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How to Negotiate the Price of a Web Design Project

Do you lowball your prices for web design just to avoid the dreaded negotiation?

If you're like most of our Web Designer Academy students, you might be undercharging because you hate negotiating, so you try to make your price low enough to avoid the topic all together. If that sounds like you… then you gotta listen to this episode!

In this episode, I’m talking all about:

  • How an expense mindset vs. investment mindset is costing you… and your web design clients.
  • Why negotiating and “charging your worth” usually result in lose-lose situations.
  • How to co-create with your clients to drive results.

Key takeaways from this episode:

  • Traditional negotiation tactics, while they leave both sides feeling like they won, often both make major concessions and ultimately get less than they wanted.
  • Learning to be a Creator instead of a Claimer in negotiation means co-creating dreamy results for your clients while also scaling your business sustainably by empowering both sides.

Episode Transcript

Shannon Mattern: Hey there. Welcome to today's episode of the Profitable Web Designer Podcast. So today we're gonna be talking about a really juicy topic, why your website isn't getting web design clients.

Shannon Mattern: Welcome to the Profitable Web Designer Podcast, where we're all about helping extraordinary web designers like you to stop undercharging over delivering and overworking, and finally create the profitable, sustainable, and scalable web design business you've been dreaming of. I'm your host Shannon Madden, founder of the Web Designer Academy, where we teach the business side of running a web design business. So if you wanna make a consistent full-time income as a web designer, but you're struggling with things like pricing and boundaries and mindset and marketing and you're just tired of going it alone while my friend, you're in the right place.

Shannon Mattern: But before we dive into this week's episode, I wanna let you know about an exclusive live training we're hosting very soon that'll break down our proprietary premium pricing framework and walk you through how we help our clients package, price, position, and sell premium web design projects to their dream clients. Plus, you'll have an opportunity to ask me anything about your web design business in a live q and a session at the end of the training. It is all happening on Saturday, October 8th at 1:00 PM Eastern, and it's a free training, but it's not open to just anyone. So all you gotta do to get your invitation to attend the live training is go to, click on that big apply to work with us button, fill out our zero obligation application, and tell us a little bit about where you're at in your business today, what your goals are, and our team will review your application. And if we think our strategies are a good fit for you and your goals, we'll send you an invitation in all the details to attend that live private training. So there are a limited number of spots available for this exclusive live training because we wanna make sure we can answer everyone's questions during that q and a session. So be sure to get your application in as soon as possible Web Designer Academy. So go do that now and meet me back here for this week's episode.

Shannon Mattern: So let's say that you get past the hurdles of people knowing who you are and that you exist and that you're a web designer and you're doing things to drive traffic to your website so that people actually see it. And let's say that you also have like a gorgeous site and you're really good at what you do. You have a robust portfolio, a robust list of skills, a robust selection of services, and even a niche that you serve and you're still not getting people signing up for consultations or conversations with you, you're still not getting clients. Well, my friend, it is time to take a cold hard look at your website, copy . So after reviewing hundreds of applications, thousands at this point for the Web Designer Academy and having the opportunity to look at the websites of thousands of web designers who are all applying to work with us because they are not getting the clients that they want or making the money that they want, or creating the results that they wanna be making, there are three really common mistakes that I see them making on their website.

Shannon Mattern: We're gonna talk about those three today and break them down for you. So the first mistake is that their website or their Instagram or their LinkedIn or their Facebook or whatever is all about them and their skills and their services. The second mistake is that their copy is talking about things like why you need a website or why you need to choose WordPress over Squarespace or why you shouldn't just have social media accounts for your business. And third, their copy is agitating pain points and problems. So if you're doing any of these three things, I can just tell you it's so normal, , just after looking at thousands of sites, it is so normal and I understand why people do this and we're gonna talk about what to do instead. Okay, so let's talk about the first one. And if you are doing this, please do not beat yourself up.

Shannon Mattern: Everybody does this. Everybody you know talks about them and their skills and their services. I did this when I first started out. I had a website, it was called a Lime Press development because I was WordPress, but I also wanted fresh designs. And I was like, Ooh, I like margaritas and limes. Yeah, Lime press development. So I didn't know any better. I had total imposter syndrome, I had an employee mindset. I thought I had to prove myself and list my skills out in a very corporate way to like a resume to get clients. And so my website was like all about me and lime press development and all of my skills and you know, all of these things. And so I see this all the time when I'm reviewing Web Designer Academy applications. So I just want you to know you are totally normal. If your website is all about you, why wouldn't you think people need to know about you to see if you are a good fit for hiring?

Shannon Mattern: Right? We have an employee mindset where we've been conditioned that we have to list out all of our skills and all of our accomplishments and all of this stuff on our resume to be chosen by an employer. And we're taking that same mindset into how we market ourselves to clients. And I can promise you this is it's normal, but is also not what people are buying when it comes to a client contractor relationship or a client service provider relationship. The truth is people aren't buying you or paying you. They are investing in themselves in their business. And when you make your marketing all about you and how awesome you are and how skilled you are and talented you are, you are missing an opportunity to paint the picture of what is possible for your client after working with you. You're missing the opportunity to show them what the return on their investment can be when working with you.

Shannon Mattern: And when you make your marketing all about you and how awesome you are and skilled you are, you also set yourself up for a ton of imposter syndrome and fraud feelings as Emily on the Being Boss podcast talks about fraud feelings, right? Because you can't possibly know everything, right? Like people tell me all the time like, Oh, I'm so scared to put myself out there in my marketing because I feel like an imposter because I don't know everything. I feel like I need to learn more things. I feel like I need to do this better and that better and that better before I can actually put myself out there to work with clients. You're never gonna know everything. Like you cannot possibly know everything. There's always something more to learn. But if you think that you need to portray that you already know all these skills and be perfect and have this website and bio and elevator pitch that proves it so that you can prove to clients that you're worthy to be chosen by them, well, you're gonna stay stuck , okay?

Shannon Mattern: Like your website is not a resume of your skills, okay? We're gonna talk about what to do instead in a second. But the idea for this episode came to me because I recently had an open position on my team that I needed to fill for a community tech support superstar for the DIYer side of my business. So I have the web designer academy where I teach web designers how to create a profitable sustainable business, but I also have the free five day website challenge. And that is my training for DIYers to teach them how to like build their own first starter website and we have templates and everything. And so we need to provide customer support to these people. And my team member that had been in that role for a couple years decided it was time to move on. And so I had to post the role.

Shannon Mattern: And so I invited people to apply for the role through an application with only two questions on it. What excites you about this role and what about your past experience makes you a good fit? And out of those applications, we plan to invite the top five people to do a test project. And so I had like 65 people apply for this role and I'm like looking through every single one of 'em and I'm like, Oh my gosh, like this person's awesome, this person's awesome. They totally have the skills. I'm like, how am I ever going to narrow down this to five people? And every single one of those 65 people that applied was qualified, there was not a single application that did not have the knowledge and skill to be successful in the role. And I'm telling you this because this is the choice that your clients face every single day.

Shannon Mattern: I am a thousand percent sure that there are at least 65 web designers out there for every client, if not a hundred times more, that are capable of doing the job. You've seen this happen a million times. If you're in any entrepreneurial Facebook groups online, someone posts that they're looking for a web designer, a hundred people jump in and say, Me, me, me, me, me and all 100 could probably do just a good job, like a great job, right? So how does the client even go about making this choice? So I'll tell you about how I went about filtering these applications from 65 down to one. And this is also like the question web designers ask me all the time, like, Well, how can I stand out in such a crowded market, such a saturated market? Web designers are a dime a dozen. Everybody's like charging, you know, $5 for a website or like , I know that's an exaggeration, but your clients face this choice every single day of having so many qualified options, right?

Shannon Mattern: So how do they even go about making the choice? And so I'll tell you about how I went about filtering down those applications from 65 to making one offer. And this is the same core concept that we teach our students in the Web Designer Academy when we talk about marketing your web design business. So I went back through those 65 applications and I filter them by people who talked only about themselves and their experience and their skills versus the people who talked about how they could support our clients and the positive effect that their support would have on their clients. So I was able to look at it through that lens. I'm like, okay, there are people that are talking about themselves and their skills and why they're qualified, but then there are people who are talking about here's how my skills can benefit you and your clients.

Shannon Mattern: And I'm like, ding, ding, ding. This is the person that I want to move forward in the process. And the fascinating thing is like I didn't even realize that that was my filter at the time. I only kind of realized it after the fact after receiving some emails from people who, who were not selected to participate in our paid test, wanting to know why. And I'm like, Oh, like why didn't I advance this person? I'm looking back at their application, they were perfectly qualified. Like, oh, that's why. So I went back and I was like, Oh, the ones that I like picked to move forward, that's what they talked about. So I had way too many amazing choices. So I had to use a different lens to look at them, to filter them down further. And then even from there, I had such a good pool of candidates, like left after, you know, after applying that filter.

Shannon Mattern: And it was a super tough decision to pick the right person because I knew people would be disappointed. But that's what we have to do as business owners, right? Make decisions from the viewpoint of where we want to go in the future. Not what would feel good or easy or safe to do today, which is a podcast episode for a totally , a totally different time. But I had to make the choice through a different filter than what was being presented to me, you know, by all the people who were basically like marketing themselves for the position, right? So what does this have to do with your marketing on your website? I want you to go review your own website right now and do an audit. So I want you to look at three things. Am I talking about me and all of my qualifications or expertise or am I talking about my client and what is possible for them when they have this tool that I have built for them?

Shannon Mattern: Okay, am I talking about me or am I talking about what my, what's possible for my client? And if you're talking about, you start talking about what's possible for your client. Second thing I want you to look at, am I listing a bunch of deliverables or services that I offer, like five page website, logo design, email automation, Or am I talking about what those services and deliverables empower my clients to create in their businesses and lives? If you're giving me a list of your qualifications and a list of your services and I have 65 other websites that I'm looking at that all list the same thing, how am I going to choose? And you think it might be, well probably like the aesthetic or the vibe of the portfolio or the website and sure that factors in, but I'm gonna go for the one that's like focused on helping me get what I want in my business.

Shannon Mattern: Not, oh, this one looks prettier than the other one. Like a savvy business owner is looking deeper than the surface level of your portfolio and the design of your website. So the third thing that I want you to go look at is, am I showing images of designs I've created for other people? Like do I just have a portfolio of pictures, of cool websites I've built or am I telling the stories of what those people were able to create as a result of us working together, right? So it's not about the aesthetic or the vibe or the look, because everybody can do that. The, that's the, that's the hard truth to swallow is that the playing field is level, right? The playing field is level everybody can create. There are people that like aren't very skilled at design. Like not gonna say that everybody can, but there are tons of great designers and developers out there tons.

Shannon Mattern: There are tons of bad ones too, but you're, you're not competing with them, right? Cuz you're awesome . So you know you have to stand out in a different way and the way you stand out is not upscaling and adding to your list of services and all the things. It's about putting the focus on your client and what's possible for your client when they work with you. And one of the most challenging yet most freeing mindset shifts to cement in your brain is that marketing is not about you. It is about your clients and what they can create as a result of working with you. Okay? So go look at those three things. Are you talking about you and all your qualifications or your client? What's possible for them? Are you listening to a bunch of services and deliverables or are you talking about what those can help your client create in their business?

Shannon Mattern: Or are you showing just a portfolio or are you telling the story of the results of that portfolio, right? So go look at those three things. Okay, let's move on to a mistake number two that I see all the time. All the time, and I used to do this too, so hear me out. This one might sting a little bit but hear me out . Mistake number two, educating people on why they need a website instead of just a social media account or educating people why they should choose. Let's say for example, WordPress over Squarespace or one platform over another. So again, if you're doing this one, please don't beat yourself up. It makes total sense that you've chosen the education angle in your marketing. However, this messaging excludes a huge group of people who could become your best clients. People that already have websites, right?

Shannon Mattern: A big opportunity that so many web designers miss is working with people who already have a website but are ready for an upgrade. Just because someone already has a website doesn't mean that it's like working well for them or that their business hasn't changed or that they don't have a new offer that they need to create some new functionality for that they don't need strategy or conversion design or whatever else you have to offer. And the messaging, the education of making like the initial choice of do I DIY or do a page builder or stay on social media or whatever that messaging applies that you dear listener might think that the only people who would hire you are new business owners that don't yet have a website or that you're trying to convince people to hire you instead of DIYing. It's almost like you're trying to convince yourself that someone should hire you to do it for them instead of DIYing.

Shannon Mattern: And I say this because I used to think that I'm like, WordPress is so easy, why would someone hire me to do it for them? Like I had all of this mind trash stuff like my friend Jasmine Haley calls it around the value of working with me. And so I've like tried to convince them from like a very logical educational standpoint of like, here's why WordPress and here's why not social media. And here's like all of these reasons. There are a million other reasons someone would hire you rather than DIYing that have zero to do with how easy it is to build a website. , right? So I see this a lot with people who spend a lot of time in their website copy talking about, for example, why WordPress is so much better than Squarespace and I'm a WordPress girl all day, okay? But like is it better?

Shannon Mattern: It's just different, right? It's just different. You can do different things with both platforms and there are so many great options out there for web designers and clients, which is why side note, we are a hundred percent platform agnostic in the web designer academy. Our strategies work, whether you're WordPress, Squarespace, web flow, show it Shopify at whatever your platform of choice is, our strategies work for you. But when you're spending time in your marketing trying to convince people that your preferred platform is the right platform or educating people about your platform, you're just missing a huge opportunity to connect with them on what they really care about, which is what is possible for them in their business and their life and their goals when they have a well thought out strategic, well built, functioning, well designed website that they are proud to send clients to and that facilitates the sale of their programs, products and services without them having to be physically there to make it happen.

Shannon Mattern: Okay, , So the same thing goes for you if your website's trying to convince people in the 2020s that they need a website because they don't own their social media platform and it could get shut down or hacked at any moment. Like is that really the only reason that someone needs a website? Okay, , let's be real here. Like I'm gonna say something that's probably gonna be kind of unpopular, but there are businesses that do not need a website, okay? There are stages of business where you legit just don't need a website yet people can make a crap ton of money without ever having a website, especially with all the shopping options popping up on a social media and cash apps and just, there's so many other things that people can do to run a business online that don't involve a website , okay? And so yes, there is absolute risk in building your business on rented land, which is the argument that everybody makes when they're like, Oh, you need a website?

Shannon Mattern: You can't just be on social media, you don't own the platform, you don't own this. But honestly, it's not like you're not doing the exact same thing when you buy hosting from a hosting company that has terms and conditions and has full control over what version they're gonna push out and when they make updates and when they don't make make updates. And when you use tools like page builders or things done by third party developers that you literally have zero control over either , right? So it's not that much different. So unless you're running your own web server and then building sites on your own proprietary software, there's a risk and there's a risk in doing it that way too. So I said it, and I know it's not gonna be a popular opinion, but not every business needs a website and the whole rented land argument is not very compelling because there's so many other reasons that someone might want a website besides, oh, it's risky to build your business on rented land, especially brand new businesses who are in the stage of figuring out if this is even a viable business.

Shannon Mattern: Social media is a great place for them to figure that out and incubate that business and see what they wanna offer before they invest in like their permanent home. And those of us who have worked with those new business owners who really don't know what they wanna do for a business know how painful and long and drawn out those projects can be , okay? So whether back to WordPress versus Squarespace versus social media versus website, you can make the argument either way and honestly, whether you're right or not, it is irrelevant to your client. So when you focus on all those fears and risks and all of that stuff in your marketing, you are missing a huge opportunity to educate people on all the other opportunities that open up for them when they also have a website. Okay, , So let me step off my soapbox for a second.

Shannon Mattern: I might step back up on it. But let's talk about mistake number three. Your website copy is agitating people's pain points and problems. Okay? So agitating pain points is a very common marketing and copywriting tactic. The way it's taught to marketers is ps problem, agitate, solve. So you present the problem, then you like dig into it and agitate it, and then you present the solution, right? And in order to understand the problem and how to agitate it and how to solve it, you need to have a niche that you serve so that you can talk about this problem and how it affects them and all the pain it causes them and all the things they're missing out on and all the things that are hard. And then the solution, you're the solution. Your program, product service is the solution. And you will literally see this in almost every ad you see out there.

Shannon Mattern: Once you see it, you can't unsee it. And honestly, PIs is the framework behind this podcast, right? Why? Because it gets people's attention when you talk about a common problem that people in your space experience, it resonates with them, it makes them feel heard and understood. And it's very cathartic for me, honestly, because I've experienced the pain of all of these things that I'm talking about with you in my early freelance days. And there's absolutely a place in this world for this type of marketing and I think it can be done ethically and with integrity. And when it comes from a place of service and compassion and education and not from a place of tearing people down and wanting them to feel helpless and desperate, like the only way to solve their problem is to buy your thing or pay you. That's gross. We don't do that around here.

Shannon Mattern: And while we're all about problem agitate solution for our content marketing to capture attention and build awareness, we're not all about using it in our sales process, right? So when you're selling a high ticket service, it should be a high ticket service by the way, like web design because it's so valuable in my whole like point of this podcast. Every episode that you're ever gonna hear is to help you shift into believing how valuable. What you do really, really is you wanna get your clients not thinking about all their pain and their problems and what's in their way because that just makes them feel worried and anxious, right? Even if working with you is what will create relief from the worrying and anxiety, the relief doesn't come until you've delivered. And who wants to go into making a significant financial investment feeling worried and anxious and stressed and like, Oh my gosh, if I don't do this then I'll be stuck here in in my business forever.

Shannon Mattern: Oh, no one, no one. So your pain point, marketing is unintentionally and subconsciously making people feel bad and worried and nervous about spending quote unquote that much money with you. It's subconsciously turning people away. And this is so matter right now because I know that that sentence was totally the agitation piece, of the PAs formula. So now here's s the solution. So you can walk away from this episode feeling complete and whole and not needing to buy anything for me to feel complete and whole. Okay, , so you talk about what is possible, here's the solution. Talk about what is possible for your client when they start using the website you designed and built for them. Don't talk about all the pain they're in now. Like whatever they know they're in pain, that's why they're searching. You don't need to like dig into that.

Shannon Mattern: What are they able to do now that they were not able to do before? What's awesome about them today that will be amplified after working with you? What are they doing right today and how can working with you make it better? So doesn't that feel so much different than talking about how bad things are for them right now and what's in their way? Like if you go back to the beginning of this episode and I'm like, whew, I'm gonna talk about three things that you're probably doing that you're gonna be like, Ugh, now I feel bad that I was doing those things. Like it's painful, I'm agitating, I'm kind of making you feel like, oh crap, I've been doing things wrong all the time. It's like that's not what we want our clients to feel like. That's not what I want you to feel like.

Shannon Mattern: But I also wanna like, it's a great example of like aspirational marketing versus agitational marketing , right? We want our clients to feel excited, optimistic, willing to do the work, to create the results, even if it feels a little stretchy or a little scary to invest the price of working with you, which I hope at some point in our relationship together, you increase it and increase it and increase it and increase it. You create a totally different vibe when you website and sales process is aspirational versus agitational. So go look at your website. Are you agitating pain points and leaving visitors worried and anxious, right? How can you instead talk about opportunities and possibilities and why they're so amazing today and what's possible for them when they work with you to get even better, right? So I want you to know if you're listening to this, you are amazing today.

Shannon Mattern: You have so many skills, you have like incredible vision and ideas and you care so much about your clients and you care so much about doing a good job. You're just in your own way a little bit if you're doing these three things and they are totally fixable. So to recap, if you're getting eyeballs on your website, but it's not converting into consultations or your clients audit, your website copy for these four things, am I talking about me and all of my expertise and qualifications? Am I listing a bunch of services or deliverables? Am I showing images of designs I've created for other people? Am I agitating pain points and leaving people worried and anxious and like I'm the only solution to their problems? And instead, talk about your client, What's possible for them? Tell stories of what those people that you've worked with we're able to create as a result of having those designs.

Shannon Mattern: If you haven't had any clients yet, if you're earlier in your stage, like tell the story of you, like what you've been able to do since creating your site so you can tell stories. Like they don't always have to be like a paying client, right? So talk about what the services and deliverables will empower your clients to create in their business. Does it matter if you're selling a five page website or two page website or a 10 page website? If that website gets your client one new client, what's that worth to them, right? Talk about opportunities and possibilities and what's going right and what could be going better. You create such a better vibe when you do that. So you can tell the difference between the beginning of this podcast episode and the end of this podcast episode and how it makes people feel. So that is this kind of stuff that we help our clients with every single day in the Web Designer Academy.

Shannon Mattern: We go through an entire step by step process to help you transform your deliverables into outcomes for your clients, to help you write that aspirational sales copy, including five bullet points that call in your dream client. And we would love to take a look at your current website and see if we can spot opportunities to help you too. So all you gotta do is go to a, fill out the application, we'll review it, we'll take a look at your website, we'll give you some feedback on the opportunities we see for you. And if we think that your goals are a good fit for our strategies, we will invite you to watch a free training that breaks down our core framework for creating a profitable web design business, zero obligation, zero pressure, zero to lose by applying. We will just share what we see as opportunities for you to make some tweaks on your website.

Shannon Mattern: And if you wanna work with us in our program, awesome. If you wanna make them on your own, awesome. But give yourself the chance to have expert eyeballs on your site and make the decision on whether or not you wanna work with us on your web design business. That's it for this week's episode, and we've linked up all of the resources we talked about today in the show notes. So you can go to to get your hands on those. And we'll be back next week with another episode designed to help you up level the business side of your web design business. So be sure to subscribe to the show wherever you're listening. And if you like today's episode, we will be so grateful if you would share it with all your web designer friends. And if you're feeling extra generous, we'd love for you to leave us a rating and review so we can get in front of even more web designers and help them transform their businesses and their lives. So simply scroll up on this episode in your podcast player and tap that, leave a review link or go to and it'll take you to the right spot. Thank you so much for listening, and I'll see you right here next week. Bye.

Speaker 2: 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.