How to Build a Web Design Business

The Ultimate Guide To Succeed in Web Design

1. Want to succeed in web design?

Here's the step-by-step blueprint we used for insane growth at our design agency.

Whether you’re a solo designer or own an agency, many web designers we’ve talked to feel like their work is holding them back.

And we get it.

Maybe you’re looking for higher rates and want to grow a successful agency that brings in the big bucks.

Or maybe you’re tired of the monotony. You wish you could automate the repetitive tasks and revive the creative spark that got you excited about web design in the first place.

Either way, you’re in the right place.

We’re the team behind Sitejet.

Before we launched Sitejet, we started a successful design company called Websitebutler. It was a long and difficult road, but we pushed through and grew it into an agency that generates tens of thousands of dollars every month. And we are having a great time doing it.

The best part? We remember the lessons we learned along the way. And in this guide, we’re going to share it all with you. All the strategies and tricks we’ve come to discover, plus the traps and pitfalls to avoid.

This is how to build a successful six-figure website design business.

So, who are we—and why should you trust us?

Sure, we’re the creators of a successful website firm and we’ve bootstrapped the best site creation and management program for designers like us.

But underneath it all, we’re really just a few good friends who got together and decided to create something amazing.

We didn’t start out with cash or connections—we were just a few German guys with the dream of building an incredible business.

Philipp Gohlke used to work as a sales director at Groupon, then decided to take the plunge and start his own design firm. Malte Sieb’s background in tech made him the perfect CTO. Christian Pott came from a background in consulting and Hendrik Köhler had the marketing skills we needed for growing our client base.

(And yes, we know you’re jealous of our amazingly cool German names.)

It seems like just a few days ago we were sitting around in Philipp’s Berlin apartment brainstorming designs, pricing, and crazy names until we finally settled on Websitebutler.

Now, a few years later, we have a team of 50+ and thousands of happy clients. Even more incredibly, we have a business that brings in $250,000 USD every month doing what we love—website design.

It hasn’t been easy, but we’ve learned a lot of hard lessons on the way that will save you tons of time.

And the biggest way we’ve done that? With a game-changing piece of software.

The “magical” software that transformed our agency into a six-figure business

Okay, we’ll be honest…

A little secret helped propel our company forward. While most of our peers got stuck designing the same websites day in and day out, we were winning more clients and generating insane revenue figures every month.


It’s not that mysterious—it’s the same technique tech giants like Pixar, Amazon, and Tesla use to crush the competition and propel them to the top of their field.

The answer is pretty simple, actually:

In-house software.

That’s right. Custom software helped Pixar redefine animation, brought Amazon to dominate retail, and transformed Tesla from a laughable idea into the luxury car brand it is today.

And custom software was a game-changer in our business, too.

We built a program that cut our design time by 70% while making client communication and sales outreach a breeze.

But instead of keeping it to ourselves (or charging insane licensing fees to a prestigious few), we decided to make our secret sauce available to everyone as Sitejet.

Of course, you don’t need Sitejet to design websites or grow an agency. But when you’re ready to add rocket fuel to your business, Sitejet is the missing piece.

So now you know a little bit about our background and why we started Sitejet.

But now let’s turn to you. Is this really something you can do?

Why scaling your design company doesn’t require special skills

The truth is that we’re really just a few guys who like designing websites.

(And we’re also German, which means we have the world’s best sausage and beer within walking distance from our offices.)

But we’re not sales geniuses. And we didn’t get a dime in funding.

Nope—we did all this the bootstrapped way. And we’re going to teach you how to grow your agency using the same steps.

Chances are, you’re a solo designer or you run a small firm. In other words, you’re exactly where we were just a few short years ago.

But you’re stuck.

You’re constantly exhausted trying to find new clients while keeping your existing clients happy. You’re spending way too many hours on the “little tweaks” your clients keep requesting.

And worst of all, you’re getting burnt out. You can’t keep going at this pace much longer.

We know the feeling. We’ve been there.

But we’ve come through the other side, and learned that it can be done.

It took us 208 days, or about seven months, to acquire our first 50 customers.

Those 50 customers generated us $18,000 USD in setup fees, plus $3,000 in monthly recurring revenue.

(And that recurring revenue doesn’t come with a lot of time or work, since it’s just maintaining existing websites for happy customers with our fully integrated system.)

That means if we did nothing but keep those customers for a year, with a few hours of work per week freshening up their sites, we’d make $36,000 in revenue.

Not too shabby, but it only gets better.

Our next 50 customers only took 99 days, and three years later we acquire that number of customers every week. Every week, we increase our monthly recurring revenue by $3,000.

Could numbers like these help you in your business? Could that make a difference in how you plan your finances, your free time, and your vacation destinations?

We can say from experience, yes.

When someone at a party asks what we do, we don’t have to mumble something about websites.

When you generate more income each month than your freelancer friends earn in a year, people start to take you seriously.

But it’s more than just the money—we’ve built a business we believe in.

Of our first 100 customers, 78 of them are still our clients. And they’re thrilled to pay us almost $5,000 USD every month because we’ve changed their businesses.

Building a successful design firm can be one of the best things you can do for your finances and your life.

It’s about providing huge value for your clients.

It’s about making websites you’re proud of.

And it’s about finally getting paid what you deserve.

Let’s get started.

2. Setting up your business for success

The first step toward growth isn’t designing websites or finding new clients. You need to start with figuring out your model, strategy, and pricing.

Let’s talk for a minute about the strategy you’ll need to follow to start building a profitable design business.

The biggest part of this is understanding how to charge your clients. If you’re used to one-off fees or charging by the hour—listen carefully.

Your life is about to change.

The most profitable (and only) pricing strategy to build a successful firm

Most agency owners lose lots of money learning what actually makes a profit in web design. Well, you don’t have to. You can learn from our lessons.

The reality is that there’s one way—and really only one way—to make a profitable design business. You need to start thinking of it as a service, not as a product.

Here’s what we learned.

One-off sales are a terrible business to be in. Cash flow is inconsistent, and you’ll always have to find new customers.

The secret behind our success at Websitebutler is using recurring payments.

The most common way to measure this, and the way we recommend, is monthly recurring revenue, or MRR. This is essentially the money you can count on every month.

Why focus on MRR? As a business owner, most costs are billed monthly. You have rent, salaries, electricity, phone, internet, and other expenses that repeat each month.

So why should your payment scheme be any different?

Changing to a recurring payment plan will make life easier for you and your customers, because you can just calculate all your bills in terms of clients. A $50/month client pays for a $50/month phone bill, and so on.

Once you cover your expenses, it’s up to you how much profit you want to make!

This is a mindset shift to be sure, but it’s a much smarter way of doing business. Features like hosting, domain registration, and security incur ongoing costs, and you should charge the same way. Start thinking in terms of a service, not a product.

How to generate maximum profit with your pricing (without scaring away prospects)

When you come up with pricing, don’t just randomly make up numbers.

The secret to a successful firm is math, and math never lies. All you need to do is calculate your expenses and figure out what that means in terms of MRR.

First, calculate your one-off and recurring fixed costs like computers and salary, plus variable expenses that increase with each website like the costs of hosting and security, distribution, and taxes. This is how much each site will cost you to keep for a month.

On top of this, you’ll want to add a profit margin. That’s up to you, but the tiers that have worked the best for us are around $30, $50, and $100 USD per month.

Speaking of tiers, one-size-fits-all pricing is a recipe for disaster. Different customers have different budgets, and your prices should reflect this. Have at least two options, one with a basic set of options and another with a more advanced feature list.

There are two pieces of advice to keep in mind with your prices.

First, don’t take on clients that aren’t willing to pay your prices—they’ll always be more stressful to bring them through the process.

And second, be careful taking on clients with big projects, even if they have bigger budgets. A potential customer might ask you to build a giant portal website for $10,000 USD. It sounds tempting, but in that same time you might be able to build 15 simpler sites that generate $7,500 USD in setup fees—plus $750 USD every month.

Taking on small projects is the most profitable, because you can get them to start with you and continue paying even though it didn’t require much work upfront.

But it’s not just profit. Small sites also bring security.

You’ve probably heard horror stories of designers or agencies with one or two clients. One or both quit for whatever reason and leave the designers broke and desperate.

The bigger your clients, the less you can afford to lose them, and the riskier your business model becomes. That’s why we recommend smaller clients.

If an agency with giant clients loses one or two, it can lead to bankruptcy.

But if a handful of our clients cancelled in one day, it would barely hurt our business. That gives us a lot of stability and confidence.

We should also mention that you should never, ever charge web design services by the hour. Your goal as a designer is to get faster at designing great websites, and you shouldn’t be punished for this!

In fact, when we rolled out Sitejet to our internal team at Websitebutler it slashed our design time by 70%—and we got paid the same.

There’s a bit of a learning curve getting to that speed—you’ll need to learn Sitejet’s shortcuts and tools—but reducing design time by one-third or one-half is pretty common after the switch to Sitejet.

And creating high-quality websites faster is a good thing, so don’t get paid less for faster work.

Let your pricing scheme reward you for efficiency.

Find a value proposition to bring in new customers

Before you can start selling, you need to have a unique brand voice.

What does that look like?

It will depend a bit on the type of customers you’d like to attract. But in general, here’s what we’d recommend: sell yourself as a full-service web design agency at an affordable price.

When you’re just starting out, it can be tempting to say yes to every customer. But don’t. Focus on volume, look for small and medium business owners (SMBs), and don’t give single customers special treatment or extra favors. It’ll eat away at your profits.

You can easily sell websites to SMBs in any vertical—we serve customers from 70+ verticals. Of course, it’s easiest to start with an SMB vertical where you already have experience or references.

The broader your range of references, the easier it will be to sell to new verticals. For example, if you’re trying to acquire a beauty salon owner, you ideally should be able to show another beauty salon website.

Even better—show an example of a beauty salon with a similar interface and color scheme.

And while you’re demonstrating websites, it’s always a good idea to show a nice restaurant website. Everybody loves food!

But how do you start with your first vertical? The answer is your target persona.

Crafting a target persona to find amazing clients from the beginning

As you start to target your first customers, look for specific types of industries and SMBs you can win over.

What does this look like? It means finding buyer personas and targeting them aggressively. To get started, you’ll want to spend some time planning out exactly who your ideal customers are.

Start by asking yourself some basic questions to find good matches for your expertise and skill set:

  • What businesses do you already know about?
  • What types of businesses have you worked in before, if any?
  • What local businesses do you know about or use often?
  • What interests do you have in common with different local businesses?

If you had a part-time restaurant job in college, or love clothes and fashion, or always recommend the same barber to friends, you might have a great starting place.

Start with a single industry, like restaurants. Think carefully about what restaurant owners care about, what their days look like, and how a website will help them grow their business.

Next, you’ll want to do some market research to learn more about your target customer. The easiest way to do this is searching online, but you can get even more information by calling those type of businesses or meeting some business owners.

You’ll use this data and analysis to reach out to more and more business owners in that industry. As you grow, you’ll repeat this process for other industries to keep expanding your base of leads.

Now that you have a process for getting new customers, let’s land your first paying client!

3. How to master the inner game of sales and bring in incredible clients

Building your business is really fun, but don’t get stuck in the planning phase. You need to find some customers!

At its heart, you’ll need a great sales strategy to start attracting more clients.

At the word “sales” a lot of people freak out. Most people tend to worry about one of two problems.

Some people are worried about their lack of experience. Selling seems like such an important concept and they feel so far behind. Real-world sales techniques just aren’t something taught in school.

But if this is your concern, you don’t need to worry. Sales are like anything else—a skill that can be learned. Even if you’re a terrible salesperson now, you’ll be much better in a few months, and significantly better a year from now.

The secret is to start now, which we’ll teach you.

The second concern people have is that they’ll get too good at sales. They’ll come off as slimy and scammy, and they’ll ruin their reputation in the process of becoming as slick as a used car salesman.

But really this comes from a misunderstanding of what “good sales strategies” really are. Our best salespeople don’t sell websites with fibs, truth-stretching, or high-pressure techniques. In fact, we’ve learned that the best salespeople sell by helping, and we’ll teach you to do the same.

Our most successful sales technique boil down to these key steps:

  1. Build rapport and understanding
  2. Create demand by showing how you can help
  3. Show why you’re the best option
  4. Tailor your pitch to their business
  5. Move them to a sale

There are thousands of ways you can move through this process, but to save you time we’ll walk through the template we’ve used to convert hundreds of cold leads into happy customers.

Our most effective sales strategy (script included)

Here’s how we handle our sales calls, step-by-step. Use it as-is or adapt it to fit your needs.

Step 0: Do your research and learn a little bit about the company

Before you pick up the phone to make a call, you’ll want to learn as much as you can about the company. You’ll want at least the following information:

  • The industry they’re in (hairdresser, restaurant, etc.)
  • The name of the owner or decision maker
  • Some connection to the business (we’ll discuss this in a minute)

It’s also nice to have a good idea of what challenges the business specifically or industry in general are facing.

This could be something generic, like restaurants wanting more customers, or more specific—perhaps a new shopping center is opening near them and they’re worried about losing customers to national chain competitors.

Step 1: Build rapport and understanding

Before you jump into a sales pitch, you’ll want to come across as a human who genuinely cares about the prospect’s business and wants to help them succeed.

Start by introducing yourself with your name. Make sure you’re talking to the owner or decision maker before moving on.

Next, you’ll start by drawing a connection to their business. The more personal the better. Some examples include:

  • Some friends of mine had dinner at your restaurant a few weeks ago and called my attention to it
  • This morning I saw one of your nicely painted vans (bonus points if you take a picture of the van! This will give you all the information needed for a successful pitch.)
  • I found your business on the internet (this neutral intro always works if you don’t have anything specific to point out)

Here’s a final version of the script our team might use:

Hi, it’s Dave speaking!
Am I speaking to Lisa Samuelson? Great!
Some friends of mine had dinner at Lisa’s Diner a few weeks ago and gave you very high praise.

Step 2: Create demand by showing how you can help
Your basic goal is to offer a two-part solution: a website that brings in new customers without requiring technical knowledge or skill.

Essentially, you want to explain that you’re offering a way to bring in new paying customers without extra work. Who wouldn’t take you up on that deal?

Here’s a basic script our team has developed:

Well Lisa, I run a firm here in Berlin that helps business owners become more successful in the digital world with high-quality, full-service websites.

We realized most business owners don’t have the time or tech skills to build and maintain their own website. As a result, they have an outdated site or no site at all, and lose potential customers every day.

We believe business owners should focus on their business, and we handle every part of your site, from updates to domain, hosting, email, and even search engine optimization if you want.

If you’re comfortable asking questions and having a more ad-lib conversation, this is a great structure to follow:

Okay, Lisa. I work with lots of restaurant owners like yourself, and they seem to be facing the same challenges:

How do I get more guests to my restaurant?
How do I get more customers or bigger orders?
How do I find reliable personnel who can help me?
How can I build my brand and raise awareness without spending lots of money?

Do you face similar challenges in your business?

If the answer is yes: Perfect, that’s why I'm calling. I’ve worked to help lots of other businesses with this and I’d like to help you, too.

If the answer is no: Okay, but if I showed you a way to make your business even more successful while saving you time, would you be interested?

(Of course, don’t say you work with lots of businesses if you don’t. If you’re just starting, use the connections and expertise we explored earlier.)

Next, you’ll want to introduce your business and show how you can help reach the goals your prospect is looking for. A good rule of thumb here is to remember that nobody really cares about your product or service.

Most of the time, they don’t want a website, they want the results a website will bring—better visibility, high search rankings, more customers, more applicants, and so on. But they don’t have the technical knowledge to get that website.

Here are the talking points we’ve seen to be most effective with selling websites to our clients:

  • A professional presence on the web 24/7
  • Look more like a modern and successful business active on social media and the web
  • Attract more customers
  • Appeal to young people applying for jobs
  • Use a tailored website to acquire the most profitable types of customers for your unique business model
  • A website can serve as a digital prospectus or shop window while pitching

You can develop your own versions of the following and include relevant case studies or examples if relevant.

For example, a painter specializing in complete house exteriors might be tired of requests for small interior jobs. A specialized website can filter their prospects and bring them better business.

Step 3: Show why you’re the best option

Up next, you’ll need to show why you must be the choice of the prospect. After all, there are thousands of website design companies out there. Why should they choose you?

You’ll want to cover the advantages of the recurring revenue model here as well as explain your prices.

Here are the basic talking points we use:

  • We run a technology that allows us to deliver top-quality modern websites combined with outstanding service, all at affordable prices
  • Unlike traditional agencies or web designers, you don’t pay us thousands upfront, only to get a website you have to maintain on your own and which will be technically outdated two years later
  • For a one-time setup fee of $499 USD and a monthly fee of just $99 USD, we’ll create a professional site, update the content, do technical maintenance, keep your domain name current, host the site, and keep your email accounts running
  • We have a 20% discount on the monthly fee when billed annually

Step 4: Tailor your pitch to their business
The next step is to deeply understand their business and show you care about it. The more you find out about their business and problems, the better you’ll be able to tailor your sales pitch!

Here are the best types of questions to use, and how to show how a website will help:

What is the greatest challenge in your industry/for your business?

No matter how they respond, you can explain how a website will help! They need more trainees? Potential employees—especially younger ones—are looking online. Intense competition? A digital presence will help.

Who is currently responsible for your website/web presence?
Most of the time it’s not in the hands of a professional. You can ask further questions to show them why this is a problem, like asking what their backup plan is in case of a server crash or how they’re keeping the site updated for newer devices, standards, and best practices.
Another common response is that the business owner’s nephew, brother, or college buddy manages the site. The problem is that a friend or family member makes the relationship awkward.
The business owner feels guilty requesting changes, and the designer doesn’t work as hard to meet deadlines or produce results like they would with a “real” client.
Explain how your team has experience handling website problems and will always treat them like professionals.

Do you know how many visits your current website has?
If they do, show what you can do to increase this. If not, explain how your site will provide them with valuable data like this they can use to find more customers and grow their business.

Do you know what percentage of customers in your industry are on mobile devices?

Find this out in advance. For example, 81% of consumers have searched for a restaurant on a mobile device. If the prospect’s website isn’t mobile responsive, point out that they’re missing out on a huge number of customers.

This is a great way to help bring the prospect closer to a sale.

But also, gathering data upfront from your customer and asking the right questions will show that you are a pro. You’ll demonstrate that you really care and thus build trust.

Step 5: Close the sale

The final and most important part of the sales process is actually closing the sale. You’ll want to move the prospect to actually making a firm commitment to start working with you.

But if the customer is resistant to start immediately, you can offer some smaller next steps that he or she will be more likely to agree to. The important thing is to get the customer to commit incrementally. The more he or she is investing in the process, the more likely you are to close the deal.

By showing the process behind building the site—from draft to design to publication—you can also build trust. People don’t trust what they don’t understand, so you can show how it works and get your potential clients to trust what you have to offer.

Here are some great next steps to use:

  • Close the deal and get them to pay the setup fee and get started (ideal)
  • You may design a website draft, build trust and then get them to sign on afterward
  • Send them some reference websites and testimonials
  • If they’re sitting in front of a computer, go over a quick demo or show testimonials, or schedule a screencast for later
  • Learning more about their dreams for the site by asking questions about design, goals, or other features they want to see

Before moving on to your next prospect, be sure to update the customer record with follow up tasks and next steps. (This is easy to do in Sitejet.)

In the Sitejet lead, make sure you have the appropriate contact information. Write down key points you’ve learned on the call. Sure, it seems easy to remember now, but after a week or so you’re almost guaranteed to forget it.

Finally, make sure you have the decision maker(s) participating in the next meeting.

How to get the ball rolling with your first customers

When it comes to design clients, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that scaling becomes easy once you have a solid base.

Word-of-mouth spreads exponentially, and you’ll start having new clients come to you without additional work on your part.

Plus, you’ll have tons of different sample websites, positive reviews, and case studies to show new customers to get them excited about what you have to offer and to start paying.

But that’s where the bad news comes in—starting off is tough. You won’t have customers for case studies and you probably won’t have a large portfolio. So, what to do?

There are a few different strategies we know work well for your first customers—either because we’ve used them ourselves or seen others use them well.

First, you can design the site before charging. This works best if you don’t have a large portfolio, or are branching into a new vertical without a relevant portfolio.

(For example, if you have a dozen restaurant websites but want to land a new hairdresser client.)

To use this strategy, you’ll first design a draft of the website. Then if the client likes it, they’ll pay the upfront design fee and move forward as clients.

This is more work for you upfront, but it proves to the client that you can actually build great sites and that you really do understand their business. And if they don’t like the website? Not to worry—you’ve built a sample portfolio site to use later! You can also use it as a template for a similar customer later on.

Another strategy you can use is waiving the setup fee. This can be a significant barrier for a lot of businesses, since they have to pay $500 USD (or whatever your setup fee is) before seeing results.

Instead, just charge your monthly recurring fee. You’ll make less money in the short term, but you’ll be more likely to win over a client to stay with you for a while.

If you don’t want to design a site for free like the previous suggestion, this is a great middle option that gives the client a great site with less risk, but still lets you get paid for your work.

How to create bulletproof goals that keep you motivated to succeed

We signed our very first customer on April 25, 2013—a hairdresser that had just started her business.

We’re proud to say she is still our happy customer, her business is growing, she opened a second store, and she upgraded her plan.

In total, we have generated $3,300 USD in revenue with her so far—and she doesn’t have any reason to cancel her plan. She is happy with our service and thanks to our technology, it is easy for us to keep delivering great value.

That’s the beauty of MRR—you can keep growing your business day in and day out. Understanding the power of MRR, the best thing you can do is set a specific goal to achieve.

Set a clear target in USD, like $7,000 per month. Set a deadline for the goal, like 24 months after you kick-off. Then divide it by your average price. So if you charge $100 per month, you’ll need 70 customers.

When you start out, you’ll probably convert about 2-3% of your leads, so you’ll need to contact 33 people for each new customer. That means a goal of $7,000 per month means contacting 2,300-4,600 leads. (Depending on your sales skills and lead quality, this number may be higher or lower.)

It might sound like a lot to be sure. But if you break it down, it gets more manageable.

Each month, you’ll need to contact about 100-200 leads. If you work Monday-Friday, four weeks per month, that’s just 5-10 leads a day.

If that’s your goal, stick with it. Have a strict accountability system so you can track how well you’re doing.

Expert strategies to keep the sales machine running

There are a few strategies you can use to start and keep growing your sales process.

Your MRR goal is your North Star when it comes to keeping the sales machine running. Focus on hitting those goals for leads every day or week, no matter what.

This is key because the sales process usually takes time. Sometimes you’ll close a prospect the same day, but it will more likely take a few days or even weeks of follow up, explanations, and demos before you finally win them over.

If you don’t work consistently on your goals, it’s going to be frustrating down the line. If you pitch 40 prospects the first week, then 5 the next week, then 15 the next week, then 40 again the next week, you’ll have a patchy funnel and inconsistent growth.

Perhaps none of the 20 you pitch ever close, and you have weird feast/famine cycles that will wear you out without seeing real growth.

Instead, put in a certain amount of work consistently and you’ll start to see continual progress that will snowball over time.

How did we do this?

Hustle, hustle, and hustle some more—and never lose focus. The secret to hitting your goals is to work hard at what actually matters. Ignore “shiny object syndrome.”

If your monthly target requires you to cold pitch 100 new leads this week, don’t waste time on Twitter.


Want even more motivation to get you back on top of your game? Check out the Shia LaBeouf Motivational Video. Just do it!

If it helps, get in the right mindset. Remember you’re the salesperson and frontman or woman. You’re a professional expert who’s extremely knowledgeable about websites, but also friendly and accessible and willing to help your clients understand what’s going on.

Remember, the more you can explain the process behind your sites, the more trust you’ll develop in the minds of your prospects and customers. It’s about building relationships and playing the long game.

4. How to scale your sales and marketing

No matter how big your dreams are, you can’t grow an agency without customers.

But if you’re just starting, you’re probably wondering—how do you attract incredible, high-paying clients?

Here’s everything we’ve learned to start getting the type of clients every designer dreams of.

You don’t need investor money!

Lots of budding entrepreneurs think they need investors to start. But this is wrong—it’s perfectly doable to create a thriving web design agency without giving up equity.

First, you need to shift the mindset you have towards your company and be your own investor. An investor wouldn’t buy a company and start milking it for cash as soon as possible. Instead, a savvy venture capitalist would look at a company as a long-term investment.

You need to put the same focus into your own business. See it as a long-term investment with growth potential. That means you need to grow as lean as possible and reinvest everything into scaling fast.

We recommend using the Lean Startup methodology. It’s a proven system for building highly effective businesses without a VC firm footing the bill.

The basic principle behind the Lean Startup is build-measure-learn, and it’s no different with your agency. Experiment with a service, measure consumer interest, and learn from the test. Keep iterating until you refine it into your million-dollar idea.

All the principle we’ve laid out in this guide are what we’ve used to build our agency. But the truth is that every market and opportunity is different, and you’ll only learn those differences by testing. Test cheaply and quickly, and you’ll see huge growth.

That second benefit of the Lean Startup methodology is that after doing this for a while, you’ll grow even more quickly than most of your peers. That will give you the extra money you can use to invest and continue growing the business.

By strictly reinvesting every dollar in revenue we generated, we managed to grow to $50,000 USD in monthly recurring revenue in just 2.5 years.

Once we had hit that point, we started investing heavily in technology development which we financed with venture capital. The result is Sitejet, which helped us scale and lets you take advantage of our in-house tech.

Transform your website into your best salesperson

Turn your website into an elevator pitch for your company. Want a salesperson that is always working, never gets tired, and can sell to thousands of clients at once?

Then you’ll want to build a great website. Remember that your website is the one sales tool you’ll be using for every single transaction, so make it the best you can.

At the end of the day, you’re a website design firm— so you need to have a killer website.

Your clients will judge your design skills by the quality of your own site, so make sure it’s always looking good. With Sitejet, you’ll get a beautiful template to use for your own business. Make sure to keep it up-to-date and you’ll be good to go on this point.

Second, you’ll want to keep track of some great reference pages for your target customers. This will keep them coming back and make you an expert in their eyes.

These might be pages explaining the importance of a website for the different verticals you target. You might have a page on website presence for salons, restaurants, dentist offices, and the like.

These add to your credibility and can generate new customers for you.

You’ll also want to have a few examples of sites you’ve already created for other customers. These can help tremendously when you’re trying to make another sale to a SMB in the same general line of work.

Make a contract to seal the deal with your clients (template available soon)

You’ll next need a great contract to get people started with your program.

The last thing you want is customers quitting after just a few months or not paying up.

The solution? Most importantly, deliver outstanding service. Happy clients are always more likely to follow the rules and pay on time than customers who are dissatisfied.

But besides that, you need a bulletproof contract that each client must sign. We’re not lawyers, and we can’t tell you what works best for your situation.

But we’ve crafted a contract template you can use as the basis of your final document.

Having a custom contract like this will help in the (hopefully rare!) cases where you need to ensure a client follows through with what they’ve agreed to.

Get referrals from current clients

You’ve worked insanely hard to get the customers you have. Why not leverage your trust with them for even more profit and sales? Here’s how.

Ask your happy customers to support you with recommendations; ask them to tell you their hairdresser, favorite restaurant, plumber, dentist, lawyer, etc. Then check up on those leads and convince them to work with you for a website.

Remember, the best way your customer can thank you is by referring a friend to you. To get referrals, you’ll need to ask! Be polite, and show the value you’ve created for your customer.

Next, you can get referrals from friends and other contacts. Let others know about the great services you are offering—ask your friends for referrals via social media regularly. Post client success stories with your service.

As a bonus, thank your customers or friends for a referral. A surprise gift for a referral goes a long way!

Another strategy is to partner with related businesses, like SEO agencies. When you can find a great business in a related but non-competitive niche, reach out and form a partnership.

Your clients will get great services, and both of you will benefit from the referrals you share.

Content and social media marketing

Content marketing is just posting content to engage prospects. There are dozens of ways to do this, from videos to podcasts to blogging to everything in between.

You could try all of those, but we really just recommend three: blogging on your own site, guest posting on other sites, and sharing posts on social media.

First, posting on your own site helps because it gives you the credibility you need to attract new types of customers. Oftentimes, you’ll find that customers discover you because of the advice on your blog.

This is helpful because it means those customers come to you with credibility already established. In other words, they already see you as the expert because they've read your blog posts.

We recommend blog posts on the basics of website design. Don’t write about anything too complex since most of your readers won’t be designing their own sites. Instead, include articles that cover the basic principles of building an online presence and growing a customer base.

The second powerful strategy is to guest blog on other sites. This is an incredible way to reach new customers. For example, you can write about best practices for a restaurant website and post it on a restaurant blog.

This establishes you as an authority for restaurants and also opens you up to a new audience eager to learn about a new side to their industry.

Finally, we recommend promoting through social media. The two that have worked the best for us have been Facebook and LinkedIn. (But feel free to experiment with other sites if you think they might be more popular in your area.)

Combined, these three strategies will cover the vast majority of extra marketing power you’ll need.

Start running paid ads to ramp up your marketing

The reality is that at a certain point, you won’t be able to keep growing with free methods. That’s why we recommend using paid ads after a certain point in the growth of your design agency.

We’ve used a lot of different ads, from Google Ads (formerly AdWords), to job boards, to Upwork. We’ve also seen a lot of success offering an email newsletter with multiple opt-ins.

This tends to bring in lots of new customers for us.

Building a network that brings you in new clients

They say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And the same is true for website design. An effective way of getting new clients is by building your professional network.

First, connect with other founders in person. If you’re not already involved in your local community of business leaders, start as soon as possible. You’ll get valuable advice and business contacts that can lead to more sales in the future.

One of the best places to do this is at an event, like a web development conference. You’ll meet lots of like-minded people who can help you grow your business.

Another great spot is local community business leader meetups. These are the best as you start to look for clients. You’ll meet lots of potential clients and get leads for many more. The secret here is not to pitch them but to build relationships.

Care about their business, learn what they’re looking for, and when they need a website, they’ll know who to turn to.

If you’ve already done both of these, or you want a different way to expand your network, connect with other professionals online. The internet is full of communities of founders just like you, and you can learn (and earn) plenty from getting involved.

In fact, we’ve created one such community with Sitejet. It’s a great place to meet like-minded founders and grow your agencies together.

5. How to design websites for multiple clients

As you start to grow, you’ll notice something—you’re going to need to build a system to scale your business website creation and service processes.

When you’re a one-man or one-woman show, it can be easy to keep everybody happy. (Of course, there are times when it isn’t easy at all. But at least you’re in charge.)

But as you start to scale, there’s no way you can manage everything solo. You’re going to need to pare down the hours you spend on everyday maintenance and start focusing on what you do best.

At the end of the day, you can only grow as fast (and as smart) as you’re willing to work. Here’s how we were able to accomplish more in a day than most people and grow faster than ever.

Build systems that scale beautifully

When you’re doing all the design work yourself, you remember thousands of tiny details about each site. But when you start building a team, you can’t sit beside each designer all day.

Instead, write down processes so anyone can pick up the reigns and deliver great service to any client at any time.

When you’re just starting out, you can compile these in a simple Google spreadsheet or checklist. You’ll want to make sure your employees and designers can meet the same level of quality for every one of your clients.

As you keep growing, you’ll want to ensure this document stays up to date. At the end of the day, your goal as the owner and founder of the agency is to ensure you’re able to outsource everything possible.

The goal is for your employees to be able to handle as many tasks as possible so you can focus on what you excel at. In other words, you’ll need to take your knowledge and start transferring it in a focused and efficient way to your employees so they can start designing for you.

Even if you don’t have—or want—a team, these types of processes will help speed up your process. Sitejet provides a solution for solo designers and agencies alike by keeping website details, client information, and other data all in one place.

You can work faster and more efficiently on client websites when you have all the information you need at your fingertips.

Another way to speed things up, whether you’re solo or working with a team, is to build template documents for common tasks. You know you’re going to do many tasks again and again. So set up documents you can use for each one. Build email templates, pre-write contracts, set up a Fotolia account, and get your templates ready to scale.

As you grow, you’ll get tons and tons of customer data—who is doing what, which types of leads are more likely to convert and which customers are more likely to upgrade, and other factors that mean more for your bottom line. Track it efficiently and start improving with every new customer.

Finally, set up automatic monthly payments. Once you start getting dozens of customers, you don’t have time to send out invoices. Set up automatic debit withdrawals from your clients so you don’t have to worry about calls, follow-ups, and missed cash-flow ever again.

Allocate your time well

Let’s start by stating the obvious: your time is the only resource you’ll never get back.

That means that as you start to grow, you’re going to need to carefully spend each minute on the things that matter most. Start to see your time as the single most valuable resource you have, because it is.

But it’s not just your time. If you have employees, remember that every employee hour is costing you something—either in money (because you’re paying them to work more) or in opportunity cost (because they could be spending those hours on something else).

That means you need to be ruthless with the hours you spend on everything.

We’ve found the best way to do this is to focus your efforts on things you do best. It’s easy to get distracted with other tasks your client requests, like a logo redesign. But your job is to push your client to focus your work on the task your team does best—website design.

You can even use this is a great marketing tactic.

If a client requests something you could do, but isn’t your main focus, like writing blog posts or designing a logo, you can refer them to an expert.

This is great for you in a few ways. First, it shows you’re the expert, because a true expert focuses on a few skills only.

Second, it allows you to build connections with others. If you send clients to a logo designer and content marketer, you can build relationships with those individuals and get them to refer clients to you as well.

It’s a great win-win scenario that helps you grow.

Finally, use your time wisely to create a great workflow.

Understand when your peaks are for different types of work, and adapt them to get more done. Do most sales happen in the morning, and you’re more creative in the evening? Structure your day like this and get more done.

Treat your customers like gold

Keep existing customers happy with excellent service. Once you’ve developed a site for a customer, why would he or she stay with you?

The answer is simple—great service! Provide fast, friendly, efficient service to keep customers happy for the long-term. And of course because his or her business benefits from the website you provide.

If you’re going to spend time designing a website for a customer, you need to spend the same amount of effort in making their experience with you something that’s truly amazing. Here are the key principles to keeping your clients thrilled to have you maintain their websites.

Follow through and keep deadlines. The first piece is perhaps the simplest—keep your promises. This includes everything you tell your client, with no exceptions.

If you say you’re going to deliver a website at a specific date, you’ll need to do exactly that. This kind of trust can take time to build up, but once you have it, it’s golden. You’ll be relying on your clients for referrals and future work, so be sure to keep the trust strong.

Be fast with communication. The single biggest areas where most outside groups fail might surprise you. Hired freelancers and agencies usually do a good job, but their communication is usually lacking. If you can respond promptly and clearly, you’ll set yourself apart.

This is the single best thing you can do to show you’re a professional who puts the needs of your client first. You’ll need to follow up with any messages or communications quickly and offer resolutions the same day if at all possible.

Speaking of which, you’ll also need to apologize when you make mistakes.

Accept mistakes and make amends as fast as possible. Sometimes things go awry. And it’s in those moments, believe it or not, that you can actually build trust faster with a client than ever before.

When you’ve made a mistake, every action you take is amplified. We tend to think of mistakes as a bad situation that can only get worse, but the truth is that you can actually gain a huge amount of goodwill if you can fix the problem swiftly and accept your mistake.

If there is a problem, apologize and make it the top priority. You’ll build even more trust in the minds of your clients.

Reward loyalty. Some of your clients will stay with you for years on end. You need to reward them!

Show special treatment to clients that have been with you for a long time. This doesn’t mean you’ll need to spend extra money on special projects for them—far from it. Small, even free actions can show that they’re appreciated.

Make feedback easy. If you’ve been designing websites for a while, you know that feedback can be one of the most difficult problems in the design process. You’ll need a system for efficiently incorporating their suggestions and acting on them quickly.

We’d recommend specifying a channel for feedback, be it through email, Slack, or your preferred communication system.

In fact, this is such an important step that we actually built a feedback tool into Sitejet itself. This allows designers to communicate with clients easily and act on those changes quickly and efficiently.

Make sure employees facing the customer have good customer service skills. Your designers can be grumpy and unsociable if they never speak with clients. But everyone involved in the client process, from sales and marketing to billing and revisions, needs to have great people skills.

If you can handle each of these well, you’ll have return customers for life. And believe us when we say it’s much easier to keep a customer around than to find a new customer.

6. How to keep growing to six figures and beyond

You’ve got your business up and running. Now it’s time to grow!

In this section, you’ll learn the growth hacks that have served us best as we scaled Websitebutler. The best part is that it doesn’t matter what your budget looks like. Even if you don’t have a dollar to spend on growth, you can still scale to a huge size.

All it takes is knowing the right strategies and implementing them consistently. And this isn’t just marketing and client acquisition.

Growth encompasses everything you’ll need as your agency starts to scale, from managing a growing number of clients to building out a team and making sure everything runs smoothly.

Here are the best strategies we know to grow your website design firm.

Keep developing your product

You’ll want to keep developing your offering. At this point, you have something that works. But there’s always room for improvement.

Focus on the site design when you’re just growing, and gradually add more value-added services as you start charging more.

One way to do this is by maximizing profits with upsells and cross-sells.

If you want to make more, it’s far easier to do so from a current client than finding a new client. How? By encouraging them to upgrade or by creating new offers for current clients.

There are a few different ways to do this.

First, you can encourage existing clients to upgrade. Depending on how you’ve structured your pricing, you might be able to move a client to a higher tier that includes more expensive features.

Some examples include extra domains and listings, which aren’t included in the default plan. Depending on your area of expertise, you can also include other services depending on what your clients would find most appealing.

Second, you can offer cross-sells. Cross-sells are where you refer a current client to another company on commission. For example, you can form a partnership with a photographer, an appointment booking tool, or logo design company for referrals.

Clients that need new photographs or updated logos will find real value in those cross-sells, and you can maximize your profit with the offer.

Build a great team

It’s a fact: you can’t build an amazing company without an amazing team behind you. That’s something we’ve learned in our years growing Websitebutler.

Here’s how to build your team correctly from the start.

First, don’t hire too soon—wait until you have consistent revenue. That’s right—our first tip is not to hire before you need to. Like we said earlier, you’ll start out doing everything yourself, and that’s okay.

Too many founders cripple their business by hiring before they’re ready.

Next, outsource to freelancers before hiring employees. When you first start out, you’ll be doing everything by yourself. But pretty soon, you may be able to grow even faster through outsourcing.

Develop processes, coach your workers, and keep a pulse on quality—never disappear 100% from work you outsource.

And finally, establish company culture early on. Company culture will happen, whether you want it to or not. So it’s a good idea to be methodical about how you’d like your employees to act, think, and treat customers.

7. How to implement everything with Sitejet

Now you know everything we learned to build a successful website design agency.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this guide and it’s inspired you to get started. But we want to take a minute and explain why Sitejet is the perfect tool for making this all work more quickly and with fewer issues.

What is Sitejet, anyways?

As we mentioned earlier, we started off developing Sitejet as an in-house tool.

We built a one-of-a-kind, high-performance CMS with robust web design and project management capabilities. Our goal was to let web designers create phenomenal responsive websites fast, while also giving them a platform to efficiently service those websites.

At its core, Sitejet provides a professional and turnkey system to build a recurring revenue web design business. It helps them create spectacular websites in less time, to efficiently manage processes and customer interaction, and to service these websites from one place.

We initially made our software for in-house use only. In fact, we have created 4,000 actual SMB websites on Sitejet, and we are efficiently servicing all those websites in a successful recurring revenue business model within this system.

Why you need Sitejet to save time with every design

You can’t get to 50, 100, or even 1,000 customers without designing websites at scale.

Instead, you’ll need to cut down on website design time with better software.

In the beginning, it took us more than a day to build a website—and customer collaboration was a nightmare. We’d receive assets like logos, pictures, and text through email, Dropbox, Box, WeTransfer, and even by phone or fax message.

It was a mess.

And a messy system leads to messy work. Designing websites took forever. We knew we wouldn’t be able to keep scaling at that rate, so we started changing things.

The reality is, if you’re still manually coding a new WordPress theme for each client, you’ll never scale quickly. Instead, start using systems and templates that shave hours off the design process.

Today, our fastest websites at Websitebutler are finished within 30 minutes, assuming the relevant material is available (and since we’ve streamlined our processes, it usually is). And in that half hour, we’re still able to deliver high-quality websites that customers love.

Those 30 minutes generate us on average $65 USD per month. How great is that?

Sitejet includes these templates and faster processes built in, so you don’t have to repeat our mistakes.

How to get started for free on Sitejet in just a few minutes

So, how do you get started? Easy!

To start, you’ll just choose the agency template in Sitejet. Enter the specifics of your company, like your name and the location and phone number you have. And of course your corporate identity, like logo and color scheme.

You’ll also want to create a specific color scheme and general design and layout unique to your brand. If you have a logo, this would be a good place to add it in. You can even customize the entire site to match your logo and branding schemes if you like.

Next, you’ll need to add the plans you want to offer. We cover that in more depth below, but you can add it quickly and easily once you have an idea of what you want to include.

And with that, you’re all set! You can start selling websites and use the beautiful flexible templates prepackaged with Sitejet to sell your services to any type of vertical.

In fact, this is just one of the many flexible templates you can use on Sitejet (including ones you can make yourself) and that will save you countless hours as you keep working on designing sites for your clients.

Tying it all together to build the agency of your dreams

So, you’ve got the tools and the knowledge you need to start and grow an incredible website design agency.

But we’ll be honest—there’s a part we’ve left out. That part is you.

Sitejet is an incredible system that can get you up and running in no time. And the processes and steps we’ve laid out here will get you to the finish line faster than ever.

But the real secret behind our meteoric growth was our dedication to taking action. Not to take action later, or tomorrow, or in a few minutes. But now.

And that same type of action is the only way to grow your agency. If you want to succeed in this business, you need to start taking massive action.

You’ve read the information.

You know the steps.

Now is the moment that defines two different kinds of people—the action takers, and the passive readers. Those that will accomplish something with their agency, and those that will keep wondering year after year why things aren’t changing.

If you’re in the second group, there’s not much we can say but good luck.

But if you’re in the first group—if you’re an action-taker like us—we’d like to invite you to get started with Sitejet.

You can set up your company in just a few minutes and start designing beautiful websites now.

What are you waiting for?