Running A Web Design Business | 6 Mistakes | Digital Masters

Episode #49

Running a Web Design Business – 6 Things You’re Doing Wrong

guy running a web design business

Have you been running your web design business for a while, but you don’t know why your customers don’t stick with you for years after years?

A lot of businesses seek out a new company when it’s time to redo their website right?

It doesn’t have to be that way! You can delight your customers to a point that they’ll be unable to imagine going anywhere else. When they need that redo, you can be the first one they talk to.

While you can do a lot to keep your customers happy after you launch their websites, a lot of their initial impressions are going to come in the first few days and weeks of you building their website.

It’s hard to undo a bad first impression, after all.

I’ve had countless clients come to me after a bad experience and complain about these very issues. If you want to provide stellar customer care, get referrals, and keep your clients, you really just need to avoid doing these 6 things.

Want to know what they are?

1. Buying/Controlling Your Customers’ Domains

Coming in hot at number one. I get that it’s often easier to buy your customers’ domains, I do. But what happens when they want to move to someone else?

I can’t tell you how often I’ve helped a client figure out where their domains are and they have 0 idea.

I’m sure you know that it’s an incredibly awkward experience to have to reach out to another web design business and ask for your new client’s domain to be transferred to their own account.

Or just frustrating because you may never hear back.

It’s all too often that I have clients ask me to buy their domains on their behalf, so I totally get how this all starts.

How to Manage Domains Instead

How do you fix the problem of client domains?

If my client has never bought a domain before and they want me to purchase it for them, I usually work with them to set up a GoDaddy or Namecheap account. I use their email, their payment information, and give them all of the login details (of course keeping the login record for myself).

Then I just need to purchase the domain(s) I need and everything is done in their names. I always use the Privacy Protection plans, so my clients’ info isn’t out there for public view, either.

Their domain is the most valuable asset a business can own. It’s where they build up their brand and their trust. Don’t take away their power and control just because it’s easier for you.

Setting up an account on behalf of your client takes an extra 10 minutes and keeps everyone happier.

2. Not Giving Copyright to Your Clients

This is a personal pet peeve of mine, and one that not a lot of clients understand honestly.

In your contracts, are you passing the copyright for the website design and copy over to your client?

You should be!

Depending on how you run your web design business, it should be a no brainer to give them their own copyright. After all, you’re writing that copy and creating that design for them. They should be able to use anything on their current website without fear that they’re violating any kind of copyright.

Assign Copyright in the Footer

Every single page of every single website you build should have a copyright notice in the footer, too. This protects your client from someone stealing their intellectual property and gives them recourse in case they do. That also means that the copyright notice should have their business name, not yours. I’ve recently seen a trend where web design companies either “forget” to change the copyright in the footer or keep it as their own. I’m not sure if they’re trying to simply promote themselves or actually take ownership of their client’s number one marketing asset, but it should never happen. It should always be copyrighted by the business who paid for the website, aka your client.

How to Handle Code

The one thing that I would say is excluded is code. One, if you’re using a page builder like Elementor or Divi, you don’t own the copyrights on that anyway so you can’t pass that on to clients. But I custom code every website I build, so how do I handle it? I have a note in my contracts that assign copyright for everything but the code to my clients. For one, the code is my intellectual property and I need to be able to use similar pieces on future websites. For two, it prevents clients from duplicating their website and getting say 5 for the price of 1. If you have questions on how I do that exactly, feel free to jump over to @digitalmasterspodcast on Instagram and drop me a DM! I’m happy to share.

3. Not Giving Clients Access to Their Websites

For the love of everything holy, if I have one more client who tells me they don’t have a WordPress login or I get into their site and see they don’t have full admin access, I’m going to throw my nice laptop out of my window.

(OK, not really. I have a backup laptop for throwing.)

But seriously, this is their website. Why do they not have full access???

Yes, you’re saying that they can break things. Or you’re protecting them. Or they need to “pay” more for that access or whatever nonsense you want to come up with.

It’s all bullshit.

Your client paid you for that website. Once you launch it, that’s theirs. It’s the foundation for their marketing, so why don’t they have full access to everything?

How to Give Access without Worry

The next thing in our list is my number one way to successfully turn a client’s website over to them without worry, but I also build their websites to be hard to mess up.

Using Advanced Custom Fields layouts, I give them complete control over their verbiage and imagery, but protect the integrity of their design.

It’s not impossible to “mess up” one of my websites, but it’s certainly more difficult. (I’ve had some talented customers do it before, believe me.)

I also offer post-launch care plans where I host their website and take care of their WordPress maintenance. This means they’re far less likely to go in and hit Update on anything unusual, more likely to call me for a change they want, but still get full access to their entire website.

4. Not Training Clients to Update Their Website

And this is how I really protect my beautiful websites from their well-meaning owners.

Every time I launch a website, I immediately schedule a training session. If the client is local, I might go to them or we’ll do a call over Google Meets. In that session, I walk them through all the pieces they might need to update on a more frequent basis.

How do I know what they’re going to need to update often? I ask that at the start of every project. I make sure to dig into their processes and understand what will change and what might not. It not only helps me to build their website appropriately for those changes, but also to know where to concentrate my training.

For the clients that don’t want to sit through an hour training session, I do screen-recording videos with audio narration of different pieces of their website. I host these on Vimeo and share the links with them.

This makes it super easy for them to refer back to a specific task they need to do without having to dig through notes or scrub through an hour-long video. I will say, most of my clients seem to prefer the broken-up training but some still prefer the in-person experience.

Training, to me, is an imperative component to not only protect the websites you’re building, but to empower your clients to handle things on their own. They’ll feel like they can do things and aren’t handcuffed to calling you.

But many still prefer to have me do the updates. Which is fine! I love helping them keep their websites up to date. I just know that in how I’m running my web design business, I’d rather they choose to work with me than have to work with me.

5. Not Answering Emails Within 1 Business Day

“Wow, you actually get back to me.”

“Thanks so much for actually answering me, so quickly!”

“I love that you actually respond to emails.”

All 3 of these are actual statements new clients have said to me when we first start working together.

Why is my ability to respond to emails so incredibly…surprising?

Because unfortunately, web developers especially have a terrible reputation of being available.

I’ve heard horror stories from clients of not getting responses for days to weeks to even months at a time!

I’m not sure how you can be effectively running a web design business and not answer your emails, but apparently it’s all too common of an issue.

How I Stay on Top of Emails

I’m actually working on improving my actual process for emails right now (mostly to keep them from overwhelming me, not to help me answer them). The simplest way to answer emails though?

I could be in my inbox all day every day, but then I’d never get anything done. Instead, I set aside time first thing in the morning, around noon, and at the end of the day to catch up on any emails in my inbox. I purposefully leave emails unread that I need to respond to and even mark them as unread if I’ve glanced at them but need to answer.

I personally can get overwhelmed by emails I’m not entirely sure how to answer. When something more complex comes up and I need some time to research or diagnose an issue, I send a very quick “I’m looking into this” message. I usually try to give an expectation of when they’ll hear back from me, too.

Communication man. It’s hard but it’s so important to keep your customers happy and prevent them from shopping around!

6. Not Having a Finished Website of Your Own

I’ve joked about this a lot with friends in the industry. Web design agencies and businesses tend to be like the cobblers with no shoes, right? We just don’t prioritize our own websites.

Why is that so wrong?

Because you’re literally telling someone that you can build an effective website for them and their business. How can they believe you when yours is so obviously neglected?

I researched a competitor recently who had very obviously used a template for their website. I judged that, let’s be real, but that wasn’t the issue. They were sending out this website to prospects and it had fake/placeholder testimonials, placeholder team members, lorem ipsum, and a lot of pieces that had obviously not been finished.

Do you think that web design business was going to gain trust of those prospects with obvious, glaring errors like that?

What If You’re Overwhelmed

If your business took off and you’re just too overwhelmed to build out a full website, build yourself a smaller version. I used a simple single-page website for many years while I was a freelancer. It was easier to keep accurate and quick to throw up. Only when I was ready and had a moment to breathe did I expand it out to a full website.

I also try to treat my own web design business like it’s a client. I schedule all my internal marketing tasks in my project management app (I use ClickUp), review my website like I would a client’s, and set aside the time to take care of my business.

After all, if I’m not taking care of my own business, I can lose that well-earned trust with my potential clients.

Not a good look.

Running Your Web Design Business Like a Pro

The key to all of these pieces? You don’t want to run your web design business like you’re a fly-by-night freelancer. Even if it’s just you in your business, you should be treating this like it’s a full-on legitimate business.

Avoid these mistakes and make your clients feel far more comfortable with you. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to do things the right way and how much happier everyone is when you do.

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