In this week’s episode I’m chatting with WDA student Caitlin Harrison about the mindset work that has to happen behind building her freelance web design business!
Caitlin Harrison is a web designer with years of experience in print publication and magazine design. She started Caitlin Harrison Creative in 2020 to find more purpose in her work outside an office and spend more time with her son. After joining the Web Designer Academy in 2021, she now works full time as a web designer and has raised her rates to actually make a sustainable income and profit.
3 key takeaways from my chat with Caitlin:
- Marketing can be as simple as reaching out to people and telling them you’re a web designer. It’s all the stuff that comes up around it that we work on in the Web Designer Academy.
- Raised her prices after seeing how much value she was actually giving away without considering the ROI her client would get from it.
- Your prices are a reflection of the value you create, not you selling yourself.
“The first thought in your head is always whatever society has told you, and then you have to listen to the second one.” – Caitlin Harrison
We also talk about how Caitlin:
- Started her business from a place of understanding that she had a skill not everyone else does and people need that skill.
- Shifted from the employee mindset of having a team to bounce ideas off of and sign off on them to learning to trust herself as the one solely responsible for the end product.
- Joined Web Designer Academy to grow a sustainable business rather than bounce from project to project as a freelancer.
Connect with Caitlin:
- Website: https://caitlinharrisoncreative.com
- Coffee Chat: https://caitlinharrisoncreative.com/coffee
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.
Shannon Mattern: Before we dive into this week's episode, I wanna let you know about the Simply Profitable Designer Summit happening March 21st through 23rd, a summit that's all about helping you simplify your design business so that you can work less and make more money doing what you love. Tickets are completely free. You can go to https://simplyprofitabledesigner.com to get your free ticket and we will have 20 experts over three days teaching you strategies that you can use both to improve and simplify your design business, no matter what stage you're at, all from the comfort of your own home. So go ahead and go to https://simplyprofitabledesigner.com to get your free ticket today. Welcome back to the Profitable Web Designer Podcast, and today I am joined by Web Designer Academy student Caitlin, who is here to share with you guys her web design business journey and what that has looked like for her. So Caitlin, thank you so much for being here today.
Caitlin Harrison: Thank you for having me. I'm excited to talk about all this.
Shannon Mattern: Yeah, so tell me a little bit about like your backstory, like how, what was your career path leading you to becoming a freelance web designer?
Caitlin Harrison: So I had always been into art as a kid and then it was still fairly revolutionary that my high school ended up having a Mac lab that taught graphic design. And so I was able to go into like looking at colleges to study graphic design as like a way that would actually make money as an artist. And so I went to school for it and then I ended up in two different long-term jobs in print publication. So one was a weekly business journal than a monthly magazine. And then the one more recently was also a monthly magazine in a different area of the country. So I was kind of in print for a long time and as many people sort of say 2020 hit. And I had been at the company for five years and I had about a, he was about one at the time.
Caitlin Harrison: So like I had a little son and like the whole life was just like, what am I doing? And in between the two jobs I had freelanced around New York City for a bit. So I knew that there were like ways to do contract work that worked. So at the time, summer of 2020, no one who was really hiring full-time positions, I didn't really wanna go through the whole interview process again. So I decided I had found this world online that people were helping other people digitally, virtually, all that kind of stuff. And so I took the leap, I quit my job and I did not really know what I was building. I just sort of knew that I had a skill
Shannon Mattern: I love that you're like, I knew I had a skill that was valuable. That's just so powerful to know that you're like, oh, this thing I do, not everybody can do it. And the I for design and the like, I know one of the things that we've talked about in our coaching is you're just like, I like to make ugly websites pretty like
Caitlin Harrison: Yeah, so it was definitely like, it's hard to even remember cuz it was sort of like that like huge rush of like I spent months trying to decide if I was gonna quit this job or not
Caitlin Harrison: I sort of always kind of went word of mouth is what I started with. And bringing that publication design where you're taking such dense stuff to make it readable through a hundred pages really helped set up how I could build a website because it's, it's user experience just in a different way. So there's so much learning. I did a lot of learning but, and I managed the magazine almost start to finish in terms of my department. So project management, but again, doing it all by myself.
Shannon Mattern: It's so interesting cuz I, I had that conversation with Kate Newnham who's also another Web Designer Academy student about just like the shift that you go through when you're like, oh, I get to make all the decisions but now I'm responsible for all the decisions that are made. And like that shift that you go through of being like, am I even qualified to be responsible to making these decisions to like the, oh I know how to make good decisions. Like that transition from like distributing the responsibility between all of the players at your corporate job or whatever. All the people that have to sign off on things to being the only one and really stepping into like trusting yourself. Mm-Hmm.
Shannon Mattern: I also love what you said about how you're like, oh I just, I I told people I was a web designer and I started with my inner circle and then I like stepped out from there. Marketing is that easy. It is literally that simple to just tell people you're a web designer,
Caitlin Harrison: Mm-Hmm
Caitlin Harrison: Early challenges were definitely pricing. Like keeping up the project going and like having like a set system. And so that's really where I was struggling and like, you know, that was two years ago so it's a little bit hard to remember but I just remember like things just like kind of would go on and on and I'd get in my head a lot, a lot of just like, is this good enough? Is this worth what I was charging? And just that idea that like also then like how is this ever gonna be profitable?
Shannon Mattern: Which is so normal, like so normal. And one of the things that I love about you is you're like, there's a lot going on between my ears and I would like some support sorting through all of this into what is like fact and what is fiction and how can I think about about this in a way that's going to empower me instead of disempower me. That is like my favorite thing about you that like Caitlin never passes an opportunity to get support with whatever might be going on with her in that moment. And, and you have grown by leaps and bounds since joining our program when you did it is just, I love watching the transformation and I know sometimes you think like I don't, I think there's still a lot going on in here. It's just different stuff. It's, it's new levels, new stuff. So yeah. Let's talk about pricing cuz I think that is one of my favorite things to talk about. What were your thoughts about your pricing? Like back then before coming to work with us?
Caitlin Harrison: It's funny you say like new levels, same devils or whatever is like, it's the same thought cuz I still, you know, you've shown me and helped me raise my rates, but it's the same thought of like, no one's gonna pay this. And then going
Shannon Mattern: Through what were you charging in the beginning when you're like, no one's gonna pay this.
Caitlin Harrison: So the very first website I did, I think I charged $500
Shannon Mattern: What you just described as the journey that I went on, I think it's the journey most people go on where especially if you're coming from a corporate environment where someone's like paying you hourly or salary or whatever to do a job and then you become the one charging and you're charging these, you know, higher and higher amounts and it's like that employee to entrepreneur mindset. It's like, oh someone else is telling me what I'm worth. Mm-Hmm
Shannon Mattern: I think
Caitlin Harrison: It's been a lot of just like showing up for your calls. It's building that sort of like network of people that do this. Because again, like I have the very best friends in the world, but they all work for people. Yeah. So to find the web designer academy, the community, I have a couple other, like other online communities where I've found some really great women that are just, they get it where I can just, you know, Vox 'em, it's like I can't charge this. And they're like, why not? Like
Shannon Mattern: Exactly. And the other thing that I, I think that makes you so successful when you set these goals and you reach them mm-hmm
Caitlin Harrison: Yeah.
Shannon Mattern: But you never believe yourself because you're like, okay well I'm thinking this, I'm gonna reach out to people in my network, my peers, my colleagues, my mentors and tell them what I'm thinking.
Caitlin Harrison: Well I had heard once that, and I think it was about almost anything, but like the first thought in your head is always whatever society has told you and then you have to listen for the second one. So like when it comes like judging other women
Shannon Mattern: That is like next level thinking right there
Caitlin Harrison: I wish I could remember where I heard it. I've heard it a few different times. So, and it's usually about different things, you know, it's like judging other women. Sure. Judging things. But like you're judgements in general. But I mean thinking I'm not worth it is also a judgment. So
Shannon Mattern: Yes. And you don't have to believe it because it's not yours. Yes. Mm-Hmm
Caitlin Harrison: I think it's a couple of things. I think part of it is the idea that the silence means something about me is tied into a bit of that employee mindset that I've been deconstructing for two, almost three years. Cuz when I was trying to leave my first long-term job in my twenties, you know, I was all the excuses that it was New York City that, so the competition rate is so much higher. But I went on like 10 interviews and never hurt back. And like that's kind of the way it is. It's like they don't even tell you like if you track your yourself into the office, take all of your time do test projects, which I hate those
Caitlin Harrison: But there's so much of that silence usually means we didn't choose you, we didn't pick you. And so in terms of, I said you know, same ideas like I'm sending out these proposals, we didn't choose, you didn't pick you. But then there are, I've had opportunities because the client contractor relationship is so different that they'll tell you more. You know, one person had something fall through on their business end and they wanna hire me next year or you know, like there's usually so many other reasons that are not me or my rates, which is usually again that value that worth
Shannon Mattern: Yeah. I think one of the things that we wish for when we're trying to change something or grow in our business is like, oh I, I just wish I didn't think that anymore. Or if I just, you know, why can't I stop thinking this or I should be over this by now. And the truth is that like you just have to get really good at doing exactly what you just said is like knowing that it's your first thought that it's always gonna be there. That's probably always going to be your knee jerk reaction and just being like, okay, here's what happens when I send out a proposal. The first thing I think is that they didn't pick me check, okay, what's, what's next? You know,
Caitlin Harrison: It is hard cuz the negative is the default. I think just,
Shannon Mattern: Yes, I think it and I just think it's normal and I think it's like okay now we have to like override normal. Mm-Hmm
Caitlin Harrison: So it's a little bit of like a domino effect, which has kind of been everything since I decided both companies. But more recently with the magazine here I was updating and posting in the WordPress site. We just had hired a developer to build it. So I'd already been working a little bit in WordPress and I found Julia Taylor's Geek Pack that summer of 2020. And that's also, that's really how it opened up that idea that like there are tons of people doing this and there are people that are starting from scratch that have never been a designer. So I also sort of knew, cause the first I'd heard about being a VA and I was like well I know that that would be like a step back cuz I don't really need to do admin stuff. I can do the next level up for people. And so I joined Geek Pack and then it must have been November of 21 when you did, she sent it out to her email list of like, hey check out this webinar or however you're, you are presenting it workshop. And so I went to it and that's how I found you was that she shared it to her email list. And so I just like credit that I found, I think and I found I think through like a oh ad, an ad for Geek Pack on Facebook or a Facebook group mentioned it. And so
Shannon Mattern: I love that and that's just like Julia is one of those people who I like intentionally lightly stalked her on the internet and then cultivated a relationship with her and we collaborate to promote each other because she, she is a brilliant human and she is just like, she teaches WordPress and she teaches like in a more in-depth way than what I was teaching DIYers with my free five day website challenge cuz kind of like two totally different audiences or purposes there. And I'm like, oh well she teaches people how to build websites. I teach people how to build web design businesses. Mm-Hmm
Caitlin Harrison: So originally in Julia, like back then Julie had always had sort of like the basics of getting a business started. I know that Erica has helped redesign and there is a new curriculum. I haven't gone back into it. I've looked at some of it and it's, it is much more improved on the business side. But it still felt like when I was sitting at the end of 2021, I was like I know that I need to make this scalable, I need to have systems. I sort of wanted that the first piece was that sort of like business in a box that you were offering? Yeah,
Caitlin Harrison: I definitely was very, very afraid of the investment when that came at the end.
Shannon Mattern: Yes.
Caitlin Harrison: Because like there's two very different things especially cuz he's, he's also a designer. So it's like that idea that like a freelancer can pop around and be contract here, contract there, contract there. I wanted to build a business where it's a service and a, you know, cuz I mean I can, I could probably make a ton of money as a freelancer who bounces around to business' needs, but that wasn't the approach. And so if I was going all in on this business idea a year into being in business, so I ultimately said yes
Shannon Mattern: I love that you brought up that you were like immediately like no way. Nope.
Caitlin Harrison: I did it, I, I closed it. I was like, nope.
Shannon Mattern: Here's the thing, this is another reason why I'm like, why you've created what you've created so far is that you realized that it was like a commitment you were making to yourself for a year and an investment. I don't know if you really felt it at the time that you made it, but it is an investment that you're making in yourself. And it's like, that's how I want your clients to feel when they're working with you is that they're not paying Caitlin Harrison money. They are making an investment in their business through you. And that's how I think about when you guys make the bold decision to join the Web Designer Academy. It's like you are not paying me for my worth and my value. You are investing in something that you want and committing to that. And that's why we're, we're not month to month. Like it's very intentionally designed that it's like we want you to be all in on you, not all in on us. Like all in on you. So if you're gonna like come and work with us, you're gonna make that commitment to yourself and your business and then we're gonna help you with all of this stuff.
Shannon Mattern: How could I make this work
Caitlin Harrison: Right. And again the first thing was that commitment to the money and not necessarily to myself but that like, well crap, my bank account's gonna need X amount every month in there for when she pulls that, that auto feed. But it turned into so much more and it worked out also at the same time that you were revamping. And so I cleared my schedule as much as I could in January and February to do things live and just really, yeah, that's when it was like you're gonna commit of like at the time I think I only had one client going on anyway but it was like, you're really gonna commit. And so I did.
Shannon Mattern: What are you most proud of creating during your time with us? Or transforming or doing, what are you most proud of?
Caitlin Harrison: I mean I think that, I mean the systems and the packages and all that like that how like is all great but it really feels like, I don't know what Caitlin of 2020 who that person is anymore. Like yes.
Caitlin Harrison: It's just like, I think about, again, I think the biggest shift is that employee to business owner shift of like, they're still very much people pleaser, scared of people rejecting me, all that kind of stuff. But I had not let it go. But I like live with it differently than like I was scared of everything. I was scared of getting fired, I was scared of my boss off. I was scared of messing up in the magazine. Like it was just like, I was scared a lot and I'm still scared but
Shannon Mattern: That just gave me chills. Like from going from I can't charge that much to being like there's no reason why I can't hit six figures this year. Like that's huge. That is a huge shift. And as you were talking, I was thinking about something that I wrote down while I was like kind of doing some of my own like thought work this morning and it was the money I create as a result of the value I create for others.
Caitlin Harrison: Hmm.
Shannon Mattern: And like if we can think about our pricing like that or like when we make offers like that, it's like of course you could hit six figures. You are creating that much value and 10 times much as much for other people. I love that you're like templates and systems and processes are great but I'm a different person that is like the whole point of the Web Designer Academy.
Caitlin Harrison: Like the, the reason I bought was for that business in a box and it turned out to be so much more
Caitlin Harrison: So my favorite thing and I'm like, you know, constantly trying to figure it out and make sure that it all makes sense but I love taking websites that are okay and elevating them into something completely different. So, and it tends to be for, I say local but like not necessarily local, local service based businesses. So a brick and mortar, a lawyer, accountants, chiropractors, things like that. Those are the people they end up talking with and you know, they all end up having websites that like are okay. And then when I get in there and like, not only do I update the systems cuz usually the backend is a mess cuz if it looks okay on the front end but nobody's touched it in the back. I mean good lord
Caitlin Harrison: But
Shannon Mattern: It's like a bad haircut.
Shannon Mattern: Oh my gosh, I love that Elevate right out of the gate. Like
Caitlin Harrison: So usually it is that idea that they're not afraid to show their website to people. One of the lawyer sites I did, you know, they have a lot of information, they are immigration lawyers, so there's lots of like, there's so many types of visas, which I didn't know until I was building those pages, but that's now it's like a resource. So instead of like if you were coming in off the street that they can send you to this resource that is user-friendly to find out what visa or even just get more information on where you need to go next, the, you know, links to the federal documents and all that kind of stuff. So that sort of like FAQ section I've found has been really powerful for the last few clients of just like not necessarily answering questions so that they don't have to, but that they have it to pull up. Right. Readily. So I think it's all, it's mostly that it's the ability to have like a hub that really functions for them.
Shannon Mattern: Yeah. It's like a huge asset to their business in multiple ways. Like establishing their credibility in the space, like being a resource that helps people, that also saves them time on the backend and that they're like super proud of and want to send people there. And they get like when people have a good experience interacting with their technology, they're gonna have a good experience interacting with the people behind it. And like when you think about, you know, if we we're still thinking about websites in terms of like, oh it's five pages and it's this and it's that and it's pixels that are displayed on, on a screen like you're missing out on, so like on the whole part of like this is a revenue generating asset in someone's business regardless of whether it's a e-commerce web incapable website or not. And I think that that's like the shift is designers and web designers that we get to make about our work and the things that we create. It's like thinking about like what are all the ways this can create money for somebody and value and value for their business and their clients. Even if this website doesn't accept credit card payments
Caitlin Harrison: Right. Like I don't have any of those like big stories of like a million dollar launch or you know, 8% conversions. But it's, it's so much more for this type of business to just know that it all matches and it all works
Shannon Mattern: And it's just not a problem or something on their to-do list anymore.
Caitlin Harrison: Yep.
Shannon Mattern: Beautiful. So what advice do you have for someone who is listening to this whose business looks like, they're like, oh my gosh, I'm right now where Caitlin was. What is some advice that you would give them?
Caitlin Harrison: I think it's all about mindset at the end of the day. And I think that I didn't know that at the beginning. And again, it's still something I'm actively working on both in the coaching group with you, but trying to start journaling out more. I just started the artist's way and that's already bringing up crazy stuff in my brain. And so I think that so much of business is mindset and then energy. Like the energy that I put into it that I show up every day or on the days that I don't wanna show up, I accept it because that is the freedom that I've chosen. But it's the energy you put into it because people buy people. And so I have never in, in my whole life until the last two years I've had multiple, if not 10 plus people comment on my energy and nobody has ever, like if I get into a room with them, they're always like, you just have the best energy. And I'm like, and so like that is just for me, that is like the huge shift is that like I'm stepping into a totally different person because of the mindsets and the coaching and the idea that if you're freelancing and you're building a business, don't try and do it alone. And that doesn't mean hire contractor, it means support system.
Shannon Mattern: Wow. That is like
Caitlin Harrison: That I'm worth it. I mean I feel like that's like the whole like thread of this whole episode, but that people will pay for this and that it is also to consistently try and separate the product from me. And I struggled with that my whole design career. I think also as an artist that's really hard
Shannon Mattern: Yes,
Caitlin Harrison: So my website is https://caitlinharrisoncreative.com and that's kind of where the hub is. I also do, if you do https://caitlinharrison.com/coffee, if you wanna just chat with me and not do a full consult, you can do that.
Shannon Mattern: Amazing. So we'll link all of that up in the show notes. And Caitlin, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it.
Caitlin Harrison: Thank you.
Shannon Mattern: Hey, so if you're ready to stop undercharging and overworking, if you wanna take back control of your time, work only with the dreamiest of clients and make more money as a web designer than you ever thought possible, get started now by going to https://webdesigneracademy.com and joining our wait list. We'll send you exclusive teachings from the current Web Designer Academy so you can start replying our concepts now and you'll be first to know when enrollment opens up again so that you can work with us to completely transform your web design business.
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