When I launched my search engine optimization/content creation/social media management company, the last thing on my mind was designing websites. I didn’t want to do it. I was reluctant. I had been told there are riches in niches, and web design was not in my plans. On the very first day of my company’s existence, I met with the president of the local chamber of commerce. He gave me this advice: There’s a market for simple, basic websites around $600-$1,000. My response: But, I don’t want to design web sites. The reality: After turning down my first web design client, it never happened again, and I made thousands of dollars because of it.
How did someone who doesn’t know HTML make thousands of dollars in a few months as a web designer?
Well … Business leaders tend to rise because of a singular focus, so it is not uncommon to find successful ones who have no clue about web design and what it takes to get a sharp-looking, mobile-friendly, fast-loading, search-engine-optimized website up on the world wide web and keep it there month-in and month-out. And, if you know just a little about web design, then you can make some money doing it for them, like I did … even though I don’t really know HTML. What I discovered is that these business leaders want to stick with what they know and pay someone else to take care of web design, web maintenance and web hosting.
Here are the steps I took
- I learned how to build a WordPress website just because I wanted to have a blog. I had been working as a journalist, and I wanted a blog. I started with a free blogging service (Blogger) and then later switched to another free blogging service (WordPress). I decided I wanted my own domain instead a subdomain on the WordPress website. So, I did Google searches to figure out how it was done. I started learning more about WordPress themes and how you can build a site without using HTML. I am not completely ignorant about HTML, however, I always have to do a Google search every time I want to add custom code because I do not know HTML. Because I was designing a personal website, I had time to explore, make mistakes and, then, figure out how to correct them. I next designed a website for my wife’s blog using a free WordPress theme, and I later redesigned her website using the Genesis Framework on top of WordPress. (It also required a Genesis Framework child theme.) This framework provided great flexibility.
- I purchased my domain and web hosting services through BlueHost. If you are going to have a website, you will need a domain name (like seoauditguide.com) and you will need to have it hosted somewhere. With BlueHost, I received a free domain with my hosting agreement. (Claudia recommends 1&1 .com Domain Name Registration for domain names.) I should add, BlueHost offers very affordable hosting, and the company has a good reputation. BlueHost always has an amazing deal if you purchase services for a three-year agreement. Something I did not realize when I initially purchased hosting services is that because I chose the middle-tier program, I actually was able to host an unlimited number of sites. I thought I bought hosting service for just a single domain. Oh, when I realized that, it was all over!
- I started building sites as a web designer. After I launched my business, I wanted my main focus to be search engine optimization audits and content creation. I was meeting with a potential client, and he asked me if I could build him I website. Remembering my conversation with the chamber president, I told him I could. I did. I ended up designing two sites for his companies. Then another and another and another. I estimated at the time, websites became about 25 percent of my business. I ended up purchasing every theme offered by StudioPress for a few hundred dollars, which I was able to cover with a portion of my fee to design a website.
- I started “charging” to host sites. I built into my cost of designing a little extra to host the sites for a year, and then let them know what the fee would be after the first year. My business model is building long-term, mutually beneficial relationships. I do not try to maximize every single transaction, so hosting is a place where I can offer them a good deal. My cost is fixed with or without hosting clients, so I offer hosting services to my clients at $15 a month if billed monthly or $100 if billed annually.
How can you find clients?
Earlier this year, Google pretty much gave web designers and those who want to build websites a couple early Christmas presents. The search giant said websites that are not mobile-responsive will be penalized in search rankings. Google also said, pages that take a long time to load will also be ranked lower. So, if you know businesses that have older, slow-loading websites, well you have a great selling point. Here are some ways to find clients:
- Build your own website: Show people what you can do with having a very good website of your own.
- Warm calls: Approach people you know who have businesses and could use a new website. Do a little research: Is the site mobile responsive? If not, then you have a hook. Does it load slowly? Another hook.
- Join your local chamber of commerce: If you are in a small- to mid-sized town, then it might make sense to join your chamber. You can advertise economically in their newsletters, and you will likely get a link in their online business directory of members.
- Attend business networking events: My chamber has Business After Hours events. Here, you can meet with other business owners and leaders and share what you do.
- Social media: Start a Facebook page, invite all your friends to like it, and then start posting and advertising on Facebook. Supplement your posts with Facebook ads. I spent about $1 a day my first three months in business, and it generated more than $2,000 in revenue.
- Ask friends/clients for referrals: When you talk with people, even if they do not use your services, always ask them if they know anybody else who might be interested?
Here are a few tips about the money
- Consider billing upfront and in-progress: One web designer I know includes in his proposal how he will begin work on the site as soon as a 50 percent deposit is paid. So, if the site is going to cost $2,000, then he will need a $1,000 deposit. This helps with cash flow. Because my sites are simple, five-page sites built using Genesis child themes, I let them know there is a nominal fee that is due upfront. If the site takes a long time, then I will bill in-progress and then issue a final invoice for the remainder. Because websites have been my company’s “gravy” (I don’t depend upon them to sustain the business), I am fine with just receiving a little money upfront. However, if all you do are websites, then it might make sense for you to get some money upfront. Also, if you are just starting out, the upfront money can help you make additional purchases to make your business more efficient.
- Consider purchasing all of the StudioPress themes: In the past, StudioPress has offered to sell all their themes (and many from third-party developers) for around $300. This is a tremendous deal considering themes can cost around $100 each. As a web designer, you get to use any of their themes on any site at no additional cost. This allows you greater flexibility in designs offered to clients, and it will save you money. Some themes are only sold as a single license for a single site. Not so with the StudioPress themes.
- Consider offering web maintenance: I don’t particularly want to spend my time doing web maintenance, but if you want me to do it, I charge $50 an hour (I live in an area with a low cost of living, so my charges tend to be lower than most). This might be another service you package with your web design and web hosting. It’s just another way to add an additional stream of income.
Are you ready to start making money as a web designer?
So, are you ready to start a side hustle as a web designer? BlueHost, WordPress and StudioPress make it so easy. And, when your business takes off and money starts rolling in, let me suggest you consider learning search engine optimization and make yourself even more valuable. I charge $50 an hour for web maintenance; I charge $75 an hour for SEO services.