Prefer to watch?

Here’s that video interview with Mariana!

Rather read all about it?

Here’s what we chatted about…

If you want to start your own Squarespace web design business, then this is a conversation you cannot miss!

A couple weeks ago I sat down with one of my past students of my Square Secrets & Square Secrets Business courses, Mariana Durst!

She walked me through her experience of becoming a website designer and the advice she would have for others just getting started, or trying to grow their web design business!

We did this good ol’ Q+A style, so I’ll share my list of questions as well as her crazy-insightful answers below!

Q: Can you tell me about how you started your business?

What you were doing before, why you wanted to be a designer, and did you have any prior experience?

A: I’ve always been a creative and I have a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts, so I’ve been an artist and worked as an artist before.

I’ve had a lot of businesses!

The last business that I had before starting Desk & Design involved a lot of making. It was an herbal business where I made self-care products for moms.

That got really exhausting to be in my kitchen all the time, standing and making the same things over, and over, and over again!

I just decided one day that that was not in alignment with how I wanted to live my day and my life, and so I started thinking about what would be!

I went into a VA (virtual assistant) position knowing that I wasn’t going to necessarily stay right there, but that it was kind of a starting point while I defined my niche.

I had a couple clients, but I realized I was just trading my hours for dollars and I was never ever going to reach my goal.

Of course, as a VA, I needed a website and I took your course, Square Secrets. I designed this insanely beautiful website!

You taught me “I can do this!”

(This was before you launched Square Secrets Business course but once you did, I obviously jumped into that course as well!)

Before even finishing Square Secrets, I was already booking clients, and had doubled my investment in the course!

And shortly after taking Square Secrets Business (I don’t remember exactly what the number was) but I made back my investment in, like, a minute…over, and over, and over!

I was really drawn to this digital medium [of web design].

It didn’t involve making a mess in my house or in my studio… it was something I could still use my background in fine art & design, and the design classes I was taking from college as well!

So everything I was interested in and that I had a passion for came to a head, and your courses really helped me understand that that was the way for me to go.

Q: Let’s talk about your web design niche…

You mentioned you had a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Was it obvious from the get-go that you should serve fine artists, or did you struggle to pick a niche?

A: I was working with all creative entrepreneurs…

And I’m ashamed now that I was so broad….that’s not a niche! (People who say that’s their niche are kidding themselves!)

There’s so many people who consider themselves creative entrepreneurs that you might as well just say “entrepreneurs.”

I wanted to work with people who were making an impact, and I was working with some health coaches, but it didn’t feel in alignment. I didn’t feel I could connect with that kind of client as much as I could with fine artists.

The way I arrived at that was that I was taking Shanna Skimore’s Blueprint Model which kind of laid it all out with:

  • what I’m good at…

  • with what I know…

  • with what I want to do in this world…

…and what was in the middle of that diagram was fine artists, and helping them put their artwork out there.

So I tested it out and traded services for art!

I have some beautiful paintings from those first few websites, and it was like the universe was telling me “this is your niche!”

Picking a niche can be so difficult, but then once you work with a few clients, you start to realize ‘I really like working with this one for this reason.’

Q: Do you suggest other website designers working for free or trading services when just starting out?

A: If you’re trying on a niche and you have this gut feeling, I say try to get paid for it if you can. Even if it’s at a starting rate with the understanding with your client that you are still exploring this.

If they don’t have the means, but they are a really good fit, maybe a barter situation is appropriate as long as it’s a win-win situation.

If it’s not fair or if somebody feels pressured the whole model of bartering falls apart and it does not feel good!

Q: How did you find your first client?

A: I think on Facebook! It was a friend that had a creative idea she wanted to launch.

I sent out a message to all the people I knew letting them know what I was doing and to connect me with anyone that they thought had a need.

I set up a Facebook page and shared it on my own profile, and this friend hired me…

It was quite an experience! I started off charging not a lot, but it still felt really empowering because I knew that I had the background and I had invested in myself and my professional development with Square Secrets.

After the first client, I just kept booking them!

Then in taking Square Secrets Business, my process was totally refined and elevated, whereas before I didn’t have a timeline, I didn’t understand how to gather all the information from my client in a really efficient way.

Your course really lifted the fog and help me see, and your process for the two-week website is what I do now!

I’ve branched out to offer more business mentorship, but the design phase is basically your model you teach in Square Secrets Business.

Q: Can you talk about what you do for marketing now?

You’re booked out pretty far in advance and charging premium prices…how?

I’m kind of coasting a little bit with my marketing because I’m book out several months!

A lot of my clients now come from word of mouth, and I was also featured inside a fine artists’ course, so that was really helpful…to the point where I took my blog down last week.

I’m just going to start fresh when I feel called and want to apply myself more to that, but for now I think it’s worth more time to nurture my email list.

I also want to start pitching ideas to podcasts and other influencers in the fine artist space…


That’s a really big thing I think people overlook, if there’s a community, course, podcast, Facebook group, etc for your niche audience, get in there and be an educator! That’s a legit marketing strategy!


Totally! I also signed up (on your recommendation) for Charlotte O’Hara’s Guide to Pitching Your Web Design/Development Services.

I got a lot of clients from that!

I feel like at the beginning you have to do the work and actively be going out…

…but then if you get to the point where you’ve done a lot of projects and you get referrals, it clearly just shows that you’re doing amazing work if people are recommending other people to you!

Q: What’s your #1 piece of advice for new designers searching for their first clients?

Reach out to people!

The worst thing that can happen is that they say ‘no’, or ‘not right now.’

It feels really daunting, but if you come at it with the mindset that you’re going to face rejection (just like a lot of things where you are putting yourself out there) and that it’s ok and to just keep doing it…

It’s a numbers game!

I sent out wayyyy more pitches than the number that responded positively.

It was a tiny little fraction. But it made an impact!

Q: How do you deal with imposter syndrome as a web designer?

Did you even deal with that when getting started?

A: Oh totally! I felt like throwing up when I was reaching out to people I really wanted to work with!

I felt like…

How dare you tell somebody you could improve their website! They probably worked really hard!’

But I’ve learned as a copywriter, and from your course, that there are a lot of improvements to be made, especially in the area I was working in with fine artists.

I had to shift my mindset and say…

‘Okay, maybe I don’t have all the experience yet, but the little bit of experience I do have can help them be better!’

That gave me the courage to hit send on all those pitch emails.

I also always try to prioritize my professional development! That helps me to combat imposter syndrome alot!

But I also realize that it’s just a part of the process. That’s how it is, and you have to do it anyway!

Q: How did you become fully-booked?

Was it just consistently doing your marketing (until now where you’re actually trying to pull back on the marketing?)

A: It was pitching the cold emails! That’s when I started booking months in advance.

Q: Did it take a lot of convincing to get people to book your web design services for a future date instead of being able to start right away?

I never had trouble with it because my clients want to keep doing what they are doing. They do not want to not paint, or not make art.

So the way I approach it on a sales/discovery call is to say…

‘Hey, you want to make sure you have time on the easel, I want to make sure that you have negative space in your calendar so that you can still feel creative…so if we book it months in advance that is going to give you both things! You’re going to have time to get prepared without losing your creativity!’

Q: A lot of web designers find that before they get their systems in place, projects drag on like crazy…

Do you have any tips for getting client projects completed on time?

A: I think mentioning that you have a schedule…mentioning at every turn what the expectations are, and repeating deadlines for the project.

‘We have two weeks, the project ends when it ends, I have a certain amount of time to dedicate to this, I don’t work past 5, if I don’t have the information I need…, etc.’

Explain those things in a very kind way in your welcome document!

My clients all understand boundaries and are appreciative of them because they don’t have to project manage anything.

So I set them up with a timeline and guide them, and we set up any meetings we’ll need ahead of time so they are in the books.

I’ve very organized… and so my clients feel very supported.

I never let a project go over the time limit. I will gladly work with past clients on improvements and touch-ups, but this is extra work, not part of the project.

I think out of all the things that I got from Square Secrets Business, those boundaries and how to communicate them was life-changing.

Q: What’s the one thing you wish you had known when you first started your web design business?

A: I wish I had really listened to the experts when they said to niche down.

I wish I had done a deeper dive into how to niche down because that is a difficult conversation to have with yourself.

It took a lot of hearing from different people to really come up with my own process for doing that, but every single time I niche down a bit more and a bit more.

I think figuring out my niche sooner would have been a lot less stressful.

Q: Do you think it’s possible to start and run a successful full-time web design business during a pandemic?

Now more than ever it’s really important for businesses to be able to pivot and get their brick and mortar businesses to online, so this is a time to become a web designer for sure!

Q: How long until you started earning $5k months?

Is the demand still there, or are people now leaning toward DIY website templates?

I haven’t felt a dip at all!

I did recently re-engineer my main offer to include business mentorship, so it’s no longer just a $5K website…

But there are all sorts of people who want all sorts of options!

When you really define who your people are and how you can help them with what you know, there’s going to be a demand for that!

Not everybody is a copywriter, not everybody knows website strategy, not everybody has the time or the willingness to do it!

So there will always be a demand for web designers, and I feel.

Though, you do need to figure out what you need to offer, and who you need to be to command that price!

You can’t just say,

I’m gunna build you a four-page website and charge $5K.’

You really need to back it up!

Q: What are your packages and how did they evolve with time?

A: When I first started offering web design, I was breaking it all up into different packages…branding, copy, and web design all packaged together in different combinations.

It was kind of insane, because I couldn’t predict future income, and if clients only booked the cheapest package in one month, then I was going to be short.

So I thought to myself ‘how can I control this? How can I set boundaries?”

So I stopped trying to please everyone, and decided how I wanted to work.

I wanted to have predictable income…I liked having that umbrella over the copy and visuals, as well as the website design.

You can outsource to all different people, but then copy and visuals aren’t necessarily going to be connected, and my clients would have to on-board with all these other people.

It would be time consuming, and never done to the degree that I knew I could get it done, so I just decided to combine everything into one two-week website package.

I’ve also since built in business mentorship (which I was doing before but now I’m actually paying myself for it!)

I also have a day rate where on a select dates on my calendar, people can hire me to do something small – not their whole website, because I can’t do that – but a little refresh, copy for one page, website strategy, and stuff like that.

So those are my two offers right now, and shortly I will also have a template shop for fine artists.

Q: How much of your own money did you invest in the beginning of your business?

What was it allocated towards? What were the investments you made?

A: I’ve always invested a lot on my professional development! That’s my biggest expense, and each year I spend more.

Here’s a really important thing…

Never ask your clients to pay more than you have invested in yourself.

I think that’s a good measure of value.

If I’m asking somebody to invest in me, it’s because I’m also investing in my expertise, and becoming faster, better, and more well-rounded!

So I started with taking Square Secrets…and every single professional development investment that I’ve made in my business I’ve tripled or quadrupled my investment back no matter what!

Q: Do you think your design skills are the #1 most important skill you’ve needed to succeed as a web designer?

was there another skill that was more important that you have?

A: It’s not a skill…I think it’s a mission!

I think it’s the heart of what I do!

I’m not the best designer, I’m not the best copywriter, I’m not the best… but I care the most about my people and I want to help them the most.

Q: What’s the best way to show your portfolio if you don’t have a lot of sites built for your niche?

A: Like you mentioned in Square Secrets Business you just build them!

I think three is a good number to start with…so if you only have one past site for your niche, then two you made up, that’s totally fine!

Showcasing their aspirations – who your niche clients want to be – helps take your portfolio to the next level.

Q: How can you set yourself apart from the competition as a Squarespace website designer?

A: Create your own uniqueness! Tap into your own heart and mission and find what makes you unique!

If you’re walking on top of somebody else’s footprints in the sand, you’re going to have something that’s not success to you!

By defining what your business is going to be like, what your offer is going to be like (it’s not just a website, it’s so much more!) that’s going to help you stand out!



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Booking out your web design business months in advance with Mariana Durst