Today’s episode might seem like a really bizarre topic to talk about. Like, what web designer talks about the benefit of not having a website for an entire year? But hear me out. Obviously, I know how beneficial an incredible website can be within your business. I wouldn’t make websites for a living if I didn’t think that it was a massive part of running a business in today’s climate. So if you’re scratching your head wondering why I would talk about the benefits of not having a website for an entire year, let me explain.
I choose to talk about all of this today not to say your website isn’t important. Quite the opposite! I say all of this to reiterate just how important your website is for your business. Your website can drag your business down or it can absolutely launch your business forward. And I firmly believe this and I think this past year proved it to me in a major way.
So first, let me give you a bit of background.
So, for the last couple of years I have been going back-and-forth about how I felt about my website. I’ve worked with several mentors about leveling up my business in different ways: like marketing myself, how to handle sales calls, figuring out what my design process needed to look like, etc. and with each course or mentor that I worked with they always talked about what needed to be on your website and what did n’t. I kept going back-and-forth because I knew that I needed to redo my website but I was still struggling with what exactly I wanted on it.
See you may or may not know that my husband and I also have a side hustle that involves photography and wedding videography. It’s something we really love and it certainly still falls under the Sweet Horizon business. For a while I was also really trying to sell prints through my website but haven’t quite figured out how to integrate it with everything else I have going on. And since you’re listening to the podcast, you probably know that my blog plays a huge role in my business as well. In fact my entire business started as a lifestyle blog before I got into designing for bloggers. That’s a whole another story and I actually have a podcast all about how I started my business journey and got to where I am now so if you want to listen to that episode I will link it in this blog post.
So basically just imagine that I was trying to show off all of these different avenues that I wanted to explore on my website and I just couldn’t figure out exactly how I wanted my website to look or how I wanted people to navigate all these different avenues.
Then in February 2020, I was having a slow start to the year and I just decided that I was finally going to take my website down so that I could really work on everything. Even this is outside the norm for me because usually when I’m doing a client site or making changes to my own site I would leave the current website up until I’m ready to just officially switch everything over. But by this point I was just feeling so out of touch with my current site that I didn’t want it available for anyone to look through. So I did what I would never suggest to a client, and I took my website down completely while I started from scratch with my design s for a new site.
Then, of course, I had a huge influx of work come all at once. This was partly due to the fact that Covid was becoming a thing and people were stuck at home and wanted to spend their time starting new business ventures or really needed their business to have a better online presence. This is also due to the fact that for whatever reason, in service based industries, work just seems to come in waves. I’ve never understood this but I SWEAR it’s a thing that every service based business owner understands. You go through periods of time with no work and zero inquiries to suddenly having more inquiries and work then you can personally handle. I truly don’t know what this is a thing.
This is basically what happened in March of last year. So my attention completely shifted into my clients and making sure that I was giving them my undivided attention. I was trying to work on my website on and off throughout the week and weekends, but as I worked on my website I realized how much work I really needed to put into it.
When summer came I had even more clients lined up and there was even an instance where I had for website launch is all happening within like a month of each other. It was hectic and I just couldn’t spend any time even looking at my own website.
Towards the fall, I decided I needed to revisit some of the designs that I had done back in the spring, because throughout the summer I started to see my work evolve and take on its own style that was very different from what I had designed back in February for my new website.
This is one of the biggest problems of designing for yourself when you are a designer. It’s so so hard to stick to one style, even if you know the style that truly resonates with your heart, as a designer you still just want to try all the things. At least I do. So I find it very very hard design for myself because I’m constantly wanting to change things up.
But, as I started working on my new site designs again I really started to see a style take shape but I also was realizing that I had several different areas that I needed to nail down. My copywriting skills are still something that I struggle with, not necessarily in terms of writing blog posts or Instagram captions, but definitely when it comes to sales pitches or marketing myself. It’s just not something that I’ve ever felt super comfortable with so I struggle to make it sound approachable and similar to how I talk while still giving people all the information that they need.
So I decided to invest in some copywriting help, I actually opted for the promptlates by Jess, XO, who I will be interviewing in an upcoming podcast very soon, so be on the lookout for that. But of course, working on my copywriting just added more to my list that I needed to do before I can launch my new website.
I also knew that I wanted to shift my services around so I was still trying to figure out how I wanted to position myself in this industry and again how I was going to convey that to potential clients.
Finally by either September or October, I determined that I needed to just take a month off from client work in order to really focus on my own website or it just wasn’t going to get done. So I took the entire month of November to just focus on doing my copywriting, finalizing the designs for my site, and actually coding the entire thing. It became a massive undertaking because I was realizing that in order for all of these different elements and services to come together it was going to be a gigantic site. I ended up having to design and code 13 separate page designs for my website, which is insane because my typical client sites have about 5 separate page designs in total.
We also had to switch hosting partway through which is a whole other story, but we have kind of a complicated hosting set up for both our blog and our new studio website, but in order to do it exactly how we wanted we had to switch hosting kind of last minute before I could set everything up the way we had envisioned it.
We didn’t actually end up launching the new site until last month, a few months later than I had initially intended, but the way my site grew in scale and in what I now offer, I don’t think I could’ve done it any other way.
So, that, in a nutshell, is why it took me over a year to get my website back up. But during that entire year while my website was down, a really curious thing happened. I was booked up solid for the entire year of 2020 and started booking months in advance for 2021. I also was charging on average four times more than what I had been charging even at the beginning of 2020. I finally felt like I was charging what I was worth for the first time in my business.
So the question begs asking, why is it that as soon as I took my website down, my business itself seemed to take off?
I have a few theories on this, and honestly I think it was several things all coming together that made this happen. First I think there are a lot of issues with my old site, so let me break those down and while I’m talking about each one I want you to ask yourself if any of these sound familiar to your business and your website.
My service offerings weren’t clear or concise
When I told you earlier about all the different offerings that I was trying to show up on my website, did that set off a red flag for anyone else? It should have.
Literally on my old site as soon as you landed on my home page, I gave you the option to either look at my web design services, look at my photography services, shop my prints, or head off to read the blog. They all were shown as equal, taking up a fourth of the screen at the same time. I thought that by showing off everything that I had going on that I was giving people options and ways to get interested and invested in my business.
What I was actually doing was saying to every single person that landed on my homepage that I’m not even really sure what it is that I do and I don’t look like an expert in any of this. Most service-based business owners don’t realize that the more convoluted they make their offerings, the less people view them as an expert in any one thing. It’s the number one mess up I see with other service-based business owners and how they show off their offerings and I myself was totally guilty of it.
I had a mentorship call with Kadie from Drop Cap Design and when I asked her about what to do when it came to showing off my web design in my photography and if they should both be on my homepage, she kindly but bluntly told me “they shouldn’t even be on the same website.” It was like a lightbulb went off in my head. She laid it out for me that chances are I will never have a bride also book me for a web design project, and I will never have a web design client book me to also film their wedding. Those are two completely separate clients so I need to market to them in two completely separate ways. Why in the world I had never come to this conclusion myself, we will never know.
So one of the first things I did on my new website was just solely make it about my main business and market myself completely to branding and website clients.
My website wasn’t properly showcasing my work
Showcasing your portfolio is a tricky thing and everyone has their own way of doing things. I’ve always been of the mindset that I want to show off the projects that I’m most proud of and really those that most align with projects I wanna book in the future. So I’ve personally never shown my entire portfolio on my website and instead pick and choose my favorite projects to showcase.
I did this on my old website as well and I honestly have no qualms with that. However, I hadn’t been staying up to date with the projects that I was actually showing off so a lot of the projects in my portfolio, while they were projects that I would happily have booked similar projects in the future, they were also several years old. I’ve grown a ton in my business in the last few years so showing off projects from even two years ago was not be doing myself justice. Imagine being a wedding photographer that only showed off photos from two or three years ago when they were still figuring out their camera and lighting. Obviously that’s not gonna book you the same type of clients that your current work would. So if you needed a sign to update your portfolio more regularly, this is it.
Also, as a web designer and developer it is massively important than my own website itself reflects the caliber of work that I show in my portfolio. For those of us in the web design career, if your own website looks outdated or doesn’t function properly, why would anyone book with you to do their own website.
Now there was nothing necessarily wrong with my old website in terms of functionality, but certainly the style in which it was designed did not reflect how my style was evolving over the years. This is why I see nothing wrong with making tweaks or changes to your website each year that you’re in business. In fact I think it’s SO important for branding and web designers alike to continually tweak their website to stay up-to-date with trends or their evolving design style. The fact of the matter is, my old website was using a drag and drop page builder and looked a little too cookie cutter for my personal taste. It’s not at all how I was designing or developing my current client projects.
My current site is not perfect, mainly because it was such a massive site to begin with, so it’s going to take me a few weeks or months to really polish her up. But the overall design lines up so much more with how I would design a current client site and the development style I feel like shows off some of the tricks of the trade that I’ve learned in the last few years.
My website didn’t elevate my business or show my value
This goes hand-in-hand with my last point in that my old website just really wasn’t elevating my business to the level that I was operating at, after almost 5 years of doing this. This includes both the design and the copy writing that you have on your website. If you aren’t actively showing and telling your readers why you are an expert and that your knowledge in the industry is valuable, no one‘s going to know.
That sounds like a weird thing to say especially coming from someone that has never felt comfortable boasting about what she knows or even claiming to be an expert in the first place. But trust me when I say that the only way you’re really going to connect and convert readers into ideal customers is my really laying it all out on the table. Transparency and speaking from a place of authenticity is the BEST way to show your value.
On my old website, I honestly wasn’t using great user experience tactics or sales funnel knowledge to grab ideal customers and get them to book with me. Instead I was giving them options and thinking that that was enough to get them hooked. In reality I need to tell them exactly what I wanted them to do with clear called actions while also telling them all the ways that their business would benefit from working with me.
It doesn’t have to be salesy or sleazy. Instead it’s all about recognizing client pain points, meeting them 75% of the way, and then guiding them the last 25% of the way into reaching out to you. Sometimes clients don’t know what they want or even how you can help them and it’s up to you to show your expertise and value through the things that you say, the things that you show, and how you guide them to a solution (which is YOU).
I was overpromising in a way that hurt my process
This is something I didn’t even realize until I was in the process of setting up my new site and looking back over the old copywriting that I had on my old site. I was shook when I read some of my old copy writing. Not only did it not explain what I needed to explain, but it over promised things about my process that were actually damaging once I started working with someone.
Let me give you the most obvious example that I came across. On my custom web design services section I said that I could design a custom website in two weeks. Anyone that knows anything about custom web design can tell you that there’s no way you could do that process in two weeks. I couldn’t even believe that I had that written on my services page because I’ve never ever been able to deliver a custom website in two weeks. Maybe if I were just customizing a theme for someone I could have that kind of turnaround time, but custom projects just don’t work like that.
This was hurting me in two ways:
The most obvious being that if someone booked with me and actually expected a two week turnaround time there was no way I was going to actually be able to deliver that. So I was promising something straight off the bat, there on my website, that just wasn’t possible. I can’t believe I never had someone complain about that because that’s a terrible sales technique.
Second, anyone that had experience with custom web design in the past would surely not book with me because that timeline didn’t make sense and it made it sound like I wasn’t actually giving them a custom project.
I, and my clients, would’ve been so much better served by doing the opposite: to overestimate how much time a project was going to take and then completing that project faster.
Let’s think about this, imagine you book a service that says it will take two weeks but it ends up actually taking eight weeks. If you budgeted for the two weeks you would be so annoyed that it took eight weeks, since that is four times longer than you expected, and chances are you will probably never want to work with that service provider again. Now imagine that you book a service and you expect it to take 16 weeks but it ends up actually taking eight weeks. You budgeted for the 16 weeks and you got it in half the time. You would probably be thrilled that you get to start using this service or product so much faster than you expected. Both service providers delivered in 8 weeks, but which one will be happier with?
It does not serve you or your clients to overpromise in a ridiculous way. I’m mortified that my old website said that because in reality a typical custom website for me takes around 13 weeks. It depends on the project, so instead of just giving a definite timeline, I instead tell a range on my website and then give them a definite timeline in the project proposal once we’ve had a chance to talk about their project.
I was undercharging and underselling my worth
Another thing that absolutely makes me cringe about my old website is that I had definite packages and prices for everything I offered. If you’re a service-based business owner you are probably aware of the fact that every client project ends up being different. When you have projects that can include a wide range of offerings, set package pricing just doesn’t always work.
In the almost 5 years that I’ve been in business I’ve never had two website clients need exactly the same thing. I now make it very clear to my clients that what design is not a one size fits all. I do my very best to tailor my pricing and timelines to fit their specific project when I’m writing up their project proposal.
Furthermore, my old pricing was ridiculously low. I talked about this during my 30 day Instagram Story Challenge (get access through my resource library by signing up to our newsletter in our footer), but I used to think that I need to under charge in order to get work. In reality all this did was make me look like less of an expert to people that would have paid me more and I was booking clients at such a low rate that I was hardly making any money at all.
Now I am not a fan of charging more just because you can and people will pay it. I want to make sure that my clients get the value that they pay for while working with me. So again I always listen to what my clients are specifically needing before I ever talk about pricing.
I’ve also found it immensely helpful to discuss budgets with my clients while we’re having our introductory call. Everyone’s budget and needs are different and I think it’s very important to know what your client is expecting before you send over a project proposal. Having these conversations in person takes out any kind of sticker shock that they may have when they see your pricing in the proposal.
For those of you that are still undercharging or still aren’t comfortable talking money with clients, let me pose a situation to you. Say you have a meeting with a client and you don’t know what their budget is. You might not wanna talk about price while you’re chatting with them and instead you present them with a number in your project proposal. Say you quote them $2000 and they were expecting $200, they will probably have sticker sticker shock and ghost you. Say you called them $2000 and they were expecting $10,000, they will probably not see you as an expert and they will probably ghost you as well!
Now imagine with the same client, you ask them their budget even if it’s a ballpark or range number while you’re chatting with them. If they say $200 you’ll be able to discuss with them ways to either scale back the project or kindly let them know that you price your work higher than that. If they say $10,000, then you can comfortably quote them within that range or higher and know that you both will be happy with the final outcome.
Pricing yourself to fit your client and the project at hand is going to serve you so much better than having set packages and trying to fit all of your clients into these limited options. If you have package offerings, make sure that you are charging what you need in order to run your business while also meeting your clients needs.
So, we get it! There was a lot wrong with my old website. But on top of that, my business itself changed so much last year and I have to say that it was really freeing to not be tied down to whatever my website said, and instead let my business grow organically. Then, when I really started to hit my stride, then I could tailored my website to fit where my business was heading.
Let me fill you in on some major changes I made without my website’s input.
I was focusing in on my brand strategy and messaging
I spent basically the entire year of 2020 doing a deep dive into what my brand strategy and messaging should be. This started with obviously just how I wanted my brand to look moving forward but then of course bled over into how I wanted my brand to sound, how I wanted to show up on different platforms, how I wanted to write my copy, the list goes on and on. There’s a reason that with every single one of my branding clients I don’t just present them with a pretty logo and say “here you go! good luck!” Having clear and concise brand strategy can help you basically handle everything within your business from marketing, hooking ideal clients, structuring your design process, etc.
So I did a lot of soul-searching with the intention of having a solid brand strategy moving forward. I think this helped me so much when it came to thinking about what I wanted to post on Instagram, what I wanted to blog about, how I wanted my podcast to be, and really how I wanted to show up for my future clients.
I have done this before when I first started my business but after almost 5 years obviously my business had changed and I was no longer relying on multiple avenues of business and instead was focusing on how I wanted to present myself within the design industry.
Not having a website to kind of tie me down allowed me to explore my different options and figure out really what I wanted to say and how I wanted to look. I kind of touched on this earlier but I redesigned my website a couple of times in the beginning because I wasn’t really finding something that felt right to me. I needed that time to be able to revisit my homepage several times and re-design the homepage until it felt like home for my business.
Now honestly for all of my clients I would recommend still having your current site up while you do this kind of exploration, but in my case I knew that my website wasn’t serving me in the way that I wanted it to so it was actually better for me to take my website down while I figure it out these basics again.
I was really finding structure in my design process
When I say I basically redid everything in my business, I basically redid everything in my business. With each client that I took on last year I figure out more and more about the way I wanted to space out my projects and start dates, how I wanted to structure each project so that we stayed on task, how I wanted to communicate with my clients throughout our time working together, and how to best present my ideas so that my clients had plenty of time to decide the direction they wanted to head.
It’s always a learning experience when you’re setting up these kinds of processes and working with people of all different personality types and work styles. At this point, though, I feel very confident in how I show up for my clients and how we’re able to communicate throughout our time working together. Because I had some months in there where I wasn’t focusing necessarily on my own business but instead was solely focused on my clients at that time, again it allowed me the opportunity to try different things and find what really suited me and my work.
Now that I have a really clear process for all of my clients to go through, talking about it on my website was a breeze. I wasn’t having to invent anything or describe some ambiguous process that my client may or may not go through. Instead I was able to just clearly talk about my tried and true process that had worked for multiple clients.
It seems like an obvious thing but once you have the foundation everything else falls into place. I think too often business owners make it harder on themselves to basically try and reinvent the wheel or figure things out on the fly instead of just settling into what works best for them and their clients and then using it every time. Your sales calls become easier because you know exactly how to talk about your services and process, your copywriting becomes easier because you’re talking about things that you already know, your marketing becomes easier because you can show bits and pieces of your process to entice people to work with you, and your process becomes easier because you don’t have to figure it out as you go through the process with each new client. You can just trust the systems that you already have in place.
I was rethinking my offerings and restructured how I wanted to market myself
A big part of wanting to redo my website was also to rethink my offerings. Obviously I don’t market myself with all the different avenues like I was before. But even with narrowing my focus into just branding and web design I also knew that I wanted to open up a shop to work with people in a wider range of budgets and needs.
Having a shop along with your service based business is a whole other ball game and it’s something we’re still setting up and getting accustomed to. But I’ve known for a while that this is how my business will evolve. I’ve had the idea of her themes for a couple of years now and I’m finally making it a reality which feels so. dang. good.
If you find yourself in a similar boat and you realize that you either need to rethink the services that you are offering or you want to restructure them in such a way that you can offer different options, please don’t let your current site limit you in terms of how you choose to set this up in the future.
I think that’s one of the hardest things when you already have a website is thinking how can this new service or this new idea fit within the site structure or business structure that you already have. When in reality the mindset that we should have is how can my business or website adapt and grow to now incorporate this new service or idea.
Things don’t have to stay the same, and in fact I don’t think that they should. If things are never changing in your business, chances are you aren’t growing. Don’t be afraid to adapt and change and grow. If you give yourself that freedom, you can always change your website to match in the future.
I was raising my prices
I kind of touched on this earlier, but literally all of 2020 my prices grew with each project. I know this is because I didn’t share my prices on my website because my website wasn’t there. Imagine if I had a website that still had low numbers for different packages. How many of those bigger budget clients wouldn’t have booked with me, or if they had, how many would’ve still paid me those ridiculously low rates.
I wasn’t even making minimum-wage in 2019, so I’m not even talking about charging ridiculous amounts here. I’m talking about just being able to make a living.
And the bizarre part is, the higher my pricing got, the more projects I booked. Again, I think this comes back to people recognizing those prices as reflections of your level of expertise. I felt more comfortable asking for what I needed and that translated into people recognizing that their website and branding was in good hands.
Along with that, because I was booking higher paying clients, I became less dependent on feeling like I needed to book every single client that inquired with me. The reality for every single service-based business owner is that you absolutely will not book every single client that inquires for your services, NOR SHOULD YOU. But I found this relief in knowing that just because someone didn’t decide to work with me, that did not reflect poorly on me or my business. I don’t know why people have decided not to work with me but that’s OK because I have clients booked out five months in advance that are ready to work with me.
There’s a confidence shift that happens when raising your prices to a rate that you’re comfortable with and I believe the clients can feel that as well.
Like I said, I’m offering themes as a way to work with smaller budget clients as well, but already in the first month of 2021, I’ve booked projects till May and have earned the equivalent of my entire income from 2020. I firmly believe that this would not have been possible if I had kept those extremely low rates on my website throughout last year because that would’ve prevented me from raising my prices to where they are now.
I’m not saying you have to totally take prices off your website, but if you still feel like you’re being price checked or under paid for your work, at the very least I suggest putting a starting-at price, or a range of prices, on your website in order to increase your rates to a living wage because you deserve that.
I was deciding what I wanted to be known for
Possibly most important of all, I spent a lot of time last year thinking about what I wanted to be known for. It may seem a little wishy-washy for people that don’t run their own businesses, but chances are if you’re still listening at this point you either do run your own business or want to, so I’m sure you feel me.
It’s very very important to me that I show up as myself on all of my platforms. I never wanted to market myself something that I’m not, mainly because it seems exhausting to market yourself either with a different personality or persona then what comes naturally to you but also because I want my clients to feel like they already knew me from my blog or Instagram before they even reached out.
I also really had to decide what kind of services I wanted to spend my time marketing for my business. Did I really want to pour my heart and soul into prints that I was selling for about 20 bucks apiece or did I want to focus all of my attention in booking five figure web design clients. It’s not all about money, but at the end of the day we all have bills to pay.
I wanted to make sure that moving forward this business was something that I was confident in and proud to talk about around friends and family. I feel like I spent so many years stressed out, trying to figure out what I was doing in my business, that I wasn’t really enjoying it. But I love my business. I’ve always loved it, even when it stressed me. I just needed to get back to that place where I was proud to show it off again.
Taking down my website gave me the freedom to explore my business and really dig deep into what I wanted it to be long term. I wasn’t tied down to a certain aesthetic, I wasn’t held back by ridiculous expectations or under charging my services, I wasn’t even limited by bad copywriting. I was like a dog that finally gets to run a a field without a leash. Nothing was holding me back.
And I found this exuberance and excitement come back into everything I was creating. Now I can’t wait to show things off on Instagram, I look forward to introductory calls with potential new client, I love reading feedback emails from current clients, and for the first time in awhile, I’m so excited for the future of my business.
Now do I think all of that is because I got rid of my old website. I don’t know… probably not. But I can’t say that getting rid of a website that was definitely holding me back allowed me to explore my business in ways that I didn’t even think was possible.
Like I said in the beginning, this podcast is not a guide for why you don’t need a website, but I do hope that it’s a guide for how to spot when your website isn’t serving your business in the way that it should.
Mine certainly wasn’t. And if your website isn’t serving your business, it’s not the end of the world. Make tweaks, be willing to change and adapt, and above all else give yourself the freedom to figure out who you and your business really are. And if you need some help along the way, I hope you know you can always contact me.