WordCamp Atlanta: How to Make Six Figures in Web Design

At WordCamp Atlanta 2013, James Dalman talked about how to build a profitable business on web design. Slides. Video. Here are my notes:

  • Many web workers don’t many any money.
  • The key to making money is knowing how to run a business that provides for you.
  • Business is about failures, not successes.

Focus on your strengths

  • Find “what you’re made for,” and do it.
  • Don’t be a jack of all trades. Learn other skills, but don’t worry if you’re not good at them.
  • This prevents you from being spread too thin.

Build your confidence

  • Believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, neither will clients.
  • Be confident in what you do. For the things you’re not confident in, know people who are, and direct business their way.
  • Be confident. People notice. (James recounted stories about how he’s gotten business just by being confident, because people appreciate and are more comfortable with confidence.)

Invest in relationships

  • Building clients relationships is essential to business. It’s easier to keep an existing client happy than to find a new one.
  • Help your clients. You want to ease their pain and make them happy.
  • Don’t build relationships to get something out of it. That’s the wrong approach. Build authentic relationships, and let whatever happens happen.
  • A great way to build relationships is by attending meetups and conferences.

Find great clients

  • Believe in yourself. Believe that you’re good at what you do and that you can find great clients.
  • Great clients won’t balk at higher prices, because they understand the value you offer. This ties into being confident. Be confident that you can price high, because you have great clients.
  • Keep the best interests of clients in mind. They’ll appreciate it.
  • Responding to emails and phone calls can be a powerful tool! So many jobs can be missed just by not networking in these simple ways.
  • Communication might fall apart with clients. Overcommunicate to compensate!

Sell true value

  • Sell your work on its value, not by an hourly rate.
  • Clients want to see the value and the benefits you offer, not how much you’re going to charge them every hour.
  • Selling on value can work better for you, because it can sometimes mean you make an enormous hourly rate, just because you were able to work fast. (The corollary is true, too, but be confident and it won’t matter.)
  • Selling on value inspires you to work fast and not milk the clock, which results in good work done more quickly, which makes for happy clients.

Price for profit

  • If you offer services, you want to make money for offering them.
  • If you’re freelancing, you want to make profit.

Do awesome work

  • This is the best way to build your business.
  • Go the extra mile and be the best you can in what you put out for others.
  • Good work can bring in even more business, because people recognize your talent.

Final thoughts

  • Open doors require effort to find. Opportunities don’t just come up, you need to put in the work to get them.
  • Act on your ideas, or they’ll never get done.
  • Business isn’t about making the money. It’s about building awesome work and providing opportunities for others.
  • If you spend a lot of time learning, that’s great. But you need to spend time acting on that learning, too.

Lucas’ note: this is when the question period began.

Transition to selling new clients on value

  • Guess the number of hours it’ll take you, pad it by a large margin, and then present the lump sum cost.
  • Explain the value people need which you can provide.

Strike a balance between learning and doing

  • Time can be very well spent on action.
  • Keep reading what’s current.
  • Spend time building business connections in addition to learning and doing.

Value and quality is what to focus on when finding partners

  • Find the quality in your community.
  • Don’t use microlancing sites to outsource. They devalue the industry on a whole.

For small tasks after launch, hourly is okay

  • You don’t know how long it could take.
  • Alternatively, slap a small lump sum down that corresponds to your expected hours.
  • Tiny edits should be free. Don’t nickel and dime your clients, they’ll know.

Need resources for designers

  • Step by step mentoring.
  • Information about building businesses.

Turning down clients is fine

  • Don’t do a project just for the money.
  • Can get locked into a painful project.
  • Follow what your gut tells you.


  • Relationships take a long time to build.
  • Writing can be a good jumpstart to this process.
  • “Cold-calling” can work sometimes, but often leads to rejection or bad clients.
  • Partner with people who complement your skills.
  • Look around your network for good people. Hangout and befriend them!


  • If you partner with someone, have them in the process the whole time, but have the client pay them separately.
  • 50% down payment, once a project starts, no money back.
  • Put your terms in your invoice, your “contract” can be there.
  • Take payment out of your system straight into your bank upon receiving it, to prevent people trying to take it back.

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