Costs and Benefits of Being a Web Design Specialist

Most web designers start out as general practicing web designers. They will do any kind of work, graphical, technical, hosting, etc. for any kind of client, corporate clients, mom and pops, a friend’s site, and odd jobs found via online find-a-web-designer sites.

 This approach, seeking whatever kind of work you can find (or that shows up), is a very difficult way to grow your freelance web design business for five critical reasons.

 1. There are loads of competition

Most web designers are generalists with a laundry list of things they can do (and claim to be good at). Therefore, if you’re just another WordPress web designer like the rest, when possible clients are seeking a designer, you’ll be lumped into the pile with all the others.

 How will the client be able to pick you out as the obvious choice? 

 He won’t. And you don’t get the work because someone who does exactly what you do and does it cheaper.

 2. You won’t know where to go to “easily” find clients

As a generalist, your approach to finding clients will likely be general as well. You’ll probably attempt to post your link on job boards, try to add a lot of friends to Facebook, and if you’ve got the guts, you try and venture off to some local business networking meetings to drum up business.

 You’ll find that this approach results in so-so interest as these places don’t have clients who are “actively” seeking a web designers. These avenues are just places where some possible clients “could be.” Not a place where clients are hungry for a web designer.

 You’ll be trying a variety of things that will yield so-so results – and take a lot of time!

 3. Selling takes longer

When you find prospects who are interested in talking to you, it will take a lot of time for both you and the prospect to identify exactly what work needs to be done, a lot of time for you to determine what you’re willing to offer as a solution.

 You’ll also need a bit of time to gain tier trust as this prospect is probably someone who came out of the blue. You both don’t know each other well as there’s no prior common ground that you two can establish trust from.

 Getting to an agreement to work together will take a lot of time.

 4. Projects take longer

When you do find clients, you will require a lot of time to serve them as their situation will not likely be something you’ve dealt with before. In the huge universe of clients out there, each one has a unique business, unique set of challenges, unique set of skills, and unique set of goals.

 In order for you to help each client that comes your way, you’ll spend a lot of time learning about them and developing website services to fit them.

 Unless the client has deep pockets and you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, a longer time to complete projects means unhappier clients and a lower hourly rate.

 5. You lose to other specialists

As time goes on, web designers are finding their specialty and gaining position in those various markets.

 When a prospective client who is considering you runs across a web guy who already works with clients in a business like hers, you’ll quickly become a less desirable choice – AND, your likely option to deal with it would be to lower your rates. Not good.

Being general is a tough act.

A better approach is to focus your skills on a target market and become the obvious choice web designer in that market.

 When you do that, you get the following benefits: 

 The Benefits of a specialization

Find clients faster

When you’re specialized, you’ll know what kinds of clients you want and where these kinds of clients hangout. You’ll be able to get in a room full of them very easily. You’ll be able to find them online in a forum or blog. Loads of them.

 Costs less to market to them

For example, instead of general advertising like an annual listing on some random business website and getting a few random bites over the year, you’ll be able to list yourself as a specialist within your market market as a valuable resource – often free.

 Word of mouth spreads faster

As you work with a few clients in your market, they will spread the word within the group.

 It’s especially great for web designers because as you do one site for a client, just ask the client to share the site with her peers. She’d most likely be thrilled to do so – especially if you’ve done a great job.

 You sell faster

As you become well-known to the group and better at delivering sites to them, your perceived (and actual) value goes way up. People will hire you without much hassle. It goes fast.

 You charge more

As the obvious choice web designer, people will not be able to hire low-cost designers because the risk of getting a bad site will be too big. Thus you can charge more and easily get it.

 You get work done faster

Again, as you become proficient with your specialty market, you’ll get work done faster and easier as much of it becomes “copy and paste.” You can even hand off work that you don’t like to a subcontractor, thus freeing up more of your time for bingo, tiddlywinks, or going for jogs.

 How to do this? 

The basic are

 1. Spend time figuring out what you love doing the best.

 Take the time to look at past clients, past work, and ask yourself what you love doing the most? What can you do for hours on end and actually feel more energized rather than more tired.

2. Spend some time looking at the market place at what’s needed

 Look at top growing industries as well as industries you enjoy being associated with. 

3. Get out there and talk to people in market to get feedback.

 Ultimately to get a feel for your specialty (market you enjoy + work you love) you’ll need to spend some time just “doing it.” Get out there and talk to people in the market, start doing some small projects for them, and see how it goes.

 In my  Guide, Web Design Clients Galore, I walk you through many of the steps in finding your specialization as well as give you guidance on how to seal the deal and get contracts signed, how to get seen as the web designer of choice, and how to boost your income with how you present your design packages. More details here: The Guide



  1. Daquan Wright · September 6, 2011 Reply

    Man, do I love this! Generalization vs. specialization is one of the all time great debates, just like pc vs. mac.

    I think the people who are already established do well as generalist, but the more time that goes by, the better specialization seems. I myself, am quite confused as to where I’ll end.

    I’m a CS major, so I’m going to be a software engineer one day (that’s the plan!).

    But I’ve been doing UI design and HTML/CSS for years now. Ultimately, I want to brand myself as a user interface designer and application developer. I don’t think it’s too much, but design and programming are huge fields. I sectioned off portions of both that I really, REALLY enjoy.

    In design, you got: illustration, cartooning, game art, 2d concept art, web design, graphic design, print design, logo design, apparel design, etc.

    In programming, you got: systems design, mobile development, web development, desktop development, etc.

    I’m not trying to cater to both “design and programming in the entire field, as that would be crazy.”

    Instead I want to focus on web design and web programming, possibly getting into the mobile market as well.

    I talked to Amber Weinberg about this and she might make her business focus on just mobile development, which I found fascinating because she was doing web development for the longest.

    So, I’d like to ask, do you think ui design/app development is too much? I also plan on running a blog and I’m thinking about what topics I should write about. UI design/app development? Or should I stick to a single language, such as JavaScript+JS libarires? Man, decisions, decisions…

    • Kenn Schroder · September 7, 2011 Reply

      Yeah it can be tough. I think that every situation is going to be unique when it comes to finding your specialty or if one stays more general, etc. Your own fears, skills, strengths, desires, weakness, past experience, contacts, will play some part in how things evolve. Or so it did for me.

      I’d suggest research, test, try and take loads of action. Probably many of us can benefit from less thinking.

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