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.

62 responses to “6 tips for growing your web design business”

  1. Adrijus Guscia says:

    AdWords is expensive and stunk when I used them but maybe similar thing from OutBrain works still. It is cheaper than AW and appears on big name sites all over the web. Heard recommendations about it.
    Any experience with that platform?

  2. Dan Norris says:

    Hey Adjijus thanks for the comment and the tip. That looks really interesting, looks like an awesome tool for content marketers I’m going to have a play with that I think!

  3. Adrijus Guscia says:

    No problems! CPC there starts at 15cents. So it’s much cheaper but of course it will go up probably for most niches. Still, for you and the amount of content here, you should be doing great with this one. Keep us updated if you do, I had trouble with credit card sign up but trying to get in too.

  4. Alchemy Tech Solutio says:

    Or what about optimizing for long tail keywords. Less competition to deal with.

  5. Dan Norris says:

    Not particularly unique I wouldn’t have thought. You are still doing the same thing that everyone else is doing. I guess if you were particularly good at it then it could be a win.

  6. Sudesh Agrawal says:

    Really great advice – especially personal branding one – I have my own face (closeup shot) everywhere floating around 🙂 with my company GeeksPerHr.com and clients love to see I am on top of things and take good care of their projects

  7. TheApril says:

    Search your area for Meetups on Web Design. I’ve met a ton of great people this way. Sometimes the more successful designers don’t want to fool around with the smaller sites. If you can take their overflow, it helps them and you. Over, over, over, over deliver and you will gain a reputation that will draw referrals to you.

  8. Dan Norris says:

    Great tips thankyou.

  9. Technocrat says:

    So do you market yourself in these Meetups?

  10. Best web development company says:

    Wonderful tips nice.

  11. Forrest Allison says:

    Holy shit it’s unreal how bad James Schramko’s site is. i can barely read that text. Not taking his advice

  12. Donald Silvernail says:

    Great read! I tend to focus on startup businesses. I offer the full package from the website and branding to marketing and seo. My focus is to help small business grow and separate themselves from the competition. This has helped me build long recurring relationships with my customers.

  13. Mahfuz says:

    I wanna thank you from the bottom of heart for being so honest and upfront about the market. Good job.

  14. Jay Amnon says:

    The web design business is still BIG in Africa – I am talking about East Africa. I personally print and use brochures and posters (Budget – $40 a month). I get a ROI ten times over per month. I believe the strategy is to target local customers, and not try to compete with web.com

  15. Ariful Islam says:

    Very nice article, my website http://kingswebit.com

  16. Thanks for this article. Sphynx Creative is an up and coming web, mobile, SEO and social media agency. We will definitely be implementing some of these tips in our model. Check us out http://www.bccconsulting.net

  17. Wipeproductions says:

    Very usefull tips growing your business as webdesigners.
    especially point5 avoid shit clients let you waste a lot of usefull time.

  18. Donny Suitor says:

    lol clients from hell thats awesome – So ture 80 20 rule

  19. eezpal says:

    Great read. Highly appreciate the post Dan

  20. Brent Smalley says:

    Thanks for the tips! Will be using them for my web design business http://www.somethingwebdesign.com

  21. Kathy Kenny Ngo says:

    This is something that we can definitely use. http://www.you-source.com

  22. Don Peterson says:

    Appreciate your honest insights. having been a web designer for nearly two decades ( http://webdesignportfolio.us ) I can see how much the changes in the market have affected my business. There was a time I did not need to do any marketing at all. However, the changes in the economy make it essential to have sound sales and marketing skills along with web design chops. The ability to sell may even be more important than talent as a designer nowadays

  23. Leo2707 says:

    With almost 3 years of web development experience it’s still hard for me to find independent contractors. I have an ample knowledge of developing websites.


  24. Sudhir Singh Shekhawat says:

    thanks for tips
    can anyone help me in geting website projects

  25. Badger State Web Staff says:

    Good Read. Most of this still stands even almost 3 years later. Our Brand is new, and we used organic seo and some onetime sem marketing to get most of our clients now. And referrals from them. I was really curious on that inform.ly agency plan. Is the guy you sold it to still actively working it or are you doing something similar again? Also I like how you put it to reality in #6 Thanks, http://badgerstateweb.com

  26. Jeff Moyer says:

    If your just starting out focus on local opportunities first like local newsletter, community events, flyers ect. If someone learns about your web business and views you as a “friendly neighbor” not a solicitor you can cut through a lot of the clutter. Meeting people face to face is huge though so you have to get out there and network…

  27. AdamWDG says:

    It just takes a couple of shit clients to realise how important point 5 is.
    A really helpful article. Thanks

  28. The design and template of your website is more important as it is your door to their interest. A user takes only few seconds to declare whether they are going to continue browsing your site or not. You need to take note that you are interacting with your respective clients through your website. http://goo.gl/fsRNBT

  29. Pachrifol says:

    Great article. We will definitely use these tips! (www.pachrifol.co.uk)

  30. Anisha Singh says:

    Nice blog, We trust that Web Designing is not only an art, but also a science. In today’s focused scene, each business needs a good website on the grounds that awful or lethargic site can influence organizations antagonistically. Most clients don’t prefer to tap on a site that is ineffectively, deficiently or seriously planned. we are trying to follow on. http://www.annovativetechsolution.in/

  31. Ann says:

    Could definitely use some of the tips! Number 5 is spot on! Still working on 6. Thanks Dan for a great post! http://www.vencreative.com.au

  32. Joe Shepherd says:

    We started by targeting restaurants in the area that have been open for about a year with no website. Most businesses fail within the first year, if you don’t have a site you are guaranteed to fail. The other business owners are the ones that have been around for so long that their customers are starting to die off and need a fresh make over. The great thing about those types are their pos systems are antiques along with everything else. They need someone to help walk them into the future, why not you? The only problem is if you can’t gain their trust early they’ll be too terrified of technology and change to buy. Great Info http://www.redrootgroup.com

  33. Matrid Tech says:

    Great article! Which tips you have shared in this post is very valuable for those peoples who provide web design services. If you growing in your web design business you need to follow these tips. If you are looking for best web Development Company in India visit us now.

  34. HackJungle says:

    Great Post 🙂

  35. realtorwebsiteservices says:

    Thank you for the web design business tips http://realtorwebsiteservices.com

  36. nirmal says:

    Thank you for the web design business tips http://free-website-design.wix.com/service

  37. Joshua Anthony Brand says:

    Great post!! I am currently in the process of growing my business and this read will definitely help. http://www.brand.co.im

  38. Seattle says:

    We experienced clients who did not paid and very demanding to finish
    their updates on the site. Its frustrating and annoying not only that
    employees got affected because the company has nothing to pay because of
    shitty clients.

  39. Gautam Nayak says:

    Last year i have started my own website design company in delhi. Please give some improvement ideas for my website. https://www.websitedesigndelhi.in/

  40. john ciena says:

    Thank you for the web design business tips http://www.kreyonsystems.com/design_innovation.aspx

  41. Tommy Leyland says:

    Great article! Definitely some things to think about there. My website: http://freelance.tstwebdesign.co.uk

  42. Joshua Truman says:

    Anyone got any tips from personal experience on how to avoid a bad client – http://www.buzzyit.com.au / any tips on my site would be great, trying to make the process as streamlined and straiht forward as possible

  43. code47 says:

    Hey, kind of sounds similar to what I have planned… would you mind sharing some insights on how one can gain their trust?

  44. Venkatesh Manohar says:

    what will be the investment of an small scale company?

  45. AgileWeb says:

    Another tactic that works really well: Google search “web design + your city” and pick the top three companies. Then find out the company owner via linkedIn and say hello. Next setup a meeting in person and chat to see how you can work together. You will be surprised. https://agileweb.ca

  46. RedBit says:

    Add a separate landing page on your website for each of your services. Optimize it for search af 🙂 http://redbitprojects.com/

  47. Bobby says:

    Great tips, I always use PPC adwords however the article is correct, it takes time to get your return… Our web design business now just focuses on cheap website designing for our clients or just white hat SEO as that helps with rankings in the future.


    Blazebox Marketing

  48. Kappow Design says:

    Just had a look at your site and I was wondering which was your best performing website design package at the moment?


  49. Elena says:

    Great tips! I was always betting on Adwords, but I this now it got over saturated.

  50. Raj Sharma says:

    I read your tips. Thanks for sharing with us. I will use these tips for my business growth. Read more http://bit.ly/2jigyFH

  51. Our website design packages are very affordable for all our website design customers. Our most effective packages is the 3 page cheap website design services as most new businesses only require Home Page, About Us and Contact Us. However we also offer free hosting for the first year and don’t charge any monthly fee’s either.

  52. Prayank Chopra says:

    Hehe. you were bold enough to say keep away shitty clients. 🙂 I appreciate that.
    One should emphasize on looking forwards to new prospective clients to get ride of this. For that you can create your business presence on popular business portals like IndiaBizCLub

  53. Myke black says:

    Not sure about the “unique approach” in point 1 being very successful. – both urls no longer online. I heard tweaky.com was renamed to Elto.com and this now redirects to godaddy pro – so maybe they got bought out by godaddy just like wp curve was?
    The other one is offline too, but if you google “appstack.com reviews” you don’t get a very pretty picture.

  54. Mahaveer Chauhan says:

    Hi Dan,

    Thank you for this such a nice post. I am running a web design company in India called https://www.websiteindia.net I always read for marketing stuff and how to promote my web development business. I came to this article by typing on Google “how to sell web services”. I really liked the 5 point of “clientsfromhell.net” > I generally avoid such clients, I can make out by thier way of communication and say bye to them 😉

  55. Raj Sharma says:

    Today, online business is popular day by day so web designers are used unique and attractive web design for website. With help of online business, you can introduce your business with public. Thanks for sharing 6 tips for growing web design business. I will follow your tips. Visit http://www.kbizsoft.com/

  56. Html Pro says:

    I’m running a startup business and this post works great for me!

  57. Ibrahim Naeem says:

    Great Tips! Thanks for sharing it I will apply these on my Company https://www.technology-village.com/

  58. Spanky Smith says:

    Nice share!!
    You need to have the right equipment in order for you to maintain a successful business. You also need to advertise to the right people and charge exactly what you’re wroth don’t under estimate the power of good design.
    To know you can link on to this article- https://article.wn.com/view/WNAT0794483ef360265f8e43f05825af0c5e/

  59. Cooper J. Eaton says:

    Right now we’re working in the activist network and picking up a lot of organizations who are attracted to our value based operation. Definitely dig the advice on building repeat business, hosting is not enough and we also enjoy production design too. Our work is centered around delivering beautiful and meaningful design and that helps us to spread through the grapevine. We’ve been in buisness 1-2 years averaging 12% growth every month this year and looking to maintain acceleration.

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