How to bring in more design clients without dropping your prices

It seems like every time I talk to designers about bringing in more business, the most common solution for finding more clients is dropping prices. Unless you want to make less money and be more stressed, let me offer a few alternative options to dropping your prices.

Oh. And then add your tips by leaving a comment.

Target high-income clients

The obvious alternative to dropping your prices is finding clients who are willing to pay you what you’re worth. What’s the key to success with this strategy?

Actually being worth what you charge.

Take for example, Walmart and Nordstroms. Walmart plays the price game. Their motto is essentially this: “We will charge less than anyone else, guaranteed.” In fact, recently they’ve adopted the practice of price matching any legitimate advertisement from any other store. If you are all about price, go to Walmart.

Nordstroms, on the other hand, plays the quality game. Don’t you dare take a Target ad into Nordstroms and ask them to price match. They might just haughtily laugh you out of the store. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.

Nordstroms knows that, if they sell high-quality products, they can charge more. And if they charge more they can survive on less customers. Which means less work and time spent.

Would you rather be the Walmart of the design community, or the Nordstrom’s? I’d rather have fewer, high-paying clients than a million low-paying ones.

Don’t be afraid to say “no”

Humor me for a second. Have you ever seen the web site, “People of Walmart”? The terrible site basically showcases all sorts of strange people that visit Walmart stores on a daily basis.

The kind of people you would never want as clients.

See what I mean?

They would never make a “People of Nordstroms” web site. Not only are there not as many people to choose from, but Nordstroms basically caters to one kind of person. And photos of those people don’t make for an entertaining web site.

Likewise, you don’t need to accept all sorts of people as clients. Don’t be afraid to say “no” if a potential client solicits work, but you don’t feel right about the opportunity.

If you’re wasting your time with low-paying clients, you’ll never have time to build a solid repertoire of high-paying clients.

Choose your time, and your clients, wisely.

Specialize

I have gotten a little bit of grief for it in the past, but I still say specialization is a great way to get an edge up on your competition. If you’re the best wordpress developer in town, who do you think people are going to call when they need a great wordpress site done right?

Not the cheapest guy.

See, people are willing to pay for expertise. That’s why plumbers get paid so much money.
Or electricians.
Or lawyers.
Or accountants.

And even if one guy could fix your leaky faucet, rewire your sound system, recite the Bill of Rights, and get you a great tax refund, you probably wouldn’t hire him to do any of those things. Or if you did hire him, you wouldn’t expect to pay that much, because the minute he takes on multiple disciplines, he just becomes some guy who does a lot of things.

And when you need your taxes done perfectly, you hire the accountant. Not just some guy.

Create a solid brand for yourself

Specializing is part of creating a solid brand for yourself. It seems like this is what it all comes down to:

Your Brand.

Walmart is the cheap brand. And they attract clients who are all about getting a great deal.

Nordstroms is an expensive brand. And they attract clients who are willing to pay more money.

Accountants brand themselves as finance specialists.

Jacks of all trades don’t really brand themselves. They are just the guy who helps you out with stuff.

So what’s your brand?

How do you brand yourself. Do you agree/disagree with what I’m talking about today? I’d love to talk with you about it, but that’s only going to happen if you leave a comment.

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Comments

  1. Jon Reigelman says

    Thanks for the article. As a designer I sometimes have the tendency to get sucked into the work in front of me and lose sight of the bigger picture of how to make it all work. And not just work but run as smoothly as possible. Good tips and reminders to designers of all levels.

  2. says

    I think one problem is that web designers (or any people who are focused on the technical side of the job) do not have a good financial education. I am reading as many books about business, finance etc. as I am reading about web design (or even more) to compensate for that lack of knowledge; and it does not need to be as tough or boring as you might think. Take pricing and marketing as an example: reading the book “Bright Marketing” (by Robert Craven) was an eye opener for me, and it is quite short and to the point, as well as entertaining.
    I certainly vote for the Nordstroms way!

  3. says

    Wow. This would fit in with Jacob Cass post that came out a few days ago. I am learning that specialization is the way to go, but it can’t hurt to pick up skills in other areas. I believe in the long run, being able to do a variety of things will be good for business. However, in the beginning of your career its best pick one thing and do that one things very very well.

    Another good read!

  4. says

    Hi,
    When I first got out of art college I wanted to specialize in Illustration.
    I tried to freelance as well as try to find a job doing just that. It didn’t work. It never happened. After many years of working in an office at my family’s business, I began teaching art classes part time. Now I’m getting back to my own illustration and not having any luck once again.
    How the heck do I “specialize”?

    • Alejo says

      Hi Susan! I can see it’s been a year since you post this. I would like to share my experience with you. It’s NOT THE WAY… but it’s the way I’ve learned.

      I’ve learned that everything is about ACCEPT CHALLENGES, KEEP LEARNING NEW STUFF and keep MEETING PEOPLE .. cuz they can open you doors at any time.

      ACCEPT CHALLENGES
      I have been a graphic designer for 6 years, and I’ve always try to put some illustration in my graphic design works. I’ve always wanted to be freelance.. but I know the best way to get a lot of experience faster was to get a job in an adverticement agency. So I got a job in J. Walter Thompson, that let me build a big portfolio and experience with diverse clients in a really short time. I tried to be always optimistic about every work they gave me, and shortly I wasked for works like storyboards, or even sketches for commercials. At least every month they wanted me to do something that was a challenge for me… I do not recommend it to every people, but in my case when they said to me “Can you do something like this?” I said “Sure.. piece of cake” (and in my head I was like “how on earth am I going to do this! oh man! im dead”). Accepting challenges has always make me get better.. and I also discovered I was good in some things that I would never have tried other way. Now I’m a freelance.. and they keep calling me from JWT to do some illustration now and then.

      KEEP LEARNING NEW STUFF
      Focusing on one specific area doesn’t mean you’ll stop learning about all the others. Actually, it means you have to keep learning all the other stuff and make you best in apply them to your specific area.

      For example, I learn about typography, photomanipulation, comic, webdesign so I can apply that knowledge to make better illustrations.

      KEEP MEETING PEOPLE
      I’ve learned to smile and be truly interesed in other people. Some people hire me because they find it confortable to work with me. Im intentional in meeting people, ask them about what they do and build bridges between what they do and how I live it in my field. When people begin to see you as a passionate, and confortable-to-be-with person, and they see that you always are always upgrading your own work, they recommend you.

      It has happened to me, it’s still happening… and i’m still growing.

      Hope this helps you to see the opportunities you may have around you. =) My best wishes!!

  5. says

    All of these are awesome tips. Of course, I’m not sure how to approach the “specialize” tip when it comes to logo design. I like having a broad and interesting portfolio, and as I have specialized with logo design in the past, I found that I was often limited to the same general color schemes (perhaps different shades or hues, but still the same basic colors) and logo types. Then when I’ve gone after other clients, I’ve gotten the “do you have anything else a little different?” question in regards to my portfolio.

    Now, web design is a little different. I think it’s absolutely ok to specialize there. There are designers who make great money by being the “restaurant web designer.” Even my fiancee when she first started out, focused her efforts mainly on dog breeders (and as they had such horrendous sites at the time (remember Geocities and Excite?), it was a profitable place to be. When it comes to specializing in web design, I would look at various industries to see how often their product or service offerings change (so you know how much work you’ll be in for), and then develop services around the industry you want to specialize in. For example, if you want a lot of constant work and want to earn a certain amount each quarter, why not go after apparel shops? They have to change their inventory with the seasons and major holidays, which means you’ll get a steady flow of work (of course, that also means strict deadlines). You can also develop other design-related services around them, such as downloadable catalogs, catalog apps etc.

    One tip I’ve found particularly helpful is to continue designing, even when you have no clients. One problem I had when I wasn’t doing this was that when I did have someone interested in services and they wanted to see my recent work (keyword being recent), I had nothing to show them. It made me look lazy and not the highest quality of designer. I’ve since found sites like 99Designs and Dribbble which allow designers to post work and participate in contests. I’ve kept my portfolio fresh this way, and it’s bigger now than it ever has been. Not to mention, by participating in contests I also have the chance to actually earn for my design. There’s no guarantee of course, but it’s an added bonus and a way to hone skills such as designing directly from a design brief. I’m not just making something up out of the blue, and future potential clients will be able to see that!

  6. says

    The facts is that sometimes we can all have tunel vision and forget about the big picture just like @VSKWebDesign shared with us.

    If you can have up to 3 areas of well stablished work then you are set! I offer to my clients Web, Graphics and Social media.. Of course I can also offer them SEO, PPC and more but I won’t just put it on my site or my portfolio cuz I do not wish to the be the “one guy” Once the client come to me and we engage on the conversation that’s when softly I will introduce my other services.

    It’s what we called “upselling” Think about it, when you go out for a $35 steak dinner you don’t only pay for the steak, your server will suggest to add mushrooms, Prawns, a Lobster tail, a side dish such as Asparagus, etc. Your $35 steak is now a $75+ (I was a server for 15 years before I returned to the designing world)

    Well, it works the same way for every industry.

    Keep upselling to your clients!!

    DJ. Perez

  7. says

    Dear Mr. Lee,
    Thanks for sharing your comments. I saw your post and I felt quickly the feeling to read it. I am an accountant and a solicitor and I have just opened my own business with a partner who also is a solicitor one year ago. We feel the need to know what would be the best policy to “select” our clients, as our Firm is located in a small town and we feel that no big business will come to our office, as we suppose they have good alternatives in their respective cities. The matter is that we would like to have the possibility to work with those clients who really appreciate our services, with no matter at what price but the reality is that now we feel the need to accept any kind of client, as what we need is income enough to create our Brand…

    Even we sometimes feel that we are not being very fair with some clients who receive some services from us at a normal price because other clients receive the same service at a lower price only because they tried to reduce our fees in the first negociation, and they got it because we need to build our commercial trade.

    In the last months we have started to refuse some works because they were interested in getting the job done at a low cost, and we do not want this kind of business for us at all.

    So I really do appreciate your comments as I have seen that my opinion goes in the same way that yours.

    Best regards.
    José A. Ferrer.

    PD: Sorry if any mistake, I am still learning english…

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