I remember being on the phone with a client that would be my biggest paying customer yet.
It hadn’t been that long since I was first able to get “Hello world!” to show up on my web browser from an HTML tag in a text editor.
But, here I was talking with an agency from San Francisco looking to outsource some work.
The words came out of my mouth with a tiny little quiver and that “yelp” sound you hear from boys who just started going through puberty.
“For projects like that, I start at $4500.” I told the person on the phone hoping and praying I hadn’t gone too high.
“Sounds good! Let’s get started right away.”
I hung up in disbelief.
The payment I would get from this project would be the most money I’d made per hour…in my whole life!
At the time it took me about 40 hours to finish a website. So, divide $4500 by 40 and you’ve got $112.50 per hour. And, listen, I typically don’t like advocating for hourly rates.
But, this is more money than I’d ever thought I would make for an hour of my time.
I’ve since gone on to raise my rates again. But, this was a monumental moment. It was a moment I realized that I could make a good living on freelance web design.
It was a moment I realized I was going to be able to put away money for retirement and help pay for my kid’s college.
This was a moment that I realized my life had changed by learning how to build WordPress websites for clients.
The road to get there wasn’t always easy but it was probably a lot less tumultuous than you might think.
There were a few key things I did to make sure I could charge good rates for WordPress websites as a freelancer.
Every Journey Starts with a Small Step
For my first WordPress website, I got a $100 gift card. It was more than I had asked for, actually. I was just trying to get 1, JUST 1, website to my name to start showing other people I could actually do this stuff.
So, I didn’t ask for anything and they graciously decided to give me something anyway.
Then, for the next 4 websites, I averaged about $850 each.
The point in all of this is you have to start somewhere. You can’t come out of the gate expecting to make $10k per site.
It takes a while to build a good business. Brad Hussey, says “Good business is like good bar-b-que. The longer it takes to cook the better it tastes.”
If you want to make it for the long haul you have to be prepared to lay a good foundation for your freelancing web design business.
And, in the beginning, that means doing more than what you’re actually getting paid for.
The money I made in those early days was less per hour than what I could make working at Starbucks. But, I knew in the long run it would pay off.
It will for you too. Don’t get frustrated at not getting what you’re worth right away. It’s honestly good for you to work out your kinks as a freelance web designer without getting paid to much.
So, start with people you know. Ask your family or friends if they have a website they need built and tell them you’ll give them a good deal just because you like them 😉
Double Your Rates After Every Project
My theory was this: if I was working on a project and someone else approached me about a new project I would quote them double what I was making on my current project.
After all, I didn’t need the work right away. So, if they said no it wasn’t a big deal.
And, I knew I could get paid at least the same amount as I was getting for my current project on my next one.
So, it wasn’t a big risk to ask for double. And, the cool thing was people kept saying yes!
So, I kept doing it!
Eventually, it capped off. Potential clients started saying no a lot more times than they said yes.
When that happens your gut reaction is to lower your prices again. And, to be honest, that’s what I did…a tiny bit.
BUT, a better response I would learn later is not to drop your prices BUT to figure out how you can add more value.
Adding More Value to Your Clients
It’s pretty simple. If a client feels like they are getting more FROM you than they are GIVING to you, they will most likely hire you.
There are two ways to add more value to the clients you build WordPress websites for:
- Communicating your value better
- Increasing the value you actually add
If you can’t communicate the value you’re actually adding to a client than it doesn’t matter how much you’re ACTUALLY adding. It’s going to be tough to get projects from anyone.
You might be the best WordPress freelancer who’s ever existed. If you’re unable to convince anyone of that then good luck.
This is the problem of a lot of web design freelancers I talk to.
One of the keys to my success early on was being able to tie what I was doing back to the client’s success. That’s not as simple as you might think.
Not every client will be motivated by money. Then again, that’s all some clients will care about.
But, the only way you know that is by asking.
So, start out each project with a fact-finding session. Ask them questions like:
- What does success look like for this website redesign or first-time build?
- If your website could only do one thing for you what would it be?
You’re trying to get to the heart of the matter.
Then, once you have a good idea of what they’re truly hoping to get out of the project think about ways you can connect the dots for them with what you do.
For instance, if you have a client that is hoping to make more sales from a redesign, tell them how research has shown that people are more likely to purchase from sites that are more aesthetically pleasing.
Then highlight your design skills.
Once you’ve learned to communicate your value it’s time to start thinking about ADDING more value.
How you do this will depend a lot on your preference but here are a few ideas.
- Add branding and messaging along with your full package.
- Focus on optimizing their SEO
- Dig into conversion rate optimization (CRO) a little bit more and track google analytic goals to see how well their site is performing.
- Add security or site speed features with a paid plugin
There are a number of things that you could do to add value that are relatively easy to implement.
You don’t necessarily have to go and learn an entirely new skill. But, you do have to think in terms of adding more to the overall package of what you do.
Give Your Clients a “Wow” Moment
In the book “Switch”, Dan & Chip Heath explain that if you really want to leave a lasting impression on a customer, you have to do something unexpected.
None of us are floored when we go to McDonald’s order a burger, pay for it and get one 3 minutes later. That’s what should happen.
You don’t walk away raving about how you got exactly what you ordered.
And, you’re definitely not texting your friends encouraging them to go to that same McDonald’s to have their very low expectations met as well.
The same is true for the freelance WordPress clients you serve.
Doing what you said you would for the price you asked within the time frame you agreed ARE THE BASICS.
If you want to have clients that can’t stop talking about what you did for them then you have to do something unexpected.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to work an extra 40 hours on the project. It could be as simple as sending them a thank you note.
I once did that for a client. 3 days later he called me and told me he had been doing business for 15 years and had never once gotten a thank you card from anyone.
The next thing he said? I’ve got another job for you.
What can you do to create an unexpected “wow” moment for your clients?
Do you send them a bottle of whiskey on the day they launch their site?
What about adding a feature they didn’t ask for and not charging them?
Listen, I know there are tons of people out there that will almost militantly tell you NOT DO ANYTHING FOR FREE.
I don’t know. To me, that’s not good business. I don’t like the idea of everything being so transactional. And, if I’m the one that has to suffer a bit at the end of it, so be it.
And, in all the years I’ve been freelancing as a web designer I’ve never lacked for business. So, I can’t imagine I’m doing something wrong.
So, why not go the extra mile and doing something above and beyond for your client? It’ll come back to you eventually.
It takes time to go from making $500 per WordPress website to $4500. But, it’s doable. And, probably more doable than you imagined it to be.
The first step is starting where everyone else does: at the bottom of the food chain. Don’t be afraid to build websites for less money than you hope to make one day.
You won’t stay there forever but you have to start somewhere.
Then, once you get more momentum, start doubling your rates after every project you get. The worse that could happen is you keep getting paid the rate you’ve already proved you can get from your last project.
If you don’t find yourself inching up in pricing as you’d like, it’s time to start adding value to what you’re doing. You do this by what you have to offer and by how you communicate.
And, lastly, leave your customers floored by the unexpected things you do to go above and beyond.
It’s not rocket science and it certainly isn’t impossible. If you find yourself getting stuck at a price point, keep trying out different methods.
Make slight adjustments here and there until you figure it out.
Trust me, if I can do it, you can too.
Now, get out there and sell a website for a higher price than you’ve ever asked for before.