How to become a freelance web designer & the fast track to $100k/yr

Starting your career as a freelancer is daunting. Lead generation is the hardest part. Here are some strategies and tactics for any freelancer to use, and particularly Squarespace web designers.

David Head
Sponsored by
No items found.

Show Notes

Starting your career as a web web designer is daunting. You have to create your portfolio, develop a leads pipeline, set up client management systems, learn bookkeeping, form your legal entity, and dozens of other small tasks. Oh yeah, then you have to build the websites for your clients too.

Fortunately there’s a tried and true path that tens of thousands before you have taken. This post focuses on Squarespace web design specifically, but it's principles apply for any form of web design, as well as most forms of freelancing. First, I'll give you a high level statistical overview of the Squarespace web design sector. Then I'll share how you rise to the top of it.

Squarespace Economy: Overview

From Industry at a Glance: Squarespace Web Design

Key 2018 Statistics:

Income by tenure for a full time Squarespace web designer

Interact with this chart

Income by Tenure for a Full-Time Squarespace designer

You should expect your income to start fairly low while you establish yourself and ramp up steeply over the next two years.

Income distribution amongst Squarespace web designers

Interact with this chart

Income Distribution Amongst Squarespace Web Designers

“Full-time (exclusively)” means this person works full time as a web designer, overwhelmingly producing Squarespace websites. As you can see, it’s extremely rare to make over $100k/year. “All designers” includes the following other segments:

Squarespace clients contributing to the most overall revenue

Interact with this chart

Squarespace clients contributing to the most overall revenue

This means, out of the $57.4m Squarespace web design economy, clients in the Interior Design, Healthcare, and Arts industries have collectively spent the most on websites. See the percent breakdown of each sector.

Which countries most Squarespace leads come from

Interact with this chart

Which countries most Squarespace leads come from

How to Reach the Top

The three most powerful drivers of business growth are:

  1. Developing social proof
  2. Developing your leads pipeline
  3. Specializing and raising your project minimum/rates

Rising to the top is as simple as doing each of these three over and over.

Develop social proof

Get the highest profile and most respected clients you can – even if you have to do it for free. Make them love you.[1] Build them the most impressive website you can so you can feature it your portfolio afterwards. (Here is a portfolio of the best Squarespace website examples for reference.) The more extreme you are in this phase, the more aggressively you’ll move into the rare $100k+ club. You could theoretically do it by next year.

To illustrate, if you could get Airbnb as a client right now, but it meant spending 1 month living on food stamps and showering at the YMCA just to network your way into the opportunity, then another 2 months living like that building out Squarespace landing pages for free, it would be worth it 10x over. You’d be able to say you’re freelancing for Airbnb and you could charge more than 99% of other freelancers and get every deal you want. Why? Everyone knows Airbnb and holds them in high regard. People think “If this person’s good enough for Airbnb, they’re good enough for me.”

If you’re leaving a lucrative job with a great company to start freelancing for the first time, think about how you can leverage your experience there. You should be able to lay a nice foundation of social proof.

Once you get a client you want to use as social proof, ask them for a testimonial to put on your website.[2] Put their logo and/or headshot prominently on your site along with the testimonial.

Of course, also feature this work prominently in your portfolio. If the client and work is distinguished enough, consider crafting a case study narrative.

Develop your leads pipeline

Even if you have Airbnb as a client, you can’t grow your business without more people reaching out to you in the first place. You need to grow your leads pipeline. Here are the most reliable ways to do that:

  1. Develop relationships for referrals. This could be a client you did work for who has a friend or colleague needing a site. Or it could be with other freelancers who don’t have capacity to take on more work.
  2. Create valuable content that people share or search for on Google. There will eventually be someone reading it who needs your services and will reach out. The content can also help your efforts in #1 (developing relationships).
  3. Join freelance directories/marketplaces. While the Squarespace Specialists directory isn’t accepting new listings, the two places with the most Squarespace lead volume are Sixty (my company), followed by Upwork. Two quick Sixty plugs – you can either provide instant Squarespace help or you can get listed on our Hire tool as a Squarespace developer.

Specialize and raise your project minimum and rate

Once you have an excess of leads, start thinking about who you can add the most value to. Try to align this with your passions. If you love fitness studios, refine your service offerings for fitness studios. When a fitness studio comes along, they’ll pay more for you than for other freelancers.

For excess leads you don’t end up taking, set up a relationship with another freelancer so they pay you a referral fee and you make passive income. The standard rate is 5–10%. (Sixty also has a simple referral program you can send leads to for passive income.)

(Bonus) Develop a thought leadership platform

Generally, the more high profile you can make yourself (in a good way), the more people tend to want to work with you. If you are a guest contributor to online publications, a podcast guest, and the like, you’ll automatically be able to command more money. This isn’t a requirement at any level. There are a Squarespace freelancers I know making $100k+ who don’t have this. But it helps if you do have it.

If you want any further clarification about any of these pieces, requests for other statistics within the Squarespace economy, or any other general questions, feel free to leave a comment below!

[1] I’d argue client happiness has more to do with the way you communicate then the work itself. It’s counterintuitive to some. It can be easy to think the end result of the website is all that matters. Nuances like setting clear deadlines, keeping clients up to date on your progress, how you present your work, and generally being a fun, happy, and energetic person to be around go a long way. Every Squarespace freelancer I know making $100k+ is stellar at communication.

Thanks to Jason Barone, Andrew King , and Collin Belt for inspiring and refining this post.

© 2021 | Site Built in Webflow