I started a small web development company this year in January and I wanted to document my journey from making nothing for the first few months up to a steady income of over $10,000 a month. This isn’t all profit as I will explain but it’s been good so far and my best month was $17,000+. Apologies for my rant-ish writing and hopefully some of you get some value out of this.
*** This isn’t some magic get rich formula but it is a great way to learn some useful skills and get paid decent money to help people’s businesses. Also, the profit and skills can be quickly used to start your own business. It takes a lot of work though and plenty of hours sitting at your computer – just want to be realistic from the start! ***
Backstory: I used to work as a drilling engineer in Alberta, Canada (I am Irish) but when oil crashed I was let go pretty fast. I decided to travel in South America for a month, which I loved, but I had to go back to Canada and try to find some more work. Even though I had made some good money in oil I spent it as fast as I made it and I was back to very little savings. I worked some odds jobs including moving furniture for an events company and other things. I got pretty sick of it and decided to risk it all and sell everything I owned non-essential and move back to South America. I moved just before Christmas last year and rented a small apartment in a quiet neighborhood. I slept on the ground on a mattress and basically had nothing but a desk, laptop, and Wi-Fi connection. I had never successfully made money online before and I had no idea where to start. I tried Instagram marketing for a month and failure miserably. I did get some comments from Gary Vaynerchuk though which was cool.
I ended up doing a Udemy course to build a website for a product I was working on. I actually really liked the website and I found coding kind of fun. I decided to give this a go and went to work.
Months 2-5: First stop was UpWork, which was brutal. I did about 3-4 months on here in total and it was pretty rough. I got some good clients but most were dicks and after some kid changed his mind for the 20th time on a $100 website I quit. I never made more than $200 and most websites took me two weeks to build (multiple changes, clients were slow, kept changing their mind).
Months 5-6: After that, I decided to just start approaching people I knew and I did some websites for $200-500. They were mostly for small businesses that didn’t have much cash flow and could not afford to pay me much. The websites were okay but they weren’t getting great results for their owners so I didn’t feel like I could charge much.
At the time I was doing some legal work for Canada and the person I was working with had a terrible website. One day I asked her if she would want me to fix it (broken pages, terrible design) and she immediately said yes. She said she had been meaning to do it for years and badly needed it done. She said name my price. I picked the highest figure I could think of since I knew she had a very profitable business -$2,000!
It took me about 4 weeks to finish but I felt super happy about it. I spent a LOT of time on having it look great and making sure the images and copy (text) was perfect. When I gave it to her she loved it. Afterward, I asked her if she had gone with a real web design company what price would she have been happy to pay for the exact same website. Her answer… $5,000-6,000. Whoops.
After this job I figured out a lot of what I had been doing wrong. I had been trying to get smaller companies to pay for websites that they would see very little ROI on. They would never be able to pay much because they just don’t make much. Or they do make a bit but having a good website doesn’t help them make more ( a good example is a gym – you just go to the nearest gym or the one someone recommends, a cool website won’t help too much).
I completely changed my strategy and started approaching larger companies that made a lot of money and were losing A LOT by having a terrible website. These are actually not too hard to find (if people want I can cover this is another post) and after a lot of cold calls and emails, started to get traction. I moved from $2,000 to $4,000 to $6,500 and after a few more up to $15,000. I read a lot on sales, marketing, design but I still only knew basic HTML and CSS. I would start off with a basic theme (around $30) and make a lot of changes to come up with a great design.
Now I know people might be saying that isn’t the best coding practice (and it is not) but I added a lot of value in other areas and everyone was super happy with their websites. They are simple static designs (these owners don’t want to edit anything again for a long time) but the results were really powerful.
- One business got an over 10 times increase in bookings (value 40-90k a month in future clients)
- Directly helped an oil company close a contract for over 1 million with a great new website (portfolio, downloadable brochure)
- Helped a pro athlete increase his sponsors and also get more recognition
These are just a few examples but I am really happy with everyone so far and my clients love to rave about the websites and the success.
Quick recap: – I started with zero coding knowledge in January of this year. I didn’t know how to host a website, I didn’t know what HTML or CSS was, I made a ton of really basic mistakes and figured it all out by myself. I didn’t take any expensive courses, had no mentors and probably only spent a few hundred dollars getting set up.
It took me a while to refine my niche but what I now focus on now is building simple yet powerful websites that get huge results. I usually charge between 4-15k and usually have a waiting list of 2-3 websites.
While I made good money on these websites it’s nice to know that the value I added is many times more and all my clients have been very satisfied.
I am still in the early stages of figuring this all out though so I will continue to add to this post with more lessons if people want.
So my humble advice on how to begin:
*** I only build “custom” HTML websites, I don’t know/use WordPress except in some rare cases for add on blog/news sections to my sites. Why? Most of my clients are very busy, non-tech people. They don’t want or have time to update their websites. They want it built well and they want it to run itself. HTML is a lot better for this and when done right looks way more professional and requires less maintenance (IMO). I don’t have anything against WordPress just that I prefer to use HTML and both work fine for what I am doing. ***
How to quickly begin with HTML:
Take the HTML and CSS lessons on https://www.codecademy.com/. You can also do the JS section but I didn’t and have been just fine.
Next take the following UDEMY course (non-affiliate): https://www.udemy.com/design-and-develop-a-killer-website-with-html5-and-css3/
After this, you will now know how to edit and work with HTML themes. What does that mean?
Well, there is no point creating a website from scratch. That takes years of coding experience and a lot of time for each new clients. Luckily enough people have gone and created HTML themes – it’s an already coded website where you just rearrange, switch out the pictures and text and add in a few extra bits. I am making this sound simpler than it is but its still quiet simple.
An example of a theme is here… (again nonaffiliate)
It just a blank slate with a certain style that you work with. While this may seem like strange or cheating (I thought this was how to learn to build websites!??) it’s not. Anyone with an Internet connection can create a website these days so that is not where I try to add value. I add value by building a website with a purpose. I aim to build websites that get results and make money, or whatever they are trying to achieve, for the owner. It’s not about code, it is about how it helps the owner.
*** I hope this doesn’t piss off the obviously good coders on here, I do my best to code well but I am still learning ***
So how do you build a website that gets great results?
So first important thing is your clients want sales, not a website. They don’t want a website that looks amazing, has cool videos and sections, talks about the companies recent golf tournament or how they really wanted to do X since they were 5 UNLESS it helps gets sales. Everything must be about getting a result.
Every page, link, click and action on the website is to help facilitate the growth of the company and sales.
Let’s take for example an immigration lawyer website…
Is the goal of the site to teach you about immigration law? Is it to show you stats of work, trade, and education within the country? Is it to teach you about what to do when you first arrive, what to pack, what to expect?
The whole purpose of that website is for the user to either book a consultation or contact them regarding their services. Which both lead to that person hiring them as their immigration lawyer.
Now it might use some of the above points to help with that goal but it only has one main purpose. Everything we do for that client must help with that goal or if it doesn’t help… be removed.
Once you sell results there is no limit to what you can charge and achieve.
So where do a lot of people go wrong?
The types of clients you help.
Imagine for a second the website you build will only ever generate one sale per year. Maybe only one sale ever.
Now let’s go over some businesses you could build a website for…
Client one: Jimmy & Friends Coffee Shop. One sale is a cup of coffee or maybe if they are lucky a lunch special. One sale profit: $3-10 profit maybe.
Client Two: Jimmy & Co Travel Agency. Maybe that one sale is a trip to Paris, or maybe even around the world one year break. Profits on travel are slim though and the internet is really driving down those juice margins. One sale profit: $150- $1,000 profit maybe.
Client Three: Jimmy Inc. Industrial Clean Up Services. Now, this website is not on the sexy side of things. It won’t exact be winning website of the year award or going viral on FB but… One sale of a large scale cleans up at that oil refinery this winter… Maybe $500,000 to $4 million. Maybe more.
Now when it comes time to sell websites you always want to aim to get your clients ten times the results that they invest in you.
So let’s do the maths…
Client One: You can justify 30c – $1 Client Two: You can justify $15 – $100 Client Three: You can justify $50k to $400,000.
It’s the same amount of time dealing with the client, the same amount of time coding, the same amount of time hiring a pro photographer. Very different result.
Now what you charge is your own choice. But the above example should clearly show who to build for:
- Industrial Services
- Other Blue Collar niches
The first four are my favorite. Unsexy, boring, aggressive clients (people are scared to call them which I like!), potentially large contracts.
“Hey, but what about tech start-ups and that new app, they are making a zillion dollars. Let’s go build for them!!!”
No way and here is why…
- They are in the design and internet business, they know guys already or have minimum wage slaves to work round the clock on design and websites
- There is no shortage of guys trying to approach the “cool” companies for web design
- You will always be replaceable and undercut by others
- They won’t see your value
Your aim is to become a problem solver for large, boring, industrial companies that know nothing about the internet and want to deal with a “regular guy” to fix that website.