Let’s face it… we’re in a day and age where someone can buy a domain, hosting, and install a premium WordPress theme in the same time that some designers take to respond with a job quote/request for proposal.
On top of that, many designers are attempting a race to the bottom by lowering rates and adding a myriad of services they wouldn’t have offered years prior.
It seems to me that times are a bit rough, and as a result, designers loosen standards in order to get — and keep — more clients.
But there’s a problem with that: You don’t have the stamina to race to the bottom. None of us do.
Our time is worth much more than that, and our sanity even more so.
But what do you do? How can you compete with people that offer cheaper services or are willing to do the work you don’t want to do?
The answer is simple: You don’t.
Here are some tips and ideas for adding value to your work as a web designer.
1. Stop Racing to the Bottom
Rather than chase nickel and dimers, consider moving in the opposite direction — chase the people that have money and are willing to spend it. This might even mean raising your rates (scary, I know) or being more selective with the clients you take on, but it’s an important step in making the game work for you.
I recently had the opportunity to interview several of the top designers in my field and one of the similarities between all of them was the fact that when the market wanted them to go lower, they chose to go higher. And it worked.
I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but the reality is that if you’re fighting over scraps, then you’ll have nothing but scraps. However, if you can raise your rates and take fewer clients in the process, then you can focus on doing nothing but great work.
2. Cater to a Specific Demographic
Obviously, if you are going to raise your rates, then you need to be able to provide the value to match. One of the best ways to do this is become the go-to guy or gal for a specific niche rather than trying to become a one-stop shop.
If you do best with mini-sites (e.g. single page websites and vCard sites), then become a mini-site designer. If you do best designing niche blogs, then brand yourself as the niche blogging design guru. If you prefer corporate sites, then pitch corporate clients.
It’s easy to think that in trying to serve everyone, you can make more money, but the truth is that as a consumer, I want to know you are an expert in doing what I need you to do. If I need a logo, I go to a logo designer, and if I need a blog, I go to a blog designer.
Brand yourself as a specialist rather than a generalist, and you’ll be much more of an attractive option for your target market.
3. Know What Your Market Wants
Now, if you’re going to target a specific audience, then it’s important that you know how to best serve them. For a Silicon Valley startup, you might need to focus on high conversions and optimization. If you’re working for authors, maybe you need to learn how to make their books look great.
I’ve been on both sides of the coin, and each time I’m amazed by designers that prefer the harmony of their design over my ability to get more newsletter subscribers, buyers, and readers.
On the other side, it’s important to remember that not every client knows what works best in their industry, but that doesn’t mean you should turn them down. Remember, you’re the expert — so act like one. Don’t be afraid to share your expertise. In many cases, this will give them even more confidence in your vision.
4. Don’t Forget the Little Things
Aside from my work as a freelancer, I also own a few web shops, from which I sell a variety of eBooks and other learning courses. When I’m designing these sites, it’s important that the product, logo, and website all match. That being said, I’m amazed by how many designers might offer to design eBooks but not the website hosting the book. It happens the other way too. Designers love to stick to one thing, such as site design, while completely ignoring a client’s need to have a book to match.
There are many little things that designers miss (nuggets of opportunities). Here are a few examples:
- Web banners
- Social network brand design such as Twitter background/profile design
- Avatar photos for a uniform social media brand
- Icon design
- eBook template design such as a PDF template for eBooks or whitepapers
Your clients might not know they need these things. Take the initiative to start the conversation.
Now, I’m not asking you to become a one-stop shop, but try to put yourself in your client’s shoes. What do they need? Many times, it’s more than what you’re offering.
5. Follow Up
I’m amazed by how many designers miss this important part of the marketing process. You’ve done all of the work to get the sale, to design something amazing, and to make money, but then you forget about follow-up.
A customer is your greatest asset. Not only are they a perfect feedback mechanism, but they also make great returning customers.
Do you keep your clients on an email list? If not, how are you going to let them know that you’re offering a sale or a new service?
Sometimes, they might contact you for a quick favor, or a question about their site. I believe that it’s important you respond quickly and with an offer to help. Believe it or not, good designers are tough to come by, and people love to hold on to the good ones.
Simply offering help, post-sale, is a great way to build a referral marketing funnel. If you keep them happy, they might tell a friend, or several. Heck, they might even blog about you.
In my experience, referrals not only make the best customers, but are the easiest to obtain.
Simple Strategies Work
You don’t have to become a marketing freak, but using a few techniques from that Marketing 101 class can come in handy, especially when times are tough. Instead of looking for more ways to cut rates and reduce costs, look for more ways to provide value and differentiate yourself from the competition.
This is how you build a reputation and become an asset to the community rather than someone just groveling for clients.
If you don’t value your own work, then who will?