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Thread: What is the state of web design biz going forward?

  1. #11
    hello world Array Harold Mansfield's Avatar
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    I see it the exact same way as VG. I've decided to do pretty much the same. Get out of services and into developing my own products and marketing them for me. I'm not shutting down, at the moment I'm doing both, but eventually joining to create a larger agency or working in house doesn't appeal to me.

    I love working one on one with clients, especially when it all comes together and they are amazed what a little effort and concentration on the basics can do for them. At my root I've been in customer service for my entire life, but as VG said, at this level what people expect vs. what they are willing to pay or do to get it isn't worth it anymore. I end up giving people far more service and knowledge than they realize, and at that point I'm not helping myself make more money, nor am I teaching them reality.

    As VG said, that will drive most freelancers out of the business, and there will be nothing left except cheap overseas freelancers that just fill in templates, or large companies that will charge you a la carte for everything.

    You just can't mass produce good marketing, and I can't compete with "get started for $1" promises.
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  2. #12
    Discount Prodigy Array Owen's Avatar
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    The market is still there, especially if you go local. A lot of my clients have tried SquareSpace in the past and were either too lazy to learn or couldn't figure it out because it was too 'advanced'

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    hello world Array Harold Mansfield's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Owen View Post
    The market is still there, especially if you go local. A lot of my clients have tried SquareSpace in the past and were either too lazy to learn or couldn't figure it out because it was too 'advanced'
    It is definitely still there. For me, I've just decided that more opportunity for me lies in developing my own products. It's really where I always wanted to go anyway. The experience from this has been invaluable though, and I hope that I can take new experiences to offer better services down the line to a higher (paying) clientele of businesses.

    Like VG, I was never a $10k per website kind of service. I've just outgrown the rates that the market will bear at this stage.
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    Discount Prodigy Array Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold Mansfield View Post
    It is definitely still there. For me, I've just decided that more opportunity for me lies in developing my own products. It's really where I always wanted to go anyway. The experience from this has been invaluable though, and I hope that I can take new experiences to offer better services down the line to a higher (paying) clientele of businesses.
    What type of products?

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    hello world Array Harold Mansfield's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Owen View Post
    What type of products?
    Not ready to say yet. Still in development. Obviously one is an app.
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    Post Impressionist Array vangogh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Owen
    A lot of my clients have tried SquareSpace in the past and were either too lazy to learn or couldn't figure it out because it was too 'advanced'
    The thing is those same people see what SqaureSpace charges and expect you'll charge the same. Squarespace is hosting company. They make money through scale. A freelance designer/developer doesn't have the means to work at that same scale so we offer additional things to justify a higher price. I've helped clients with their marketing. I've helped clients develop business models. I've helped clients with the security of their sites. I've helped them set up email on their home computers. These aren't things the DIY sites offer.

    The thing is to most of the people who had been hiring freelancers, their top priority is the price. I understand that. I'm a one person business and I often have to figure out ways to cut corners to save a few dollars. Not always, but sometimes. Most people don't understand the value of design. The best designs go unnoticed as if they were inevitable, but it took someone or several someones a lot of time and effort to come up with that inevitability. Unfortunately the people paying don't see that and wonder why something costs as much as it did. I don't blame those people. It's not easy to see or understand sometimes.

    Given the priority on price people are quicker to pay a DIY site $10-$20 a month over hiring a freelancer for more. If you're a freelancer now, you're best bet is either to learn some of these services and figure out how to work with them and how you can help people with their Squarespace or Wix or Wordpress.com site at a much lower rate that you've been charging. Or you'll need to find a way to offer something no one else can offer. That might mean additional services or it might mean designing sites that are so beautiful and unique that the design stands out in a way that people can see the work that went into it.

    I just don't see the typical client most of us have worked with choosing a freelancer as much as they once did. They'll go the less expensive route, which will be fine for most people. If their businesses grow, they'll start to bump up against the limits of the DIY services and want to hire someone to take their site to the next level. At that point they'll likely be making enough money and I expect they'll call an agency before a freelancer working at home. A business that grows larger enough and gets design will probably prefer to hire an in-house design team.

    The market for design/development services is changing in a way that I think is going to push most freelancers out. Sucks for freelancer designer/developers, but the people who used to hire us will be fine. They'll get what they absolutely need at a price more to their liking. They'll ultimately get less than what we were giving them, but most won't care or need it. Those of us who have been serving clients will do better to become more entrepreneurial, develop our own products to sell, and use the skills we've gained over the years in designing, developing, and marketing websites for ourselves instead of selling the services to clients.
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    Member Needs New Keyboard Array Freelancier's Avatar
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    I'm not sure what you consider big bucks. Is a few hundred bug bucks? A few thousand? I can only tell you that what clients were willing to pay was far less than I needed to make a living.
    That's part of the equation. The other part is that selling a new client is high cost; selling that same client something more is very low cost (because you've already acquired the client). Following from that, it means that repeat work is where the best profits really lie. But with most web design clients, changing the look of the site is a once-every-three-years thing, so that means you're stuck having to sell new clients all the time instead of once in a while.

    In my consulting business, we add maybe 1-2 new clients a year (last year was two, this year so far, just one), the rest of our income comes from repeat business from existing clients. That's a conscious business choice for how we positioned our services and the messages we push to our clients. I just can't see how that works in web design; content production provides a way to do that, though. But even complex content, like video production, my wife had some done by outsourcing it to Pakistan with a guy in Guam doing the voice work.

    Bottom line: if it's not mission critical to the client and doesn't cost them much, it can be outsourced halfway around the world. Pick a niche where that's going to be difficult.
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    hello world Array Harold Mansfield's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Freelancier View Post
    That's part of the equation. The other part is that selling a new client is high cost; selling that same client something more is very low cost (because you've already acquired the client). Following from that, it means that repeat work is where the best profits really lie. But with most web design clients, changing the look of the site is a once-every-three-years thing, so that means you're stuck having to sell new clients all the time instead of once in a while.

    In my consulting business, we add maybe 1-2 new clients a year (last year was two, this year so far, just one), the rest of our income comes from repeat business from existing clients. That's a conscious business choice for how we positioned our services and the messages we push to our clients. I just can't see how that works in web design...
    It doesn't. That's why continuing support services, and offering other things that they need are important. The real problem is that most clients look at everything as a one off transaction, and expect it to last forever. They need some SEO help, so they want you to do a few things, push that button, turn that knob, and then that's all they are going to do. Ever.

    It's common for someone to tell me they want to do what someone else is doing. "These guys are all over the web. How do I do that?". And then you reverse engineer and tell them how they are doing it, and it's too much for them and they give up and start saying how "the web doesn't work".

    I've tried every way I know to get people to understand that it's a marathon, not a sprint but it's futile. They don't want to spend to do it all, but don't see the value in taking baby steps and getting one thing done at a time either. They want it all, they want it cheap and they want it to work by the end of the week.

    It's not everyone of course, but it's more prevalent at the start up and small business level because they are the ones who are more prone to believe that it's supposed to be cheap and easy, which is our point. If that's your market, it's a tougher grind for less money. So you have to determine if it's worth it and that you're going to double down and commit, or use your skills for your own projects.

    I've worked with people lately where I've not only built the website, but consulted and created everything from a start up social media strategy, to helping them with the sales process, to advising them on how to best use their billboards. All for the same price as just building a website. Because like I stated, I can't do my job of communicating their message and story, when they don't have one. So I have to build them one to even get started, which they expect to be included because that's what the TV is telling them.

    So is the answer market your services as all inclusive? I thought so. But it seems the word "marketing" turns small business people off. They act as if it's an abstract experimental idea that's only for corporations and doesn't apply to them. They think they already have that covered since they have a logo and some business cards. That marketing is a cool slogan, and if it's cool enough it will go "viral". If it doesn't go viral then you don't know what you're doing.

    Those ads are selling people a bill of goods, while killing the alternative professionals that can actually deliver. It's a double edged sword and the people with the huge marketing budgets are going to win the messaging battle and turn everything generic.

    If you think every website is the same now, wait a few years.
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  10. #19
    Member Needs New Keyboard Array Brian Altenhofel's Avatar
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    I've never done much design - always development. Seven years ago the templates that were generally available were mediocre and never took into account UX. During that time, I would always recommend hiring a designer to do a custom job.

    Now you can get Bootstrap themes that have excellent UX and a good level of branding customization for relatively cheap. That's usually what I recommend people to do if they need more than just a presence, but not a truly custom experience. If they just need a presence (brochure site), I direct them to Wix or Squarespace and recommend a few people that I know are good at customizing those. Some that are in between I either send to 99designs or work with 99designs on their behalf.

    I used to do a lot of general e-commerce work, but I don't anymore. I refer those folks to BigCommerce or other similar services (especially if there is one that already serves their niche). The ones that I do still take on as clients are those that are moving enough product online that they need to tie in with their vendors, inventory control systems, accounting systems, ERPs, CRMs, etc. and automate as much of the process as possible.

    Most of the development work I do now is emulating a business' processes. That's because the solutions I mentioned above are generic and require businesses to conform to the processes the service has built. As a business grows, they learn what they need to do better for their business, and if their website/app is a revenue driver it needs to conform to their processes. The website/app should not limit the business. Quite often I'm called because a business needs a certain process in place to comply with insurance or regulatory obligations that their business has.

    I've shifted more into support work, but that is mostly automated and has become a mostly passive revenue source. For example, Drupal requires regular updates to be applied, as well as any libraries that a site is using. With good automated test coverage (including UX testing), 100+ sites can have updates applied, tested, and deployed within minutes of an update being released. Clients will pay for that because it saves them a ton of money versus paying someone hourly to download the update, apply it to a test version of the site, re-apply any custom patches that weren't included in the update, manually make sure nothing broke, and deploy. The only time I have to intervene is if a test fails or an update does something that is known to likely cause an issue. That's why I can do service level agreements that require updates to be applied (even with manual intervention) within a few hours of release.

    I've also shifted much more into operations management (mostly managed hosting). This is an area that can also be automated and generates passive income.

    Quote Originally Posted by Freelancier View Post
    I also don't see it with Wordpress or Drupal.
    Drupal for brochure and simple e-commerce sites? Definitely not. Drupal for sites with a lot of custom processes? Definitely.

    Several of my development clients are using Drupal only for what it does best: data access and management. The customer facing interface may be a mobile or JS app, but the backend is Drupal. Another large subset uses it because they can provide copywriters with the ability to enter product information through an easy-to-use CMS interface (including building completely custom landing pages) while the system pulls product data from an inventory system, pricing from another system that provides prices based on B2C or different B2B levels, product listings from a search engine or recommendation engine, arrange shipments with carriers, etc. while the customer experiences what looks to them like a simple shopping cart system.
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    Discount Prodigy Array Owen's Avatar
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    There's a reason I'm trying to start a software company with the money I have made from Staples job (yeah I work there again, the internship ended) and the money from my consulting job. People really try to take advantage of you. I have two clients who are the parents of one of my best friends and they act like my service is too expensive. I don't even charge anything near as what other people do. I charge monthly for them ($50 per month none the less) and that includes a basic one page website and basic SEO. That's the issue with services like SquareSpace and Wordpress is that they can make it so cheap. Even with other clients I always have to explain why I have to charge more than they do. I have to put in around 5 - 20 hours of work for your one website. I also have other things I have to pay for including the servers I host your website on and everything else I use. Your WP.com site is a shared server running the same script over and over again. They do no work, you do the work yourself.

    The website management game is dying, I can see about 25% of the amount of freelancers currently on the market now in 5 years. It's the same way with everything for small companies. Want a logo? Fiverr exists or some logo maker website. Need a website managed? Well for an extra fee your web host will do it. The ONLY market that I could ever see still staying alive is backend development (PHP, Ruby on Rails, etc.) and that's of course if no one figures out how to make that a service too.

    I won't lie, I'm the same way. The product I'm working now is being developed by a company based in India. It's cheap, and for a startup with limited money I'm going to look for price over actual full on quality, ESPECIALLY for a small prototype or beta software. If I really care that much about the quality of the first version I'll seek an investment or somehow get more money. The logo is being developed by a friend of mine whom I'm not even paying, and my website is being hand crafted by me.

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