Nine Things that Keep Freelance Web Designer’s Income Low

(Warning – this article can be overwhelming as it digs into many of the things you could be doing wrong and can leave you feeling overwhelmed. My advice: proceed with caution and realize that Rome wasn’t built in a day. At the end of the article, pick one area to focus on and go.)

It can be very stressful when you have to worry about having enough money to cover your basic needs such as rent, food, and clothing.

web designers need basic income levels to be happy

It can tax your energy. Feeling down about your work because you need to earn more can throw you into a tired state. This can cause you to work less on your existing clients and less on finding more work. Bad.

It can tax your health. When you’re stressed, your body secretes cortisol, a hormone that makes you feel crappy and causes faster aging. Eeps!

It scares away clients. Clients don’t want to hire worried, desperate, unhappy web designers. They want happy, excited, energetic web designers.

Ideally, your income levels cover your basic needs. And when it does, you can relax and focus more on serving clients and enjoying your work.

Here are nine possible culprits that are leading to your low income:

1. Poor client-getting skills.

If you’re not good finding new clients, or getting them to sign on the dotted line, then your business is going to go belly up fast.

Here are things you’ll need to do:

  • Continually reach out to new prospects in a way that gets attention
  • Build your credibility and trust with prospects so they see you as great
  • Get new prospects to talk with you about working together and signing your proposal

To improve your client-getting skills, first realize that getting clients is a LEARNABLE skill. It’s not some magic gift that “lucky” people are born with.

Take time to learn. Give yourself the space to learn and the patience to make mistakes as you develop your skill.

Get books, read articles, go practice, and find mentors to help you hone the skill.

2. Charging too little.

Most of us designer-types set sail on the freelance ocean because we “just want to do work we love.”

Some of us are good at design or coding, but not at negotiation or sales. As a result, we tend to default to charging a low rate – thinking clients will be more likely to hire us because we’re inexpensive.

But a low rate means we have to work a lot more to earn what we need to survive. It’s tiring.

Try raising your rates 5 or 10 percent. It’s like that you’ll find that you’ll continue to get the same amount of work.

If you lose one client here or there due to a higher fee, the other paid work you are getting will more than make up for it.

3. Not building value in the prospect’s eyes.

When you talk to possible new clients, their decision to hire you is based on the value THEY see you can bring them.

It’s not based on the value YOU think you can bring them unless you’ve keenly figured out exactly what THEY want. And most web designers haven’t a clue.

Instead, most freelance web designers overwhelm prospects with cool ideas, slick graphics, or technical stuff.

Clients often want things like fast completion time, more traffic, more sales, an easy-to-update website, and ongoing support.

You need to elicit from your prospects what they really want and show how your services accomplish those things.

4. Not following up properly.

As you go about your hunt for clients, you’ll need to keep possible clients in a system that follows up with them until those “possible” clients become “paying” clients.

This system needs to:

  • Give you easy access to “possibles”
  • Let clients know that you’re there and eager to help
  • Continually show them you’re an expert
  • Get your name across their eyes often
  • Continually invite them to talk to you about  helping them

Remember that at any one point in time, some clients are ready to buy and many are not.

Setup a time-efficient system, whatever works for you, that follows up effectively.

5. Not asking for referrals.

You’ve got skills that are needed out there. It’s your job to put those talents in places where they can be utilized.

When you’re done with a project or out and about networking, ask people if they can refer someone to you who needs your help.

Be sure to outline clearly what kinds of clients are good for you.

6. Going after clients with no money.

It might be cool to work with “mom and pop” type businesses, or exciting to work with start-ups, but bear in mind that many of them are tight on budgets.

It’s not that you can’t profit properly from these kinds of clients, but it could be easier to hone in on businesses that use the Web more and have more to invest.

For example, chiropractors are likely to earn more on average than massage therapists. Their sites may be similar, so a $1,500 website package for either of them is an easier investment for the chiropractor.

7. Competing on price.

NEVER try to sell a client on your low fees or “bargain prices.”

The problem with this is that there’s always a lower cost web designer and an even lower cost do-it-yourself site-builder tool out there.

When you say you’re a low cost provider, you’re opening yourself to be compared to other web designers on price. Like shopping for a used car – yuck!

Deep down clients don’t want “low cost” anyhow. They want great results at a budget they can afford.

Instead highlight some other value you can bring to prospects and do not set your fees dirt cheap.

8. Not selling more to your existing clients.

Do you realize how much work is involved in getting a NEW client?

It takes loads of hours to get them to discuss their situation, create a proposal, and get them to sign.

Add in the time for all the prospects that said no and we’re easily talking about ten to twenty hours or more for each new client.

Solution: Sell to past clients.

Past clients already trust you. So you don’t have to work hard to gain their trust. You also know their situation, so you can quickly devise new design projects to offer them.

Check in with past clients from time to time. You’ll often find they were just waiting for your call!

9. Letting “scope creep” creep in.

Scope creep is the extra work that pops up in the middle of a project that you do for free.

For example, a client might ask for more revisions or give you more surprise content to add to the website.

The scope (amount of work) of the project increases and the time to complete lengthens. This extra work “creeps” in so to speak.

Scope creep lowers your income because you spend more hours doing a project that could otherwise be spent on other projects or finding other projects that would lead to more income.

Two things to do to handle scope creep:

  1. Drawn clear lines at the beginning of the project. For example, state that there are only two design revisions permitted.
  2. Have the guts to bring up scope creep when it happens. When clients ask you to do work outside of the project outline, you need to point it out – in a nice way and either add a fee or save the added request for later.

In conclusion …

You don’t need to be super rich to enjoy your work and enjoy life. But you do need that base level of income to keep your everyday life needs covered. Take one idea you’ve found from reading this article and take action to implement it right now!

Let me ask you this …

Do you have any idea why your income might be low?

Have you figured out ways to boost your income? easily?

I’d love to know. Please reply below.


  1. A Recent Post on Keeping Web Designer Income Low | Get Web Design Clients · May 23, 2011 Reply

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  2. Daquan Wright · September 7, 2011 Reply

    9. Letting “scope creep” creep in.

    I think especially beginners, struggle with this and charging way too low. As an example, some charge $10 / hour or lower, when our skills are/should be highly valued when looking at other professions. They tend to go for any project and when you least expect it, can you “make the header red,” can you “add a slideshow,” can you “make the background spin at 45 degrees,” etc.

    I’ve recently made a contract and it’s at will, meaning we can stop the project if either party is unsatisfied. Because I care more about trust than grabbing moola. In reality, I think people just need to be more aggressive. If you were scared of breathing for oxygen, you’d die for a lack of it. You can’t be scared, you gotta come out fighting and prove yourself.

    Believe in the value you provide and prove it with past projects, then no one can dispute your skill and knowledge.

    I also find that low class clients will take advantage of unwitting designers and exploit them to get the most work possible.

    While companies/corps/medium sized businesses expect that quality = cost. As such, if they spot you charging $10 an hour, they are prone to thinking you’d be bad to do business with.

    MS or Apple would not take someone doing that, they’d expect someone to charge $100 or $150 / hour and for a few reasons: 1) You do work on time and 2) You do high quality work.

    Well, those are my thoughts.

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