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When I started my web design business in 1999, the first project I got paid for earned me a whopping $900. The project after that ... $500 (plus a box of chocolate). Over the next thirteen years I fluctuated from the low thousands up to thirty thousand dollars per project. There is a magic number around $3,000 that was really hard for me to cross consistently.
If you have struggled to cross this threshold, then I’m happy to help. In this article, I am going to teach you strategies and techniques that I used to consistently break that barrier and eventually land consistent $10,000 plus projects.
I had to learn a lot about selling, crafting proposals, and building a network of high value contacts. But last year I sold my web agency and decided to go on a quest to help other web professionals build wildly successful businesses.
I ask every user that subscribes to my community of web professionals at uGurus a single question:
“What is your greatest challenge?”
Almost every web designer, developer, or marketer says the same thing:
“I can’t get paid enough for the work I do.”
After getting several hundred of these responses, I thought it was time to shed some light on how I overcame this very problem within my business. Not only that, but I have trained hundreds of other web professional on how to overcome this very problem (so I know what I’m about to tell you works).
This complaint takes several forms, but it all pretty much revolves around the same problem. Here are some real quotes from web designers that I’ve gotten in the last week:
- “Clients aren’t willing to pay me more than $1,200 for website projects.”
- “All they want is for me to implement a free template.”
- “Clients never have the budget for their website.”
- “It’s difficult finding new clients (especially ones that have more than a budget of $2,000).”
- “After telling them $5,000, they thought a website should cost $1,000 to $2,000 and we lost the opportunity.”
In each case, the client is presented as having the problem. Why won’t they pay more! Why don’t they have a bigger budget! And here, within this mindset, is the problem. We blame our clients for their lack of budget. But it is we who are failing them. It is our own inability to find and sell qualified prospects. It’s not their fault for wanting to pay less than $3,000; it’s yours.
Whenever someone tells me that they have a “can’t charge enough” problem, I always follow up with this question:
“Tell me about your sales process, what typically happens?”
And here is where it all sounds exactly the same...
- I get a lead.
- I contact them.
- I talk to them about their project.
- I send over a proposal or quote.
- I follow up each week until the lead says yes or no.
When they actually get in touch with their prospect, usually they admit to getting downward pressure on their prices. The prospect will usually say something like:
“I really like you, but another company is charging only $1,500 for the same work, so I don’t see why I would need to pay you $5,000.”
And the cycle continues. But it gets worse.
After they win the deal for the reduced price, the client slams them with scope creep, additional requests, and takes forever to provide feedback.
This happens because there is no foundation for the relationship. There is no trust. And since they are simply providing a commodity, it is easy for the customer to bail on the project, leave the bill unpaid, and find another provider to finish the work.
So we just throw our arms up in defeat. We surrender to not getting paid what our expertise is worth.
But how many times do you have to get price pressure before you question your process?
It sounds like now is the time.
There is a Better Way
In 2007, I had a crisis in my business. I was trying to grow a small web agency, but I didn’t understand how to get enough clients or charge high enough prices. The end result for me was I had only a few dollars in my bank account, was behind on every bill, and was days away from closing down shop.
I was able to save the day by financing my future to the tune of a $50,000 loan. But when I accepted that money, I made a promise to myself: I would go on a quest to learn how to run my business from the best. I sought mentors. I attended classes. I read books. I joined mastermind groups. I dedicated myself to growth—both myself as a professional, and my businesses revenue.
Yet when I look around the web community, I see a painfully minimal amount of available information when it comes to sales and business training.
You need to approach sales like you approach anything else: learn how to do it well.
So let's get started.
1. Get Specific About What You Do (and Don’t Do)
Web professionals are stuck with a paradox. Anyone can be our client; therefore, we have a hard time getting any clients. If you are trying to work with “small businesses in the United States,” your strategy is a bit too broad.
By not getting specific, the average web professional is holding back the potential of their business. Focus is where we get results.
Surprisingly, this is relatively easy to achieve.
Define your ideal customer by getting really specific about what market, geography, revenue, employee count, and mindset they have. Your ideal customer should be specific enough to isolate no more than a hundred businesses that you can target for your sales efforts.
Example: Independently owned restaurants that are owner-operated in the Denver, Colorado metro area that do $1,500,000 to $5,000,000 in yearly revenue.
Tip: If your ideal customer statement targets more than one hundred potential customers, then it is too broad. Think about how you can further refine your statement. Once you get traction with a finitely defined group, it is easy to add additional groups that relate closely to that group.
Define a strategy statement that tells you exactly how you are going to get in front of these customers. Your strategy statement should be a broad goal, but focused on your specific ideal customer.
Example: Become the go to website and online marketing professional for Denver restaurateurs.
Execute a single tactic that meets your strategy and ideal customer statements. The effectiveness of your tactics should be measurable.
Example: Present a monthly workshop about websites and online marketing to members of the EatDenver group of independently owned Denver restaurants.
Tip: Many web professionals execute too many tactics at the same time and fail to reach the potential of their activities. Since you aren’t trying to get hundreds of clients, spend more time executing a single tactic at a time that meets all of the criteria you have already set.
Qualify your prospective customers against your ideal customer definition. I like to have additional qualifiers that relate to personality and job type as well. Even if someone fits your ideal target, if you get a bad feeling in the first interaction, it is okay to pass on the business and move on to your next opportunity.
Example: If I call on a restaurant and they tell me they are part of a chain and that corporate handles all of their vendors, then I immediately know they aren’t a good fit. I don’t continue to work the lead. I move on to the next opportunity.
Tip: Get in the practice of saying “No” to business. Go into each deal with the mindset of, “I don’t want this deal ... they must convince me that I want it.”
2. Build Value by Increasing Your Sales Interactions
One of the major flaws of a typical sales process is the amount of interactions that you have with each of your prospective customers. A relationship is not built when someone calls you out of the blue, talks your ear off for an hour and half, and then asks for a bid on their project.
That is price fishing. Unlike real world fishing, they are seeking the smallest catch. Or the biggest fool.
Luckily, we can beat even the cheapest of price fishers.
Schedule your sales interactions by never allowing an initial interaction to take longer than ten minutes. You were doing something important before this person called you, so make sure you get back to that important thing as fast as you can. By forcing all of your leads to interact with you at a scheduled time you close the door to price fishers and open the door to serious applicants. Price fishers hate to schedule appointments.
Conduct discovery with each and every opportunity. Don’t just take a list of requirements and provide price. There is no way to understand the needs being solved by looking at a list of requirements. Good discovery can take up three to five individual interactions. You should be able to fully communicate what the business does, their strategies, competition, top challenges, product offerings, and be on a first name basis with all stakeholders involved.
Present your solution and proposal in separate meetings. I never submit a proposal without first discussing a project strategy, solution, and budget. Once I have a verbal agreement that my solution is in alignment with their company’s needs, then and only then, do I present a proposal to my prospective customer. I never email a document over without being able to go line by line through my document to make sure they understand everything in my own words.
3. Bundle Additional Services into Your Builds
Websites aren’t just a collection of design and development files. There is content. There is traffic.
A lot of web professionals do their clients a big disservice by allowing them to write their own content and take their own pictures. They do a bigger disservice by abandoning their clients once the site is live instead of helping them drive qualified customers to their site.
When I am able to have professionals on my team design, develop, write, produce, and market a project, I am dramatically more successful with my customers. Sure, the costs are higher to do a project at that level, but the ROI is so different that I actually do not accept projects without full budgets anymore.
Adding in additional services is straightforward.
Provide content services to your customers. Never allow your client to go live with “Welcome to my website! Here are the services I do!” right on their homepage. Contract with an expert copywriter, photographer, and videographer to help produce the content of your next web project. Not only will your budget push up, but the net result of your project will shine, and this helps your bottom line. I mark up all subcontracted content services at least 100%.
Help drive qualified customers by bundling in traffic and conversion services. I start this conversation in my very initial client interactions. I make sure that my prospective customer understands that we do not prescribe to the “build it and they will come” strategy. Start offering SEO, PPC, Email, and Social Marketing solutions in tandem with your website packages.
Offer these services post-launch via recurring ongoing retainers. A lot of web professionals like to build projects and move right onto the next one. This is very shortsighted because it is much harder to get a new customer than it is to sell an existing one. By creating a portfolio of monthly services, you will build strong revenue streams to grow your business. And the secret result of doing this is that your customers are much happier. They get monthly attention and aren’t left to sort their website out themselves.
Tip: If you are just a designer or developer and do not do any online marketing services, don’t fret. There are plenty of marketing companies in your area that you can easily connect with to bring in on your projects. Either as a subcontractor, to you or to work directly with your client with a commission going back to you. I suggest attending a local meetup of web professionals or joining a trade group to start building your network.
Breaking the Earnings Ceiling on Your Business
By being specific with your business, increasing your interactions, and providing additional services, your projects will quickly move to the $10,000 to $20,000 range. Possibly beyond that.
Getting paid more for projects is in itself a nice reward, but there is a yield that is more important than the money. The bigger the budget I had to build a project, the better the project turned out, which resulted in more people contacting me wanting the same thing or better.
I was able to work in an industry with my expert opinion being respected, I built value for each project with a great process, and was able to bundle in services that mattered for my client’s success. Not only did I get paid more, but I also got a lot more clients.
If you are struggling to break the $3,000 project ceiling, get started by doing action one above. It might not happen overnight, but with hard work it won’t be long until you start closing larger deals.