I had a super interesting question come up in a recent monthly Q+A with students of my Square Secrets™️ & Square Secrets Business™️ courses!

(Sidenote: If you ever run out of content ideas for your business…legit just hold a 1 hr live Q+A with your audience and you’ll have content ideas for daysssssssssss! )

Anyway, it went something like this…

“Paige, what key traits do all successful web designers have in common?”

And while this is a topic I could chat about til the come home, I think if we are being honest, what we’re all really wondering when we ask this is…

“What do they have that I don’t?”

So in this post, I’m sharing what I believe is the #1 skill that UNSUCCESSFUL designers are missing…

….and why for some people, trying to grow a profitable web design business feels like pushing water uphill.

The #1 skill unsuccessful web designers lack

Before I actually share what the specific skill is, let me quickly tell a story about how I came to my conclusion about which key trait is missing…

Years ago when I was starting my Squarespace web design business, I was a part of this Facebook group for designers.

Inside the group, we had weekly calls where 5-6 designers would just hop on Zoom together. Everyone would take turns discussing the issues and woes they were facing in their business, and we’d all do our very best to offer support or advice.

One girl gets on the call and was honestly just ready to throw in the towel on her whole business, saying:

“I’m really struggling to find clients! It’s majorly affecting my income and I’m honestly worried I’ll have to quit my dream and just go back to corporate!”

It wasn’t for lack of trying either!

She was seriously busting her trying all the marketing and outreach strategies, but she still wasn’t gaining any traction!

So I thought to myself, ‘well, what the heck could she be doing wrong?’

So I decided to take a quick field trip over to her website mid-call to see what I could see…

And ya’ll.

It wasn’t pretty.

(As in, ‘1995 called and they want their website back’ level ‘yikes.’ )

You do not have to be super trendy and always updating your site for each passing fad to make it as a web designer…

But you gotta get within at least half a decade…there’s a massive difference between what websites looked liked 10 years ago vs. now.

Not just aesthetically, but in their functionality, too!

So please know I don’t share this with the intention of hating on anyone’s particular style/vibe, or trying to belittle anyone’s hard work or learning process!

I’m just telling it to you straight so that the rest of what I’m about to share makes sense, and you can avoid having a similar issue hold you back in your own business!

So here she was trying to sell her pro-designer services at premium prices…

Meanwhile her own website’s design and color palette were alllll over the map, and it was generally just a giant hot-mess of fonts that screamed DIY website.

She was a web designer with a terrible website.

And on top of that, she was trying to offer a zillion different services. I mean she would literally do anything for you!

(Need your cat washed? HMU!)

It’s a pretty massive issue that I see all too often!

If you are selling a service, and you do not invest the time it takes to get good at that service and learn what it takes to be the best, no matter how much energy and effort you put into growing that business, it will never be a success.

You could be…

The best salesperson

‍♀️ A networking genius

‍♀️Naturally charming AF

But if you don’t first get a solid foundation in the actual skill and knowledge base you are trying to sell, you are always going to find yourself running in place and wondering why you aren’t getting anywhere!!!

This is true of any industry, btw! Not just designers!

Say you are a bride planning your wedding.

One of your friends tells you that her sister is actually starting a wedding photography business and that you should definitely hire her to do your photos!

But when you get to her website, her photos are embarrassingly bad, and you would give anything for your wedding day photos to NOT turn out looking like that!

You’re going to quickly run through a list of excuses in your head for why you can’t hire that person, find the most polite way to say “no thank you” and then run-not-walk to the nearest exit! ‍♀️

So this is the #1 mistake I see new designers make that is most detrimental to their success…

Skipping over the essentials.

Getting really good. (Not just decent.)

Pretty much anybody can swap photos and text into a template these days…

So there HAS to be added value if you are going to call yourself a designer, charge pro-designer prices, and land actual paying clients.

You need to understand:

  • Design best practices

  • Client psychology & UX (user experience)

  • Conversion strategy

  • Using built-in features and functionalities of your design platform to build creative, highly customized layouts that don’t wind up looking like the template with your client’s content plugged in…

Otherwise their 11-year-old nephew might as well just build their site for them for free! ‍♀️

And you don’t just need to be able to do all this on your client’s website! You need this for your own website and online portfolio as well!

It’s really hard to sell your services as a web designer if your own website stinks, or worse…you don’t have a website at all!

(Sorry! A coming soon page won’t cut it!)

Because you only get one chance to make an impression on a potential client. And they aren’t going to even bother going to your portfolio page if your home page stinks.

And the opposite is true! A killer home page/website can actually sell your services before that potential client even checks out your past portfolio pieces!




True story:

I hired someone to design a sales page before I even saw their web design portfolio…

I was recently looking for a designer to help us redesign an entire sales page, simply because I didn’t have the time to devote to it myself with all the other projects going on in the business!

And it wasn’t something we could put off!

So I reached out to past students of my Square Secrets™️ & Square Secrets Business™️ courses because I knew that since they had gone through the courses, they would have all the web design best practices and conversion strategy knowledge they would need to know to help me design a killer sales page.

I had soooo many gorgeous applications come in, but the second I clicked on this one student’s site, I knew – WITHOUT even visiting her portfolio page – that she was the one.

Not only was her website FLAWLESS, she was also clearly already putting these conversion strategies to work on her own site.

If you are hoping to grow your business and land legit paying clients, your own website is the most important past portfolio piece you have!

It’s not just about being able to design pretty websites…

I’ve seen designers who are honestly killing it with the aesthetic aspect of site-building, but have zero idea how to make those pretty designs convert visitors into actual paying clients and customers!

So while you need to be able to nail the physical look/layout/vibe of the design, you also need to know how to make the most of every page of that website!

A perfect example is how most designers lay out their portfolio page…

They wrap up a project, take a screenshot of the home page, stick that screenshot on their portfolio page, and cross their fingers that dreamy clients start to come their way.

But they don’t have any of the strategy that goes behind getting your portfolio page to basically book out your business for you on autopilot!

You are spending days, if not weeks and months designing these sites, so let’s get as much mileage out of each portfolio piece as you can!

So of course you need screenshots, but not just of the home page!

Do all the pages!

Include a peek at your BTS process to help future clients dream of what it would be like to say yes to working with you!

Show off that mood board you created and talk about why you included what you did in both their mood board and their final website design!

Did you design any extra deliverables to go with that site, like maybe a logo or matching social media templates?

Show them off!

Did you have a first draft you loved? Share it! Then talk about what changes you made based on client feedback!

Share your client’s story and what lead them to hiring you to build their website! This is especially important if you have a super niche client (Ie. you specifically serve health coaches) because you are showing future clients you ‘get’ them, and you were able to make magic happen for someone in their exact same shoes in the past!

Share their mission, vision, and their ‘why?’ and all the ways your final design elements are a perfect reflection of that!

Suggested reading:

Part of building a killer web design portfolio is learning how to collect meaningful testimonials

Back when I was first getting started as a designer, at the end of every project, I would always direct clients to my Facebook page asking them to “leave a few kind words.”

My thought process was that potential clients would want to see real reviews from real people, so asking them to leave them on my public Facebook page, instead of submitting testimonials straight to me seemed to make sense.

But I started noticing a trend.

Every single review said something like…

“Paige is amazing! She’s so easy to work with! I love my new website and I highly highly recommend her!”

Super kind of them, right? Absolutely!

But what I was missing was the know-how of collecting the kind of testimonials that would actually set me apart from all the other designers out there and help me to land clients in my sleep!

So what have I learned?

The art of asking questions to help your client deliver the client-winning testimonials your business is begging for!

So once again, I learned a key website strategy that ended up skyrocketing my referrals and my business!

Suggested reading:

So what’s the #1 skill that most unsuccessful designers are missing?

The foundation of website design and website building best practices!

So many designers are too excited to skip straight to the sexy money-making parts of starting a design business like figuring out how to market their business and deciding how to package and price their services that they completely skip over this step!

They think…

“I’ll just learn as I go!”

“Fake it til’ you make it, right?”

Not when it comes to building a successful web design business!

Because if you fake being good at the one service you hope to sell, well…you’ll never end up making it!

But once you have the foundations solidly in place, there’s no limit to how quickly you can grow your business!!

I have thousands of students who have taken Square Secrets™️ & Square Secrets Business™️ but it’s the ones who didn’t try to skip over the basics and head straight into “the good stuff” that are out there killing it now!

And, because they took the time to get good at the actual skill of designing, for many of them, all it takes is one portfolio piece under their belt for those referrals to start pouring in!

Maybe they reached out to a friend or family member and offered to design them a site for cheap or free, then they took the time to build them thee most drop dead gorgeous, high-converting website they’d ever seen and suddenly that person is telling their friends.

…and their friends are telling their friends…and so on!

To where many of my most successful students have commented that they never really actually had to do much marketing of their business, because their killer design skills meant that their business was able to grow rapidly just by word of mouth!

That’s why, when you ask successful designers “how do you find clients?” they tend to all answer in the same way…

“I get most my clients through referrals!”

It can be frustrating to hear when you are a newbie designer who has yet to actually land that first client in order to have someone to do the referring, but it really does just take one sometimes!!!

But if you don’t first invest the time and resources in getting those web design skills down, then you’re basically buying yourself a guaranteed one-way ticket on the struggle train in your business.


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The #1 skill unsuccessful web designers are missing