Editor’s Note: As a matter of policy, we only publish articles from authors with experience working in a particular gig or managing the small business opportunity described in the article. To reduce the risk of unwanted competition, we keep authors anonymous. Today’s article comes from an author with deep expertise in digital marketing and e-commerce.
$50-$100 Per Hour Building Small Business Websites
Years ago, when I was a poor college student, I desperately needed a part-time job. However, when I looked at all the terrible jobs my friends had that barely paid minimum wage, I just knew that path wasn’t for me. I was already aware that people can make more money in less time, I just needed to figure out how.
This eventually led me to designing simple, yet professional websites for small businesses. Once I streamlined my process, I was making $50-$100 per hour building these websites, with no prior experience.
It’s Not Rocket Science
I taught myself web design while building the first website for a paying client. This is because these days, you don’t need to be a programmer to design a website. There are tons of intuitive tools to help you build them. It is less about writing code, and more about dragging and dropping elements onto a page using templates that are easy to customize. My personal favorite was the Elementor theme for WordPress. Installing wordpress is free and the Elementor theme has a free version that is more than enough to get started.
ProTip: Focus on getting a client first! Teach yourself how to build a website after they have already sent you the first payment. Get paid to learn. Don’t spend weeks learning web design before you even have a client. Elementor is really intuitive and they have tons of resources to guide you along the way.
A Competitive Gap
There are a lot of web designers charging several thousand of dollars for their services. These are professionals who have years of experience, know at least one or two programming languages, and are great at building complex, custom solutions. I knew I couldn’t compete with these types of professionals. However, there is a niche gap in the competition: local small businesses.
Local small businesses don’t need anything fancy and they certainly aren’t willing to pay a high-end web designer’s obscene fee. They would still benefit from having a simple, yet professional-looking website that also looks great on a mobile device. Luckily for us, most of these small businesses either have no website or a really bad one. Many of the websites they do have aren’t very mobile-friendly.
These websites can be built in a day or two and at a rate that small businesses can actually afford.
Getting My First Client
I had done my research. I knew I could figure out how to build a website for my first client. I knew what tools to use. Now I just needed my first client.
The best resource I found to find local small businesses was Yelp. Through Yelp, I was able to find plenty of privately-owned small businesses. I made a list of any potential clients. I avoided any kind of chain or franchise. From there, I wrote down any businesses that either didn’t have a website, or one that was really poorly-designed.
After I had my list, I called these businesses pitching them my services. I was nervous to call since I had no prior sales experience, but I got over it and pushed through anyway. I googled some basic cold calling techniques which definitely helped. In the end, it was just a numbers game. I probably called over 50 businesses before landing my first client. After tons of calling and revising my pitch, I can now close a deal within 10 cold calls. I am by no means an expert and consider myself more on the introverted side.
My initial pitch follows a basic, three part sales technique:
- Here’s what I got.
- Here’s what it can do for you.
- Here’s what I want you to do next.
So after politely asking to speak to the owner and being connected to them, I would simply introduce myself and then say…
“I build clean and professional websites for local businesses.
The website I can design for you will help introduce you to new potential customers and connect you with existing customers for further marketing potential. The website will help build trust while also showing your business as the industry authority in your area.
If you are interested in a new website, I only require half of my fee upfront, and the second half will be due upon completion.”
At this point, if they were interested I would answer any questions they may have and overcome last minute resistance. The last thing I usually do is discuss price. It’s important to talk about the benefits of having a website before even mentioning the price.
One great selling point is mentioning the importance of a mobile-friendly website. I talk about how often people search for local businesses using their smartphone and if they don’t have a website that looks great and functions well on a mobile device, it can be costing them potential customers.
ProTip: Avoid the gatekeepers! Often the person who answers the phone isn’t the owner and is told not to put sales people through. Simply ask for the owner and if they are busy ask when is a good time to call them back. You may need to mention what you do if they ask, but leave the pitch for the owner as they are the ones who decide to pay you.
Building The Website
Once you have a client and you’ve secured that initial payment, it is time to actually build their website.
If they currently have a website, you’ll need the login information to the hosting account so you can get started. If they don’t have a website, they’ll need to sign up for a hosting account and provide you the login information.
Once you have access to their hosting account, you’ll need to install WordPress and then the Elementor theme. There are plenty of other tools out there you can use, both free and paid, but these free tools worked perfect for me and it is what I recommend to anyone new to freelance web design.
Elementor, and some other intuitive page-building tools, have simple drag and drop widgets to design the pages of the website. With a few clicks you can customize the colors and fonts to match the branding your client already has. You can add their logo and necessary images.
For most websites I built for clients, they are really simple. They are often about five pages depending on the client’s needs. If you find good websites of other small businesses in the same industry, that will help give you an idea of what kind of pages to add to your client’s website.
On top of having them provide the logo and images, ask for brochures or other printed material that you can extract company information from. If they have an existing website or social media page, that will help even more.
If they have social media pages for their business, I link them to the website. If they don’t have any social media pages, I set them up as part of my service and link them on the website. A Facebook business page is a must. Depending on the business I might also add an Instagram and Twitter account. Don’t forget to give them access to social media accounts and pages.
Lastly, if they have an email list autoresponder account, I connect it to an opt-in box on the website so people can easily join their mailing list. If my client doesn’t already have a mailing list, I suggest one. Mailchimp is free up to 2,000 email contacts. This lets your client send out mass emails to customers for additional marketing purposes.
Ideal Small Businesses to Target
Not all businesses are created equal. Some types of businesses will be much harder to sell your services to than others. For obvious reasons, it’s pointless to try to sell a service to a chain store or a franchise.
Personally, the clients that I found easiest to sell website design services to are businesses that use a lot of images to help sell their services or products. With the images they provide, it is easy to make a great gallery on the website. Businesses like this are contractors, roofers, lawn care providers, restaurants, etc.
Another easy group of businesses to sell are ones where potential customers are looking for a lot more information before making a buying decision. Private practice doctors, dentists, chiropractors, and accountants all are great businesses to pitch your services to. These businesses also benefit from having a blog section on their website so the business can regularly post engaging articles to both bring in new customers and reengage with past customers.
ProTip: Avoid difficult clients. Look for red flags that a client may be difficult to work with. A bad client is someone who may be flaky with payments, demand a steep discount, try to micromanage every aspect of the design, or genuinely just stress you out every step of the way. With a good client, it will be easy to hit the $50-$100 per hour range. With a bad client, the work gets drawn out and you’ll be making a lot less per hour when charging a flat rate for websites.
For my first couple of clients I gave them a great deal. I only charge $250 for each of their websites. This is because I had no experience and knew I needed a little extra time while teaching myself as I go.
After I had the hang of designing a website and had some clients I could use as references, I raised my prices to a minimum of $500 for a five page website. Of course, I would quote them more if they needed significantly more than five pages. However, for the $500 website I was usually able to complete a website in a day and sometimes two a day once I got faster.
ProTip: After completing a website for a client, ask them for three referrals. Any referred client you get means you spent less time on the phone pitching, therefore you make more per hour of work. If they can’t send you a referral then ask them for a testimonial that you can eventually put on your own web design portfolio site.
Part Time and Scaling Up
While I only did this part-time due to the fact that I was a full-time student, there is no reason you can’t turn this into a full time business. You can expand past your local market and call businesses in cities all over the country. There is no shortage of businesses that can benefit from a great website.
Eventually, you can hire and train a salesperson or small team to sell your services for you. As you grow you can raise your prices and even hire a team to help you design websites. This business can easily start as a one-person job and grow into a small web design studio.
Some Additional Money-Making Methods
Without any extra work, there are a couple of ways to make some additional money while building websites.
If your client needs hosting, you can have them sign up through your affiliate link. Create an affiliate account with a company like Bluehost. You get paid a monthly commission. This also works with email autoresponders.
If your client needs a new logo, charge accordingly. Then outsource the logo design through Fiverr or Upwork. If you charge more for the logo than you pay for it, the profit is your management fee.
With no experience, but plenty of ambition, I was able to make $50-$100 per hour building websites. There is nothing stopping you from doing the same, and as your web design skills improve, you can likely make even more. The freedom of working for yourself is definitely worth it.