gave him the same discounted price right off the bat.
Another benefit of negotiating is that you can move your web design pricing down in steps. For example, if your final price is $2,000 and your initial quote is $10,000, you can first drop to $8,000 and see what happens, then drop to $5,000…$3,000…until you hit your bottom. So you’ve given yourself another 4 possible price points that the client might accept before you hit your rock bottom price.
Note: When discounting your web design pricing just remember that just because a client is paying you next to nothing does not mean that they will not take up as much, or more, of your time than a client paying full price.
Bottom Line: Don’t be afraid to ask for your ideal price and then negotiate down, if you have the opportunity.
Some freelancers are insecure about their ability to get the work done. It could be that the web design project is bigger than they think they can handle or that it includes certain requirements that they don’t think they can execute.
This problem usually affects web designers who haven’t done many projects or who have done very basic sites and now are trying to land larger, more complex, website projects.
The first thing to realize is that everyone in the web design and digital marketing industry is constantly learning, or at least should be. That’s because the tools, platforms, capabilities and standards of the industry are constantly evolving and improving.
In this business, years of experience carries much less weight than in other, more traditional, industries. On the contrary, too much experience with tools and platforms that have given way to newer technologies can be a major negative when competing against newer competitors who use newer “cutting edge” technologies.
The best way to conquer your feelings of insecurity is to keep learning new web design tools and techniques. Set aside some time on a regular basis for professional development and stay on top of the “cutting edge” technologies in the industry.
If your feelings of insecure stem from a lack of web design projects in your portfolio, then start building websites for yourself. Clients want to see the work that you’ve done so that they can be confident that you’ll be able to complete their project. They don’t care who you built the site for. They want to see the finished product.
Buy some domain names and create some websites that you can then feature on your portfolio page. Your potential client is not going to research who you built the website for. They just want to see the sites. So build them.
What if you’re feeling insecure about taking on a project that might be too much for you to handle or that includes some requirements that you don’t know how to get done?
Not a problem. You can always outsource parts of your project (or even the entire project). Finding web design freelancers to outsource too has its own challenges, but with a little effort and due diligence you can find the right help.
If you are going to outsource some or all of your web design project, just make sure you price the project accordingly. The last thing you want is to price the project too low and then end up with no profit after paying your freelancers.
You can always get someone to do the work for you. The challenge is getting the client at the right price.
If you’re good at closing the deals, you might never have to actually do the work again — if you don’t want to. But if you’re reading this I’m assuming that getting too many good paying projects is not your problem :)
The truth about insecurity is that it’s a feeling that you impose on yourself. No one can make you feel insecure, if you aren’t. You alone control your feelings. So if you don’t want to feel insecure…then just don’t.
Yeah, I know that sounds simpler than it really is, and I agree. But I’ve seen the stupidest, untalented, guys close deals (and outsource the work) just because they portrayed confidence to their potential clients. Not having the experience or skills to do the job did not make them feel insecure and stop them from getting the work.
Bottom Line: Don’t let insecurity cripple you. Control your feelings. And remember that you can always outsource web design work.
Challenge: Web Design Competition
Let’s face it. Building a website is not rocket science.
Sure, there’s a huge difference between a website built by a professional web designer with years of experience and a newbee who’s built a few Wix sites.
But the fact remains that a fast learner with a bit of an eye for design can build a site on Wix or Squarespace that will satisfy lots of small business clients who aren’t too picky and just want something done quickly and inexpensively.
And the truth is, that if a client can get something that she’s satisfied with for cheap, then they should.
So, if you’re targeting clients that don’t have money and don’t care that much about the look of their website, then you will be competing in a race for the bottom with a ton of people, local and offshore, that will do the job really cheap.
It doesn’t get any less competitive if you’re shooting for clients with bigger budgets and higher quality standards. There’s a ton of competition at just about every level of the web design pricing ladder.
Yes, as you move up the ladder the competition thins out significantly, but there will always be competitors for you to beat out for work.
The first instinct for most web designers when faced with competition is to try to present the lowest price.
And that’s the problem.
You should not put yourself in the position where you are competing solely based on price.
That usually means that you’ll need to give up chasing the kind of clients that I described before — those with no budget, looking for the cheapest solution.
Unless you’re willing to work for cheap (and there’s nothing wrong with doing that if you need to pay the bills), you have to develop some way of qualifying web design clients before pitching them.
Take this posting for example:
“Looking for someone to build simple business website. Could be college or high school student.”
You’re a web designer and you see this posting in your local community newsletter. You’re thinking, “Ok, they want to build a business website. That’s what I do. I should contact them asap.”
Now, if you want to shoot them an email and roll the dice, I’m not going to stop you. But just be aware of the signals that they’ve been nice enough to send you.
The first clue is “simple”, which you should read as “cheap”. They’re telling you that they don’t need someone who has a lot of experience or skills, because they just want something “simple”. If that wasn’t enough of a red flag, they go on to inform you that they want something so “simple” that even a “college or high school student” can do in their spare time.
I see these types of postings all the time, and at first I would respond to them, until I finally got the message. Now, if it’s someone you know and you want to help them out, then by all means do so. I have. But if you are looking for projects that price in the thousands $$$, then you should move on.
Again, I don’t want to dissuade anyone from going after any type of web design business to pay their bills, but the purpose of this guide is to help you get higher priced projects and make more money.
Also, trying to make money from clients that simply have non (or at least not for a website), is draining and demoralizing. It can really get you down and shake your confidence, which is the last thing you need.
Now that I’ve moved you away from chasing clients with no budget, you’re still going to have to deal with web design competition. The main way to do that is by differentiating yourself.
There are several ways to differentiate yourself from the competition:
As the saying goes, “the riches are in the niches”. If you can present yourself as the expert in a specific niche, you will usually beat out competitors who are generalists. You’ll also be able to charge a premium, because you’ve removed the competition.
The exact playbook of how to find and position yourself as an expert in a specific web design niche is beyond the scope of this guide, and there’s no shortage of content out there on the subject.
If you can pull this off and position yourself as a niche expert, you’ll be able to beat the competition and charge a premium in that niche.
Most clients appreciate good customer service. Some will pay a premium for it. These are the greatest clients to work with, because they are willing to pay a lot more as long as you can take away their pain so that they can focus on their core business. If you keep them happy and untroubled, they will pay whatever it takes.
Speed is also a factor that some clients will pay extra for, if they have a deadline to meet.
If you can offer better service, you can put yourself above competitors and charge a premium.
Some clients want to work with a local web design company. They want to meet face to face and be able to know that they can get a hold of you when needed. By focusing on clients in your local area, you can use your location as an advantage over competitors.
Of course, being able to blow them away with your web design work is a competitive advantage, if you can do it.
This is probably the most important one on the list. People do business with people. They value working with people that they can trust and depend on.
Developing a relationship with a potential client will give you an advantage over competitors that don’t have that relationship. While price might still be a factor in the client’s decision, a small price difference will usually be trumped by the value of the relationship.
Bottom Line: Qualify your clients to avoid those looking for the cheapest option, and differentiate yourself from the web design competition.
Challenge: Client Perception of Web Design
Some clients who have never done a website project are often under the impression that website design is cheap.
They’ve heard from friends and random people (who are also clueless) that websites can be built for a few hundred dollars by high school students or by offshore freelancers.
The fact that they have no idea how to find these folks is besides the point. But they know that they exist and, therefore, they are under the impression that professional web design is super cheap.
When you quote them your price, they look at you as if you’re out of your mind. They’re like, “WTF — there’s no way in hell that I’d pay $5k for a website!”
The solution to the “false perception” problem is the same as the one I suggested for the “Competition” problem.
You need to qualify your potential clients to avoid those who think that web design shouldn’t cost more than a few hundred bucks.
Once you’ve broken out above the lowest level client pool, you find that clients will have much more realistic expectations regarding web design pricing.
There still might be some sticker shock, but you’ll deal with that by differentiating yourself (as we discussed above) and by highlighting your value (as we’ll discuss later on).
Challenge: DIY Web Design
Since we just discussed pricing perception, it’s only natural that we mention DIY.
Clients without, or with very small, budgets will try to use these DIY web design services. While it’s possible to come out with a nice product, the overwhelming majority of DIYers will end up with a mediocre site at best. More often, the site will be horrible.
But it’s only $10!!
You shouldn’t compete with DIY sites. The clients that choose to use them are NOT your target. If they fail at their DIY efforts and realize they need to pay a professional, then you can take your crack at them. Until then don’t waste your time.
Bottom Line: Real companies that pay reasonable prices do not use DIY tools to build their websites. Don’t waste your time with companies that do.
Challenge: Lack of Urgency
Many businesses don’t need websites to survive. They understand that in today’s day and age a business needs to have a good online presence, but they aren’t pressured to make that happen.
This is especially true of traditional, “old school” businesses. For example, a manufacturing company that produces machines that they sell to other companies doesn’t need a website to make sales. They’ll never sell anything online.
So although a good website will enhance their image and get them a bit more exposure, it probably won’t make a significant difference in their income statement.
When there’s no urgency, clients tend to move slowly and look at lots of different options and solutions. They might eventually end up paying a premium for their website to the company that has built a relationship with them.
Or they might go with the cheapest option.
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to inject urgency into a client that doesn’t naturally have it. The best you can do is try to build a relationship and nurture them until they finally are ready to pull the trigger and accept your web design proposal.
Challenge: Budget for Web Design
Finally, the greatest challenge to pricing a web design proposal is client budget, or lack thereof.
There isn’t anything more to explain about this one. It’s pretty clear.
No budget = No $$$ for you
When faced with a client who has insufficient budget, here are your options:
Pass on the project.
If you can afford to do that, it’s probably the right choice in most cases.
Discount your price.
While this is usually not the preferred option, it could be the right one if you think there’s potential for more work from the client down the road. In that case it’s worth getting your foot in the door and doing the project at a discount, because, assuming you do a good job, you’re guaranteed to get the additional web design work.
In other words, look at the lifetime value of the client instead of just this one specific job. You might end up making more money in the long run by discounting initially to get the client for the long term.
Here’s a real life example of this:I once met with a prospective client who needed a simple WordPress site built in a rush. Time was “of the essence”. The site was only a few pages and they had all the content they would need ready, so I new it wouldn’t take be more than possibly ten hours, including all the client “back and forth” and approval. I told them that I usually don’t do sites for less than 10k, and certainly nothing for less than 5k.
This was a face to face meeting at their offices, and I could see on the client’s face that she was probably not going to go that high and that she’d probably shop around for a better deal.I did not want to lose the client because I could see that there would be more work coming down the pipeline in the future.
So I told her that since it was a rush job and I wanted to work with them I’d do it at the discounted price of $4,000.They accepted.I executed the project quickly and to their satisfaction.
Over the next couple of years I got another $10,000 of web design work from them, and they continue to come back to me whenever they need anything related to digital marketing.
Offer payment options.
If the client is just starting out in business, you can offer to break your fee up into smaller payments, as long as you keep control over the site so that you retain leverage to make sure he pays the entire fee.
Or you can offer to let the client pay by credit card instead of check, which makes it easier for them to pay off in small sums while you get your money (minus the cc fee).
Offering creative payment options instead of discounting is my favorite :)
Bottom Line: Discounting is ok when the lifetime value of the client justifies it. Offering creative payment options is even better.
I hope this post has addressed some of the challenges you face when trying to price your web design services, and offered you solutions that you can implement immediately.
If you want actual pricing tactics and strategies for pricing your web design proposals, you can read about them here.