When I think about how green I was with my first client website exactly 12.7 years ago, I’m truly humbled by how far we’ve come.

I had butterflies big time. “What if I stuff it up?” “What if it doesn’t work?” “What if they don’t like it?”

And more importantly, “Where the hell do I start?”

It seems like eons ago now as I sit here and think about what to pen for this post. My first design business used to create full custom websites for SME’s until six years ago when I saw a real gap in the market for decent, affordable websites for small business.

It was then that Web123 was born. And what an elephant it was!

Since then we’ve learnt the hard way what clients want. By going above and beyond. By putting clients first. By asking them what they want and why they invested with us. By making plenty of mistakes. By always trying new things. And by taking risks.

You name it. We’ve tried it.

Sidenote: Don’t believe anyone who says business is easy and organised. It’s messy. Damn messy!

Since starting Web123 we’ve created over 3,000 website designs and currently produce about 30-40 websites per month, predominantly for small business in Australia.

We certainly ain’t no cookie-cutter, sausage factory kind of web company though, let’s get one thing straight.

It’s taken us years to perfect our craft so that every single site we create has a solid, results-focussed strategy. Not just design.

And we have to be diligent about keeping up with the pace of this industry too. So I’m well aware that what we offer today will not be the same in 12 months.

With all that said though, there are some tried and tested lessons I’ve learnt from my first 1,000 website clients that I’d love to share with you so you can hopefully fast-track your design business into the big league.

Here’s a handful of lessons (and a bit of tough love thrown in for good measure) to help you on your way.

If you’re a designer, become a brilliant marketer

Website design these days is about providing a real-world solution that encompasses how to get traffic, how to convert that traffic into customers and how to nurture people to come back for more.

Master all three so you can also add ‘marketing expert’ to your resume — and you’ll set your business up for long-term success. How else are you going to compete with 99designs, Elance and Fiverr? Marketing is key. Start now and pave the way for a new generation of web designers!

Most business owners don’t understand web, nor should they

Never use jargon. Steer clear of acronyms. And never, EVER, make them feel stupid. Full stop. You might think you sound smart but you don’t. Just don’t go there.

Hold their hand before, during and after they launch

Don’t leave them to fend for themselves after they go live — that’s where the real work begins. The website is just the first step. Make sure they know you’re there for them always.

Stay in touch on a regular basis. Heck, why not go all out and set up an automated email sequence to contact them every month to check in, help them, offer additional services — do whatever — but don’t ever leave them in the lurch after they launch.

Which brings me to…

Work on retaining clients for life

It’ll cost you way more to find new clients than it will to look after and nurture the ones you have. Trust me. Have a plan in place to retain the clients you worked so hard to get.

For us, we have several perks like free software updates, an educational portal, unlimited support and one free layout cutover (or redesign) per year as part of their ongoings. Not everyone uses everything but it helps to keep clients for life which is the ultimate.

Be supportive

Don’t be one of those penny-pinching “pay me $80 before I answer your question” kind of web designers. But on the flipside, everyone needs to make a quid so find a balance and work out a way to offer the support they need at a fair price.

Don’t discount. And don’t offer payment plans

You’ll attract the wrong type of client and in my experience, most payment plans end in tears. Payment upfront does wonders for your cashflow. Read a blog I wrote here about how I took our receivables from $120k to $20k by changing our payment terms, and without losing clients. It also covers what I do when clients don’t pay me.

Be a giver, not a taker

Use your talent for the greater good. Building a business and winning a ton of website clients is not all just about how many possessions you can buy with all the squillions you make.

Give back to the community in any way you can. Not just in money, but time, ideas, resources etc. We give away free charity websites to charities in need. To date we’ve clocked over $100k in donations and growing. We do it because we can. Not for kudos. Not as a marketing tactic. But just because it makes us feel like we’re giving back and doing what’s right.

It goes without saying but go the extra mile

There are no traffic jams along the extra mile. Want a basic example? Instead of just designing an opt-in box that says ‘Join our newsletter!’, brainstorm with your client an offer to make them irresistible online. Create a lead magnet together and even offer to design it for them. It’ll transform their business and you’ll have a client for life.

Be a leader

Everyone wants a someone to follow. Be that person. Give free advice. Publish a regular email newsletter. Start a podcast. Write a blog. Don’t hold back your ideas. Show people you are a thought leader and you’ll build a tribe who talk about you like you’re some kind of celebrity. It happens to me all the time. Honestly, hardly anyone is really doing this in the web design space. Put yourself out there and watch it pay off!

The platform really doesn’t matter — the strategy matters

Don’t get all wound up over technology. Clients don’t care. Do you think they give a rats about bandwidth or open-source or the fact they can take their site and host it elsewhere? No. So why even mention it? They want leads that translate into sales and profits. Period.

Become an awesome copywriter, it’ll pay off tenfold

Get great at writing web copy, especially headlines and also the lost but not forgotten button copy. Learn how to write buttons that convert. I recommend all of the CopyHackers books to master this in the least amount of time.

Don’t ignore SEO

There are so many t’s you need to cross and i’s you need to dot, so don’t ignore the elephant in the room. You don’t need to be an all-out SEO guru but you do need to know and implement the basics to get a result. It’s a given. You shouldn’t be taking money for sites if you’re not following the basics.

Bigger is not always better

Give me 1,000 small clients over 50 big ones any day. When I think about the big accounts I worked so hard to get, and I remember the pressure they brought with them, I want to crawl in a rock and hide. With big accounts comes big responsibility. Go for it if it’s your dream but don’t worry if it’s not for you.

Do what you love and ditch the rest

Don’t do stuff that you don’t like doing. Life’s too short. If you find your job description morphing into something you don’t jump out of bed with joy for, change it. Delegate, outsource, cut products, put your prices up, whatever, but don’t do what you don’t LOVE doing. Passion shows and people like people who are passionate about what they do.

Carve out a tight niche if you can

If you can be the best damn web designer out there for female dentists in regional areas, then go for it. The more niche you can be, the better. You’ll find it easier to market, easier to sell and easier to become expert in; and that my designer friend, all leads to more profits.

Follow your gut instinct, it’s rarely wrong

That is all.

And lastly but most importantly — just because it’s worth mentioning again — please understand and embrace the notion that….

Websites are less about looks and more about strategy

It’s not just about design, it’s about results. Set yourself apart from almost every other web designer out there. Show your clients how to get a return. Help them make more money and not only can you change lives; you can literally charge what you want.

Got any advice I missed?

I’d love you to share in the comments. Fire away!

Bianca Board
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