The business of web design


I have some questions and would love some input.

I have been a web designer since about 2000 and I have been doing services for others since about 2006.

I have owned my own design business since 2007.

It seems since about mid 2009 that the market of design is starting to really get bad. I am unsure if it is the market or the economy.

Here are some issues that are happening:

  1. Customers sign contracts and agree to pay for the time they use. They dont pay after using time and I have to chase them for the money owed.

  2. Customers pay by the hour or some deal and the time is provided. They expect for the design to be modified until they are happy regardless of the fact hours they have paid. They are not happy paying more and in the end result file complaints and take back the money through the payment processing if they dont like it. Example, they pay for 10 hours but it takes 25 to get them happy, they dont want to pay for 15 more hours and they take back the money from the original 10 hours worked.

in the past, customers would request changes and pay more to have it done, now it seems if they aren’t happy, they must have it done for free so your 10+ hours are wasted. I have never ever experienced this until 2009 and my company which use to employ 20 designers is now only my self and is close to being shut down. I think this may be due to the economy and so im riding it out to come out stronger when it is over.

What are your opinions?
Just how much is the economy playing into the above 2 issues?


Here is your first problem, you need to set up seperate business accounts that you can place the money in and make sure they are escrow accounts. This makes your customers feel like their money is secure when really it is just the same.

Now you always charge first and guarantee your work, but charge 1.25 the rate, this way you can make changes and you already know you got paid.

Inc500 companies etc are billed hourly starting at $100/hr. Never have any issues what so ever with any of them.

Are you having your clients sign a contract? I would highlight the fact if you are going over due to changes they still have to pay. The only way I could see them not paying the extra amount is if they proved somehow you wasted time.

The estimation is not the issue at all,

Clients are told that they get so many concepts and revisions upfront, yet they always want more and then dont pay when they dont get what they want because it costs them more. The estimation is right on target for what is offered upfront.

lets say
10 page website
1 unique design concept
2 revisions

they come back and say I want the design re-done “new concept”, they are given an hourly rate they say they want it done for free. Then when it is not done for free they end up only paying the percentage and abandoning the project all together, thus earning less per hour.

Is this common in web design, or are the customers bottom feeders / time wasters? Customers not following the rules and then abandoning the project? BTW: Quality is not the issue as ive done work for major companies including inc500 and fortune they never have a problem with the work either.

Since we don’t have all of the information, it’s hard to know all of the exact details of the project. You say it’s definitely not a quality issue, but for that client it may be. 95% of the people that view it may think it’s great … but if it’s not what the client is looking for, it’s going to be a problem.

How much information are you getting from them before starting on the design? Are they giving you examples of what they like and don’t like? Color schemes and ideas they already have in their head? The reason I ask is because I have only had one client in my many years of working with clients that asked for something completely different because I was nowhere near what they wanted. If you are following their guidelines, it should at least include some positive aspects. Once you show them, do you ask what they do like and what they don’t? Part of it could be in the communication with the client on what they are looking for and what they want opposed to what you think they should have. So something to think about there too.

However, on the other side, there are quite possibly those clients that are difficult to work with and are hard to please. To be honest, if you have worked with companies in the Inc500, I would assume that you bill them quite a bit more than $1,000 for a 10-page site? Part of the problem you may be facing is that with your price-point you are going to attract the bottom-feeders that are looking for a deal … plus everything for nothing. There are definitely those clients out there. Whether they are ignorant as to what a website actually costs or just has their own idea of what they want and how much they want to pay for it (not much). So at the lower price, you may be attracting those types of clients more often. That’s a possibility as well.

One thing I will suggest to you that I find helps with the design process is that with every client I will create 2 design comps. That way the client is able to see different ways the site can be laid out and different use of color / navigation / style. What this also does is gives them a choice, A or B and then can tweak A or B. If you just give them one design, the only choice they really have is Yes (or pay you more money to “hopefully” get it right the next time). Obviously this should also increase your price since you will provide two designs, but I think it would help to reduce the number of those clients that want something completely new.

I agree with DC, if the 10 page original site takes you 20 hours, tell them upfront.

In your contract, you can say something like 10 pages takes 20 hours. Minor layout and other tweaks up to hours (I would say 3-5 hours) will be done at no charge. Major layout changes occurring after 20 hours will be charged at $/hour

they pay for 10 hours but it takes 25

Sounds like over-optimistic estimating. What would you do if your car repair cost well over twice what the mechanic estimated?

What would you do if most of the car repairs – no; strike that, just a couple – car repairs from a mechanic came in at well over twice the estimate given? You know and I know you’d probably never give the mechanic even a second chance.

If ten hour jobs are regularly coming in at twenty hours, estimate at 20. Don’t low ball just to get the job, that’s the real problem.

Were we talking about one-of-ten clients and a ten percent overage, that’s one thing. If times are different and old estimates no longer hold true – then change your estimates. Estimate better. Period.

How do you make a 10 page website in 10 hours :confused: But that aside.

Having a contract is okay, but what are the conditions in that contract? I usually have clients paid in three terms. 30% upon signing the contract. 30% upon the presentation of the site and the remaining 40% upon when the site goes live (for the last term they have a 30 day agreement).

Contracts are being signed, no time is wasted. 10 page website is created in like 10 hours and then they want to re-do the whole website free of charge because they are not happy with the end result for free with out paying further time despite the fact they sign off on parts of the website. It is like bottom end clients however never had issues until like mid 2009.


issue resolved, case closed.

I’m glad to see you have resolved your issue.

The key here is ‘clauses’. Make sure to include fine print in your contracts that additional work will require additional hours, billable for x amount.

I would have said that the key is ‘managing client expectations’, which is really very similar.