By Andrew Neitlich

Why you should stop calling yourself a web designer

By Andrew Neitlich

Why call yourself a web designer if you can make more money calling yourself something else? I suppose my business is web design and development, or at least that is a part of what I do. But I don’t call myself that. Nor do I structure my business arrangements like a typical web designer/developer.

There are only two ways I do business:

1. As a marketing consultant. Lots of what you do is marketing, right? Why not figure out a way to provide clients with a complete marketing solution? For instance, right now I’m working as a marketing consultant to a healthcare group. I write letters for them. I have created a marketing strategy for them. And I’ve developed a web site for them (at a pass-through cost of about $300). The website represents 1/35th of my total fees. Why? Because I’ve broadened my solution. You can do the same. As a marketing consultant, you can earn a lot more.


2. As a web publisher. For many professionals, I design their website for free. I even write books for them. In some cases, I hire a video professional to videotape them during lectures or demonstrating their expertise. I put up all of the money. Why? Because I get 90% of the sales. Many professionals appreciate the marketing exposure they get from this arrangement. And I get all the upside and am willing to take the downside.

That’s putting my money where my mouth is. I am willing to take a small financial risk in return for upside, because I know I can make more money that way. Plus, I end up owning the sites and content sold on those sites, the way a publisher owns a book. So I build up an asset with long-term value.

Why work for an hourly rate if you can have a business model based on value (#1) or equity ownership (#2)?

The above blog may be provocative to some of you, and frankly I doubt many of you will go ahead and make the transition to the above based on this blog, but at least consider the concepts here.

  • I prefer “User Interface Engineer” :D

  • DevonWright

    I prefer “Expert Websmith” or “Internet Solution Expert”. But I can understand your’s too, Andrew.

  • But Andrew… I’m not a webdesigner, im a hamburger!

  • My only thought here is that a lot of us don’t want to or don’t have the skills to broaden. I for one don’t want to really expand that broad. You have to realize that sometimes focusing your efforts into one particular area works better and is more profitable.

  • aneitlich


    I agree 100%. I’m just presenting a few different models. Everyone has to figure out what model fits best for them.



  • Ever since I started calling our company PTP NEW MEDIA – Creative Web Marketing, our sales have increased. In addition, we are focusing on niche markets (2 to be exact… financial and health care). Everyone needs a doctor and a place to put their money. Brand yourself to be the expert and you will succeed. Only the best!

  • Andrew,

    The above blog may be provocative to some of you, and frankly I doubt many of you will go ahead and make the transition to the above based on this blog, but at least consider the concepts here.

    That just made it sound like if we don’t take this model we made a bad choice.

    However, I do agree in many ways, just that last paragraphs made me raise an eyebrow.

    – Ethan

  • yannisc

    Your concept is logical and nice (it’s always nice to earn more)..

    But, how can we broaden our services? How do we market them?

    Could you be more specific? More deep? What tips would you give to us? What books would you suggest to start broadening our services?

  • As long as the term “IT Professional” dies a horrible death, I’m all smiles.

    Seriously though, when somebody asks what you do for a living, your answer should never begin with “I am a (insert contrived title here)” in any case!

    Tell them what you can do for them boy, kick off with something like “Well mate, let’s say you decided to take that crazy stamp collection and kick off your own online trading community. I’m the type of guy who would make that happen.”

    If you’d rather just throw out a supposedly impressive job title then turn back to your tonic & gin, you’d have just missed another great opportunity.

  • ramyshubra

    i like this toughtand what you think in, really i work in Web Design box and know that i have to work in many box throughtmy living in this box.

    i think i have to re-set my plan and my life work startigy every year ;)

  • Andy,

    Many of the guys who visit this site call themselves web designers because they are. It certainly is a great launching pad for expanding your service offerings. The difference between many of your readers and yourself is that they probably are the people that YOU contract to get your work done. If one of your websites goes bonkers and needs fixing and one of your offshore developer/designers aren’t available, you probably can’t even fix it yourself.

    So rather than doubt that readers will make a transition, I’d like to encourage them that they are perhaps in an even better position than you (knowing their craft). Simply telling people they need to do something without providing much meat (how), puts you in the same league as Robert T. Kiyosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad). [ read more: http://www.slate.com/?id=2067175 ]

    It all depends on the client, calling myself a “marketing consultant” may pigeonhole you in similar ways.

    The key is listening to your clients needs, be curious and find out where they need help above and beyond your service offerings. Don’t wait for them to ask, pay attention and ask lots of questions. If they need print work, find a way to help out, etc.

    By all means, you have to do what you like and what you’re good at. If you’re chasing the fast/big bucks without the soul and desire to exceed personally and professionally you won’t have a foundation to fall back on. Its true what they say, do what you love and the money will follow.

  • Christoph Hoerl

    My favorite: webworker. But it doesn’t sound yery professional.

  • Dr Livingston

    i think you’ve made a couple of good points but… it’s finding the time to actually look into making a transition from one to another, ie from web developer to marketeer for example.

    as for clients, well… there are times you just want to slap the little… … …

  • What has me scratching my head is this:

    Plus, I end up owning the sites and content sold on those sites, the way a publisher owns a book. So I build up an asset with long-term value.

    Based on all the legal advice I’ve read, independent contractors typically perform their duties as “works made for hire,” meaning that the copyright of anything they produce — branding materials, web site content, advertising copy, etc. — is given over to the client upon completion of the contract. I know I sure wouldn’t hire a web designer, publicist, or marketing expert who was going to make off with my intellectual property and all the profits it generates.

    If you’re playing the role of publicity and marketing expert, the typical arrangement that I’ve heard of is for the consultants that work for individual professionals (such as agents and publicists) to take a percentage cut of the income they help generate. Literary agents work the same way in the world of publishing.

    Contracts with companies or non-profit organizations would necessarily function differently, of course. For example, the fundraising consultant hired by the private college where I work was paid at a (very high) hourly rate.

    Your claim that “a publisher owns a book” is also highly dubious. In the world of fiction publishing, the author always retains copyright. This is something professional writers have insisted on and fought for, having seen the negative effects of the loss of IP rights by musicians to the recording industry.

    The situation is more variable in non-fiction. Grabbing the non-fiction books closest to me at the moment I find that Dan Cederholm retained the copyright to “Bulletproof Web Design”; Jeremy Keith holds the rights to his “DOM Scripting”; and the three authors of “The Design of Sites: Patterns, Principles, and Processes for Crafting a Customer-Centered Web Experience” have also retained their copyright to the work. On the other hand, the rights to “Adobe Creative Suite 2 for Dummies,” “InDesign CS2 for Dummies,” and “Photoshop CS2 for Dummies” are all held by Wiley Publishing, Inc.

    Maintaining all rights to the books they publish is probably part of Wiley’s standard contract, and because the “For Dummies” series is so well known they can pull it off. To the authors, it’s worth the trade to be seen as among the premiere experts in their field; the loss of copyright is a marketing investment on their part. However, few if any independent consultants could convince a legally savvy client to make such a bargain.

  • Anonymous

    . As a web publisher. For many professionals, I design their website for free. I even write books for them. In some cases, I hire a video professional to videotape them during lectures or demonstrating their expertise. I put up all of the money. Why? Because I get 90% of the sales.

    I am new to the industry; I am a hobbyist more than anything. I am confused by this statement. If you write books and design the site for free, what is that you actually sell? Color me, confused.

  • Mathew Patterson

    “what is that you actually sell? “

    The website design is done for free, and then that website is used to sell products. He then takes a percentage of each sale that the website makes.

  • siteman123

    Should part of offering a complete marketing soulution be to know exactly what you are doing? Maybe undertake some formal training? Granted many designers / developers have to have an appreciation for a clients sales processes to intergrate the web site properly. But marketing is a real responsibility…… if you get it wrong and get a poor response to an initiative would a client be reasonable to try and recover their costs if they found you weren’t properly qualified or experienced? I think it’s a great idea but possibly easier said than done? I’m all ears though!

  • shadowbox

    90% of sales? Methinks the next blog should explain exactly how you get your clients to agree to this.

  • rozmo

    Way to go Andrew!Now that is definitely thinking out of the box. Perhaps a paradigm shift in the making. As far as most not making the transition, that’s the norm in any industry when it comes to cutting edge ideas and concepts. Those that listen and adapt, swim, those that choose to ignore, sink. Perhaps they should consider the title of “Starving Developer Looking For A Niche”.

    Thanks for the bold ideas!


  • Great blog. I think I’ll go as a “professional visual relay consultant” from here on out. :)

  • baileysemt

    90% of sales? Methinks the next blog should explain exactly how you get your clients to agree to this.

    Amen! I can’t think of the last time I came across a sharp, successful business person who actually agreed to such a deal. Maybe I deal with people who are too smart??? LOL

  • Along with siteman123, I’m wondering how a Web designer could present him/herself as an expert in something which people take master’s degrees in, when the designer doesn’t have that kind of background. I’m not terribly impressed by academic degrees alone, but I know marketing degrees do involve some fairly “hard” subjects like statistics, etc. I are a artist. I cain’t do that numbers stuff. So you’re saying I should just fake it?

  • webchick

    While this all sounds well and great.. who has the time? Do you ever sleep?

    I take on a limited number of clients per month amoung a team of three, and then we also have the continued web clients to provide updates for and other services.

    Wouldn’t it be wiser to partner with a print company, or other companies that provide these services, where my company would receive a kickback from those companies for bringing them business?

    I hear what you are saying – and I think it’s great that you are able to do so many things. But as a professional, I have learned in business to stick to what you know, let others do what you can’t. I don’t have time to learn proven marketing strategies, and I frankly don’t think my clients expect me to. What they would like though, is if I can point them in the right direction to someone who can that I know will provide excellent services to them. Giving a client more than they anticipated, even just by referring them to someone else, will impress them and bring them back time and again. Trying to be something you are not and offering services that are beyond your expertise will only cause disappointment and loss of customers which equals loss of business…

  • ChrisB

    Can we get someone more aligned with our demographic writing this blog? It’s obvious from the comments that alot of the readers don’t align with Andrews thoughts and he is in a completely different league to 95% of us. Think about it.

  • I disagree ChrisB. It is good having an “outsider” look in and challenge everyone. Just b/c he does not “align” with others here is their loss. He brings a different thought and perspective to the table. While he may not be correct at everything he says, who is. I don’t see anyone else here writing a blog that gets thousands of hits daily. Just listen (or read) what he has to say. You don’t have to take it but some of it is really good stuff.

    You can be a web designer and only go so far. To take it to the next level you have to get your @$$ up from behind the computer, use people skills and develop a competitive advantage that seperates you from everyone else who does the same damn thing you do. His blog is more about good business than web design.

    His advise has helped my company grow and become more profitable. Good stuff. Keep it up.

  • Jason Batten

    Can we get someone more aligned with our demographic writing this blog? It’s obvious from the comments that alot of the readers don’t align with Andrews thoughts and he is in a completely different league to 95% of us. Think about it.

    The title of this blog is “Selling Web Design Services”. More than half of the people here are JUST designers or JUST coders. They wouldn’t know a sales pitch if it came up and slapped them in the face – it’s obviously true by peoples comments. They are thinking like designers or coders. Not sales people. THIS IS NOT A BLOG FOR DESIGNERS OR CODERS. This is a blog for people who want to SELL those skills not just “do” them. Andrew is good at this job although this blog post is brief – but it is up to us to research, after all he isn’t going to give us all the information needed to be the best ;)

  • Jason Batten

    I’m a BUSINESSMAN FIRST. Coder second.

  • If you want to be a designer or coder only you can come work for me. :)

  • Jason Batten

    Only if you developed a strict specification ;)

    Nothing worse than asking a so-called-“manager”/client what you need to do next and have them say “I don’t know”.

  • siteman123

    I made a comment about being careful what you sell and to be sure if you start selling marketing services you can deliver. I think a good business person will understand they need to sell. But over promising and under delivering can have a negative impact on a business. Let’s try and keep this blog on a positive and useful tack. I think it has the potential to be a very lively and useful blog. Let’s hear from the sales people / the business people who are taking an interest some ideas they have employed and that have worked well. We can all learn from each other but sometimes the genral needs to move to the specific.

  • Ortiz

    Seem’s to much like a superman approach to me, in referance to juggling two identities. Why not devise a label that is both informative and accurate in its description?

    Although I return to read your blog post’s every day, but don’t really see the marketing basis for a move like this. Whatever happened to the client comfort zone?

    Although the word consultant grabs my attention in a peculiarly settling kind of way.

  • Jason Batten said…

    The title of this blog is “Selling Web Design Services”. More than half of the people here are JUST designers or JUST coders. They wouldn’t know a sales pitch if it came up and slapped them in the face—it’s obviously true by peoples comments.

    I don’t think that’s an entirely fair assessment, though the level of business savvy among many independent professionals in this business does sometimes seem fairly low. Honestly, I think that may be the case for freelancers and small businesses in almost any specialty- or craft-oriented field.

    I don’t object to having someone whose primary job is business and sales authoring this blog. It’s important for small business and freelance professionals to realize that they must always fulfill two roles to be successful. There’s the role that appears on their business card (designer, developer, locksmith, woodworker, etc.), and then there’s the role of CEO and head salesperson. Those who try to run their own business by playing only the specialist and never the salesperson will usually find themselves “working for the Man” again in short order. I was fortunate to absorb a good bit of business sense by osmosis when I was young, watching my mother sell real estate in the competitive market of 1980s Southern California. I’m hoping this will serve me well now that I’m setting out to launch my own business.

    What bothers me about this blog isn’t the specialization of the person who writes it, but the tenor of the author’s advice. Andrew deserves credit for bringing new trends and business ideas to a group of people that might otherwise be completely unaware of them. Elements of his advice have sometimes struck me as somewhat dodgy, however. I found this entry particularly alarming; some of the above advice flies in the face of everything I know about ethical, good-faith business practices. If I’ve drastically misread his post, I do wish Andrew would respond here and let me know.

  • aneitlich


    Sorry, but I can’t respond unless I understand what seems unethical or not good faith to you. If you can be more specific about what bothers you, then I can reply.



  • Andrew: Please see my earlier comment, above. My concerns revolve around intellectual property issues and the 90% take you say you’re getting on sales (Sales of what, exactly? The books and videos, or some other product?).

  • aneitlich

    Ahhh, yes:

    1. Re: Intellectual property. In the second example noted in this blog, I operate as a publisher, not a “work for hire” consultant, and not as a literary agent. My contract specifically states that I have the rights to the materials we create. My clients, really partners in this case, are generally individuals who lack resources but have expertise. They want exposure and also the credibility that comes from a site and having the materials we create together. So in these cases, I am a publisher using a publisher’s contract. My clients/partners understand that and are happy with the arrangement. So my contract is very different than a web designer contract in this case.

    What I am finding is that dozens of people like this arrangement and are coming to me. So my job is to assess whether their ideas are sound and will sell or not, since I take the financial risk.

    2. The 90% of sales in this situation comes from the materials we create together, which are typically educational programs based on the expertise of these people. My target market in this case are “guru” types with an expertise they can offer to others in the form of prepackaged information. Almost anyone can be a guru if marketed correctly and if they have sound expertise.

    So, everything is up front and ethical and, in fact, the folks who are doing this with me tell me they are thrilled.

  • well i call my self a New Media Designer,
    thats working well for me ..

    nice post

  • busyboy

    Thanks for giving us ideas to think about. If I come across an expert somewhere that has that sort of interest that I believe I can market without large amounts of money (at first, anyway), I think this is worth a shot. Though I do agree with webchick, and would sub out print work, etc to those more qualified.
    I call myself a “web developer”, but most people don’t know what that is. the average customer doesn’t know the different between a developer and a designer, much less a “UI Engineer”, “usability specialist”, etc. I’m sure those who’ve cruised CraigsList can readily attest to that.
    “Consultant” is nice, but the term is a cliche now, like “custom-made”. I’m not sure it holds any water now.
    Most of the time, I focus not on my title, but how I can help them. That’s what they’re interested in anyway.

  • nice article dude, you have a point. am a freelance web designer ;)

  • Thanks for responding to my concerns, Andrew. It sounds like the arrangement you have made with your clients is actually similar in some ways to the one that Wiley Publishing makes with its authors (to re-use an example from my first comment).

    As with Wiley, you help generate the “guru” credibility that your clients desire. Once established as a guru, one of your clients could command generous fees for speaking engagements and seminars within her industry or area of expertise. A more traditional book publishing contract — in which the author keeps IP rights — would also become easier to get, if desired.

    Basically, it seems that you’ve set yourself up as a door-opener and guru-maker for those who have the expertise to fill that role, but lack the time or skills to market themselves into position. It’s a fascinating choice of micro-niche; I doubt you have much competition at all.

    Thanks again for the clarification. I’ve officially gone from suspicious to impressed and intrigued. :-)

  • Kamna

    Nice article … Good Concept

  • Self-proclaimed Future Man

    I’ve tried, but I don’t know where to start with this. Bad advice.

    The title of the blog should be – “Just Call Yourself a Marketer – I do”.

    Be what you are good at, achieve what you can and “call yourself what you are” (even if it is a hamburger – at least it’s honest).

  • BID

    I think the big problem with this for most of us ( Designers or Developers ) is fear. Fear of not being able to deliver ‘the goods’.

    How many of us here would like to offer mrketing services but simply don’t have the knowledge or offer SEO serives but realise that in itself is a full time job. It’s is the fear factor that you simply cannot deliver what you promise.

    I guess the answer is to contract someone who DOES know how to do the things that you don’t.

    I absolutely agree with Jason about ‘thinking like designers and coders’. I know I am guilty of it. I get all hyped up about revamping my business and the fall backward into thinking like a designer.

    I am not a businessman but I am going to keep at it until one day I am lol

  • Many people many terms … not meaning to be derogatory but when called a web designer, I find it offensive. Partly because I know the difference between a web designer and a web developer with the latter’s skill-set being broader and also because that “designation” has been repeatedly misused in the industry with 11 year olds designing disgusting lookign website (by and large).

    Since I am not yet into business, the terms software developer, web developer and web application developer seem acceptable. Any contest?

    But if I were to do business, the term would most definitely be “Consultant” irrespective of the specialization prefixes like web solutions, marketing, business etc etc unless absoluetly required.

  • I like the concept you’re introducing but it bugs me to think that if I were to be referred as a marketing consultant or something with more finese and sounded professional, wouldn’t I be leaving behind my respect of being a website designer?

    Clients will no longer appreciate me as a website designer but a consultant in marketing or some other job advocation.

    Anyway, just my two cents and really appreciate the sharing of this insight.

  • Those of you who don’t get what Andrew is trying to say…. you had best go to work now for someone who does…because you are never going to make any real money. Savvy business owners don’t want web sites, they want you to make them a ‘device’ that will make them money – create a process or a service that will MAKE THEM MONEY.

    Stupid business owners just don’t want web sites – well maybe they would consider one for $200 USD or less.

    I went from web designer to marketing consultant (ad agencies make bucks people) a few years back and it helped greatly. Now I’m out of that altogether and I sell products online. A lot of you are better designers than I will ever be – expand your horizons.

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  • I submitted a rather lengthy comment a week or two ago and wondered why it was not published. I called the first line, “What’s in a Name?”.

    thank you,


  • StevenP

    I call myself a Web Consultant. People normally ask what exactly I do and then I go into more detail – depending what I think thay are looking for. If they seem to want a designer, I play up that angle, or if they want a marketer, I focus on that side of my work.
    By calling myself a web consultant, people usually presume that I’m an Internet Guru, which is a good place to start your pitch I find.

  • found my original post … i hope it makes senses and pertains to the topic:

    actually, i had been calling myself a web developer for several years until last year when i landed a terrific gig with a global firm, who provides worldwide contracts in about a dozen or more areas of expertise. i was hired to redesign and remarket the internet presence, develop an intranet and perform any other web-related tasks and internet-related strategies to support a new company branding campaign. i consider myself rather well-rounded in web design tools and techniques such as dreamweaver, flash, css, jscript, and seo strategies.

    i was brought into the IT department, and after being on board for several months, i discovered i had been more of a what i would describe as a web “author” or “designer” than developer. we are a fully integrated Micrsoft .NET/SQL Server based shop, developing fully interactive web-based applications for external clients, as well as for our employee base of over 13,000 members across the globe.

    i have spent the last number of months absorbed with a “learning bug” i have not had for many years and enjoying it tremendously. studying and coding .net and sql server have provided me a complete new arsenal of tools for developing more indepth, completely interactive sites and/or browser-based applications.

    whatever name i give myself (or the company provides) is not nearly as relevant as what i am now able to provide after such a brief period of learning and the internal satisfaction it provides.

    whatever you decide to call yourself, i just hope you are having as much fun as i am doing it …

    wynne the web guy

  • Nick Roy

    I prefer to call myself an Internet Consultant, Internet Advisor, or an Internet Strategist.

    Nick Roy, Webmaster

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  • chumbo

    There are 100,000,000 people out there calling themselves marketing consultants. 99.99% have never taken a amarketing class and couldn’t even come up with a good definition for the term “marketing” if asked.

    It means nothing and people are starting to learn that.

    I call myself, “director of pants-free web attack”

  • Anonymous

    Well I’m feeling pretty pumped after running across this article. I felt that angling toward “web publisher” was best – pretty cool to see a pro saying it too.

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