I was recently on a live video chat with a group of eager new web designer hopefuls, giving a training on Finding Clients As A New Designer (👈 you can find a replay of that here if ya like)…
And it never fails, when we get to the Q&A portion there’s always one question on everyone’s mind:
Followed by, “…and how long before I can quit my day job?”
So I happily tell the story of how I got started as a web designer, charging peanuts for projects on Etsy, to quickly making $10K+ months my new norm.
But that is just one person’s story!
And while I absolutely lovesharing everything I’ve learned from my own experience and the experiences of all my lovely past students, I thought it was about time our industry had some legit, unbiased, data-based answers to the questions aspiring web designers are asking!
So my team and I got to work, reaching out to all our friends and leaders in the web design industry, asking them to share the survey with their audiences!
And thanks to the 770+ web designers who generously took the time to tell us about the ins and outs of their web design businesses, we now have this super insightful report to be sharing with you!
We asked them to spill the beans on everything from their annual web designer income, to what products & services they offer, to who they serve, to where they find clients, and even what they’ve struggled with most since starting their business.
(Plus, what motivates them to keep going when the going gets tough!) 💪
If you’re an aspiring designer, we hope this report helps inspire you with just what’s possible when you take the leap to start your web design business!
If you’re an industry leader or educator, we welcome you to share our findings with your own audience! We simply ask that you point back to this post whenever sharing so others can enjoy the full context of the report!
I’ll be sharing the exact questions we asked, how our web designers responded, and what we make of the data…including what impact some of these factors seem to have on their success when we go to chat $$$ a little later on in this post!
(Though it goes without saying that money isn’t the only measure of success! So we will be sure to touch on other aspects too!)
A whopping 61% of designers shared they actually landed those clients before officially launching their business to the world!
So how are new web designers finding clients so quickly?
Let’s look at which marketing method tends to bring in the most business!
We asked our designers to respond to the statement: “I typically find and land most my clients through…”
I can almost hear the collective groan from aspiring web designers struggling to find those first few clients when they see that referrals (shocker) are the #1 way web designers seem to be booking out their business these days!
It’s pretty hard to live off referrals alone if you have exactly 0 past clients to refer you!
P.S. need help finding those first few clients? Take my 45 second quiz to discover which client finding strategy will have you attracting your dream clients with ease!
Ok, now for the part you’ve all been waiting for…
What are web designers charging for their services these days? And how much money do designers really earn?
We’ll kick it off with how much designers are charging per project. We asked, “How much does the average project cost your clients (USD)?”
So looking at this chart, it’s clear there is no one ‘going rate’ for web design.
We have designers charging as little as $250, all the way up to $20,000+ per project depending on the scope of what’s being offered, and their experience level, etc.
So if you’ve ever worried about pricing your services too high, just know you are far from the most expensive designer out there (and you probably haven’t even come close to the limit of what business owners are willing to pay for a website!)
On the other hand, if you are trying to compete on price, keeping your rates super low in the hopes of outbidding other designers and landing more clients, there will always be someone cheaper!
So it’s better to price your packages based on value! I love what brilliant designer and past student Mariana Dursthad to share about deciding what you’ll charge as a web designer:
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!” – Mariana Durst
But in terms of what’s ‘average’it appears the $2,500-5,000 range is the currently the most standard rate, followed closely by the $1,000-$2,500 crowd.
Next, we compared how much web designers were charging vs. how many years experience they had as a freelance web designer.
We can see that most new designers surveyed were charging in the $2,500 and under range depending on the project.
Those with at least 1 year of experience were averaging more in the $2,500-$5,000 ballpark., and designers at the 2+ year mark were more consistently hitting that $5K+ benchmark!
We can also see that with each passing year of experience, the number of members in the coveted $10,000+ project club was slowly creeping up! But what I didn’t expect to see was that designers in our 5+ years experience category actually had fewer total people in the $5,000+ arena.
A) They’re offerings may change the further along they are in business (ie. instead of charging $5K for a two-week website project, they are now offering $1K VIP designer day rates).
So the cost per project may go down slightly, but the number of projects they can fit on their calendar goes way up, making their business model much more scalable. And/or…
B) It may be time for some of these designers to seriously consider raising their prices!
Alright so next let’s look at the effect investing in online courses & coaching programs tends to have on the average price per project being charged by web designers.
If you’ve followed along with me for any length of time, you’ll know that when it comes to learning a new skill in your business, I’m a hugeeee fan of skipping the expensive trial and error period and heading straight to the source (A.K.A the expert) for that thing!
And according to our study, I might just be onto something!
So of the 771 web designers surveyed, 449 (over 58%) said they had invested money in some sort of professional development when starting their web design business.
Looking at our self-taught crew (web designers who had invested less than $500 in professional development, or hadn’t taken any paid courses or programs at all) 73% were still charging clients less than $2,500 per web design project.
Compared to those who went ‘all-in’, investing $5,000 or more to learn the skills they needed to run a successful web design business, where just 38% fell in that sub $2,500 range.
Now let’s talk premium prices!
Those who were considered ‘self-taught’ had less 2% of designers charging $5,000+ per project whereas our highest-investing group had over 23% in the high-end designer price-range.
The initial investment feels scary for someone just getting started on a baby-business budget, but thankfully becoming a freelance web designer isn’t like getting started in other careers where you must first go to school for years to get a degree in your field, and then spend another 5+ years paying off student loans (whether or not you actually ended up getting hired for that field!)
If you’re smart about how you price your packages and services as a designers, you can make back your investment with your first 1-2 clients!
So why spend months and years trying to figure out how to reinvent the wheel, right?
Someone, somewhere has already learned those lessons the hard way and has condensed everything they know into an easy-to-digest resource or step-by-step program that will take you just a few days or weeks to complete. 👌
That is literally exactly why I created my Square Secrets Business™️ course, to help you launch your web design business and book clients way faster than you ever could if you did it solo!
Alright, next let’s look at how many of our designers have opted for serving a specific type of client they are passionate about.
We asked, “Do you serve a specific niche as a web designer?”
I was super curious to know how the responses would differ between designers charging premium prices vs. those not yet charging premium prices.
Most experts will tell you the quickest way start consistently attracting and landing legit paying clients is to niche down – that is, to focus on making all your marketing & packages appeal to one very specific type of client, rather than trying to cast your client-finding net super wide in hopes of not missing out on any inquiries when first getting started.
Let’s find out. 👇
So the possible response options to the question were:
A) Yes. I only take on a specific type of client or project
B) Somewhat. I have a niche in mind but still accept other projects
C) No. I currently work with anyone willing to pay me
It looks like—of the designers charging less than $5,000—only 14% of those had truly committed to niching down.
Whereas, in the group of designers charging $5,000 or more, only about 13% of designers hadn’t already niched in some way!
One of the most frequent questions or hesitations I get from those who are on the fence about starting their own web design business is “Paige, how many people who start web design businesses actually make it?”
Now, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, success can mean 57,000,001 different things to as many different people.
So, for the purposes of this study, let’s say that ‘making it’ simply means getting your business to a place where you can say ‘adios’ to your day job and go all-in as a web designer.
Now, not everyone who dreams of starting a web design business has actually made it their goal to go full-time (like lovelypast student Emi Ichikawa who needed the perfect side-hustle to support her dream dance career)…
So to get rid of some of the grey areas in our findings, we had our designers respond two statements:
1) “My web design business is currently…” (Full-time, side-hustle, hobby, or that they are employed in someone else’s business as a designer)
2) [For those who weren’t already full-time] “Do you dream of taking your web design business full-time?”
This way, we weren’t marking someone down as “unsuccessful” if it was never their goal to go full-time in the first place!
So first, let’s look at how our group responded as a whole…
So of the 771 designers who participated, over 62% have already been able to ditch their 9-5 and make freelance web design their main source of income.
This leaves 292 (or 38%) of designers still working either part-time, or are employed as a designer in someone else’s business.
But again, not all aspire to go full-time, so let’s check in with our remaining 38%…
234 (or 80%) of our side-hustlers, hobbyists, or not-yet-self-employed designers shared they still dream of making web design their main source of income.
So when compared to our total number of designers surveyed (excluding those who started their businesses with the intention of staying part-time) approx. 30% of designers had yet to reach their goal.
Many designers who dream of going full-time opt for running things as a side-hustle at first while they work on tucking away enough savings to safely be able to kiss their cozy 9-5 paycheck goodbye!
In fact, a fairly large chunk (41%) of these full-time hopefuls reported in an earlier question that they had been at this whole web design business thing less than 1 year.
So in all likelihood, they probably just hadn’t gotten to that point yet, but are still likely on their way!
Pssssst! Enjoying the sneak peek? 👀
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