With consumer expectations growing year after year, high quality web design and development services are in top demand. If you want to be the one to deliver those high-end results, then you’ll need to focus on playing to your strengths and be comfortable entrusting everything else to others. This article are my thoughts as a former freelancer and agency owner.
Like many of us, you’re probably so occupied by managing the day-to-day and maintaining the base of clients you currently have that you don’t have the time or resources to build your web design or development business out to the next level.
Why “no pain, no gain” has no place in web design
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from working as a freelancer and being an agency owner is that there are times when it just doesn’t make sense to take on a task or project that’s not a good fit.
I’ve seen developers struggle with marketing their business when they barely have enough time to complete their own workload. I’ve been there.
I’ve seen web designers hire on supplemental designers (such as video designers and animators), only to lose those new hires just as quickly as they got them because they couldn’t figure out how to use the extra help effectively leading to disenchanted workforce.
I’ve even seen administrative assistants given the responsibility of loading content into a CMS and, on top of that, being asked to optimise it for search despite a lack of training.
While I’ve seen this problem crop up with management of medium and large-sized businesses, I think it’s much more prevalent with small business owners and independent entrepreneurs. When you think about how much of your life (personally and professionally) is wrapped up in your business, it seems to make sense to think that by consolidating tasks, cutting corners, or just taking it all on yourself, you’ll save money and time.
Here’s the problem with that sort of thinking: it’s a dangerous and highly inefficient way to conduct business when you work in web design. No matter the size of our business, we rely on proven processes and techniques to ensure that what we create is always of the highest quality. Let’s face it, we are specialists, and diluting our offering by trying to do everything isn’t fair to our clients or ourselves.
My suggestion? Let more qualified people or tools tackle the “stuff” that forces you to slow down, lose productivity, and create something less than what your clients deserve. Sure, it’s scary to think about how much it will cost to outsource your accounting, your SEO, or anything else that isn’t in your wheelhouse. But think about how much momentum and overall quality of work you lose whenever you let that fear take over. I say: focus on what you do best, outsource the rest, and be happily surprised when you see how much your business soars as a result.
Follow your strengths
In a recent interview about the cost of doing business, Jeremy Goldman of the Firebrand Group argued that in order for business owners (or any entrepreneurs really) to succeed, they must be willing to accept when they’re not great at something.
Once you accept that you’re a bad fit for some tasks, you leave yourself more time to pursue the tasks you’re good at (or want to get better at). Outsourcing may result in additional costs upfront, but if you’re handing those tasks over to someone or something that can handle them more efficiently, I’d argue that you’ll save money in the long run. First, because the outsourced party will spend less time completing a task than it would have taken you. And second, because the investment frees you up to succeed at what you do, which, in turn, is where the real revenue-generating opportunities are.
The key to embracing this is through understanding your operations thoroughly, so you know what can be streamlined or outsourced. Start with an assessment of where your business currently is and where you want it to go. This will tell you exactly how you need to scale, and direct you toward the right forms of outsourcing and assistance.
Before you do anything else, assess your current business model.
- Outline your entire process, starting with customer acquisition and ending with the close of each project. Identify areas that can be consolidated, broken up, or removed altogether.
- Conduct a review of last year’s work. Identify trends that resulted in positive outcomes. For instance, did a certain workflow always lead to a good profit margin? Or perhaps you found that certain types of clients or projects always led to positive results for you (profit wise) and for your client (conversion wise)? If you don’t have any data, you can seek out previous customers’ opinions to identify what worked and what did not.
- Review your current pricing structure (if you have one). Determine if there are any particular areas of your operation that cost more money, or bring in less profit, than they should. Establish your ideal pipeline today. Figure out how many projects you can simultaneously work on, as well as how long each turnaround should be.
Then, answer the following questions regarding where you expect your business to be in five years:
- Will you offer the same services? More? Fewer? Different?
- Will you specialise in services for a specific industry?
- What will your role in the company be?
- How large do you expect your client base to be?
- How many employees would you like to have?
- How much will your services be worth?
Finally, make a list of what is needed to take you from where you are today to where you want to be in five years. If you’re unsure of what exactly you need, or if you want to make the process easier on yourself, keep reading.
Tools that allow you to focus on what you do best
Want to be more efficient? First things first then: take a closer look at the tasks that fall outside your skillset. These are the ones that distract from your primary goal and that consume too much of your valuable time. By saying “no” to those tasks and finding ways to offload them to someone else, you’ll find that the costs associated with them end up being negligible after a while.
The following recommendations are some of the more affordable, practical, and commonly outsourced and automated areas of web design I’ve been privy to. I’ve also included a number of tools you can use for each that will grow as your business does.
There’s no doubt that technology plays a big part in the scaling of a business. That being said, most automation still requires human supervision and maintenance. While you may not be ready to hire full-time staff at the moment (or even in the near future), you’ll want to start considering what team members you’ll need in order to reach your goals.
One of the best ways to scale your team is to employ freelance or contract workers. This enables you to:
- Pay only for the work you need.
- Offload some of your work for an affordable rate.
- Test out new team members without the commitment of hiring full-time.
- Expand your service offerings to clients on an as-needed basis.
- Freelance job sites like Freelancer.com, Upwork, Toptal, and Guru are always a good place to start. They cost a bit of money to use (in addition to freelancer costs), but I’m a fan of them since they offer a relatively low-risk way to test out new talent without the serious commitment of hiring.
- You’re most likely already familiar with Envato for its theme and plugin Market as well as for its Tuts+ tutorials, but did you know they also have a freelance hiring Studio?
- Twitter and LinkedIn have also proven to be good platforms for finding freelance talent (especially if you have a solid follower base).
This isn’t one of the more popular avenues I’ve seen web design companies pursue in terms of outsourcing, but I still think it’s one worth mentioning. If you think about it, there are a number of items competing for your attention on a regular basis:
- Your daily workload.
- Clients and prospects reaching out with questions and comments. Everything related to your employees or contractors (HR, productivity, process improvement, etc.).
- Finance management.
- Marketing your business and services.
- And more
So, when do you find time to turn your attention away from the “right here, right now” stuff and look toward finding new clients so you can expand your business and make more money? If your answer is “the weekend,” then something’s wrong. Every time you add more hours to your work week, you lose money and overall efficiency.
This is where recruiters come in handy. You find someone that’s reliable, that you trust, and then you outsource the task of finding more work to them. These experts are incredibly valuable business partners who know how to sniff out those right-fit clients without breaking a sweat, while leaving you to focus on your real work.
Word of mouth is a great way to get more business—especially if you have a niche or specialty. But referrals will only get you so far. You’ll eventually need to actively market your brand to prospective customers. With most of your time dedicated to the actual work that makes you money, how can you make time for cultivating relationships with potential clients?
At some point, you’ll be able to hire a marketing team to handle all these matters. In the meantime, you’ll need customer relationship management (CRM) software to tide you over. These tools typically offer a variety of marketing and sales functions, including:
- Lead collection and management.
- Sales opportunity tracking.
- Revenue pipeline predictions and planning.
- Contact reminders.
- Email templates.
Eventually, you’ll need to become more active on social media and invest in paid marketing opportunities. For now, though, get yourself a tool that will help you build relationships with prospects and customers.
- Insightly is a fairly easy-to-use CRM platform, as is ZohoCRM (see note about that below). Both of these also integrate with the Ninja Forms plugin, which makes syncing up WordPress website forms with your CRM easier.
- If you want a simpler solution that focuses more on collecting leads from newsletters or blog signups, I’d suggest either Constant Contact or MailChimp.
As a web designer or developer, you know that working with a reliable content management system can do wonders for your workflow. Then you get into a platform like WordPress, Squarespace, Drupal, or Perch Runway, and you recognize it’s the extensibility of these platforms that truly make them such valuable tools.
Using a CMS out of the box is a good start, but it’s not enough. Your business toolbox should include the most commonly used CMS tools, such as design templates as well as extensions. They were created to help users—novice, intermediate, and advanced—more easily and quickly build websites.
If you’re reading this, then you’re aware of this already. What you might not be doing, however, is taking advantage of the plethora of memberships available. By signing up for one of these, you get instant access to a wide range of high-performance tools that help you build better websites, and in less time.
- Considering that 27.3 percent of the world’s websites run on WordPress, you can start there. Some of the more popular WordPress memberships are offered by Elegant Themes, StudioPress, and WooThemes.
- WPMU DEV is also a good one to consider if you need high-performance plugins.
- I’d also suggest you look into CodeCanyon, if you haven’t already. While they’re not necessarily a membership site, having so many high-quality plugins in one place is an attractive and convenient option.
MANAGED HOSTING SERVICES
As a web developer, you may not be too excited when clients ask if you offer ongoing management or maintenance for their website. Yet, you might feel a little guilty in not offering these services, since you know there’s a good likelihood your clients won’t know about adding security, optimising speed, making backups, or keeping the core platform and tools up to date.
If you’re not comfortable with ongoing management of your client’s website, you can still offer it as an upgrade; only, you’ll hire an expert to manage it for you. Managed hosting providers do just that. This is a great way to upsell your clients and make a decent markup without increasing your workload.
If this is something you’d rather not get involved with just now, you can always work with a low-maintenance CMS like Squarespace that doesn’t require much in the way of ongoing management. Remember: this is your business. It’s up to you how you want to run it and what sort of services you want to offer.
Whatever you choose, be sure you’re working with the best provider for your needs (especially if you generally work in one CMS). They should offer a variety of packages based on business type and size, too, as this will enable you to scale your services as your needs grow.
- For WordPress, I’d suggest you take a look at Pagely or WPEngine.
- SiteGround offers both WordPress and Joomla managed hosting.
- AHosting and RoseHosting both have some of the more robust CMS managed hosting offerings I’ve seen, so give them a try if you want to provide more coverage options.
PROJECT MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE
Although it may not seem like something you need right now, a workflow and collaboration platform should be part of your business from the very start. As a business owner, you need to have a centralised hub where you can:
- Store documentation.
- Generate and save templates to streamline communication with clients, ensure consistency in project output and deliverables, and provide clear guidance to team members.
- Manage project workflows through a series of checklists.
- Gather files.
- Communicate with clients.
- Collaborate with team members.
- Track time spent on projects.
If your business is design-focused and QA-heavy, it’s ideal that you find a project management tool that includes wireframing and/or prototyping functionality.
- Basecamp is one of the more popular project management tools I’ve used, but its cost makes it a better choice for agencies.
- Asana is my personal favorite—something I use in my everyday work as well as personal scheduling. I’d suggest using this one for creating checklists, communicating with team members, and managing timelines.
- InVision is a good pick, especially because it includes prototyping, wireframing, and collaboration, which is essential to web design work.
How much time do you currently spend drawing up contracts, writing invoices, tracking payments, and managing your taxes? As your business grows, the amount of work you do to manage these administrative areas will increase, too. Rather than spend your time focusing on the numbers, use accounting software to take most of the guesswork out of it (especially until you have a need for a full-time accountant).
In addition, you can employ certain techniques that will help you get the tasks out of your head and into a systematised process and actionable checklist. I’d also suggest you take this assessment to determine whether you should even be handling any accounting tasks for your business in the first place. This may just be one of those responsibilities that make more sense in the hands of someone else.
- I’m a big fan of QuickBooks, not only because of how easy it is to use, but because it integrates with so many different programs and decreases the overall amount of work I need to do.
- Zoho is another great tool to check out. I like this one because you can manage your finances and invoices, and also use it as a customer relationship management tool.
- For anyone just starting out, I’d suggest giving Wave a try. It’s free to use and is a good platform to help you ease into finance management.
At the end of the day, you need to focus on what you do best. Time spent doing anything else is an unnecessary drain on you and your business.
If you’re looking to grow your business, it’s time to consider how you can most efficiently scale it. Review what you currently have. Then look to these tools to bring more order, control, and consistency to your operations.