Crafted by John Mac

5 Steps on How to Start a Web Design Project as a Beginner

John Mac - Web Designer
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Making a website in 2020 is easy, and fast. It’s also not hard to get paid for making that website. As a new freelancer you may know how to use Divi or Oxygen and make websites, but how do you go about starting a job for a new client? I will share my typical workflow on how to start a client Web Design project and the tools I use.

Making a website in 2020 is easy, and fast. It’s also not hard to get paid for making that website. As a new freelancer you may know how to use Divi or Oxygen and make websites, but how do you go about starting a job for a new client? I will share my typical workflow on how to start a Web Design project and the tools I use.

Making the website is the easy part – Improve workflow

Making extra money, or even full-time income as a Web Designer is not difficult. It’s not really about using WordPress, the super-fast and productive Divi builder, or the more advanced Oxygen builder either. I find that my students learn this quite quickly, and begin to have fun building pages for their own hobbies, businesses, or the best option, get well paid from clients. 

So how do you become a productive Web Designer and start off a project for a client you never met? How do you start a web design project in the right order?

These are the questions I have been receiving most often.

It’s more about asking yourself how to create a good Web Design workflow and follow a template. A step-by-step workflow will allow your clients to view you as confident and professional. Your client will begin to respect you and they will feel a lot more secure working with you and then paying you for your hard work. 

Your clients like that you know your shit. So also focus on consulting them. 

I believe I know a few things about this topic. Because as a Web Designer and online consultant in web and productivity tools, the gift from the Universe has been that clients keep coming back again and again. Also, they refer new clients to me as well. 

If you want to have more work and new projects coming your way without promoting yourself or any marketing, being a good adviser and solutions expert for your clients will make them want to come back AND refer you to their friends and professional network.

To start with the most important segment, let me help you get going on how to start a web design project for a customer.

1. Get an overview of what they already have

The first thing I do is to have a down to earth conversation about their business. Be interested in what they do, so they see you’re excited to work with them. For me, as they talk, I’m getting pictures and solutions coming up in my head. 

Start talking about what they have today. Because you need to get your mind’s eye overview of what they have, are missing, should have, or don’t need to have. To do that, I may ask one or more of the following questions. 

  • So what is your business about and how are things going? 
  • Do you have a domain and a website?
  • Where is your domain hosted and how much do you pay?
  • What is your website built on (WordPress, or other. If they have any)
  • Are you happy with what you have today, does it work as expected?
  • Do you have any regular fees for the maintenance of your website now? 

Then we move on to figure out what they actually need. Some clients have no damn clue what they want, so you need to hold their hands and take care of them. I have even worked with clients that are intimidated and a little scared to put up a website and be “out there” on the web. 

In those cases, it’s your job as a consultant (in this moment) to simplify, make them see how easy this can be, and to make them feel safe in the process. 

Since you have already talked about their business, you know a little more about what type of website this will be and what technical setup they would need. 

2. Get an overview of what they need

Then I ask the following questions to know more about what they want with their website. What do they picture in their mind? I may go on asking some of these questions in that regard:

  • Do you have any specific design in mind for your website?
  • What websites have you seen that you really like? 
  • What are the technical functions that you think you need? (Like photo galleries, video content, registration forms, shopping cart, membership signups and logins, and so on)
  • How many pages of content do you need? 
  • Could you send me some links to some websites you like?

The last question can, for some clients, be confusing because often they don’t even know what they need. They just know they need a website and that it’s going to serve a purpose. You need to guide them along the way. And don’t oversell, or try to stuff in as much shit and functionality as you can just to bump up the price. 

Clients have friends too. Sooner or later someone with a little insight into getting a website will report back to your client if they paid you way too much, and you’ll never hear from them again. They will also speak a foul language and curse you and your dirty business.

Bad practice.

5 Steps on How to Start a Web Design Project as a Beginner 1

A client that is a blogger doesn’t need much fancy stuff. It’s more about making sure the website looks good, that you create an easy to read blog post templates, suggest e-mail sign-up solutions, and so on. All of this is easy to do using Divi and the new template builder. 

A blogger would also only need a contact form, e-mail optin forms which you advise on by recommending ConvertKit or MailerLite to them. It’s easy to create forms in both of those email services.

For my part, I use ConvertBox for all my websites. They integrate with both ConvertKit, MailerLite, and many others. 

A more advanced web design client would maybe require a shopping cart, photo galleries, booking forms, setup of Custom Post Types in WordPress, and to create a membership platform using Wishlist Member or plugins like Ultimate Member.

3. Now talk about pricing and how you will charge them

So you have been talking about the two main segments so far; 

  • What they already have online now (website, email accounts, general business tools)
  • What they will need you to create for them. 

So you should now have an overview of the work to be done on this Web Design project. It’s time to move into talking about pricing. 

If you’re unsure about any of these segments, or especially pricing, sign up for my free Web Design Blueprint to download my guide and join the tribe. You may find answers to some of your questions. You’ll also get more tips straight to your inbox so you can read on the go. 

When I start to talk to clients about the pricing, I like to first measure their expectations of cost. I don’t ask them how much they can afford. I also don’t stand there with the hat in my hand, asking nicely and begging for them to accept what I’m about to offer. 

Be confident and clear about your price and let them decide. But first, I may ask the following questions: 

  • Okay, so how much do you picture getting your new website up and all the tech-work around it, to cost? 
  • How much is good for you to invest in looking good online, and how important is this to you?
  • Are you simply looking for a cheap solution here? Or do you want things to look good, have good functionality, or become something you and your business can grow on?
  • (If they have an old website) How much did you pay for what you have today?

So with these questions, I’m trying to figure out in what landscape their minds are in when it comes to spending Illuminati Notes with the all-seeing eye. (cash)

Because you as a beginner will most likely sell yourself too cheap. So if you dominate this conversation and simply blurp out something like:

“Okay so I think that I maybe would need to have $800 for this job if that’s okay.”

And in the next moment your client will say something like;

“Oh, okay, well that’s great! I was expecting something like $3000 for this job.”

In which you will sit there like a fuck-face feeling like what I just said, cursing in the back of your mind because you just lost $2200 in this damn job.

So make sure you figure out the price range the clients EXPECT before you share any insights on that. If clients start to ask you about pricing, I may be handing over the following comments. 

  • To give you a price I need to know the full picture of your goals for the website. Let’s look at this first. 
  • Pricing depends on what you need, how specific you are on any custom design for your website, and how technical your setup will be. 
  • The price will depend on how simple or premium you want your website to be
  • Pricing depends on how much work you want me to do for you (domain register, installing WP, create/re-create all pages/ adding content for them, and so on) 

Sure, you’re not giving the client a hint with these comments. It’s more about owning the conversation and the price you are about to give them. 

My freelance and digital-nomad students in my course get more insights and a ready-made template to super-fast estimate prices on this topic. 

Whatever price you come up with is based on a few factors. First, the amount of work that you will do on this job. Second, the level of experience and confidence accumulated so far.

4. I don’t scare my clients away by using “Contracts”

Let’s move on. You have by now had a detailed conversation and planning session with the person or business you are making a website for, and the price has been established. 

Here’s the next thing I tell them before we part:

“Sweet, so let’s get your new website online. I will spend some time looking over the links you’ll be sending me for websites that you like (if that was agreed on). And I’ll prepare my workflow to set things up for you as we talked about.”

Next: 

“I’m also not as dramatic with invoicing as other freelances. So I’ll shoot out a PDF invoice of 50% in advance to you, and not 70% as many others do. And of course, if you see that you want to add more functions and expand your website during our work, we can just add that to the last invoice”

“So later today (or tomorrow) I’ll send you a short, sum-up email on what we talked about today with a list of what I will do for you.”

You’ll notice here that I don’t even mention the word or the concept of “Contract.” I don’t like it. It’s a shit-load of detailed work, and it simply scares clients off. I know many other freelancers and web agencies do several pages long contracts. But I don’t.

I have had two clients who backed out if I where to send them any advanced contracts. One client in Germany told me on his e-mail response once: “If you’re going to complicate this with a long-form contract, I’m not going to work with you.”

I sent him a short sum-up email with a cute bullet list. He was happy and paid right away. 

My contract or “deal” is the sum-up email that I will be sending my client after the meeting or call. It consists of 2-3 short paragraphs sum-up + a bullet point list of the work to be done. And where I simply state at the end of that email, two important notes: 

  • Any changes to this work or detailed list will change the price of the job
  • An invoice of 50% of the quote we agreed on will be sent in advance. 

Based on your “feeling” of the client, you could also state that “the work will begin as soon as the advance payment has been received”. Usually, I don’t mention this, as I think it’s obvious. But some clients are not that smart, and you have to tell them. Also, I easily read my clients’ type of person, so if they seem like a smart-ass or sketchy, I’m making sure to tell them to pay 50% upfront. 

Normally, when the job starts, the client will be getting two e-mails from me: 

  • The sum-up e-mail with bullet points as the deal for the work to be done
  • The automatic email sent from my invoicing system.

This is all that it takes to start a job for a client. 

5. Tools I use in the planning and setup of each job

Tools are important. And there are thousands of apps, services, and tools to use. In my work, I’m very picky about what tools, systems, and services I spend time on and pay for. 

I need my apps and tools to look good, feel good to use, and make me feel that I have a good overview and productivity while working with them. 

Tools for client meetings and project planning

Very often I do my client meetings as calls online. Because most of my clients are remote somewhere around the world. Here are the tools I use in the order of usage. 

  • Calendly to have the client pick the best time for our call
  • Zoom for the video meeting (record the calls to get all details)
  • Some note-taking app. Right now I use Noto on Mac
  • Brave browser to look at websites or keep my CMS open
  • Plutio to set up and keep track of the client project. 

Calendly is sexy and effective. Because timezone can be a headache at times, I don’t have to think about it with Calendly. Also, I have connected that calendar with Zoom. So a call will be automatically scheduled and send the client an email with the Zoom link to click at the time of our call.

Calendly also automatically adds that appointment to my calendar. 

I’m using Zoom to do my online meetings. Then I can record the calls so that I can stay focused on the client instead of sitting with my face in a notebook trying to scribble everything we talk about.

I DO take some keyboard notes along the way though. Notify your client you are making some notes because its important for your work. They like seeing you are organized as well. 

For notes, I’m using the Noto app on Mac these days. You can use Evernote or any other note-taking app for Mac or Windows.

Brave is the browser of my choice because I don’t like tracking. Chrome is fine, but Google and other snoopers are too interested in what I do online. So consider Brave. It’s built on Chrome anyway, but without the tracking and shit.

I use Plutio to keep track of my work. I think it’s close to being the best project management tool for freelancers right now, as they give you a lot of functionality and it looks good. 

But you can consider Basecamp’s new free option that they launched not so long ago. You can also take a look at my resources page to see what other tools and services you find useful. 

Or this article about some of the best project management tools for freelancers.

Keep things simple and elegant with the client

As the work begins and there will be communication with the client, keep things lightweight, simple, and elegant as much as you can along the way. 

Don’t bother the client with more emails than necessary. Be short in the emails and responses you’re writing, and try to be as self-sufficient as possible. As long as you’re able to get the work done and you get the content you need from your client. 

In my Web Design Side Hustle course and in my book, I tell my students that “the client is not always right.” That’s an old myth. I go pretty far to be the Alpha Male in the client relationship, but not in a rude way. 

I’m simply firm, direct, clear, and sharp on my requests, advice, and how we’ll move on. If you start out being a monkey-face people (client) pleaser, you will lose. And the project may and up to be a nightmare. 

Stick to the original plan with the details outlined. If the client suddenly makes changes or say that they want to do things differently, you have to be strict and say that “there’s not much room for you to make changes outside of our original plan unless you want me to add work-hours to the last invoice.” 

If things start to move too much outside of the main plan, you will have to tell the client that you will first focus on getting the main project completed, send the last invoice. Then you can move on with a new segment of the project. 

Okay, so I think that’s it for now. You have enough of a framework to get started. Of course, client work and projects can be very dynamic, so you never know what will happen. I have had weird crap unfold with just a few clients around the world. But it’s rare. Anyway, you are the boss of your services, so I don’t take any shit. (unless you screw up)

If you want to see HOW I work and how you can start building a good income creating websites, consider my book “The Web Design Side Hustle.” If you want ready-made templates, word-for-word scripts on what to say to clients, and real example client emails I have been sending out, purchase my course and get serious. 

The investment you make in my training is ridiculously small compared to the payment you’ll get from a solid website project. 

Stay well. 

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Hello, I'm John Mac

John Mac

Mindset and Life Performance Coach. Specialized WordPress Web Designer for Divi and Oxygen + Shopify Partner & Expert.

How to live a laptop lifestyle