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Creating Recurring Revenue via a Subscription Web Design Business Model with Steve Schramm

This week I’m chatting with Steve Schramm of the Subscription Web Design podcast about how to use a subscription model to scale your web design business.

Steve Schramm is the owner of NorthMac Services, a boutique web design agency focused on creating WordPress sites for entrepreneurs. He’s also the host of the Subscription Web Design podcast where he helps web designers create a subscription model to scale their businesses and create long-term recurring revenue.

3 key takeaways:

  • The subscription-based model allows web designers to establish long-term profitable relationships with clients.
  • Benefits of the subscription model include predictable income and the ability to focus on client satisfaction.
  • By eliminating the pay-for-hours model, you can focus on client satisfaction instead of time worked, leading to greater revenue in the long run.

We also chat about:

  • Steve's journey as a web designer and the challenges he faced.
  • How Steve implemented the subscription model in his own business.
  • Scaling the business, creating efficient systems and processes, and teaching web design to others.

Connect with Steve:

Episode Transcript


Shannon Mattern: Welcome to the Profitable Web Designer, a podcast for web designers who want to work less and make more money. I'm your host Shannon Mattern, founder of the Web Designer Academy, where we've helped hundreds of web designers stop under charging, overworking, and create profitable, sustainable web design businesses. Hey everyone, welcome back to the show. I am so excited to introduce you to this week's guest who has a really, really cool model for how he runs his web design business. His name is Steve Schramm and he is the host of the subscription web design podcast, and he teaches other web designers how to build a subscription-based web design business so that they can finally break free from the feast and famine cycle and build long-term profitable relationships with their clients. Steve, thank you so much for being here today.

Steve Schramm: 100%. Thank you. I am pleased to be here and excited to talk about this.

Shannon Mattern: So, can you give our listeners a little bit of background about your journey as a web designer and what led you to this idea of idea of doing subscription based web design?

Steve Schramm: Yeah, yeah, I'd be glad to. So it started for me my background as is the case with a lot of people in this kind of industry and website design and marketing. My background is actually in music, and so I, I was a professional musician. I played in recording studios and traveled with a bluegrass gospel band and just all over the country. And so that's what I thought I was going to be doing for the rest of my life. And I, thankfully, I'm still involved in some music stuff here and there, not to that degree, but when I was working in the studio, which was owned by my best friend's dad, he was kind of like a business mentor to me. And when you're working in an environment like that, there's a lot that happens. Like bands come in and they record, but turns out they also need artwork for their CDs.

Steve Schramm: And they also need somebody who can write a biography and they also kind of need a website. And even this was back in like, I'm gonna give you a vague range of like 2007 to 2013 that we were primarily doing this, this sort of work. And so this is when I first saw the back end of a WordPress dashboard, which I feel is kind of like my third home now. And I, I started out mostly doing the content stuff, right? And so I, I didn't own that business, I just worked in it and I was learning how to do all the different things. And one of the business principles that he tried to instill into me was the idea of he used sort of the old school word of residual income for it. We call that now recurring income. And in these modern times we talk a lot about subscriptions.

Steve Schramm: And so he sort of had a unique model in his recording studio that would get people coming back year after year. And it just takes a second to explain, but it was, it was really transformational for me. So think about it like this. Let's say you came to his studio and you spent $1,500 on a project. The way that he would run the sales pitch by you is that if you could just get 100 people to pay $15 for your cd, that would pay for the cost of the recording. And then what you do is if you just put that money away and come back next year and pay for your next recording session with that same $1,500, you just repeat that process over and over again and he'll never go up on the price for you. And so you've effectively got a recording paid for, for the rest of your life as long as you record once per year thanks to the CDs that you would be given by us.

Steve Schramm: Like when we recorded you, not only that, we would actually produce those CDs for you and give them to you, it was included in your $1,500. So we gave you what you needed to pay for your all of your future recordings in that very first one, it was a genius sales pitch. I still think it's a genius sales pitch. And so when I sort of left that and struck out on my own in late 2015, early 2016, starting my own web design business, I had two problems. The biggest one was that I, I wasn't sure that people would pay me thousands of dollars for a website because I didn't have all of my, you know, I didn't have like portfolios and all that stuff. Like I was mostly on the content. And so I was just learning divvy and page builders and trying to figure my way in the world as a web designer, but I knew I had enough experience to start it.

Steve Schramm: So I had that problem. I didn't know that I could pay thou or I could charge thousands of dollars for a website. And then the other problem was, well, I've got a full-time job now, but I really don't want to have a full-time job. I want to work for myself. And in order to do that, I know from experience that I need to build a recurring income business. So I said, and the numbers look a lot different today, but I literally remember standing in the break room and at my work and, and just having this epiphany of, I, you, I could get somebody to give me $75 a month for a website that was just continually updated, et cetera, et cetera. And that was kind of the birth of it. From there I was like, okay, I think we're gonna do this. And here we are eight years later with a six figure agency and supporting my family of six and just kind of getting to take breaks and go on vacation and stuff with a team. And it's been a wild ride.

Shannon Mattern: I love that story so much, and I wanna wanna know, I'm like, now I'm like, how did you do it? I wanna know how you did it because you had the epiphany of like, if I could get someone to pay me $75 a month, then I'm sure you did some more math and you thought, I only need this many people to do that. Oh yeah. To replace my day job income. So you had that epiphany, then what happened?

Steve Schramm: Yeah, so after that I was like, okay, well, you know, I, I think this is something we could try. And so what I did, of course, this is when you get into the whole issue of niching down, you know, are you gonna go a particular path? Are you, who are you gonna work with? And I had found myself just in a jungle of other people who were also interested in basically using the internet to make a full-time income, right? The online, it was sort of a, a a boom of online business. And I was a part of a few paid membership groups that talked about that stuff. And so honestly, what happened from there is I just started to put some feelers out and be helpful, as helpful as I could in these different groups and come in with my expertise and see if I could get anybody to bite.

Steve Schramm: And I, I did basically what would happen, and I still, this still happens today, I would just go into a group, I would solve somebody's problem for free. They would usually come back to me when they had another problem and then end up paying like a, an hourly rate or just a small project fee to fix a, an issue. And then by that third interaction, we would be on a retainer. And that has happened I mean, I don't know, multiple times now in, in that specific scenario. And that's how it got started. And from there, lots of word of mouth and other things, but honestly I just did it. Now, the, the crucible has been, which I'm sure this is gonna kind of come into some of your questions and such, but you know, I learned a lot along the way. I've made a lot of mistakes.

Steve Schramm: I remember one particular client scenario where it was a one page website that took six months to finish, and I bet you I had 80% of it done the first month before he ever even paid me. And so, yeah, you better believe I changed the contract a lot after that. And yeah, so it, it's been interesting. But I've, I've basically designed my whole agency around this. So I, I sort of have this central question of when somebody says, Hey, I need this, or I want this or, or I think I'm gonna offer this. I think, how do I turn this into a subscription that's like, that question is on my mind all the time, whatever I'm thinking about, how do I turn this into recurring revenue for me? So you, you said what happened next? Well, what happened next really is I had to figure out how to sell it.

Steve Schramm: I had to figure out, because people aren't used to that, right? And they're still not used to it. They're still not used to paying monthly for a service like a website. So I had to figure out the sales pitch, and I'll just give you that, like, for me, the thing that made people understand was when I told them this story of one of the websites that me and my buddy had designed while we were working for the recording studio. And what happened is we designed this website, we probably charged four or 500 bucks and handed over the keys and it was for a church. Okay? Now, back then, again, this is 2007 to 2012, there was a lot less discussion around like maintenance plans and all of that stuff. I mean, we, we were not to that phase of things yet in the web world, not at the scale we are now.

Steve Schramm: And we weren't doing anything like that. We just thought, okay, here's that, here's you would log in and hopefully you will update your website. Well, they didn't. It got tragically redirected to a porn website and blacklisted by Google and all of this. And so all I had to do, and I still use that story to this day as part of the sales process, that story really helps people to see the value of working together as almost like partners on your website, rather than just treating it like a one and done project, handing over the keys and, and letting them go from there. So that was really the next steps is just trying to figure out how do I sell this thing? And that, that one story seemed to work for me of just helping people understand the value in it.

Shannon Mattern: So you start being helpful and meeting clients, sharing with them like, Hey, I would really like to support you long term. And really educating them on like, you are going to need long-term support. Like this isn't just like, yeah, a one and done and you never have to touch it again. My next question is like, how did you manage, like in the time that you have available, like yeah, how do you make the money work in terms of like, here's how much I wanna make with the number of hours I have available. Like how do you, how does that all work out for you?

Steve Schramm: Oh man, I love this question. How much time do we have today? So here's, here's the thing. I was in a very privileged position and I realized that I was, and I'm always sensitive to that whenever this part of the conversation comes up. And so I had a full-time job and a five-year plan, right? My goal was I wanted to be self-employed, working for myself, no strings attached with an employer when my son was five years old. And, and we were gonna start homeschooling him. Literally, he started, I, I forget the exact dates, but I'm pretty sure my last, yeah, his, he turned five on January 11th and my last day of work was January 15th. And so I had given my two week notice just prior to that. And there's a whole lot of lessons there, the importance of having a specific goal. But I realized that I had lots of time.

Steve Schramm: And so I did, I worked, and when I say lots of time, I mean I had to fit it around a full-time job. Maybe I don't give myself enough credit. I woke up at four 30 in the morning, most mornings, worked till 10 or 1130 at night most nights, just trying to actually do the work, do the marketing, and build up the business. And so for me it was a very slow growth trajectory, right? I mean, I, most of my marketing, like I did some blogging and stuff, but you know how long that takes to gain traction. I mean, most of my marketing was literally me sitting in both free Facebook groups and also paid groups and, and actually having conversations with people. And then once I would get a project, I would do that. Now, where everything changed for me is, it sort of happened to me somewhat accidentally, but now that it happened, and I know it's possible, now I teach people to do it.

Steve Schramm: And so what I recommend that you do is to help you start bridging that gap is onboarding foundation clients. And a foundation client is somebody who's gonna help you build the financial runway that you need. Because even if you're, let's say that you're a full-time working for yourself right now, but you're in sort of the feast or famine traditional path, right? And it's like you've got these projects coming in and how do you transition to something like a subscription model when you're expecting these big chunks of money to come in? So I, I understand that question as well. And I think the foundation clients are the answer. There could be more than two of these. There's really just two that I tend to think of and really one is the white label client, the white label agency that maybe you could sort of plug your skills into and get on a retainer or a sort of client who maybe needs somebody to be there, quote unquote in-house marketing and web person that would hire you on a contractual basis instead of as a W two employee.

Steve Schramm: That actually happens quite a bit. You just need to know where to look and find those clients. So I think for the, from the financial end, like this is, so the first time that I talked about the subscription model publicly was on Josh Hall's podcast, and this was in, I believe it was April of 2021. It was just after I had went full-time. And he was shocked that at that time I was full-time subscription web design income with about a dozen clients. And people were thinking, holy cow, what in the world? How do you do that? Well, again, the reason is because I had some foundation clients who were making up a bigger chunk of income than I would have liked, but it was still monthly subscription, recurring income, and then the other ones filled in the gaps. And now, as you might imagine a couple years later, that landscape has shifted a bit.

Steve Schramm: We have a lot more of the sort of smaller and even mid-tier projects, but we've consistently added to our, our value ladder. So on the backend, we've added more services, started doing more marketing in addition to just the web design. So that was sort of the long answer to the question and I had a shorter answer and then I forgot it. So I'm really not sure that I have a really great short answer to the question. Yeah. But the reality is, is adding services and, and creating relationships that it's gonna make it to where you don't have to have 50 clients going at like a, at like a smaller, like even two to $300 level, you're gonna have a lot of those. We could talk more about pricing and stuff, but I think the way to help make the money make sense is to look at onboarding some clients who make up a higher percentage of your revenue, which is scary for some people, but I think it's sort of a necessary jump to, to really make it make sense.

Shannon Mattern: Yeah. So I mean, and these clients are on retainer, right? So it's not like they're, you know, that you're like always working for all of them all the time.

Steve Schramm: Correct.

Shannon Mattern: They're paying for access to you, they're paying for the relationship, they're paying to like have you be there like just like a, just like an attorney, right? Like that you know you're there. Yeah. When they need something and they already have this relationship to where whenever they have an issue, they're not like, okay, now I gotta do some research, I gotta ask around, I gotta find the right person. I gotta make sure that they're the right person. Like all of that is gone and they are just, you are just like in their back pocket and they're paying you every single month to have you in their back pocket.

Steve Schramm: That's exactly right. That's exactly right. And in fact, it's very timely. I literally just went on an, an extended answer to this question on the episode of my podcast that shared out literally today. So you gotta break the association between time and money. Yeah. Okay. when you're doing this, okay, the mindset I talk about the five m's of subscription web design and the, the first one is the mindset. The subscription mindset is so important when you go into this and it's, it's not hard to grasp, it's a subtle shift, but it's just such an important one. I use this example, so I talk about for custom website design, if you're living in the continental, you know, United States of America, which is my primary audience, so that's kind of who I'm speaking to, I can't see that you're gonna get away comfortably with less than $300 a month for a custom website project.

Steve Schramm: Okay? Now I, you can go below that if you're looking at like template things and stuff like that. But on the model I teach, I recommend that you don't charge less than 2 97 a month is the number that I use for custom website design. So let's think about it like this. So our average like brochure, simple basic business website project takes between 15 and 25 hours. It might shoot up to like 35 hours if there's some additional plugin configs and stuff, but for the most part we're 15 to 25 hours. And that happens typically over the course of a six to eight week period. Okay? So if you are a solo shop, let's say, and it gets more complicated if you have a team, but it, it's still the same basic math. If you're a solo shop and you're the one building the website, so you're gonna do that 15 to 25 ish hours in the first two months of time.

Steve Schramm: Now during that time, you're only going to receive 2 97 a month, say $300 a month. So if you think about getting paid $600 for doing 15 to 25 hours worth of work, sounds like a pretty bad deal. But that is where the subscription mindset shines. If you just break that association and don't think about trading those times trading that time for dollars, instead what you get to say is, oh, this new client just signed on. That means I just raised my annual income by X. And then all you're doing is you're working upfront 15 to 25 hours in service of that raise that you just gave yourself. And we'll get into this later, but 'cause there's contracts involved and all of that stuff we do an 18 month contract, but you can just watch those numbers shake out, and I'm terrible at math, but basically 300 bucks times 12 months, if you think about it annually, you know, you're somewhere in that $3,600 a year range that you just added to your income.

Steve Schramm: Now show me another job. They're pretty rare where you can get a raise that amounts to that much money per year every time you get a new client. And so if you think about it that way, month one and month two, you're gonna do that 15 to 25 hours worth of work. But month three you are maybe gonna do an hour of work maybe. 'cause In our maintenance con the way that we, that we kind of put it is you get up to an hour per month and then there's a discounted hourly rate beyond that. So month three, month four, month five, month six, all the way through month 18, you get what I like to call mailbox money. You get $300 a check that comes in. And other than just basic maintenance and hitting update on some plugins, you're not really doing any work that directly maps to that $300.

Steve Schramm: You've grown your income and you can focus on getting the next clients. And eventually over time the financial pressure sort of builds up to where you have enough of this sort of money coming in every month that you're just really comfortable. The income is really predictable and you're doing work on any given project, but you're not necessarily caring how long it takes in terms of how much money per month that client is paying. You're just thinking about the work that you have to do to make that a happy, satisfied client and you know that they're going to be paying you for at least the next 18 months or however you decide the structure of the contract. It's a really, one of my favorite books is called Live Lighter Love Better. And it's a, it's a book that's kind of like a commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible.

Steve Schramm: That's not important. What's important here in this sense is that the lighter you are when you're doing this work, the better. It's like if you're constantly under pressure and you're, you're thinking about every hour and how it maps to the time, that's not fun for me. I like to just know that I'm getting a paycheck every month. I don't have to worry about where that next dime is gonna come from and I just get to do the work and make sure the client has a great experience. And I think that's a better way to go overall for everybody involved.

Shannon Mattern: I think that's such an interesting shift to where you really do, you're not tracking your hours, you're not like spending time on all of that. You're designing your schedule, you're working when you wanna be working, you're not working when you don't wanna be working and you have this core set of clients. It's probably, I would think at some point, like you always wanna be marketing your business obviously, but you don't need to constantly be adding clients once you hit that sweet spot of where you're like, this is where I wanna be. I've got this consistent recurring revenue coming in and you know, if one client contract ends and decides not to renew, you just need to get one.

Steve Schramm: Exactly. That's right. And it's funny that you said it that way because the way I talk about this in my, in my course, it's maybe not the sexiest way of putting it, but it's what I came up with. Whereas most of us are on like the client conveyor belt, right? Like, like the, the clients are coming, the potential clients are coming down the conveyor belt belt and we're like grabbing one whenever we can. And then as soon as like that client is pulled off of the conveyor belt, whatever happens with them doesn't matter. Like we need another client and if we don't get another client, then we go out of business, right? So I like to think of it more like the client value escalator, right? I like to think about when that client comes off of the conveyor belt, they then start escalating up an escalator up a path that we are taking them on a, a journey, if you will, that we're taking them on.

Steve Schramm: And what this practically leads to is doing more work for your current clients rather than always going out and seeking new ones. Now again, as you've already mentioned, you have to keep marketing, right? Like you do need to to onboard new clients, but you can be a lot more choosy about who you work with and who you onboard when you're working people through a process. And even in the sales conversations, I like to go that direction. I like to let people know when they start working with us that if they decide to work with us, they are at the beginning stages of a process where ideally we would work together until the end of time and we can help with your blog, we can help with your, you know, getting more online reviews and all of that. And those are the technical details of it.

Steve Schramm: But there's additional services that you can offer as a web designer or even if you just wanna farm the workout to a fulfillment partner. That's something we talk a lot about, about as well, working with a fulfillment partner to do maybe SS e o work or to do email marketing work or something like that to where you can deepen the relationship with your clients, even if you're not the one who wants to do all the extra research and, and the extra work for them. Still, if they're working with you, they already have trust established with you, you are incentivized to do them a good job or to do a good job for them because you get a check from them every month and you want to keep getting that check from them every month. And so I look at it that way rather than even, and you could do what you wanna do, but you know, like rather than even like having referral partners, if you keep everybody under the umbrella of your business, you can just bring them in as fulfillment partners and use them to help fulfill on those services and you help grow your relationship as they go up that client value escalator.

Steve Schramm: So by getting more wallet share from the same customers and working with them throughout a longer period of time and going on the journey of digital marketing with them, it just makes the whole process so much more enjoyable rather than feeling like you're churning and burning through clients on that feast and famine cycle.

Shannon Mattern: I feel like two, what I was thinking when you were saying that is like one, you're giving a lot to the relationship upfront, you know, with that 15 to 25 hours where it's like you're building so much trust with the person. Yeah. When you're like, Hey, it's 2 97 or whatever that starting price is and you are going to have a, by the time you've paid me only 600, you're gonna have the whole website and it's like this. Yeah. Like I'm going to give more to this relationship upfront and you're building so much trust there. And then the other thing that kind of came up for me was like, it seems to take a lot of the, like the, the tension of like scope creep and boundaries and responsiveness and a lot of the things that we coach our students on because our students are working on like, like a project based model, not a subscription based model generally to where they're like, here's the project, here's what you paid for, here's everything that's included, all of things. And then the project gets underway and then they're like, oh, we wanna add on this, we wanna add on that. And it's like, feels like if you're working within this model, those conversations can be navigated like quite differently. What are your thoughts on that?

Steve Schramm: Yeah, no, that, that's 100% correct. So that even ties into another problem that I'm sure you have had your fair share of experience with. And that is ghosting. For some reason, web designers are bad to ghost people. And presumably if you're listening to this, you're a web designer, don't do that. Stop doing that. Don't ghost people. Like don't drop off the face of the planet. That's a bad idea. It's not good for business now, I guess keep doing it because I would love to have your business. But, and so why did I say that? Well, the reason is because that ties in so nicely with when you're working together with a client, communication is key. Understanding the details of the project are key. Like it's not though the subscription model totally eliminates scope creep, but when you're on that model, you do kind of have the freedom to say, well, 'cause you know that four months down the road you're gonna still be in good contact with them.

Steve Schramm: 'Cause They're paying every month. They're in our project management system, Basecamp, they're in there every month. We're interacting a lot. Any active projects that are going on, we're updating them at least once a week, even if it's like a no update update, we're really trying to stay in communication. And so even when we're in the midst of a project, we can make decisions like, oh you know what that sounds like that might be sort of a phase two or a phase three kind of thing. And, and we'll tackle, we'll touch base on that in a few months and we can do that. And because they have a contract, they are very clear about what is included with that initial build and that initial design. They're also very clear because it's clear in the contract that if anything above and beyond what they request is not in the scope of what they're currently paying for, then we'll need to renegotiate potentially that rate or add a setup fee.

Steve Schramm: And then they're also clear that if the work on any given month after the build sign off is signed. So we give them a form after the actual build is done and ready to go where they signify, okay, I'm happy with this, the build is done. 'cause We just can't be spending 12 hours a month on websites forever. We can't do that or else we won't be profitable. So there's a period of time where we get that build sign off and anything after that, they get up to one hour per month and then we give them a 20% discount off of whatever our current hourly rate is for work that goes beyond that. And that's just the way we currently do it. I realize that we could probably quote small project fees for some of that stuff. I think I've just personally found for our clients that I don't know none of the work that they want.

Steve Schramm: Even if there's like a, a mini project that you know, requires updating a few pages or whatever, like it's usually only a few hours of work. And so it doesn't really make sense for us to typically charge a separate whole project fee for that. We'll typically charge an hourly rate. And the way that we do that, 'cause I like to get pretty granular, I hope you guys liked some specifics. The way that we do that is on the invoice, we literally put the amount of hours that were worked, the rate and then the discount. So we always make sure they know what the full rate is and then add the discount as a discount on that item. So we're not just putting the, their discounted price is the item, wanna make sure they know the value that they're getting. We'll do the total hours worked on that invoice for the month and then on the next line item we'll put the included hours as per their contract. And so that hour of time gets discounted off there. So I, I'm very big on making sure that our invoices are clear and transparent and people know the value that they're getting when they're getting it. But that allows us to be pretty clear about the kind of work that's going on and not really getting into the weeds of scope creep and really just having a great relationship all throughout the whole lifetime of that they're a client.

Shannon Mattern: Yeah. And the other thing I was thinking too, while you're saying this, it's like you aren't, there's not this like learning curve of like digging in and trying to figure out like what's going on with this site, who built this? Like how is it all set up? Yeah. Like reverse engineering someone else's stuff. And you can probably get stuff done so fast because you have this long-term relationship with this person, you understand their business, you really know what they like because you know what they do. You can probably solve problems so much faster. It just feels very efficient. Mm-Hmm. all the way around. Oh

Steve Schramm: Yeah. It is, it's, it is extremely efficient. And that's one of the big things for me in my business is I, I actually, and this is a little bit separate conversation, but it ties in, I started scaling up faster than probably most people would feel comfortable with because the goal for me was never just to have another job. Yeah, right. I can get a job anywhere. Yeah. If the only time I'm making money is when I'm sitting in front of this computer, it's a job. And I, it's, it's okay. I'm not judging anybody. I know some people want to do that. That's totally fine. Just be real about what it is. It's a job and you have probably the most difficult boss you've ever worked for, which is yourself. And so I wanted to not have that. I wanted to very quickly start scaling and bringing on a team.

Steve Schramm: And so because of that, I very quickly started pretending as though I had a team even before I did, and started documenting processes, getting tools like Basecamp in place. And I know some people don't like Basecamp because they think it's too old school. I am in love with it. It's my favorite thing ever. I can just go look at a timeline. I can literally look at the timeline from the moment we started a project and I can see what everybody said. And because we value communication, it's one of our biggest values in our company. My primary web designer, when he goes in and he, he makes changes and you know, updates things on the website or whatever, he's just very descriptive about what happened. So even though I'm not the one most of the time even doing the work these days, now, even me as the business owner, I can go in and just, I can see every little granular thing that's been done throughout the lifetime of the project.

Steve Schramm: And of course that knowledge stays in the system forever and the clients are in the system too. And we have a shared space for all of our documents. And so certainly the model helps, the model absolutely helps. But also the model combined with some good tools and, and good policies and and procedures for your team, all of these things work together to create an experience for the client. And one of my favorite books, the E-Myth by Michael Gerber, horrible book cover. It's literally the worst cover ever. I think the title is probably the worst business book title ever too. I don't know if you've read it, you can maybe agree. I've

Shannon Mattern: Read it and yeah, I'm just like, the E-myth, what is this even like? And then you read it and you're like, oh, . Yes.

Steve Schramm: Yes. And it's probably one of the best written business books Yeah. I've ever read. And it's also what it teaches is just fantastic as well. But again, he talks about in that book, so don't let, you can't judge a book by its cover in that case. But he talks about systems and, and processes and, and really creating a business that can just go beyond what you can do. And the more that you start thinking about that, the earlier kind of the better it is, I think. And, and it all is just, it kind of gets tied up nicely with a bow when you've got a recurring income model where you are creating, the reason I brought up the Emmys is because he talks about how all these systems and processes are not a business result. They actually create a marketing result because it impresses the client and it invites the client to tell other people about you and how efficient you are and how great the business is and how wonderful the experience is. And it makes them want to work with you on more projects and it makes them want to tell other people about you. So the more you start pretending like your business is bigger than it is, and, and the earlier that's just been something that has really, really helped me. And the subscription model, tying it nicely together with a bow where the client is paying me every month to care that much about the experience is wonderful.

Shannon Mattern: So I wanna pivot now to ask you, when did you decide to start teaching this to other designers?

Steve Schramm: Yeah, that's a great question. So, I don't know. I feel like some people get into doing things like just so they can teach it on the other side. That was not me in this case. I honest to goodness had no plans for teaching this stuff, becoming an educator around web design. Now I've always loved, as you might imagine, I've always loved the concept of membership sites and subscription models, right? It's not just web design that I love about that. Like most of our clients in our agency are learning management people who need courses and have memberships. Like those are our bread and butter client. And that probably should be no surprise. So I'd always knew that I wanted to have some sort of, in the marketing world, we call this an information product, right? I've, I've always known that I wanted to have some sort of info product, but I didn't know what the info product would be around.

Steve Schramm: There's lots of different passions that I have. Well, so I'm in Josh Halls club and community and I joined it in December, 2020. So I was one of his founding members. This was right before January of 21, of course, which is when I made the leap right in the middle of Covid. I quit my very stable and secure job and struck out on my own. And Josh was like, man, like this is great. 'cause I, I remember I had gotten, when I went full time and made one Facebook post and that one Facebook post got me like seven clients. So I was good for work until like June with just a, that new batch of clients that came in. And Josh was like, oh man, this is so great. We've gotta get you on the podcast talking about this. And I was like, oh, okay. That sounds kind of cool.

Steve Schramm: And so we did. And so that was again, I think it went out in like April of, of 21. And so that was a great conversation. I, it was like really interesting to sort of actually share some of this stuff with people. And honestly, I just kind of let it go. I kind of left it lie, like there was nothing else to do with it at that point. What kept happening is I would start getting people, well, number one, Josh would keep mentioning it in his, in his club and community. People would start talking about recurring income. They heard about it somewhere and he'd be like, oh, you gotta go, go check out what Steve's doing, right? And so people kept messaging me, picking my brain basically. And I, I'll never forget a training from Dan Miller, I heard a long time ago that was like, if somebody asks me more than three questions or asked me a question more than three times, I create a product that was in the back of my mind.

Steve Schramm: And then Josh was getting lots of engagement on his YouTube video where he had posted our interview of people wanting to learn more and like asking if I had a program or something. And I was like, no, like I hadn't planned on doing anything with this. And I consulted Josh, it was like, Josh, I'm thinking about like a course or something, should I do that? And of course he loves online courses and he is like, of course you should. So I took Josh's course about how to create an online course, followed his checklist, created an online course and just kind of put it out there to, you know, sort of see what happens. And I made a comment on that initial YouTube video, like, Hey, I've got this now. And honestly, from there it was very organic. I'm a ready, fire, aim kind of person. There was a Friday night that I just decided to do this. And so I literally sat on my couch with my laptop until four in the morning building a basic sales funnel at It was very ugly, it was very primitive. But I was like, okay, let's see what this does. And that was kind of the, there's more to the story, but I'll stop there. That was kind of the beginning of, of kind of making the decision to go, to go into start teaching this stuff.

Shannon Mattern: I had a very similar experience when I started the web designer academy because I wasn't coaching web designers. I had started off doing freelance web design and one of my clients who was not very techie at all was like, like I was explaining to him, you know, how to use this website. He's like, you're really good at like just teaching this stuff. You should teach this stuff. Yeah. And he meant like at a class at the local like rec center on a Tuesday or something.

Steve Schramm: Oh yeah.

Shannon Mattern: And that kind of stuck in my mind, but then I did get like really burnt out with working with clients 'cause I didn't have good systems, processes, boundaries, pricing, like all of the problems that so many of us experience in the early days. So I was like, I'm just gonna teach people how to d i y themselves. I like listen to Pat Flynn. I was like, I'm gonna do affiliate marketing. I'm gonna make hosting commissions and plugin commissions. And I did. And I did that for a really long time. And I then I got invited to speak about how I was making money teaching WordPress at a conference. And I like, so I was talking to a group of web designers and they're like, well, and in the meantime I'd started getting clients from it, right? So people were like, yeah, that's really cool that you wanna show me how to build my website for free, but I don't wanna do all that work.

Shannon Mattern: Will you just do it for me? And I'm like, I don't understand you. You wanna pay me to do something that I'm teaching you how to do for, like, it broke my brain. I could not understand. I had a lot of Right, right. Pricing, drama. Mm-Hmm. . And so I went to this like I, it was for Skill Crush, they teach coding to, to women who wanna like learn how to code and get a job in tech. And so I did this conference and then afterwards people were like, can you teach me how to do what you do? And I'm like, what? Like what do you mean? And that's kind of right. I was like, cool, I'll just start like this group coaching program. You can pay me like 600 bucks and I'll walk you through my whole system. We'll coach for 12 weeks. And that was like back in 2016 and now it's evolved into this whole thing.

Shannon Mattern: Yeah. It's like you'd never, like, it's almost like the things that we try to create in our mind, 'cause we think they're gonna be like this great idea. Those are the things that like, were never successful. For me it was the things that people like ask you about or that you're doing and that they're curious about and they're just like wanting to pick your brain and then you're like, oh, dinging, ding, dinging. There's something here I should follow. Mm-Hmm. , I should follow the signs of where I'm being led. Yeah. I just think that's a really cool story.

Steve Schramm: Yeah, no, and, and so that's actually, that's fantastic to hear number one. And it's a really good segue into sort of the next phase of this. Yeah. So because I kind of did that, I was like, I was, okay, let's see if there's something here. I, that's exactly was my mindset. Is there something here? And I went for a few months of basically selling the course and then I added a group coaching program as a separate membership. And I was like, okay, it's really odd to have subscription web design and then like not have a subscription program. So I thought let's start a subscription program . And that's when I wanted to see kinda like, okay, what, what's gonna happen with this? Like, can I get people consistently going through the marketing flywheel, right? Can I get them hearing my content, signing up for a lead magnet, getting on my email list converting into a, into a subscriber.

Steve Schramm: And that started to happen and I probably let it ride just kind of like status quo for a few months and was like, okay, I finally came to the decision where I need to either do this or stop because it's taking just enough time that if I'm not gonna like do it, do it. It's not gonna be worth it, but it would only take maybe a little bit more time and I could do it, do it. And that's what I did. And so I combined everything together. You can still buy the course, it's a steve, but I put everything together into a group coaching program. So if you get on the group coaching program, you get the course and everything too. So that I can just kind of point to that makes everything make a lot more sense. And it has steadily built in recurring income now.

Steve Schramm: It's not enough yet to be its own standalone business. Full disclosure, I'm still very much an agency owner. I'm still very much in the trenches. I don't really see that going away. I mean at this current moment I don't really have an exit strategy. It's more so like I just kind of wanna keep growing the business and you know, allowing it like I'm gonna, I'm removing myself more and more from the, I mean I like, I don't really do it hardly any actual like onsite website like design fulfillment work anymore. Hardly any of that anyway. So some of the management and billing and stuff, I probably need to go ahead and get somebody taken care of. But even we have a project manager and so the trains run on time. So I don't know, I kind of plan to keep that around for a while.

Steve Schramm: But the other is, you know, the subscription web design coaching program is building up nicely. The podcast is growing in subscribers on YouTube, growing in subscribers on the actual podcast. And I had kind of a cool moment yesterday, Josh messaged me and was like, are you a part of the admin bar? You know, the WordPress community, the admin bar on Facebook, pretty popular. And he screenshotted me of a new member who had posted in there asking about subscription models and said, Hey, I've been listening to the subscription web design podcast and getting really motivated and everything. And I was like, okay, that's kind of like a cool just validating moment where you see that it's really starting to get traction. And even this podcast is a great example of that where like people are really starting to catch the wave and get on the message of how transformational it can be to build a business that supports you and your family every single month and literally know this month what next month's income is going to be like that I want everybody to be there. And I don't think that should just be reserved for people who are creating info products. I really think that we can do this even in the context of a service business. And that's the message that I'm trying to herald so loudly here.

Shannon Mattern: I love your passionate about it and the message that you have. Like, because I truly believe that too. It's like we want profitable, sustainable, consistent revenue. That's what everybody wants. And there are so many different ways to go about doing that. And when you have found something that like works for you and like you have this successful subscription based web design business and people are asking you about it, it's like you can't help but to be like, you know, to shout it from the rooftops. And you were saying like, you know, I'm very much an agency owner and you're growing it and it's almost like you're in that space where you're like, I am not just teaching you a theory, I am teaching you what is actually working in my business to generate this revenue and this consistency and security for me and my family. I'm paying a team. Like you're proof that it works. And what better way to like grow to be able to like share that with everybody else than to be like, I've got my sandbox over here and I'm gonna try this out and if it doesn't work, cool, I'll let you know. And if it does work, awesome. I'll teach you . Like, it's

Steve Schramm: Actually one of the, one of the more interesting things about this, like I, I tell people that I kind of feel like my job is like to go go trek to the top of the mountain and like fight off the wolves and the bears and go through all the terrain and then come back to the mountain and be like, like, you know, don't turn left over

Shannon Mattern: There.

Steve Schramm: Yeah. Right. Don't. And one the little hair that I have is almost gone and it's like, I don't go that way, you know, but go this way. And so as I'm learning, and that's what's so cool about it is I don't, again, like you said, theory, I don't feel like I'm having to teach something from textbooks here. I mean, yeah, I read a lot of books, I'm a total nerd, but like beyond that it's like no, I'm, I'm literally like, I'm seeing this kind of model. Like one of the things I talk about is that there's five different models of subscription web design that I have found, and I'm sure there's even more. In fact, I know there's at least a six one in unlimited subscription web design. I just advise people not to do it. maybe a different conversation for a different day.

Steve Schramm: 'Cause I hate the word unlimited. It scares the heck outta me. But yeah, it's like, one of the things I've learned in the journey is that there's five different basic models of subscription web design that you can go down. And so I, I try to teach people that like, you know, you could do it the way that I did, but you could also go this other way where maybe you just start with a maintenance plan to make it, you know, like a, a comfortable transition. You start adding a maintenance plan if you don't have one already. Or a, another one of those models would be what I call the fill in the blank model, right? You've got sort of this template based model that you, where you offer templates to people and maybe like a niche or maybe it's just like the more affordable version of your services.

Steve Schramm: So what's cool is, is that subscription web design is not one size fits all, right? It's an umbrella term. There's lots of different ways that you can do it. And I do have a way that I teach and with whatever specificity you want, we can go into that. But the way that I like to do it is with an 18 month model where we have a contract and a minimum plan, you know, it's a minimum of 18 months and then if you stay for a 36 months, you get a website redesign. So kind of like those, in the very beginning I told you about the studio where you can just always get the same amount of CDs that you need to pay for the project in the price of the project. We offer a built-in website redesign. And I think one of the things that I want people to get, this has been one of the harder concepts as I've explained it to different people.

Steve Schramm: Now, my clients, believe it or not, have never questioned this. It's only the web designers who have trouble grasping it, I think because they're so caught up in the original model. But it's very important with subscription web design to have what I call the assumption of continuity. What is the assumption of continuity? It's the assumption that this client is going to pay you until the end of time. Mm-Hmm. Now does that happen? No, of course not. It doesn't always happen. But I mean I'm living proof that far more clients stick with you than leave. Right? It's actually very, very rare to have a client leave their website. Like it almost never happens to me in the seven or eight years now that I have been doing this. And so much like Netflix for example, the primary example of a subscription product, one of the earliest ones out there, really, Netflix has plenty of user data.

Steve Schramm: They know the average lifetime value of their user and of course they have the kind of big numbers that it's easy to make those calculations and you can still do it with a smaller business, but obviously they have big data. So it's, it's easier. Nevertheless, nobody like starts a Netflix subscription with the thought of, unless they're just trying to watch one specific show. People do that. But it again, for the most part, when you start a Netflix subscription, your goal is to just have that indefinitely, right? And to some indefinite period of time, maybe forever. And it's like here today, here I am, I used to pay, I started like, I think it was like $8 or maybe even less in 2007 paying for Netflix. Here I am in 2023 paying now $22 a month or whatever it is, still paying, I'm still a subscriber.

Steve Schramm: And so I probably transcended the lifetime value of a customer, their L t V data. I probably transcended that. And I just want you to pretend like every client is gonna transcend that and just always pay you. And this is part of your sales pitch, it's, we do a little bit of inception, if you will. And just tell them like, my goal for you is just being honest. My goal is that you stay and pay for the rest of your life and you always have a great UpToDate well maintained website for the rest of time and we're just working together. And so even though we place it in our contract that there's an 18 month minimum so that they can leave if they want to own their website, take it to another host and whatever. Again, rarely does that happen. Most of the time they stay beyond that 18 months and they just keep on paying and keep on paying.

Steve Schramm: Once we reach month 36, reach out to them and be like, Hey, I think it's time to look at redoing some of the stuff on your website. And they're never like, 'cause we've been in contact with them, they're never like, oh, you know, what have I been paying for for the past 36 months? They're like, oh my goodness, wait, you mean it's free? Like I just get a new website. And the answer to that is, yeah, because we've built it into the numbers and everything works to build and maintain the website for that amount of time. And so yeah, they keep on paying beyond that and beyond that. And so just creating that assumption of continuity, creating an environment where your clients want to stay forever and you expect them to stay forever and they expect to stay with you forever, it creates a lifelong connection to where, and some people have mixed feelings about this, but honestly your clients kind of become like friends, you know?

Steve Schramm: I mean, and you, it can be troublesome sometimes if you get a little bit too close. I mean, I did, I, I had a situation where like a client, I really wanted to see her succeed and because she had been through the ringer with other providers and stuff like that, and I made some concessions in the business that I probably shouldn't have. I'm just being honest about that. Like I said, some things in, in the sense of things that we would do and promises that we would deliver on that were not consistent with like contractually what we had agreed to. And it transcended that barrier of like what the, what the contract had. And so I went wrong on that. I apologized for that. I said, look, I'm very sorry that I gave you this impression. Honestly, I was just trying to help fix the situation and it we're all good now, but it does kind of create sometimes that friendship where you really wanna see people succeed and sometimes you want to so much that if you're not careful, it gets in the way of your business. So you do have to watch out for that, have clear contracts, have clear expectations across the board, but for the most part it's a net positive for sure.

Shannon Mattern: This whole concept is extremely fascinating and I could talk to you for hours more about this, but we are coming up on the end of our time. But can you share with everyone where can they go to get the podcast? Where can they go to get the course or the, not the course your program and work with you and

Steve Schramm: Yeah,

Shannon Mattern: Really start to like integrate this way of thinking into their mind and start making this transition for themselves.

Steve Schramm: Absolutely. Yeah. Thanks for that opportunity. Yeah, so if you go to, that's kind of the best place to just get linked out to everything else on that page, you'll find a little button that says Watch the free training and you can get directly there. If you go to, that's f i v e spelled out five. And that gives you the five models of subscription web design. That's actually a private training that I did in Josh Hall's community. He let me go ahead and put that out there for people as a download, which is really, really great of him. And so you can go grab that and that'll sort of like get your wheels spinning on a little bit more of the practical. How do you start thinking about this and, and even implementing this in your business. I do have, which again you can find at that same u r l, but on any of the podcast providers you can find the subscription web design podcast.

Steve Schramm: It's one of the only, like mine, yours, Josh Hall. And there might be two or three more, but it's one of the only podcasts that actually focus on the business side of web design. And so every now and then we talk about things that even go beyond just talking the subscription model. I really just wanna help you build a, a business that helps you create a lifestyle that you love and you're not serving the business, but the business is serving you. So you can find me on YouTube, steve schramm or the subscription web design podcast and shoot me a message like leave a comment somewhere. I'm super happy just to interact with people. The fact that we're able to help anybody with this stuff is just mind boggling to me. And the fact that we're helping more and more people as days go on is just an extra cherry on top. So I would love to have you in the community and love to just interact with you in general.

Shannon Mattern: Amazing. Well, I'll link all of that stuff up in the show notes so that you guys can just click on over and like, learn more about that and meet Steve. Steve, thank you so much for being here for generously sharing all of this information with us. I really, really appreciate it.

Steve Schramm: Absolutely. It's been my pleasure. And maybe I'll have you on my podcast sometime. That would be fun.

Shannon Mattern: Oh yeah, totally. So thank you all so much for listening and we'll see you back here next week. Bye.

Shannon Mattern: If you are ready to finally stop undercharging and overdelivering, if you're ready to take back control of your time and book more high paying clients you love and make more money as a web designer than you ever thought possible, then book a zero pressure discovery call with me today. All you gotta do is go to, choose one of the available time slots, fill out the intake form, and we'll meet on Zoom to talk about your goals and what's really in the way of you reaching them. And if it looks like I can help you inside the Web Designer Academy, we can talk more about what that looks like. It is super chill. There's zero obligation to say yes to working with us. If you book a call with me, it is simply a chance for you to learn more about how we can specifically help you, you personally, with your unique skills, personality, and experience to create a highly profitable, sustainable web design business and create the freedom, flexibility, financial independence and fulfillment that you started this business for in the first place. So just go to and I can't wait to talk to you more about your web

Speaker 3: Design business.

Speaker 4: This podcast is part of the sound advice FM network. Sound advice, FM Women's Voices amplified.

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Shannon Mattern
Web Designer Academy


I help ambitious women web designers reclaim their time, book web design projects they love, and make more as a freelance web designer than they ever thought possible.

I created the Web Designer Academy to give you everything I wished I would have had when I started freelancing:  step-by-step processes and fill-in-the-blank templates for your messaging, marketing, packages, consultations, sales and project management combined with next-level support so that you have everything you need to create a consistently profitable web design business doing work you love for clients you love.