Web Design Business Tips From Michelle Martello

Yana Prokopets
June 10, 2015
Last updated: December 3, 2018
Michelle Martello has over 15 years of experience helping individuals, businesses, and government agencies succeed by creating dynamic, memorable and functional websites, online exhibits and interactive e-learning products.

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What’s a number one mistake that people make when deciding to open their web design business?


M.M.: The biggest mistake I see many designers make is thinking that the work “will just come to them” as soon as they put up a web site. It takes time to get known in an industry. Brand awareness requires ongoing networking and marketing. Spend time cultivating relationships with potential clients and vendors - these are the people that will support your business for the long term.

How true in your experience is the stereotype that most web designers are the creative types that lack the business acumen?

M.M.: What I’ve found through mentoring designers is that they tend to focus on the wrong facets of their business. They are worried more about their technical skills than about business planning and growth. And few designers really know their financial numbers - you have to know how money flows in and out of your business to create change. Get comfortable with the tough conversations - money, client relationships and what you truly want out of your business.

What’s your position on eLance, 99Designs and other ‘marketplaces’? Is it worth it?

M.M.: I’m not a fan of most of these sites. Many encourage spec work (creating work without promise of payment) and I find that there’s a disconnect in the perceived value of your skills. If someone pays $5 for a logo, why would they ever invest real funds on a website? And the work presented on some of these competition sites is often of questionable origin (I’ve seen many blatant copied designs). Do you really want your work and name featured in that type of environment?

Elance and Odesk are a slightly better option that the competition sites, but I advise designers to instead focus on building relationships with other designers, clients and vendors. One of the best sources of new work comes from other designers and agencies - they are the ones who will send you ongoing high-value work.

You’ve stated that one of the strategies that lead you to breaking six figures was to double your prices. A lot of times people feel very uncomfortable raising prices. How do you know it’s time to do that? What’s the smart way to raise your fees?

M.M.: I found that initially I was more comfortable raising my prices incrementally - so on each project I would gradually raise my rates by a few percentage points. I hit a tipping point a few years back wh ere I was overwhelmed with inquiries and that’s when I doubled my rates. The market will tell you what it will pay - and realize that you can always adjust your prices. Don’t feel stuck or bound by anyone else’s numbers. Rather than offer discounts, add value to your projects. I personally strive to establish high-value collaborative client relationships - this serves both you and the client in the long-term.

Many people never get outside ‘I just create websites’ or ‘I just do design’ thinking. What are some of the complimentary services that web developers and web designers should be offering to improve their bottom line?

There are so many avenues for designers and developer to expand their core business. Ideally designers should have several sources of income - reliance on one client or one type of income stream can limit growth potential. Think beyond website creation - here are a few examples:

Service Offerings
- strategic digital planning
- code review
- website reviews and content evaluations
- online course creation
- monthly website retainers (maintaining, updating and testing sites)
- online marketing retainers (creating and managing e-newsletters and other digital communications)
- technical training and education (either online or in-person workshops)

Passive income streams
- creating downloadable graphics and templates
- creating e-books
- creating online courses
- creating wordpress themes


What resources do you recommend to Bitrix24 users who want to get more advice on the business side of running a studio?

For more information on the business side of web design, please visit minimadesigns.com. And this September, I’m partnering with Marie Poulin to co-mentor Digitial Strategy School - a online course and mastermind program designed to take your business to the next level by transitioning from Designer to Digital Strategist.

Thank you for the interview.


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