6 tips for growing your web design business

After 6 years of running my web design company I’ve got a few tales to tell. I’ll be using this Agency Talk area on the site for posts that help others run successful web design companies as well as episodes for my new Agency Talk podcast.

Here are 6 tips that have been covered by guests on the show and what I learnt in my own business.

In Episode 1, Tim Conley discusses marketing selling & differentiation

In Episode 1, Tim Conley discusses marketing selling & differentiation

1. Find a unique approach to the market

A lot of people getting into technical type businesses forget about the importance of marketing and selling. Web Design is so competitive now when I started my business believe it or not it was ‘unique’ to be building websites on CMS platforms like Joomla and WordPress. These days businesses can do that themselves!

So how can you find your unique approach? Well there are plenty of ways. Here are some examples:

  • Tweaky focus on $39 projects.
  • AppStack bundle design / advertising and app creation into a monthly service based on how many customers you want.

You could stand out based on who you are targeting, how you are approaching marketing, how you bundle your services, how much you charge and much more. Once you are offering something unique perhaps to a unique group of people you will naturally get more coverage, ideal customers will be easier and cheaper to find and bad customers easier to avoid.

Here’s the App Stack offering.

2. Learn how to sell

This book covers the fundamental drivers of persuasion.

This book covers the fundamental drivers of persuasion.

This really should be number 1 but in fairness until you have an idea of what you are offering it’s a bit hard to sell it. If I could pick just one skill to have it would be sales, it’s the most important skill in business without a doubt.

Having said that there are a lot of ways to sell something. People buy things for a variety of different reasons and hard ‘face to face’ selling isn’t always the only way to sell something. It’s important to do what works for you.

For me my approach was to add as much value as I could by putting out lots of content and be as honest and genuine as I could and this appealed to certain people. I definitely would have been better off with either an improved ability and desire to sell things in person or a better online system for selling (better website, better copy, better customer relationship management, better use of referrals etc etc).

Here are a few resources that might help when it comes to selling.

Hogan & Cialdini on laws of persuasion

These laws are the fundamental principles behind persuasion and selling (buying from people you like, reciprocity, social proof etc) powerful stuff.  I wrote a post on my old blog on how you can integrate these laws into your website.

Spin Selling

Spin Selling was recommended by Tim Conley on Episode 1 as something that gave a good structure particularly for people in the agency environment. I haven’t read it but Tim know’s what he’s talking about so I’m sure it’s solid.

kerwinKerwin Rae

I first learnt about the persuasion points above while watching Kerwyn Rae speak at a conference in Brisbane.

Here a few videos from Kerwyn that will help. The dude knows how to sell!

This one is a sales video for his face to face training that I came across recently. It’s listed here mainly to show his selling ability, the way he uses music, storytelling, onstage presence etc and other sales techniques.

In this video he discusses his sales process (not sure what’s up with the shirt).

3. Build recurring relationships

I created the Informly agency plan to help web design companies provide ongoing value to clients.

I created the Informly agency plan to help web design companies provide ongoing value to clients.

One of the things I did very early on in my business was made sure I had an ongoing relationship with clients after projects were complete. This included:

  • Making sure I hosted their sites where possible
  • Sending them monthly reports to keep them engaged (this is where the Informly Agency Plan idea came from)
  • Having clients on a paid monthly support plan that gave them certain benefits over non support clients
  • Offering monthly SEO services

In the end when it came to selling my business the buyer was far more interested in my list of recurring clients than anything else. It is hard to get new clients but it’s easy to sell new things to existing clients.

Doing whatever you can to build recurring relationships with clients will make future sales quicker, easier and build up a lower risk profile (not relying so much on new projects).

4. Focus on personal branding

Brendon Sinclair talks about personal branding on Agency Talk episode 2.

Brendon Sinclair talks about personal branding on Agency Talk episode 2.

When I chatted to Brendon Sinclair in episode 2 of my Agency Talk podcast a big part of his message was to do with personal branding. Here’s a list of people he’s offended in the 2 times I’ve interviewed him.

  • Americans
  • Old people
  • Women
  • Josh from iOnline (twice)

But he is the only person who has been mentioned in an iTunes review of my show. People remember him!

I was always a huge fan of personalizing everything. I had a big picture of my face right there on my homepage, I was mentioned by name in every blog post, every sales page, client testimonials etc. All company emails came from my personal address.

People want to do business with people. Check out my interview with Chris Ducker who is an authority on this people to people type approach to business.

5. Avoid shit clients

Let off some steam at Clientsfromhell.net

Let off some steam at Clientsfromhell.net

Have you heard advice from people that says ‘Find your ideal clients’? What they mean is ‘Avoid shit clients’.

Best case scenario you can work out who your ‘perfect target market’ is and and have access to an abundance of said perfect clients. In reality let’s face it, some of your clients will be shit, you will hate them but you will continue working for them because you need the money.

I’ve got horror stories from clients who drained my energy, refused to pay, treated me like dirt and sent me mental. Some I worked with for years. I’ve had tens of thousands of dollars of invoices not paid.

At one point I had to get rid of a client who was bringing in around a quarter of my entire business. She was planning on suing me at one point (not exactly sure what for).

I’d love to tell you I never looked back but it’s not true. I struggled cutting tens of thousands of dollars from the business. It’s hard.

Here are a few tips from my experience:

  • Accept that in the early days you can’t be as picky with clients but at least make sure you know exactly what your perfect client looks like and try your best to get more and more of them.
  • Try your very best to avoid the really horrible clients by looking out for warning signs early. Not paying initial invoices, not taking your advice, not understanding the communication etc.
  • Focus on getting leads through personal face to face connections (people can be douches online).
  • Try to quality leads as best you can. Understand their long term value, get a feel for whether they will pay you ongoing for stuff. Are they are prepared to pay a reasonable amount for something good.
  • Don’t be too cheap, this will attract all kind of crazy folk.
  • Make sure you ask a reasonable percentage in advance. Don’t work for morons who won’t pay you until your job is done. Get 100% up front if you can, failing that go 50 / 50 and don’t release the site until the final invoice is paid if possible.
  • Jump onto Clients From Hell occasionally and have a whinge. There are a lot of other people going through the same thing (1.3 million to to the site every month!).

6. Find your way of generating leads

Travis is not paying $11 per click for traffic to his SEO business.

Travis is not paying $11 per click for traffic to his SEO business.

Don’t you love it when you read a blog post about how to market your business and they suggest Adwords? Adwords is the new yellow pages. Let’s do some math:

  • The CPC for the keywords ‘web design company’ is $10.90 – I’ll take 250 thanks ($2,725).
  • We’ll take a conversion rate of 2% of visitors will contact you either via phone or email about a project – (5 people)
  • Then out of these we’ll assume you can convert 20% of them into a customer (1 person).

So you’ve just paid $2,725 to get 1 customer. That $10.90 aint looking as good as it did before hey?

If you can make that work then great (if you are reading this then you can’t) so you need something else. Here are some examples:

Here’s a question.

What can you do well that others can’t or aren’t doing that will bring you customers. And you can’t say Yellow Pages or Adwords.

How have you grown your business?

I’d love to know how you have grown your web design or online agency so feel free to comment below.


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Dan Norris is a co-founder at WP Curve and a passionate entrepreneur with an obsession for content marketing.

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