There are many ways to improve freelance web developer revenue. The holy grail may be hidden somewhere between sales process improvements, creating better proposals, and changing the pitch. Sometimes the key is actually to offer products that do not require pitching at all.
Let’s go through a few ways to get noticed and start making money.
Drive Toward The Need
Changing the way web developers position themselves is an excellent first step on the journey to making more money. The crucial part here is to understand what’s driving customers to purchase. Why do they even want to have a website?
Here is a list of pain points many web owners face:
- Delays in a project
- Ditching the project by the web developer
- Being left on their own after the project
- Being asked questions that require technical knowledge that they don’t have
- Lack of vision / Not being able to explain my idea
As you can see most of these issues are not about the website itself but about the way a website project is organized. I have discovered throughout my years in the web development business that value propositions that highlight the advantages of project organization more than code quality itself resonate better with the customers.
The reason for it is that it’s hard for a customer to compare the quality of different web developers because it requires technical knowledge most clients don’t possess. That is why, it is way easier to differentiate from the competitors not by underlining the code quality, but by showing competence in organizing a website creation project.
Once you know the pains, you know what the key points to highlight in the proposal are. Answer those pains and remember to drive directly toward their need. Your proposal will be too compelling to refuse.
Don’t sell advantages of the website you are about to build. Describe the benefits for the site owners and explain what they will gain by working with you on the website development project.
For example, instead of promising a responsive layout, tell them that the site will be readily available on a hand-held device. This way you underline the gain a customer gets from it and, at the same time, you avoid speaking in jargon.
Apart from feature-related benefits, there is also the positive effect on project management. One of the best deal-sealing benefits that I leveraged throughout my career in website development was assuring the customer that I would clarify his vision and transform the idea in his head into a fully operational website. The success rate will only increase if you have found in the pain discovery phase that a customer has this problem.
Working With Prospective Customers
It’s not just about building websites for whoever comes. It’s about investing in relationships that will keep you fed in the long run.
I often told my customers that I don’t build websites. I told them that I can take care of their online presence, make sure that their business will look professional, and help them receive customers of their own. Of course, a website played an important role in the overarching strategy, but the point was to get more jobs from serious people who were committed to getting the most of their online presence. As their vision was evolving and growing, they had more and more need of my services.
Another tactic that I found to be very successful is to focus on customers who are looking for long-term relationships. Instead of offering to build a website, provide development and management combined. Sometimes I even suggest to not create any website at all but to refresh and maintain what the client already has, which gave me a massive advantage over the competition. Adding the management part to your proposal not only increases revenue per customer but also assures your client that you are not going anywhere and you will be there for them, which is another critical pain they usually have.
Collect money the smart way
Your accountant may disagree, but it is cash flow, not profit that drives freelance business. It is great to have a five or six-digit contract signed, but until you get it wired, you can’t pay bills with it.
Here’s a set of tips and tricks that helped me stay cash flow positive in both my freelance and agency times.
Collect Often and Early
Taking 30-50% of the money upfront is a standard way of improving your cash situation, as your position at the beginning of the project is much stronger than near its end. Additionally, I used to divide projects into stages (such as: accepting the website mockup, accepting the website graphics, etc.) and charge a chunk of the total price after completing every stage. This way I had to collect no more than 30% of the price at the end of the project.
Organize The Approval Process
No matter how much money you will collect upfront or during the project, almost always there is an amount due only after a customer has approved the project. That’s what makes organizing the acceptance process crucial. The secret is to specify the scope of the project in the agreement (You can download a sample description of a project’s scope from Perfect Dashboard).
Scrum is rarely possible in the low-end market most of us work in. The more specific you are, the less wiggle room you leave for interpretation and misunderstandings. What is more, I used to limit the time for each round of testing and added a provision that in each following round a customer could only report bugs there weren’t there in the previous. When I implemented this idea into my business, I had the project acceptance time reduced by more than 50%.
Keep Control Over The Website Until Paid In Full
It’s all about keeping an advantageous position. Once the site is fully operational and it’s on the customer’s hosting, there’s not much you can do get your full compensation apart from going to court which is often not even an option, especially if you deal with foreign customers.
That’s why some freelancers keep administrative access to the website until it’s paid in entirety, so they keep the option to turn it off just in case. I used to do it the other way around. I turned on the website’s front-end only after I got all the money. This way I was able to avoid further escalating the situation by turning the site off and still keep some control.
Use Auto Collecting Solutions
If you don’t feel like collecting money, then you could always use a third party service like peopleperhour.com or freelance.com. In such a case, the money for your project is secured by a third party. They can also be helpful in conflict resolution.
Avoid Changes In The Website Project Scope
Several techniques can help you prevent or decrease the chance of project scope change. The rule of thumb is that every hour spent on specifying the requirements before writing the first line of code saves you ten hours afterward.
Get The Customer Involved Early
How many times have you delivered a complete website to a client for review and approval only to learn that it has nothing to do with his actual needs? That is why it is crucial to engage the customer in the early stages of the project.
The earlier you demonstrate a mock-up, a draft of requirements or any other thing that specifies the project scope, the bigger the chance that you will avoid wasting your precious time on things that are not what your customer wants. Whenever you get the customer involved there is an opportunity for valuable feedback that will make it possible for you to save your time and create a website that is precisely what your customer needs.
Make sure the customer is involved in the process. Every time I heard that they had no time to review the draft I sent them, but that they are sure that I will build a great website for them, I took that as a bad sign. Nodding heads are a red flag. If they say it’s okay – ask questions. Ask them what do they think about the mobile version. Make sure they reviewed what kind of content they need to deliver on their own. Explain to them that the website will look differently at various devices and browsers. Once again, every hour spent with the customer before writing the first line of code saves 10 hours spent on the acceptance process later on. Trust me. I’ve been there, I’ve done that.
Create Mockups / Wireframes
Create a simple sketch of the project to help a customer visualize the layout(not graphics) of elements on the website and the navigation structure. This way you can make sure that both you and your customer think about more or less same website before you dive deep into coding. I’ve been using UXpin to this end, but you can easily find dozens of similar tools out there. This is especially essential if you are working on a responsive website.
Clarify Customer Vision
This is where experience in both web development and psychology comes in handy. First, when customers described their vision I often asked: “why is this important to you?” You wouldn’t believe how many myths about what is right for SEO, security, or website traffic are out there.
Asking this question gives you a chance to educate your customer on the current state of the art and explain that displaying white text on a white background is not a necessarily the best way of getting more traffic from Google. Secondly, I used to ask a list of routine questions that included:
- Who is your typical visitor?
- What is the goal, that the visitor shall achieve while on the website?
- Do you plan to regularly add content to the site?
- Which social media do you want to integrate with?
- What type of social integration do you have in mind? Is it liking/sharing or something else?
- Will you be adding/changing content on the website yourself?
- What kind of devices will a visitor use to access the site?
- What interactions will be possible on the site (apart from reading the content)?
- Will there be any contact information provided? In what way?
- Do you need to connect the website to any other software/service?
Document the requirements
Write down the requirements and attach them to the agreement. Scrum and other agile methodologies are a great way of developing new code, but they are difficult to understand regarding billing for a customer. I suggest an old-fashioned, written document with as many details as possible. A sample requirements document template that I was using in my freelancing days can be found over at Perfect Dashboard.
Organize The Acceptance Process
A neatly organized acceptance process can save you a lot of time and avoid becoming a nerve-wracking experience for both sides.
It all starts with writing down the requirements. This way there is something to compare the website with. I always tell my customers to open the requirements documentation and note point after point whether everything stipulated there is reflected on the site.
Secondly, if they had some feedback I always ask them to submit it on the margin of the initial requirements documentation. This made it difficult for them to add features that were not originally there as they couldn’t find a right place to write them at.
The third thing is to limit the time for testing to some reasonable amount of time since the website has been made available for testing (I used seven days). Lack of feedback within the agreed period means that the project is accepted as it has been delivered and I can send an invoice right away. I tried to stay flexible with my customers, but there were a few times when I used this mechanism to invoice an unresponsive customer.
Another thing is to organize website testing in rounds. Ask the client to submit all the feedback all at once, not to drop one email after another. Once they are done with the first round of feedback, review it to make sure it’s not a change of scope and then apply it. After that, it’s time for another round of customer testing and possibly another round of your fixes. This lasts until a customer accepts a website without any comments. It may sound formal and impractical, but believe me, it saved my hours in my freelance times.