Are You a Freelancer or an Agency?

It’s not uncommon for freelancers to experience a bit of an identity crisis as it pertains to their outward-facing persona. On countless occasions, I’ve found myself referring to my one-man show as “we” when communicating with clients. It got me wondering; why am I so compelled to do that? To find the answer, let’s first start with clearly defining the difference between a freelancer and an agency…

What is a Freelancer?

Side hustlers, independent contractors, gig workers, solopreneurs, moonlighters, and makers—no matter how you identify, you’re probably a freelancer. You might snap back, “but I registered an LLC!” Sure, but ask yourself this: are you PART of a company or are YOU the company? You are self employed (either part-time or full-time), work from home, are the sole decision maker, and captain of your destiny. You, my dear reader, are a freelancer and should be proud!

What is an Agency?

There is a lot of debate over the evolutionary threshold between freelancer and agency. This might be an unpopular opinion but allow me to draw the line in the sand for you. If you are an incorporated individual with a handful of regular outsourced (overseas) people on your team, or someone who frequently hires on Upwork and Fiverr to keep up with client demand, you are still a freelancer. Again, NO shame in that! Did I mention I am a freelancer? I believe a web design agency must have:

  • A physical headquarters
  • More than 3 full-time employees
  • An expansive body of work with Fortune 5000 companies
  • Agile systems in place to field any project big or small
  • Awards, notoriety or industry recognition

There is one significant difference that separates these two corporate structures; nature of service. A freelancer is called upon to execute specific creative tasks by the client. An agency, however, is more often in a position of “big picture” collaboration and thought leadership. A client will turn to an agency to help solve problems—not just deliver files.

It’s All About Image

Knowing which of these categories you fall into isn’t always what you put out there for the world to see. Now, I’m not talking about being dishonest for false advertising in any way. Some clients simply need to hear “we” because the visual of a dozen elves obsessing over a single logo design or landing page wireframe gives them peace. In that same breath, many clients have an adverse reaction to working with large faceless companies. They’ve been burned in the past by impersonal communications, constant turnover, and disconnect between departments. For these prospects, we must embrace our smallness and use it to our advantage.

Am I an agency or a freelancer? I’m not even sure I have the answer. I still go back and forth with my own marketing and website language. My best advice is to be transparent yet intune with what each particular client needs in a web design partner. If your goal is to someday evolve into more, it begins with proving yourself in the freelance arena.

How to Start a Web Design Business without a Portfolio

When you start a web design business, you may find yourself in a chicken and egg situation. You need examples of work to attract new clients—but you can’t build your portfolio without past clients… or can you?

Your Portfolio Matters

It’s true what they say; the work speaks for itself. All the strategically-crafted content on your website plays second fiddle to visual representations of your talent. Potential clients will make their gut decision based on your skills and style. Sure, pricing and soft skills may play a role in the project moving forward—but eye candy is the ultimate first impression!

For this reason, if you start a web design business, you must prioritize building your portfolio. In my experience, most clients aren’t going to dive deep into your body of work. They’ll get a sense of your capabilities and either move forward or move on.

You don’t need a massive web design portfolio to get new clients.
Starting out, take a less-is-more approach and offer up just a few really good pieces.

Still, the question remains; when you’re getting started in the web design business, how do you build a portfolio of work before you have work? Lucky for you, I have some answers…

Spec Design

This tactic is actually how I got my start. Whether it’s an international telecom provider or a local food truck, you don’t have to be hired by a company to create materials for that company. Pick an industry that interests you, find a brand that inspires you, and re-imagine their website, landing page, social graphics, or marketing collateral.

You have complete freedom to do as you please and flex your stuff without any outside influence. What a great opportunity to show off your aesthetic! There is no shame in spec design (although I recommend being forthright about it in your portfolio). As long as you aren’t falsely eluding to this company being an actual paying client, it’s a harmless and effective way to demonstrate your talent.

Friends & Family

Does Uncle Frank still own that bike shop upstate? What about your neighbor with the landscaping business? Everyone knows someone who needs a new website. If you can’t think of anybody in your immediate social circle, ask friends and family if they know anybody who might be in the market. Many freelancers in the web design business get started by helping out someone in their personal life as a favor.

With a little bit of effort (and a small step outside your comfort zone) you can easily get a project or two from friends and family. Let me be the first to break it to you; these are rarely high-paying gigs. In fact, you might be building Cousin Jennifer’s mommy blog for free. However, this is a great avenue to build your portfolio, gain experience, and start putting yourself out there as a web designer.

Free Work

I genuinely believe that people offering cheap (or even free) web design services weaken the entire freelance ecosystem. With that said, in terms of adding real client work to your portfolio, it’s low hanging fruit and you get a pass.

Creating a full website free of charge is a huge undertaking—one you’ll surely regret. Limit your offer to a smaller specialty service like logo design or homepage mockups. Post a brief, honest explanation of what you’re doing on sites like Craigslist, Reddit, and other social channels. Keep in mind, if you start to get overwhelmed with inquiries, you’ll need to delete the thread from wherever it’s published. To save you some time, I’ve provided a quick template below:

Hi there! My name is FIRSTNAME and I’m finally taking the plunge to begin my freelance web design journey. In an effort to establish my portfolio of work, I am offering SERVICE free of charge! No bait-and-switch, no up-sells, and absolutely no strings attached as long as I can use the finished product for my own personal marketing. Message me to get started!

Not many people I know work for fun. Trading time for nothing is no way to start a web design business—but it’s an effective path to building your online portfolio. It certainly doesn’t hurt to get some practice doing the dance with real-life clients either. Who knows, one of these freebie seekers might actually evolve into a paying client someday!

Personal Projects

Maybe you are particularly proud of a page you created in your web design class or perhaps you have a half-finished landing page from an app idea that fizzled out. Do you find yourself tinkering in Sketch or Photoshop? How about experimenting with cool CSS effects and animations? These personal efforts don’t have to be locked away in a closet. Show the world! Remember, above all, clients are vetting your raw talent. Budget, timeline and all that is secondary.

If you have hobby projects that showcase what you’re capable of, polish them up and add them to your portfolio! Who cares if it’s the digital equivalent of a napkin doodle? You only need a handful of great pieces to prove your skill. In fact, one might say including personal work not tied to a corporate entity shows authentic passion for the craft. Let’s not forget, your website is a piece of your portfolio as well.

In conclusion, if you want to start a web design business, you have to put your portfolio first. Of course, building that portfolio can be a challenge when nobody wants to be client number one. This is where your creative mind pays off! There are several ways to take charge and beef up that portfolio yourself before the real work starts to roll in.

Check Out My Web Design Stack

As web designers, the tools we use are just as important as the sites we deliver. Your software arsenal plays a huge role in the efficiency of your business and quality of your work. This is such an amazing time to be a freelancer. There are new SaaS platforms and services popping up every day—all engineered to help you do what you do, better. It’s so easy to get set in our ways, hunkered down in our comfort zone, using the same tools we always have. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but we should all make an effort to stay on top of what’s out there for us to potentially add to our web design stack.

Why Share My Web Design Stack?

Success of sites like StackShare have confirmed we all like peeking at other people’s papers. Of course curiosity plays into it, but I personally just love discovering cool new apps. Today, I’m sharing MY web design stack in hopes that it might be helpful to your own freelance workflow.

Adobe CS

Adobe Creative Cloud

Visual Design Apps
I would venture to say that Photoshop pulls at least half the weight of my website design process. I use it for all my mockups, graphics, photo edits, and visual experiments. At the end of the day, building a site is really just compiling elements made with Photoshop into a template. Also worth noting; I may brand myself as a web designer but am often asked to perform various tasks in that loose proximity—such as brochures, posters, magazine ads, logos, etc. Adobe InDesign and Illustrator make vector/print work a breeze. I’m not afraid to admit, I LOVE Dreamweaver too. There, I said it. On the rare occasion I have to create a static HTML page, I always crack open Dw. You absolutely cannot run a creative freelance business without the suite. Adobe Creative Cloud is a worthy, non-negotiable investment for your business.

Google Meet

Google Meet

Video Communication Service
My allegiance to Google Meet really irritates people. In 2020, when the entire world jumped on the Zoom bandwagon, I stayed true to old faithful. I just love how seamlessly it integrates with my email and calendar. It has all the same functionality as Zoom and never makes me feel like I’m missing out on “premium” features for being a tightwad. I use video conferencing quite often for client meetings and project walk-throughs, so it’s important to be happy with the service you utilize.

Google Chrome Browser

Google Chrome

Web Browser
I’ve used Google Chrome for years and can certainly appreciate why so many believe it to be the best browser out there. I did, however, have a brief flirtation with Firefox recently. Needless to say, I’m back in the warm embrace of Chrome now. As web designers, the browser is actually a critical part of our stack. The one you use day-to-day needs to be fast, reliable, and a source of truth for what you ship to clients. Of course, you need to have other popular browsers on hand for testing as well.

Shutterstock Photos


Stock Media Marketplace
I really wish stock photos were more affordable. I use them sparingly—only when I know it will drastically enhance a given project. There are a handful of libraries out there but I think Shutterstock has the best selection and their “Signature” images can’t be found elsewhere. They also have a wide array of quality vector assets like icons, logos templates, videos, etc. I get by with the Standard License (10 downloads per month) plan but sometimes come dangerous close to my quota.

Creative Market

Creative Market

Stock Media Marketplace
Shopping on Creative Market is like a warm hug. I love their organic / borderline feminine vibe. Unpretentious, friendly, and welcoming. It’s a really awesome curated library of digital assets. They have fonts, themes, templates, graphics, and more. Best of all, prices are reasonable!

Vecteezy Vector Graphics


Stock Media Marketplace
I save a ton of time by using icons and vector graphics from Vecteezy. I usually open them in Illustrator to edit the colors and line weight to suit my project. Admittedly, I’ve always had luck finding free assets to fit my needs and never taken the bait on their Pro license (although it’s only $9/mo).

Yellow Images Photorealistic Mockups

Yellow Images

Mockup Marketplace
Yellow Images sells super high-quality, photorealistic mockups of pretty much anything you can think of—from coffee cups to varsity jackets. This is a surefire way to WOW clients if you happen to be designing a product label or doing a branding exercise. Also, an impressive custom touch for client websites and presentations.

Colour Lovers

Colour Lovers

Color Palette Search
There are a handful of sites that allow you to enter a hex color and they spit out a few complimentary colors. I, however, don’t trust machines to tell me which colors to use. Colour Lovers is great because you can search by keyword like “modern” or “calming” or “beachy” and it will show you palettes that other people have put together as well as praise from the CL community. The social element is a big plus for me because I don’t trust my own color instincts either.



Security & Performance
I grew tired of chasing clients down for their GoDaddy or Network Solutions login so I could make DNS changes when needed. They never know the current password. Then you have to wait for them to forward you the two-step verification code. It’s always a mess—and it always turns a 3-minute task into an all day affair. By setting my client sites up on Cloudflare, I can make DNS changes in seconds. There are also some impressive security and SSL tools included in the free tier. I only use about 5% of Cloudflare’s features but I’m really glad to have them in my web design stack.

Imageoptim Program


Image Compressor
An old colleague of mine turned me onto this app. It promises near lossless image compression, which is huge for web designers like us. If you’ve ever had a client discover the Google Page Speed tool and not be happy with the results, you can stay one step ahead of it with Imageoptim. I just leave it in my Mac dock and drag images to it before uploading to any site I’m working on. The file saves instantly in place of the bloated version. So quick and efficient (and somehow free). A welcome addition to my web design stack this year.

Gloomaps Sitemap Maker


Sitemap Tool
I start almost every website project with a sitemap exercise. A sitemap helps the client work out the structure in their mind and see it in a somewhat visual manner. Sometimes, I get lazy and use Google Docs or even the body of an email—but my preferred tools is Gloomaps because it’s super simple, collaborative, and totally free.

Fiverr Business Management

Fiverr Workspace

Invoicing Software
Formerly known as AND.CO, this platform is the hub of my business, literally. Since 2019, every penny I’ve earned or spent has funneled through Fiverr Workspace. It has pretty stellar proposal, contract, time-tracking, and bookkeeping features in addition to its core invoicing functionality.

Google Web Fonts Library

Google Fonts

Web Font Library
If you can’t find a web typeface to use on Google Fonts, you need to lower your standards. They have a massive library, all free to use and ready to embed with ease on any website. Most of the fonts have varying weights and styles to pick and choose from as well.

Fontawesome Icons


Web Font Library
Using images for basic website icons is so 2008. Nearly all the client projects I launch include some form of iconography. Oftentimes, Fontawesome’s free library has everything you need to get the job done. Best part is, they are technically a font family—so you can change size, weight, and color using CSS. Their premium icons look really sweet but too rich for my blood.

WordPress Platform


Content Management System
This shouldn’t be news to you. WordPress powers over 40% of the entire internet—and for good reason. You can make virtually any client’s design dream come true with this CMS while giving them complete control over their own updates after launch. The developer community behind WP is second to none. If WordPress isn’t already in your web design stack, get with it!



Website Host
I host almost all of my client websites. It’s a huge responsibility that I do not take lightly. Although I’ve dipped a toe in a couple other hosting ponds over the years, all roads lead back to DreamHost. Their pricing, interface, uptime, speed, and support never seize to amaze me.

NameCheap Registrar


Domain Registrar
You may or may not know I dabble in domain investing and website flipping. As someone who holds hundreds of domain names at any given time, I needed a long-term registrar with fair pricing and no added nonsense. I moved my whole portfolio to NameCheap a couple years ago and haven’t looked back. These guys also include WHOIS privacy, which is normally an up-sell for others.

SendGrid SNTP


Email Delivery Service
About 95% of the sites I build are on WordPress and I’d say 95% of those include a contact, newsletter, reservation, or some other type of interactive form. By default, form submissions are sent using a PHP script, which is too shaky for me to rely on. My nightmare is for a client to tell me they haven’t been getting their leads or inquiries. For this reason, I pay a few bucks a month to employ SendGrid as my SMTP delivery host for all online forms. It’s worth the peace of mind and adds a touch of professionalism to my client sites.

UpWork Creative Marketplace


Freelance Talent Marketplace
Truth be told, I have yet to experience an “amazing” transaction in hiring talent on UpWork. It’s been hit or miss (and the hits aren’t that great). However, I don’t have a better alternative so I continue to utilize this freelance marketplace for complex projects or tasks outside my wheelhouse.

MailChimp Email Marketing


Email Marketing Service
I use MailChimp for my own email marketing and I encourage all of my clients to do the same. By the way, email marketing is a natural upsell or down-the-road project to offer existing web design clients. MailChimp makes it easy and affordable for all involved.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics

Web Traffic Reporting
I’m not sure there is a viable alternative to Google Analytics—which is unfortunate because their new UI is totally bonkers to me. Regardless, I always install GA on my client sites before launching. You never wanna get the “have you been tracking my website traffic?” email two years later and have the answer be no.

Basecamp PM Platform


Project Management Platform
I just love email. I cannot get on board with Slack or Jira or Asana or any of those other services. Makes me feel old. However, for the rare occasion a larger project warrants a more organized management hub, I always go with Basecamp. It’s an intuitive and elegant way to organize tasks and conversations into threads without things getting too messy.

I hope this was enlightening for you and perhaps you even found a new tool you’d like to add to your own web design stack. Don’t forget, I keep a list of my absolute favorite resources up to date—so check back often. Thanks for reading!

Web Design Pricing Formula

As you know, I’ve been freelancing for over 15 years now and my web design pricing has evolved significantly since the beginning. To be honest, I’m still not charging clients what I should be—but I’ve come a long way.

For me, there have always been three nagging factors that influence the quotes I deliver:

  • Uncertainty
    If you don’t know the market rate for a website build, you could be leaving money on the table. Luckily, the blog post you’re reading right now is intended to educate you on fair and competitive pricing.
  • Lack of Confidence
    I do not see myself as a salesman. Any talk of money is uncomfortable and should be escaped from—not basked in. Charging a client for weeks of work? Nah, I wouldn’t wanna be a bother. It’s crazy how much my lack of confidence has cost me in my freelance career. Until we shift our mindset from service provider to VALUE provider, we’ll be forever suffocated by our own pricing hesitancy. You have a high-demand skill… OWN IT. Charge what you’re worth!
  • Desperation
    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quoted a project for $1,500 because “it would be good to have $1,500 right now.” More often than not, the quote should’ve been 3X that price and I end up losing my shirt in labor. It’s impossible to grow your business if you’re behind the 8 ball on hours and income. Don’t fall into this trap like I have so, so many times. It’s never worth the upfront cash infusion.

There are designers who would scoff at what I quote for WordPress development; tell me it’s a fraction of what I could be asking. Heck, Chris Do charges $20K for logos without flinching! On the other side of the coin, I also realize there are newbies reading this article who think they could never in a million years quote someone what I do for a site build.

Your pricing comfort level is dictated by your experience. Plain and simple. However, these considerations just might help nudge you in the right direction…

Charging Hourly

Invoicing clients for time spent on their project is a touchy subject in our world. It’s not for everybody—but it’s treated me well personally. The fine people at CSS-Tricks say the average hourly rate for website design is $75. Let’s take that number and align it with how long it actually takes to build a new site. In my experience, even if you use a page builder like Enfold, you’re looking at 40-60 hours. That doesn’t include time spent on the phone, video calls, in-person meetings, researching, tracking down assets, searching for media, testing, etc. Charging hourly is nice if a project starts to creep outside the original scope of work. It’s not uncommon for a client to try and sneak in new tasks here and there. That gets awkward if you agreed upon a flat project price. With the hourly model, you just keep the meter running.

Even when I do provide a flat quote, I still use the estimated hours as a baseline against my hourly rate ($95) to arrive at a fair number.

Flat Rate Web Design

Charging a flat price for a web design project is often appealing to both the client and the freelancer (you) because everyone involved knows what to expect in terms of financial investment and income. In this scenario, you are free to structure payments however you feel most comfortable.

When asked for a flat project quote, you should start with your hourly estimate but don’t stop there! Think about all the factors that might have an impact on your project. Everything from potential scope creep to difficult client personalities can affect your bottom line in the end. Factor it ALL in!

Let’s say a project is gonna take me around 60 hours and my rate is $95. That total may be $5,700 but I’m not clicking send on the proposal just yet. Now, I start stacking all of those elements and unknowns that could make this build not worthwhile for me. According to FreshBooks, the average cost to set up, design, and create content for a basic business website is $6,760.

Other Web Design Pricing Considerations

As I touched on earlier, after you’re in the freelance game for a while, you start to pick up on signals that tip you off to how smooth a web design project will go. In fact, there are several subjective factors that might weigh on the quote you throw out there…

Project Size

There’s a certain point where your hourly rate needs to be discounted or the project won’t be financially feasible for the client. If you estimate the engagement lasting months and months, something will have to give. In the end, it could still be a very lucrative project for you given the amount of money at hand.

Business Type

I’m sure you have a general idea of the kind of money certain niches or industries are working with. Even if we don’t know exact numbers, it’s safe to assume a law firm is bringing in more bucks than a homemade jewelry maker. Don’t be shy about raising your prices when you smell dough. These larger companies are actually more likely to be turned off by a too-low quote than a more substantial figure.

Client Relationship

You’re a nice person so you would never charge your family’s dog walker full price for a website design… right? Quote requests can come from any number of sources—so consider the relationship when coming up with a number. After all, you wouldn’t want Beatrice from grandma’s book club telling the whole condo village you’re unreasonable.

Personal Interest

If I’m really not excited about a particular business or if my upcoming work load is a bit overwhelming, I sometimes throw out a crazy number. This way, it’s win-win for me; they say no and I’m absolved of the project or they say yes and I’m paid handsomely.

Will You Need Help?

I recently designed a chalkboard menu for a restaurant (which isn’t my wheelhouse) and ended up having to hire out the entire thing. In the end, I lost money on the project. Think about that… I actually PAID to take on a project. If that sounds as asinine to you as it does me, make sure you anticipate if you might need outside assistance with custom development, specialized art, etc. and how much that will cost you.

Trouble Ahead

Bad clients can really ruin the fun of freelance. I’ve had my fair share over the years and can now spot red flags early on. If you sense that a client might be “extra” throughout the web design process, it’s in your best interest to jack the price up to compensate.

The topic of web design pricing is quite the rabbit hole so we’ll let it all digest for today. To me, the absolute most critical factor here is the value you provide to a client’s business—buhat is a whole can of worms and you have plenty to get started for now.

Web Design Niche Ideas for 2022

No matter how you pronounce it, the riches really are in the niches. If you’re the web designer for everybody, you’re a web designer for nobody. One of the best ways to fast-track your freelance trajectory is to carve out a vertical for yourself. You’ll need some niche ideas—but first, what does that mean exactly?

What is a Niche?

I’ll resist the temptation to Google the dictionary definition of “niche” and just spitball on what it means in the context of freelance web design. A niche is a segment of potential clients who all share a common thread (usually industry). The best niches are hyper-focused. For example; instead of targeting home builders, you would be the go-to guy for log cabin builders. Keep going. How about the web designer for veteran-owned tiny house log cabin builders? If you’re not scared, you didn’t niche down enough. In the words of John Lee Dumas, “niche down ‘til it HURTS!”

Your niche doesn’t always have to be industry-based.
You could instead cater to a particular CMS like Wix or Shopify or Magento.

Why Commit to a Niche?

By specializing in one specific business type, you are at a tremendous advantage compared to jacks of all trades. If you were opening a children’s dental office and needed a new website, you would likely be thrilled to find a freelancer with extensive experience in your industry. Working with a designer who speaks the language and isn’t starting from zero is a huge perk for any business. Does pledging allegiance to one sector mean you won’t get any clients in other circles? No, but if you select your niche wisely, that shouldn’t concern you anyway.

It is SO much easier to gain a reputation in a smaller silo of the universe. Once you get those first few launches under your belt, projects will sell themselves. Even as a freelancer, you’ve already caught their attention and earned their trust because you are part of their world. Their peers have vetted you—saving them a whole lotta shopping around. From a marketing and advertising perspective, niching down gives you focus and precision in your efforts too.

Choosing a Niche

When searching for niche ideas, it’s ideal to find one that is currently under-served in what you offer. Sure, there may be a few other web designers targeting that vertical—but a little friendly competition is a good sign.

This next piece of advice is REALLY important because it’s one of my most painful lessons-learned, personally. Consider the persona of your niche client. It’s safe to make some generalizations and lean into stereotypes here because this is very much a gut decision. Are they friendly? Passionate about their venture? Willing to spend for results? Progressive about technology? Financially stable?

About five years ago, I thought it would be a brilliant idea to form an “agency” called DashCrowd; specializing exclusively in bar and restaurant websites. Fun fact: bars and restaurants have NO money! The few who are lucky to claim some profit aren’t exactly quick to part with it to invest in their digital presence. Probably the worst trait I wish I had known before diving in… they don’t put anything on credit cards! My restaurant clients refused to ever place a card on file for recurring payments. I was always the last vendor in line to get paid too. My average restaurant client was about 3 months behind on billing at any given time. The reality is, these proprietors are mostly scraping by in one of the most stressful, unpredictable fields on earth. It’s not an environment I had any business inserting myself into and I’m still paying the price to this day. Do your homework and choose a niche wisely!

One more piece of advice here: factor in the likelihood of a given niche hiring freelancers. Think about a pharmaceutical company or auto maker, for example. They aren’t paying Timmy Smith in his mom’s basement to build their websites (sorry Timmy). No, they contract established global agencies. However, plumbers and roofers and real estate agents would absolutely gravitate to independent contractors for their marketing needs.

Niche Ideas for Your Consideration

Instead of rattling off every industry under the sun, I’ve highlighted just a handful of the ones that intrigue me this year. The possibilities for you are endless. Take some inspiration from this guy who makes websites for farms or these folks who literally productized the funeral home industry. WHAT!? Hopefully, this will give you a mindset framework as you start to research your own niche ideas and the potential of each!

Dentist Offices

The public demand for dentists is not going anywhere. It’s a dependable niche that tends not to fluctuate. However, one characteristic that makes this vertical so appealing is the community behind it. Dental professionals who operate their own offices have a very exclusive club. They share ideas, experiences, and tips with their fellow comrades online. I experienced this first-hand when a dental client of mine told his peer Facebook group about me. The leads flooded in (and still are)!

Home Builders

Real estate is booming and builders are finding creative ways to make the most of every square inch of land on this planet. These companies need a fairly specific type of website which highlights their available floor plans, sub-divisions they build in, and demonstrates their quality of work. It’s easy to see why they would want a freelance web designer with experience in this specific industry.

Women Owned Business

I know I can’t really say this but I’m actually jealous of the sisterhood and comradery I see among women in the startup world. If you happen to be a female web designer, embrace that natural connection and shared aesthetic to help fellow lady bosses bring their dreams to life online!


From small-town places of worship to big-city megachurches, religious institutions rely on their digital presence to grow their patronage and serve existing members. You might be surprised how much activity there is on a church website—from the busy event calendar to online donations. Get yourself in with a small parish and work your way up through reputation. I hope it goes without saying this applies to synagogues, mosques, temples, and everything in between as well.


With the growing popularity of no-code and low-code platforms, brilliant software solutions are being launched at an incredible rate. The developers of which are exhausted from creating their app—and eager to have someone else handle the landing pages. Communities like IndieHackers make it easy for you to build some notoriety for yourself amongst these newly-minted makers.

Hair & Beauty Salons

At the time of writing this article, our country has been cooped up inside for almost a year and we are looking a mess! People cannot wait to get back to the salon for some well-deserved pampering. Established shops are gonna want to refresh their online presence and a whole bunch of new salons will surely start to pop up. You can be the person who understands their unique needs and offerings and can launch a website as beautiful as their blowouts!

Short-Term Rental Properties

Tourism is about to come back in a major way. Competition among vacation properties will be fierce. This is good news for someone who specializes in short-term rental marketing and design! Hosts took a big hit in 2020 and are not crazy about giving a piece of their business to sites like AirBnb and VRBO. You can help them take back their online booking process with a beautiful, full-featured website!

Course Creators

Online learning was on track to hit $1 billion per day by 2025. That trajectory was significantly expedited during the pandemic. People are taking education into their own hands and experts are pumping out courses as fast as humanly possible. They may have the content and curriculum in their head, but don’t know how to build out an online course or website to market it. That’s where you come in!

Home Bakers

People are discovering their passion for baking. From specialty breads to creative cookies, home bakers have been able to quickly create a loyal following on social media. It’s only natural they start to sell their tasty goods online!

Wellness Experts

I doubt I’m the only one who ate my way through lockdown. As we begin to open our doors and step out into the world once again, the sun will shine brightly on what’s become of our personal health and wellness this past year. This lends plenty of opportunity to individuals qualified to get us all back into shape! Nutritionists, trainers, and coaches not only need help establishing their online brands, but building hybrid digital solutions for their client programs as well.

Payment Structures for Web Design Projects

As you’ve heard in dozens of heartfelt, coming of age, father-son moments on television, “do what you love and the money will follow.” Well, little Timmy, you may love building websites but don’t do it for free! You’re creating REAL value and revenue opportunities for your clients and should be charging accordingly—but how exactly?

Let’s say you and your client have agreed on a flat cost for a website design project. Do you ask for the entire amount up front? Do you break it into installments or just wait until delivery and hope they have the cash? There are plenty of ways to structure payments and, in the end, it comes down to personal preference, level of comfort, and project circumstances.

Factors to Consider

Every project is different; making it tricky to adhere to any one payment structure or policy across the board. Here are some considerations to keep in mind before proposing financial terms to your client:

Total Cost
Whether or not a payment schedule is even necessary depends on the size of the project itself. If you’re designing a business card for $80, there’s probably no need to complicate the arrangement by overthinking the terms. On the other hand, payments for sizable projects with substantial scopes of work may need to be thoughtfully defined.

Estimated Timeline
I’ve found my average website build from start to finish is about 60 days. I use that data to help predict the timeline of new projects and determine the most suitable payment structure as well. The longer a particular engagement is expected to take, the more room you have for milestones and installments.

Client Relationship
The first project with a new is rough on both sides. There is very little trust earned between you—making the exchange of money a bit nerve wracking. The client, understandably, doesn’t wanna send a stranger a bunch of cash on a promise and you don’t wanna do countless hours of work for potentially no reward. This becomes way less of a factor down the road after you’ve established more of a relationship. Until then, be fair, hedge your bets, share the risk and get it done.

If you know beforehand that a web design project is going to require some capital on your part to execute, you’ll want to keep that in mind when determining the payment structure. For instance; stock media licenses, outsourced development, etc. These can add up so don’t front the cost all alone.

Personal Cash Flow
Let’s face it, sometimes that bank account tiptoes into the danger zone and you need cash fast. I’ve been there a million times myself. Conversely, if your coffers happen to be plentiful as you enter a new client agreement, you have the luxury of playing it a bit cooler with your request for funds.

Asking for too much money to kickoff a project can wave some red flags for clients. No company wants to work with a broke, desperate contractor. Suck it up, have some faith, and prolong the bigger payments until you’ve had a chance to dazzle and deliver.

Payment Structure Models

It can be scary asking a client to pay you—even if you both agree on the total project cost. You don’t wanna turn them off by recommending an unreasonable or unbalanced payment plan, but you also have to be fair to yourself and protect your own time investment. Here are a few payment structure models I’ve followed in my freelance business:


You all know I swear by running the meter when it comes to website maintenance and smaller requests. It’s less common, however, for a client to agree to this structure for big web design projects due to the financial unknowns. As a freelancer, you can quell their worries by proposing a cap not to be exceeded (as long as the project stays within the original scope). This way, you can sell them on the slight possibility that the actual cost may come in less than quoted if it takes fewer hours than expected. Another perk with the hourly option is being able to invoice this client on your normal billing schedule.

Example: $65 per hour (not to exceed $3,900 total)


Another payment structure is to establish project milestones that trigger invoices to proceed. In my experience, this can get hairy if you aren’t SUPER clear and specific about each milestone. Also be sure to specify if you get paid when you finish a milestone or if you get paid to begin a milestone. Personally, I prefer prepayment for each stage so you are paid in full before launch. What’s their rush to pay you if they already have their project delivered? With this route, I still recommend asking for a deposit to begin work. Don’t leave anything up to subjective scrutiny. After the project begins, strive to deliver (or even over-deliver) on every checkpoint so there is no room for technicalities to withhold funds.

Example: $800 due to begin wireframes & mockups; $2,400 due to begin WP development; $700 due to launch


This format is similar to the Milestones model above but can also apply to dates or other project checkpoints. The strategy is to keep the money flowing without leaving too much on the table at the end of the engagement. Think about a fledgling flower shop who you cut a break for and started building a $4,000 Squarespace site with only a 5% deposit (remainder due to launch). Now the site is complete and their outstanding balance is $3,800. That’s a lot of cash for a small business to produce in a lump sum. You are much better off splitting the full project cost into easy-to-digest bites. Now you get paid along the way and the flower shop only has to worry about writing a handful of smaller checks over the course of a few months.

Example: $1,300 due March 1; $1,300 due April 1; $1,300 due May 1

Pay Over Time

This isn’t terribly common but occasionally a client prefers to set up an installment plan to pay off their total project cost over time, regardless of how long it takes to build and launch. Maybe you quoted them $6,500 for a WooCommerce site but they are pre-revenue at the moment. Instead of telling them to kick rocks, you could get them to agree to 12 monthly payments of $542. That’s way more manageable for them and a good source of recurring income for you. Heck, you can even add some fees on top to accommodate the prolonged schedule.

Example: $341.25 due per month (includes 5% flexible payment fee)

Lump Sum

Oooh boy, this one is risky—but if you are super confident in your ability to deliver and the client’s willingness to pay, why not? Go for it! Do the whole project and collect your winnings afterward. This is most certainly the client’s favorite payment structure because it requires so upfront risk on their part. As the freelancer, you are putting in all the blood, sweat & tears in the hope that they are satisfied enough in the end to pay without a fight.

Example: $3,900 due at completion and delivery of project

As you can see, there are several ways to arrange your project payments. Both you and your client have to give a little, trust a lot, and do right by the other. Keep that in mind and you can’t go wrong.

My 2021 Income Report

We made it to a new year. Congrats! Of course, the cruel circus of 2021 didn’t let us escape with our beloved Betty White—but we must (somehow) trudge ahead. I’m approaching my two-year anniversary of going full-time freelance. This is a good time to take a personal inventory of where I’m at (and where I’d like to be) in terms of income, business, and life in general.

Let’s begin with work/life balance because that was my biggest struggle while juggling a J-O-B and making websites on the side. I can’t say I’ve taken time to stop and smell the roses much this past year but I’m pretty happy with my professional life overall. Money is coming in, I feel in control of my own destiny, and I never stay the office past 5:30pm. I occasionally come in on the weekends to get ahead before Monday mayhem—but I don’t have to.

Now onto the dollars and cents. On average, I’ve billed over $16,000 each month since last January. I look at that number and think, “WHAT!? Where is it!?” Something to keep in mind when you reach the stage I’m at in freelance; clients pay on their own sweet ass time. You can tell them when you WANT the money until you’re blue in the face, but they write checks when they dang well please. At any given time, I have about $9,000 in outstanding invoices.

I happen to like my cavalcade of clients; they are easy to work with and historically good about paying. I’m not too worried about being stiffed—but I get super frustrated with the never ending slow trickle of cash. You’d think someone who makes $16K per month wouldn’t be worried about paying his bills, but I never really get that income as a steady stream or massive lump sum. It’s more sporadic (and infuriating) than that.

2021 Income Chart

Okay, Accounts Receivable drama aside, how did we do in 2021? I collected about $190,000 in invoices this year. After roughly $38,000 in expenses, that leaves me with $152,000 before taxes. Then Uncle Sam has his way with my bank account and I’m left with a respectable, but modest salary hovering somewhere around the $106K mark. I’m 38, married, two kids, mortgage, day care, vehicles, utilities—life adds up. Not to mention, I’m no longer contributing to any sort of retirement fund and barely socking money away in savings. No stocks; no crypto; no Pokemon cards; nothing. The fear of having a dry month keeps me up at night because I simply don’t have the cushion. I try to remember my goal when I began freelancing was to make $10K per month—and I’ve more than exceeded that. Then the $20K month became my mystical white whale that I have since hit on a couple occasions. My web design business is making impressive income and I absolutely LOVE not having a boss, but this is nowhere near the level I believe I can reach.

What’s next? I need to take some chances, GROW my business, remove myself from the sole burden of creative production, and evolve into a real company. I’m in a comfortable little freelance cocoon right now. It’s warm and familiar and safe. However, if I want more, I have to DO more. That is terrifying. TBD on my specific plan of action, but the wheels are spinning at least.

My Year in a Nutshell

The beginning of the year started off on the quiet side, and I kinda needed it to be. Our new daughter, Fiona Mae, was born on March 30th and it’s been a whirlwind to say the least. She LOVES to cry, loudly. I’ve been enjoying a dull, constant headache since she came home. We’re so excited, though, and her big brother has been super cool about the new addition too.

My Daughter
Fellow freelancers; meet Fiona the baby!

I sensed early on, spring was going to be healthy in terms of billing. Old clients emerging from the shadows to request little things here and there. I also signed a couple new website projects for one of my biotech clients. They are very particular but the budget makes it worthwhile—and the end result was amazing.

Oh and I also had to start making headway on two free websites I’ve been putting off. One isn’t free per-say, but they paid me in full two years ago and I haven’t heard from them since. The other is for an in-kind trade I made last year. Blah!

The year as a whole was a pretty even split between billable hours and flat rate projects. The more sites I launch, the more maintenance tasks and add-on service requests come my way.

One big move I made during the summer was hiring some top-tier (overseas) talent to help on both the design and development of a few larger builds. After investing almost $14k in this outsourcing experiment, I didn’t walk away very pleased. This is really discouraging because I know I have to let go of something if I’m going to grow this freelance shop into an actual business. However, this was an expensive lesson learned, for sure.

Other than that, I did very little marketing or outreach in 2021. I had enough on my plate to sustain my standard of life; giving me the freedom to finally launch my pet project, MMMW!

Freelance Income for 2021

  • Consulting Contracts:$57,600.00
  • Hosting & Maintenance Plans:$8,360.40
  • Flat Rate Website Projects:$75,266.38
  • Billable Requests:$45,885.00
  • Misc. Income:$3,857.64

TOTAL: $190,969.42

Business Expenses

  • Professional Memberships:$149.00
  • Business Development:$1,218.75
  • Office Expenses:$976.91
  • Phone & Internet:$1,414.92
  • Professional Services:$13,101.20
  • Banking Fees:$2,742.86
  • Advertising & Marketing:$1,384.39
  • Legal:$12.00
  • Office Space:$9,000.00
  • Travel & Transportation:$14.00
  • Equipment:$1,421.89
  • Software:$5,764.79
  • Supplies:$1,210.52
  • Entertainment:$130.06

TOTAL: $38,541.29

My Profit

$152,428.13 (+117% increase from 2020)

* Freelance-friendly bookkeeping provided by Fiverr Workspace

Foot Injury
Spending 3 months in a boot was fun too