Don’t Be A Web Designer

I write a lot about my web design business on this blog. I have also two successful products called Running A Web Design Business, an e-book and a video course.

web designer

But I always say that you shouldn’t provide only a web design service. This is because, since I started the business in 2006, only about 50% of my income has been from web design alone.

I had 4 main jobs pass over my desk in September. One was a website redesign, the other three were InDesign jobs (two onscreen PDFs and one print magazine job).

This was typical. And, also typically, these jobs came from regular clients.

I implore web designers to learn other skills. I’ve written about how web designers should learn print design and how print designers can learn web design. The other point is this: your best clients are your current clients.

Not enough work!

I get emails from web designers almost everyday and I hear varying reports about our industry. It seems that the success of contracting sites such as Elance and oDesk has impacted on some design businesses in the western world but this is by no means the complete picture.

Some web designers are using the wrong business model. The people in trouble are looking to build websites for less than $1000 and nothing else so they would need to create a vast amount of websites in a year in order to make a living.

We have to explain to our clients that, in order to see any success, a web presence needs constant work. We can help them with this and, when they do, they see results.

Larger clients

The best clients are large organisations. You are so much more likely to get repeat business from them because there’s more going on there. In addition to this you’ll probably get bigger jobs and they’ll go on for longer.

However, I’ve found that this does not necessarily apply to web design. Large organisations will, more often than not, maintain their website and online activities in-house. This is why you’ll get more work by offering other services.

You can offer the following work for these larger companies.

  • Print newsletters
  • Online newsletters
  • HTML email
  • Presentations

I have had more luck with the above than with online work.

Smaller clients

This is not to say that small clients are necessarily bad. I usually get more creative work from startups and SMEs. But, unfortunately, the work from these clients tends to be one-offs.

Many small businesses will ask you to build a website and expect that to be the end of it. Slowly this is changing.

It doesn’t have to be this way

Providing a business with a beautiful WordPress website should be just the beginning of the process. Clients also need help with:

Providing the above online design services as well as offline design services have been essential to my business. Just web design alone is not enough.

You can do it

You can build up a business that provides regular services to quality clients but sticking power is key. It takes time to establish yourself as the reliable go-to person within a niche.

You have to stick at it and constantly remind the client of your services and your ability to deliver them.

Did this help you? If so, please share!

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  1. says

    Hi Rob,

    Interesting article. I’m a freelance web and graphic designer and have toyed with the idea of offering internet marketing services also. But where do you draw the line between specialist and being seen as a jack of all trades?

    I constantly hear people talk about how you should specialise in order to stand out to the right customer. How can you stay at the top of you game I so many areas? Articles like this just seem to add to my delema. Do you really think diversifying is right for the solo freelancer?


    • says

      I can certainly understand your predicament, Stuart. And, on the face of it my advice is contradictory – diversify and specialise. But, this is sort of what I’ve done, and it’s worked.

      My diversification has happened naturally. During the course of writing this blog, setting up a mailing list and selling my own products I came to learn a lot of online marketing techniques that have been of great use to my clients. Another way I’ve diversified is when clients have come to me with a task that I didn’t know how to do and had to find out about. I would always blog about learning this new task which would increase the likelihood of being asked to do it again.

      Specialisation happens by following your bliss. By doing jobs that you like doing and not doing the ones that you don’t. Yes, it’s a privilege for those who’ve been in the business for a while but I think you fall into that category.

      Yes, it’s frustrating. I’ve read articles by people who aren’t web designers advising people to specialise in restaurant web design – I couldn’t think of worse idea.

      I hope this helps. I guess we’re all different and will find our way differently and some will naturally be more drawn towards diversity and some more towards specialisation. But I think we all do both to a certain extent.

      I hope this helps, Stuart, and hope to see you again.

      • says

        Ha ha yes, I’ve read similar articles on specialising in a certain type of website. I was very skeptical also. I mean who actually does this successfully? No one I know of. I’d love to see examples if people have them though.

        I’m trying to specialising more and more in WordPress but am weary of spreading my self to thin and diluting my appeal in this area by offering internet marking also. I mean graphics, web design and internet marketing are such broad topics I don’t see how anyone can do them all to a high level and I worry potential customers would subconsciously feel the same too. I’m also conscious of the fact that you can become quicker and more profitable by specialising.

        Perhaps I will specialise in an area of internet marketing as the work comes to me and I better understand what I enjoy in this area, as I have done with WordPress within the web design field. Is that what you mean by diversification and specialisation? Is this the sort of strategy that has worked for you Rob?

        I’m just conscious of how potentially miss leading these sort of posts can be for web designers, especially newbies, but also very interested by other freelancers approaches.

        • says

          This article is definitely not suggesting you move into a general area like “internet marketing” it would have to be something more specific, Stuart.

          Yes, for me I have written a lot about email marketing, for example, and I’ve got more work in that area. This is an example of something that interested me (I wanted to know about it as I wanted to create an email list of my own) and, at the same time, interested my clients both old and new.

          Also, I wouldn’t see myself or describe myself as a freelancer any more as I think that limits the jobs that are offered to me.

  2. says

    Hey Rob,

    You are so right. I don’t just do graphic or web design. I also offer:

    • social media management
    • web content
    • web management
    • logo design
    • web design package

    I had “business cards” there before but I took it out. I want to specialize on just “interactive media” stricly on just digital alone. Since business cards are on print, I want to stay away from it as much as possible. I mean, in my opinion, I don’t think there is business on doing business cards. What do you think?

    Vistaprint, for instance, can now print your business cards for as low as $10.00 for 250 of them. And that includes the custom made designs. You can actually customize your own business card designs for as low as $10.00. That’s how cheap it is nowadays.

    Anyway, I still love doing logo designs. Logo designs and web designs (wordpress) are just my specialty. What do you think about this?


    • says

      Sounds great, Angela, if it’s what you like doing and you believe there is enough demand in your area for those services. Personally, WordPress and logo design are also what I love but I also need the “bread and butter” work of company newsletters to keep me going financially!

      • says

        I see your point, Rob. It makes perfect sense. It’s very hard to stay afloat if you only concentrate on one thing. Btw, after reading your comment I actually put back the business cards service. And perhaps I should add another services there like: brochure, company’s newsletter, newspaper, book format. I’ve done a lot except animation and television.

        I thought I was trying to get away from doing prints but then again it made me think this could LEAD to another interactive media. Not all companies have adapted the idea of social media and advertising on the internet. Still quite a few out there do not know what the internet could provide them for a lot cheaper and yet a lot more to offer.

  3. says

    P.S. When I said “I don’t think there is business on doing business cards” — I mean there is NO MONEY doing business cards coz companies like Vistaprint can PRINT business cards so much cheaper and they don’t need a designer. The customer per se designs it themselves for as low as $10.00…so I took out this service on my blog.

    • says

      Yes, I do business cards. I get them printed and delivered by Vistaprint to the client. Yes, they are cheap but I still think it’s a good service to offer. The client doesn’t want the hassle of dealing with Vistaprint sometimes and they’ll pay you to take the hassle away from them.

      • says

        I couldn’t agree with you more. Either way that is still money coming in. Vistaprint is perfect business to hook up your printing service. I love them. They have all kinds of stuff to offer. From printing to interactive media. They even offer web services for a small price. I bet printing your brochure and other print jobs is a lot easier to handle with them because they are worldwide and has a good reputation. So, it make perfect sense that some clients are just so busy handling it themselves, and you want to take the hassle away from them and GIVE them more time to do other things. Yes, I could not agree more!

  4. says

    This post is so true! You can’t be a one-trick pony, nowadays, and expect to stay busy all the time. I’m a graphic designer who did mainly print but also some flash and web stuff, and later morphed into the stock imagery world. Now that I’ve been freelancing outside of the corporate world for a very long time, I occasionally do get design requests from old clients. Usually I pass these along to colleagues, due to the lack of time and sometimes desire. If I had any advice to anyone struggling, it’s get into a network of industry related colleagues, makes friends, talk to people. One hand washes the other, and you all may end up feeding each other work when you least expect it to come in. There are a slew of social media networks such as behance, twitter, dribble, forrst, and so on, where you can develop such a tight knit circle of fellow artists.

    • says

      Hey Todd, graphic designers morphing into the passive income world is something that really interests me. Would you be interested in doing a podcast with me, Todd?

      I’m totally with you about developing a network of trusted professionals in design and related fields. Added to this getting out and meeting people face-to-face in meetups as well. Thank you for your comment.

  5. Mark says

    Why are people so afraid of being seen as jack of all trades ?

    Most of my clients come to me ‘because’ they know after years of working with me that I can get anything they want doing and not have to shop around getting bits done by lots of individual ‘specialists’ who sometimes charge an arm and a leg for nothing special.

    • says

      People are afraid of being a jack of all trades because the prevailing wisdom in business literature is to “niche-down” and get business that way. But I’m not so sure. I agree with you. But, ultimately, I think as business owners we have to do both – diversify and specialise. Different people will have more success with different business models.

  6. says

    Hi Rob. I only do a low level of print work because of the hassle working in different colour spaces. How do you deal with that? Why can’t colours just match on screen and in print??

    • says

      Hey, Garry, I wrote a post not so long ago about how web designers can do print work. maybe because I was originally a print designer I really don’t think it’s very difficult. You just have to remember to put everything in CMYK and 300 PPI. Even if you forget to do this most printers will accept RGB artwork anyway. Colours can’t match on screen and in print, unfortunately, because they are two different ways of seeing lights – additive and subtractive.