I’ve tripled my income every year as a web designer, and I believe you can too.
You don’t need a fancy degree, startup budget, or to go into debt. All you really need is determination to become successful, dedication to learning the craft, and a heart for helping others.
Don’t get me wrong, you will still need to do the work, but I’m here to tell you that it is possible to triple your income every year and begin to make a good income for yourself as a web designer.
In this post, I’m going to share with you the key things I did during each year of my business and the secrets I used to triple my income every year.
Year One: Reinvest Everything
When I started Priceless Design I was a full-time student with no job, living off student loans. I bootstrapped my business from day one.
Bootstrapping is the act of getting oneself into or out of a situation using existing resources.
Priceless Design started out as a free blogspot site. I had very little extra cash and waited 6 months before even purchasing a domain. You can still see the original site in all it’s glory. Please excuse the awful drop shadows and kerning. This is just proof that we all started somewhere, right?
I started my business with a bang that summer by giving away 10 free blog makeovers. Most of these sites were for “in real life” friends, although a handful were for friends-of-friends. These sites for friends-of-friends were great because I got to start experimenting with customer service and working for relative strangers.
If you are having trouble building your portfolio, I highly recommend trying a giveaway strategy. Maybe you don’t need to give away 10 sites. Maybe 3 or 4 is right for you. Any way about it, giving away free designs in the beginning is a great way to build both your skill and your portfolio at the same time.
My first paying client was the sister of one of the free blog makeover participants. She paid me $50 for a complete blog makeover. It’s been all uphill from there!
Reinvest as much of your income back into your business as possible.
The best advice that I can give you for your first year is to reinvest as much of your income back into your business as possible. Things you might invest in are: a domain, hosting, online courses, and premium fonts or graphics.
Every single dollar I earned that first year was reinvested back into my business.
By the end of my first year, I was charging $100 for a blog makeover. After reinvesting everything back into the business (about $150) my net income for year one was $0.
Project Fee: $100 blog
Key Investments: Domain, Hosting, StudioPress Pro Pack, Blog Designer Workshop (no longer offered)
Year Two: Establish Yourself Online
During my second year, I took a step away from designing for friends and found my first online clients. Once again, I started by giving away a site. This time I did it more strategically.
I started searching blog communities for a medium sized blogger who had an active audience and clear need for a blog redesign. Once I identified a good candidate, I started commenting on her site and followed her on social media.
My plan was to offer her a free blog makeover in exchange for a blog post about the redesign process that included a giveaway for a gift certificate for my design services. It was a scary leap of faith for me to send that email, but she accepted right away!
That free blog design and subsequent review post led to my first paying online clients.
Off and on that year, I would do sponsored giveaways for gift certificates or smaller items like blog buttons. This helped my design business become known in the blog community and helped me build a social following.
One other crucial thing I did during year two was make designer friends online. The friendships that I made and groups that I joined helped me immensely as I worked on improving my web design and project management skills.
By the end of my second year, I tripled the cost of a blog makeover to $300 and started offering WordPress web design services for $700. I also finished graduate school and started a full-time job, which allowed me to reinvest some of my income back into the business.
I purchased developer licenses for tools that would allow me to better serve my clients like Backup Buddy and SlideDeck as well as more fonts and graphics. In addition, I drew a small salary to help our family financially.
Project Fee: $300 blog / $700 site
Income: about $2500
Key Investments: Backup Buddy, SlideDeck
Year Three: Find A Niche
My third year of business marked a turning point for me from beginner to intermediate web developer. It’s hard to describe exactly what happened, but I hit a point where all of the sudden CSS started to become a second language. I also became comfortable creating widgetized homepages for Genesis child themes.
This was the year that I fell into the niche of designing blogs for book reviewers and authors. At first you may not know which types of sites you like working with, but it is a very smart move to declare a niche by your second or third year in business. You’ll likely become known in the community and referrals will start coming more easily.
One author’s site led to the next. My waiting list kept growing and every time I added a client to the waitlist I raised my prices by a few hundred dollars: $700, $800, $1000, $1200 then $1500 by the end of the year. By December, I still had a long waiting list and took another scary leap. I raised my prices on January 1, 2014 to $2500 for an author web site.
In year three, I began to take my web design process seriously and invested in Basecamp as a project management tool. That $20 a month was very difficult for me to spend at first. However, I quickly realized that it’s probably the best $20 a month I invest in my business. Not only does Basecamp make me look more professional, it saves me loads of time which directly translates into making more money.
Between years two and three, I more than tripled my income making about $9000 that year. I did it not by taking on more clients but by slowly raising my prices over time, according to my skill and experience.
Project Fee: $1000 blog / $1500 site
Income: about $9000
Key Investments: Basecamp, Soliloquy, Design Life Project
Year Four: Refine Processes
Year four was my best year in business yet. Once again I tripled my income while still working a full-time job. I attribute my success to two key factors:
1. Rebranding and customizing the copy on my site to cater to my niche.
I rewrote the copy on my site to appeal to my ideal client. This makes it easier for my clients to find me in a generic Google search. It also makes them feel like they have arrived in the right place when my portfolio examples included their colleagues and sites similar to their needs.
Rewriting my service offerings to include everything my ideal client wants and needs creates an inherit level of trust in my expertise. By including everything in one package price, I don’t have to ‘nickel and dime’ my clients.
2. Perfecting my processes for client on-boarding and project management.
In year four I took my administrative processes seriously. I did a lot of research and experimentation with my web design processes until I discovered a workflow that would work well for me and my business.
Without perfecting my processes there is no way I could have taken on the number of clients I did during year four. I only had about 20 hours each week to run my business outside of my full-time job.
You can see my exact processes and get your own ready-to-customize version in my online course The Process Hack.
As I mentioned above, I started the year with a $2500 price point for a website and raised my prices to $3600 at the end of the year. I invested in a new laptop with a retina display, the Advanced Genesis WP course, Flywheel Hosting (read my review!), along with more fonts and graphics.
When all was said and done, I had tripled my income yet again making about $27,000 during year four. Not bad for 20 hours a week, doing something I love!
Project Fee: $2400 blog / $3600 site
Income: about $27,000
Key Investments: New Laptop, Advanced Genesis WP, Flywheel Hosting
How I’ve Tripled My Income Every Year As a Web Designer
So, what is my secret for tripling my income every year?
Perfecting my processes and regularly raising my prices.
I have doubled my prices every year (at minimum). Even though it can be scary, I continually remind myself that my skill and experience are increasing and my prices should follow suit.
Along with doubling my prices, I have also increased the value I offer to my clients by creating service packages that perfectly fit their needs. The investments I made in my business along the way have also added value. I can offer my clients premium plugins, tools, and fonts at no extra cost to them.
It seems like such a simple thing really. Double your prices and double your income. For me, the combination of doubling my prices and perfecting my process has actually tripled my income as I can get more done in the same amount of time.
To help you Plan Your Process, I’ve created a free online course that will help you create a winning web design workflow!
In the FREE Course + Starter Kit you’ll get access to:
- A Design Process Video Guide + Plan Your Process Worksheet
- My Complete Project Checklist
- Design Project Trello Board Template + Video Guide
- A Script Starter Pack (My 3 Most Frequently Used Email Scripts for Project Management)
Check out what Krista Rae had to say about Plan Your Process:
I honestly can’t believe Plan Your Process was free! I thought I had a good process down before taking this course, but my mind is spinning with different things I can improve. Everything from my onboarding and wrap-up process to installing plugins to organizing my own content just got so much easier. Thanks for the amazing course, Katie!
Now that you know my secrets, I’d like to challenge you. When was the last time you raised your prices? Might you go double your prices right now? What would be the worst thing that could happen?
It helped me to know that even if the number of clients I took on reduced by half I would still make the same amount of money as I had before. Luckily, that did not happen. I truly believe it won’t happen to you either so long as you can find that sweet spot between your skill and cost.
I would be willing to bet that a large portion of you out there could double your prices right now and the only impact it would have on your business would be more money in your pocket.
What do you think? Is anything holding you back? Let me know in the comments below.