How to Increase the Value of Your Design Services for Clients

by Steven Snell

January 14, 2010 in Business/Freelance

Web designers obviously have a lot of competition from all of the freelancers and design agencies that are out there. Potential clients have plenty of designers to choose from, so there is always a need to focus on doing the best work that you can and giving clients a highly-valuable service. Designers who take great care of their clients and get results for them are usually busy and not lacking for work. Their clients will keep coming back to them and word-of-mouth referrals will be common.

In this article we’ll take a look at a number of things that designers can focus on with the intent of giving their clients a more valuable service. If you want to have more projects and clients coming your way or increase your income, these are some areas that you can address.

1. Focus on Results

In order to make your services more valuable to your clients, the best thing to do is focus on getting results for them. Clients will be happy to pay for services that help to make their business more profitable. Results are ultimately more important to a client project than the aesthetics. Take the time to get you know your clients and their customers, and focus on creating a website that will work for them and meet their needs.

2. Dedicate More Time at the Front End of Projects

If you’re looking to improve the results of your work, one necessary step is to do an effective job at the start of the project. This includes dedicating time to the client intake process, as well as to things like wireframes, mood boards, and generally getting a better feel for the specific needs of the client and the project.

A project that is planned more effectively from the start will have a much better chance of getting the needed results, and it will probably not require any more time because it will reduce the amount of revisions and potential communication issues later in the project.

3. Gain Valuable Experience

The experience that you gain today will help to make you a better designer or developer in the future, which will increase the value of your services to your clients. The type of experience that you should pursue will of course depend on the services that you offer and the types of things that you would like to bring to the table with your future clients. Maybe you would like to work with a client in a particular industry, design a specific type of website, work with a certain CMS, or manage various phases of a large project. Whatever the case may be, you can be looking for new opportunities to get this valuable experience.

Rather than waiting for the ideal situations to come to you, make an effort to seek out the experience that you want to get. It may mean working for less money than usual, or even free, but it could help to improve the value of your services in the future. If you’re not able to find any client projects to gain the experience that you want, you could start a personal project that will help you to get this experience, work with other designers/developers on some sort of group project, or keep your eyes open at web design job boards for potential opportunities.

4. Improve Your Ability

One of the more obvious ways to make yourself more valuable to clients is to simply improve your abilities and be able to offer a higher quality of work, or additional types of services. Improving your ability is very much within your own control, but it will take time and a commitment to working on the areas that you want to improve. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources and opportunities here, you’ll just need to decide what works best for you. You could take a more formal route and take classes or attend seminars/conferences, or you could work on your own to learn through books and online tutorials. Another way to improve your ability goes back to the previous point of gaining experience. You could take projects specifically for the purpose of learning something new or stretching your skills.

5. Understand SEO

SEO can sometimes be a bit of a touchy situation for web designers. Some clients who don’t have much experience with SEO want a designer to build a site that will get great search engine rankings, but there is so much else involved, such as inbound links and content, that a designer/developer cannot simply build a site that magically gets high rankings. In my opinion and from my experience, the designer/developer should understand the basics of building a search-friendly website that will have a chance to rank well. The structure of the site (page titles, heading tags, clean code, location of primary content in the code, etc.) should be the focus, in terms of SEO, when designing and developing the website. Some designers may choose to offer additional services like content creation and link building that will improve the SEO of the site, but that is really a separate issue. To increase the value of your services as a designer, focus on creating a search-friendly site that will give your clients the foundation that is needed for a site that attracts search engine traffic.

6. Offer Options for Ongoing Maintenance

Most of your clients will need some type of maintenance on their site from time-to-time. Even with a CMS it is likely that at some point they will need some additions or changes that require services from a designer or developer. For clients, finding someone to perform the needed maintenance can be a major inconvenience if the original designer or developer is not able or willing to do the work. Clients like to know that someone will be available and willing to help them down the road after the initial project is completed.

Some designers charge an hourly rate for any work beyond the scope of the initial project, and others offer some sort of package that includes a specific amount of work on a recurring basis for a monthly fee. Whatever you choose to do, have some plan that you can present to your potential clients that will demonstrate that you are interested in a long-term relationship that will meet their needs into the foreseeable future.

7. Partner With Talented People in Related Fields

It’s very likely that your clients will be in need of services like logo design, copywriting, content creation, photography, social media marketing, search engine optimization, and more. Some designers offer additional services beyond web design and development, but for those services that you do not offer it would be beneficial to have a quality service provider that you could partner with. Your clients probably do not want to have to dedicate a lot of time to finding all of these professionals, but if you have a good working relationship with the client they will likely appreciate and trust the people that you refer. It can be a real time saver for clients and you can make their lives a little bit easier.

The partnership could simply be an exchange of referrals as situations arise, or it could be more formal where you would earn a referral fee for any paying clients. Additionally, you could consider outsourcing the work to other professionals and serving as a middleman between the client and the provider. This may be preferred by some clients because it would give them just one contact person, you, rather than multiple.

8. Have a Professional Portfolio

As potential clients are looking for a designer, they will be evaluating you based on your portfolio site in most cases. Having a professional portfolio will not necessarily increase the quality of work that you will give to that particular client, but it will help to improve the perceived value that the potential client sees in your services. Perceived value is from the client’s perspective and how they view your ability to get the job done. If there are two equal designers, one has a very professional portfolio site and the other does not, the client will likely see the value of service from the first designer as being higher, assuming all other factors are equal.

Give some attention to your portfolio site and see how it may be impacting the perceptions of your clients and potential clients. Take a look at well-designed portfolio sites to get some ideas for your own site. Make sure that it represents you, your services, and your abilities as well as possible.

9. Build Your Name Recognition

Name recognition is another factor that isn’t really going to improve the work that you can do for a client, but it can increase their perceived value of your services. Many clients prefer to work with a designer that is known or respected in the industry, at least to some extent. Some clients are willing to pay more simply because they know who the designer is. There may be more talented people out there who are unknown, but name recognition (or the lack thereof) can be a factor in how the potential clients sees the designer.

If you’re interested in improving your name recognition there are a few things that you can do beyond the obvious solution of creating great websites that get attention:

  • Start a blog – Blogs have proven to be an excellent way for designers to get some exposure and to build a name for themselves.
  • Be active on Twitter – Many designers are very active on Twitter and you may be able to build a significant following that will help to improve your name recognition.
  • Get your work featured in CSS galleries – There are literally hundreds of gallery sites out there, so you can do your best work, submit it, and use that exposure to improve your name recognition and reputation.
  • Find high-profile opportunities – One effective way to get your name out there is to be involved in a high profile project. An example is Unique Blog Designs who re-designed sites for people like John Chow and Jeremy Schoemaker for recognition purposes.
  • Write a book – It’s not an option for everyone, but those designers who have written successful books have strong name recognition.

10. Organize Your Customer Service

From a client’s perspective, the service that they receive is equally important as the design work that you do. Instead of just focusing on improving yourself as a designer, you can also increase the value of your services by providing a higher level of customer service. There are a number of resources that can help with customer relationship management (CRM) and may make it more convenient for you and your clients (see 12 CRM Options for Freelancers).

11. Evaluate the Tools that You Use

As a designer or developer you will be using software, code editors, and other resources in your daily work. Do the tools that you are using allow you to do the best work possible? In addition to software, you’re probably also working with certain content management systems, shopping carts, and blogging engines repeatedly on client projects. There are a lot of options out there, so make sure that you are using the best options to give your clients a high value.

12. Consider a Private Label CMS

If you’re building a lot of sites for clients that are using a content management system, consider using one that allows you to be a private label re-seller. This means that the CMS will look to clients like it is created and controlled by you and it will have your own branding. A good CMS under a private label can help to make your business look more impressive to clients, which may lead to a higher perceived value. Additionally, as a re-seller you will usually earn commission from ongoing monthly fees for use of the CMS or for the hosting associated with it. One example is LightCMS by Element Fusion, which targets designers to be resellers of LightCMS.

13. Take Fewer Projects

If you want to increase the value that your clients are getting by doing your best work and getting maximum results, one option is to take fewer projects, which will allow you to dedicate more time to a smaller number of clients. Of course, this will require you to charge higher amounts for your projects in order to end up with the same hourly rate or total income that you would get otherwise, but your clients may be happy to pay a little bit more if it has a significant impact on the end results.

14. Take Care of Extras

If you look at the services provided by various freelance designers and design agencies you will see that there is a lot of variation in terms of what is included in the price for a web design project. If you want to increase the value of your services to clients you can go the extra mile and take care of things like setting up Google Analytics (or another stats program), helping them set up a system or plugin to backup their database, set up email addresses for them, etc. There are a lot of little things that are not part of the web design cost for most designers, but if you want to make yourself more valuable you can take care of some of these things that clients need but are not excited to deal with.

What’s Your Experience?

How do you go about improving the value of your services for clients? What impact has it had on your business.

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About Steven Snell

Stephen Snell is the owner and editor of Vandelay Design.Connect with Stephen on google+

  • Dumm

    Jan 14th

    good article. thanks

  • ryanMoultrup

    Jan 14th

    Great article. I think another very important thing to mention is don’t claim you can do things that you cannot or or not very good at. It is very tempting with how competitive this industry is to build yourself up beyond your skill set in order to land a job/client.

    Your much better off being honest with yourself and potential clients with what you are capable of. I find myself turning down projects that are beyond the scope of my skills. This is also a great way to partner with others. If a job is to advanced for you refer them to someone or an agency that you know can handle it and it will pay off for you in the long run.

  • Nedd

    Jan 15th

    SEO – is bad for the customer

  • Theo

    Jan 15th

    I try to create a frendly relationship with my clients and offer long time maintenance/support on one hourly/monthly fee basis.However being at the beginning i take all the help/advice i can get.

    Thank you for this article.

  • Patrick Heck

    Jan 15th

    Great Article. For me the first point is clearly the most important one. If you focus on results (or benefits) for the clients you are of great value for them.
    The point about Private Label CMS was also very interesting and I will have a look at the linked article.

  • Steven Snell

    Jan 15th

    Nedd,
    How is SEO bad for the customer??

  • Jane...***I LOVE WEBDESIGN***

    Jan 15th

    Steven,

    You got Incredible information filled in here.. Really worth the time we spend to read the article.
    According to me the Highlights are these.

    6. Offer Options for Ongoing Maintenance
    7.Partner With Talented People in Related Fields
    9. Build Your Name Recognition

    Thanks for spending time to create this Awesome article.

  • Tim Scully

    Jan 15th

    Great article!

    A couple of questions related to a topic that I haven’t seen addressed anywhere:

    How does one typically handle hosting a client’s website?

    Do you pick a host that you like and host all your client’s websites from there?

    If so, how do you handle billing for that since each site will likely add additional cost to you per month?

    It’s like this is the secret aspect of web design that no one talks about.

  • Steven Snell

    Jan 15th

    Hi Tim,
    There are a few different ways that you can handle hosting for clients. One option is to open a reseller account with a hosting company, an example would be Host Gator. With your reseller account you would be charged a certain amount by the hosting company each month. You could then set up your client sites on that account and you would then determine the prices that you would charge clients and you would handle the billing. I think there are some reseller accounts that handle the billing for you, but in general I believe the reseller would have to deal with billing their clients. You would also have to respond to support requests from your clients. To me that is something that I don’t want, and I don’t think making $10 a month from hosting a client’s site is worth the hassle. Personally, I just have a few hosting companies that I recommend to clients. I will help them sign up if they want me to, but some clients will already have a hosting company in place. If you want to make money from hosting but you don’t want any responsibility you can join an affiliate program. Find a good hosting company that you can honestly recommend to clients and chances are they have an affiliate program. Then if your clients sign up with them through your link you can make $50 – $100, or in some cases more.

    Jane,
    Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

  • Tim Scully

    Jan 15th

    Awesome, thanks for the info!

    I appreciate your insight!

  • javad

    Jan 15th

    woowo good article

    regards,
    Jawad

  • mushroom

    Jan 15th

    I can relate to a lot of what you just said in that article. Quite a lot of it is already being done but a few tips you gave there will really come in handy in pushing our services forward. Brilliant!

  • Design Build Firms

    Jan 16th

    The internet has made doing business today quite different, if customers aren’t actually purchasing online they are still visiting the product online before buying.

  • carlnunes

    Jan 16th

    Value is the customers perception of satisfaction of product/services rendered. Business 101.

    If you have real world experience; never work for free. Even if you are just adding emails, taking a quick call, and/or answering a quick email question. If your client doesn’t understand the meaning of “livelihood”; then tell them “Good luck with your project”. Clients will never respect you if you work for free.

    Don’t spend too much time creating a name amongst your peer group; they don’t buy what you are selling anyway.

    Limit the number of clients you work with and let your customers know; you don’t work with just anybody. This is simple branding advise.

  • Federico

    Jan 16th

    Very nice and right of course.
    I think that sometimes, it depends on where you are and how much experienced you are, you have to offer an allround service to your clients, ’cause it’s what they want.
    so i think that SEO it’s a must have attitude nowadays. You don’t have to be a master of course but you have to offer and do it in a good enough way.

  • Maicon Sobczak

    Jan 16th

    How much useful information in only one article! I wrote down all the tips.

  • Chris - freelancer

    Jan 18th

    Nice article – I always try to offer a little extra, should never underestimate the power of word of mouth, I’ve come to rely on it more than SEO!

  • Logo Design

    Jan 18th

    I think giving time frames and creating realistic expectations increases value. Many businesses become restless when they feel a design is taking too long.

  • Vincent MATHIEU

    Jan 18th

    Excellent article ! Thanks a lot.

  • vuitton

    Aug 15th

    Excellent article ! Thanks a lot.

  • InWard247

    Apr 27th

    Nice Post. Really got a lot out of: Understand SEO!

    Thanks

  • InWard247

    Apr 27th

    Nice Post. Got a lot out of: Understand SEO!

    Thanks

  • InWard247

    Apr 27th

    Oops! Sorry about the double comment (window close on me).

    Thanks

  • Website Design Buffalo

    Jun 15th

    The catchy blog with the interesting contents. You give the nice information. most of your contents are make me have more knowledge. it is very different. I was impressed with your blog. Never be bored to visit your website again. Have the nice day. Keep enjoyed your blogging.

  • Article Directoy

    Jun 26th

    Hey, good to see you up and running officially. These look fantastic too. You’ve been doing a ton of work for yourself, and it’s all great.

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