When we offer to “design” or “build” a website for potential customers, we’re using a pretty generic term that doesn’t actually articulate all the intricacies that go into having a proper website. To produce a website that helps a business grow, you actually need a combination of things all contributing towards the clients’ end goal…
Things like strategy, content, design, development, performance, validation, and ongoing maintenance.
People in our space say things like “charge what you're worth”— which, on principle, I agree with. However, what you think your worth and what your prospect thinks might not be in alignment.
Unless we discuss all of these factors with our clients, it’s unlikely they will understand what all you are really doing for them.
If part of your goal for the upcoming year is to increase your prices, an easy way to do that is to position yourself properly and better communicate all the value you’re bringing to your customers.
These things are probably a lot of the work you’re already doing—but if the customer doesn’t know it, they won’t be willing to pay for it.
Let’s break down some of the big aspects of building a website, and how you can position your services to add value to what you bring to the table— starting with strategy.
Strategy has an overarching effect on every aspect of someone’s online presence. But before you can begin to paint a pixel, it’s crucial your project has a strategy that will help your client reach their ultimate goals.
Understanding some of the basics is a good place to start…
- Who is the website for?
- Why will people visit it?
- What should visitors be asked to do?
- How does a website fit into your client’s business model?
- How does it fit into their other marketing campaigns?
- What are their competitors doing online?
These are a few basic questions you’ll want to know right away before you dive into any project.
While strategy might be the most important determining factor to a website’s success, it’s often something developers and clients fail to spend enough time discussing, researching and truly understanding.
Making “strategy” one of the core deliverables of your offerings will not only help you produce more powerful websites— it will allow you to actually charge (gasp!) for work that you’re likely already doing.
It can be hard for clients to understand what all this might entail or why they should pay for it— so I’ll usually ask if they’ve done any “strategic planning”. The puzzled look on their face will be a dead giveaway that they haven’t, and you can explain to them the importance of having a well defined (and written!) strategy to help ensure their website will be successful and the decisions you make during the design and development will align with their strategy.
Content tends to be one of the hardest ones for us website designers and developers. Copywriting is a profession all of its own, but because it’s not seen as an individual asset it often just gets lumped in with having a website built (and falls on your shoulders).
It’s important a website’s copy is in alignment with your client’s strategy, but their are other factors to consider as well— like search engine optimization, structure, and being able to persuade visitors to take your desired calls to action.
Ultimately the content of a website will play a bigger role in its success than any fancy CSS tricks or perfect color palettes.
Knowing this, it puts many of us into a bind…
You’re client isn’t likely a professional copywriter, and you probably aren’t either.
This fact is often ignored and we use poor copy written by a business owner or web developer (who have almost no place doing this).
You have to stress the importance of copy with clients so that when there's a line-item for copywriting on their invoice they will understand why.
If you haven’t already, it’s great to find a copywriter that you can partner with on projects. This is a mutually beneficial relationship and strategic alliance that will help copywriters bring in more business and make life easy on you by having someone with the required skills to handle the copy on the sites you build.
“Design” is the most common catch-all phrase used when having a website built— but design is a specific discipline within the entire scope.
Design will consist of the layout and visual elements of a website— but it itself is not the website.
By breaking design out individually as one aspect of your builds you can separate it from being thrown in with everything else.
To take this a step further you can discuss with your client both the UX and UI components of design and how these things needs to work lockstep with their strategy.
If your agency has a designer or design team, you likely charge for their contribution to the project. If you have to outsource designs, then you surely are charging for that.
However, those of us with the design skills to do it ourselves don’t always consider the value of what we’re bringing to the project from the design perspective alone.
As the industry has moved further away from providing initial design mockups it’s made it harder to separate the design from other aspects of the project. Though I often design directly in my browser using Elementor—the initial mockups my client will see are screenshots they get as a still image (not a working website).
It’s a small thing, but by separating the “design” from the “development” you’re able to put a value to each aspect on its own.
Today “development” comes in many different forms. While I don’t think any of us are busting out a notepad and saving it as index.html any longer— there is still a broad spectrum of how a website can be developed.
But let’s save that argument for other developers inside The Admin Bar— this article is focused on how we present these things to the client.
It’s important here to keep things simple. Your role in development for the website is taking the designs and turning them into functioning websites that can live online.
That is different than design even if we have been lumping them in together.
How you develop a website (your individualized stack) is up to you— but your customers have to understand that developing the website is only one piece of the puzzle (albeit an important part).
Don’t get too lost in the details with clients when it comes to development. While you and I could talk about these things into perpetuity, it’s here that our clients feel most lost.
If it were between telling them every little detail of how I develop a site or saying “it’s magic”— I would lean closer towards the magic side.
I often get frustrated when I visit a beautifully designed website, but realize that the designer who made it paid no attention to the performance whatsoever.
There are plenty of statistics to back this up, but just with your experience alone you know that the performance of a website is critical. Your experience and expertise in this area actually matters a great deal to the overall success of the project.
Where we can bring the most value to the table is in our understanding that no two websites are alike. You’ll need to optimize the performance of a website based on the website’s individual needs.
It’s easy to combine these performance related optimizations with the development phase of the website— but I would caution you against that.
Have a conversation with your prospect about the importance of performance for their website. At the discovery stage, it might be impossible to know exactly what you’ll need to do to ensure their website will perform optimally, but you can explain that you’ll take into consideration their individual needs and the functionalities their website will have to implement the right optimizations.
Performance isn’t something I necessarily line-item on my proposal— but I do make sure to have a conversation about this so that I can add this to the list of value I bring to the table. If a client is speaking to multiple agencies your attention to this matter will probably be unique and it’s easy to help a client understand the importance of a high-performing website.
This is a great opportunity to talk about other performance factors like choosing a good host.
You can always illustrate this with GTMetrix comparisons of sites you’ve built with competitors in the same space.
While we always like to think we’re going to do things right and that the websites we build will “work” for the client— the truth is we don’t know for sure until the website is live and in the “real world”.
Validation is an important step to measure the effectiveness of a website and collect data. While your experience and research leading up to the build is important it’s this data that will help you measure the website’s effectiveness and make tweaks to improve it over time.
I strongly believe in continuous iteration. People, technology, and your clients business all constantly evolve over time— in order to keep up with that change, a website needs to evolve too.
While it may sound counterintuitive to tell a prospect the site you build for them may not be perfect— it’s the truth.
Your client doesn’t expect you to have a crystal ball with all the answers. In fact, you’ll become more trustworthy when you explain that you’ll want to work with them to ensure the decisions you made together were the right ones, and you’ll be there to help them adjust the plan if you find new opportunities for better success.
Obviously ongoing maintenance is important— especially in the WordPress space. While I don’t make hiring my company to perform the maintenance mandatory, I explain in no uncertain terms that the maintenance itself is.
Part of what has helped me convey this to my customers is the use of The Website Owner’s Manual during pre-proposal discussions (and in the proposal too!). Explaining to a customer from the beginning that there will be ongoing work required to keep the website functioning is crucial to do from the beginning.
There was a time when I thought this would scare clients away from WordPress, but the truth is— just about everything in life requires some ongoing attention. It won’t come as a surprise to your customers that their new website is the same.
If you’re reading this, you’re likely already offering some sort of maintenance or care plan for customers— but if you’re not you should absolutely stop and reconsider.
It’s a service you are capable of offering and something your clients need. Even if you don’t have the bandwidth to take it on yourself, there are amazing white-label maintenance companies than can handle this for you and you can still make a profit from it each month.
A website is more than just one thing— as we discussed in this article it’s actually many things all working in coordination to get your clients to their ultimate goal.
When we fail to discuss all the things that go into building a website we are doing a disservice to ourselves and immediately undervaluing what our agency offers.
But how does this look in the real world?
Am I supposed to line-item all of these things in an invoice?
No, you don’t have to line-item each of these aspects into your invoice—but you damn sure need to be having conversations about all of them.
A discovery meeting with a client is a great place to do it— before you ever put a proposal together. During the conversation you can bring up all these things, like…
- Asking if they’ve done any strategic planning for their site (and explaining how you will walk them through this and help them develop a strategy).
- Asking if they have professionally written content in place (and explaining the importance of good copy and how you can help them get it).
- Asking if they have ideas about the design (and how you use their strategy as a compass to make design decisions).
- Talking about how you will take the designs and turn them into a functioning website that works across all device sizes.
- Explaining the importance of website performance and your individualized approach to ensuring their website performs optimally specific to their needs.
- Asking how they will measure success and plans for course-correction after the website is taking on live traffic.
- Asking how they plan on maintaining the site after it’s launched to ensure its stability, security, and functionality.
By breaking all of this down into standalone parts of building a website, you can carefully begin to show the value each of these aspects brings on their own— and charge accordingly.
Your prospect is going to have to make a decision on if the value you bring is worth it or not, no matter what you charge.
They will pay less for a “website” than they will for a website package that includes: strategic planning, content, design, development, performance optimization, validation, and ongoing maintenance. Period.
It’s probably the same amount of work you’re already doing—but if the customer doesn’t know it, they won’t be willing to pay for it.
Fun Fact: I wrote a customer-facing version of this article on my agency website to help business owners understand all the things my services are helping them achieve.