Rookie mistakes every freelance website developer makes

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Juggler on unicycle

One of my coaching clients showed up with a list of questions to go over during our coaching session. I could tell from her list that we had moved past the practical nuts and bolts of building a website for a customer. She wanted to know about the inside operation and growth of her website development business.

“What if I’m not good at making a website look nice? You know…the design part?”

“How do you get people to pay you thousands of dollars for a website when they can get one for a few hundred dollars from Fiverr?”

“How can I get someone to trust me with a large project when my portfolio is wimpy?”

I recognized exactly what she was talking about because early in my website development career, I struggled with the same things.

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I think of these as a combination of limiting beliefs and rookie mistakes. They’re limiting beliefs because they’re used to justify making business decisions that keep me on the low end of the pay scale. But all newbies pass through them because it’s hard not to believe they aren’t actually true without some experience to the contrary. That’s why they’re called beliefs.

I didn’t have a coach to shed light on my false assumptions. It took me time, mistakes, and courage to remove some mental obstacles and change my mindset.

small green sprout
You can do it!

But I did identify the false assumptions I had to overcome to be a successful website developer. Here they are, along with the shaky reasons I used to justify them.

“I am supposed to do everything myself.”

Juggler on unicycle
I do dishes, too!

The first few websites I built were tough. I thought I had to do everything myself. Graphic design. Writing the web copy. Finding the photos. Taking the photos. And, finally, building out the website in WordPress.

This is not the way to go for three reasons.

  1. My portfolio looked amateur. I’m just not that good at all of the skills required to put together a beautiful website. There are people who make it their sole business to create beautiful graphic designs. Copywriters who write incredibly effective web copy. The same is true for photographers. The quality of my finished websites increased dramatically after I sub-contracted parts of the work that required specific expertise to other professionals. And, my portfolio began to look so much better.
  2. The work gets done faster when someone else handles these jobs. Getting projects done faster means I can take on more new projects and earn more income.
  3. My work is more enjoyable when I focus on the parts I’m good at.

I used to tell myself, “I can’t afford to pay people to do these jobs,” and “I’ll make less money if I outsource these services.”

It’s true, the first few websites you create are going to be free or almost free. But, after developing just three websites, you will have enough for a portfolio. You will also realize how much work goes into website development.
When you quote your 4th website development project, take into account the cost of outsourcing parts of the work. A portion of the deposit payment should more than cover these expenses up front.

“My services should be available to all people.”

I met with a client earlier today who, as he packed up his laptop, informed me that my rates are expensive.

“You’re expensive,” he said.

I agreed with him and then we scheduled our next coaching session. We didn’t talk about lowering my rate.

What if he had pushed for a lower rate? What if he told me he couldn’t afford my services and needed my pricing to be lower?

Would that mean I should discount my prices in order to help him stay on as my client?

My answer used to be, “yes.” I used to think I couldn’t handle losing a customer. I used to think I needed every single customer I could get. I was afraid I wouldn’t get another project or that I would have to wait a long time between paying customers.

After several bargain basement website development projects, I learned the true cost of low prices. Low prices aren’t just about getting paid less for my work.

Customers who hire the cheapest option demand more and they appreciate my efforts less.

When your services become the highest priced option, you hear “no” as much as you hear “yes.” That means you’re doing it right.

“I should be worried about my competition.”

“What about Fiverr?” asked a new website developer. “How am I supposed to compete with websites that cost $200?”

“You don’t,” I said. “You’re the person new clients seek out to get their website professionally developed after they’ve learned their lesson on Fiverr.

These low prices used to discourage me, too. Especially when someone gasped at my pricing and declared, “My brother-in-law can build me a website in just a few hours for free!”

Your ideal clients will pay more because they expect more from you. They expect you to be a professional. They expect you to pay attention to the details. They expect you to advise them and provide direction. They are taking their own business seriously and they will not take you seriously if your prices are too low.

Your competition is not:

  • the brother-in-law or friend who will “build a website for free.”
  • DIY builders like Weebly, Wix, and Squarespace.
  • any other website developer.

Will you talk to people who use Squarespace and are happy with it? Yes. They’re just not your customer. They want something different from what you offer and that’s okay.

“I build websites from scratch.”

I built my first few websites for companies that had no website at all: a cleaning business and a landscaper. I thought this would be the easiest business to get. They had nothing to start with so I couldn’t mess it up.

Building these websites taught me a lot. I strengthened my developer skills. I learned how to troubleshoot problems.

I also learned that if a business doesn’t have a website, then it’s often because they don’t see the need for one. They don’t see the real value. People who don’t see the value in a website are unlikely to pay much for it.

It didn’t take me long to realize that a company with an existing website has already recognized the importance of a good website. They don’t have to be convinced.

I had been mistaken in thinking that businesses that already had websites were “spoken for” and that someone else had gotten to them first.

If you target companies with no website, you sacrifice the revenue that small projects can bring. Businesses rarely want a brand new website. More often, they want a few improvements: a new page, a new look for the homepage, and so on. Small projects can bring in a large portion of your revenue.

Plus, small projects build a connection between you and the company’s decision makers. If the company likes your work, then you’ll be informed when they need a website overhaul. You may even be the one to suggest it in the first place.

When I overcame the mental hurdles that every new website developer faces, my business grew and now my agency has a pattern of doubling revenue year over year.

I don’t have to do everything myself. My services are only meant for some people. The quality and character of my business makes me one-of-a-kind. And, getting new website business means NOT building websites from scratch.

Have any of these blocks affected your work? Comment below and let me know.

Hosted by
Emily Journey

Welcome to WebDev Success. I’m Emily Journey and this podcast is where I take a hard look at the challenges facing the website development industry. Learn how to attract loyal customers, how to raise your prices with confidence, and take steps to craft the work life you’ve always wanted. Subscribe, listen in and develop brilliantly.

Join the discussion

  • Hello Emily
    I love how you talk about the everyday concerns. Someone told me…if you get a client based on price, they won’y always be your client. Same thought concerning competition. I council never to worry. Yes, be aware but don’t worry. Most of us get into a business because we genuinely believe we can do better and / or offer more. And, when I have a client that is successful, I always say…Friend…it’s you. Your clients are dealing with you because of you. We are past pricing, product, etc. It’s you ! Congrats. Again, be aware that a client has choices but also, don’t lose sleep. Emily, Happy Memorial Day. Stay safe. Thank you again.

  • Emily, you want to use “different from” here, not “different than.”

    I’ll never be a website pro, but I read every one of your articles. I find them interesting and very well written, and sometimes I get life lessons from them.

    • Thank you for the correction Jean. I’ll make that change. I’m glad to hear you are enjoying the posts. I’ll keep it up as long as someone is reading. 🙂
      Stay well.

  • I think everyone has had these types of thoughts when starting off in a new path or career. I think when we have little steps of success then we come to realize that we are capable. I think you inspire others with your words. Thanks for sharing!!

  • I am really glad I came here today to finally read these words. They certainly have described me. I have bookmarked the article to re-read again and to read with a friend who also struggles with the same thoughts of capabilities, worth and pricing. Hoping you are safe and well. – Linda

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Web developer working at table

Hi, I’m Emily Journey. I founded and lead a website consulting agency with six coworkers. This blog is where I write about the things I’ve learned at my real job.
I respond to your comments at the bottom of my posts. Subscribe to get my weekly email.


Episode 10