A common challenge that most freelancer web designers face is the fact that many people, businesses, and organizations are working with very limited budgets. There are a lot of freelancers out there that have no trouble finding potential clients who would be interested in their services, but finding clients who are willing and able to pay a reasonable price for a professional website can be much more difficult.
The freelancer then faces the dilemma of passing up a potential client or trying to accommodate the low budget. As all designers learn very quickly, a low-budget project doesn’t always mean that it will be easy or that the client will have reasonable expectations about what they can get for their money.
Many designers choose to pass on lower-budget clients, and if you’re able to stay busy with more profitable projects, it only makes sense to focus your time on those projects.
The problem is that many freelance designers don’t have the luxury of turning away a low-budget project in favor of one that will pay a little more. For many designers, low-budget projects may be necessary in order to stay busy and to stay in business.
If you’ve been in the frustrating situation of trying to make a low-budget project a profitable use of your time, the good news is that there are some options.
Options for Projects with Small Budgets
Small budget projects aren’t for everyone, and if you’re doing fine with your current strategy then by all means, keep doing what you are doing. But for those freelancers who are just getting started or those who need to make low-budget projects work, these tips can help.
1. Use Website Templates/Themes
There are thousands upon thousands of website templates and themes available for download or purchase. This includes static HTML/CSS templates, WordPress themes, Shopify themes, and other options for all different kinds of websites. The benefit to users, of course, is that a template can save the client thousands of dollars when compared to the cost of getting a custom website. The main challenges for clients are 1) most of them would still need help to set up a template, and 2) they usually aren’t aware of the templates that are available, or which ones are better than others.
The quality of templates and themes will certainly vary greatly, but in recent years the high level of competition and the huge potential profit for template/theme developers has led to an increase in the quality of the better options out there. Premium WordPress themes are especially popular, and the quality of a good theme from today’s market would make a good premium theme from just a few years ago look like a free theme.
A growing number of designers seem to be offering their services to either set up or customize templates/themes for clients with small budgets. This can be a great way to accommodate these clients as they can still get a quality website, help from a designer to set up the site, and without the cost of a full custom design.
If you offer your services for setting up templates and themes for clients, you will probably also have to be willing to help them find an appropriate template. Some clients may come to you with a specific template or theme in mind, but in most cases, they’ll probably tell you what they want from their website, and you’ll need to find a template or theme that will work. You could charge an hourly rate or a flat fee for your work to find and set up a template.
Elegant Themes is our favorite WordPress theme shop. Their Divi theme is an excellent all-purpose theme that can be used for just about any type of website. There are hundreds of pre-designed templates available, with options for businesses in just about any industry. Be sure to check out Divi as it could be an excellent tool for your client’s websites.
2. Create Your Own Templates/Themes
Another option is to create your own templates or themes to use with clients. You could set up a shop on your site to sell the products, or you could offer them only to clients as they contact you about their projects. Having your own templates will also make customizations easier because you’ll be more familiar with how the theme is coded.
This is especially a good approach if you find that you have a lot of potential clients looking for websites that are similar in some way. For example, for several years, we’ve received a lot of requests from churches and non-profit organizations in need of a website. Of course, most of them are working with very limited budgets. We eventually decided to create a few WordPress themes specifically for churches and non-profits. Another designer could do something similar by creating a few WordPress themes for clients in a specific industry.
3. Offer Semi-Custom Design
Templates and themes are a good option for clients with very limited budgets, but almost every client will want or need something from their website that doesn’t fit perfectly with any template out there. It could be a customization of the template’s color scheme, layout changes, or some added functionality. In these cases, templates may not work, but a full custom design isn’t always needed either.
You could design and code templates or a framework that can be used as a starting point, and then make needed customizations to meet the client’s needs. This would still reduce the amount of time needed for the project, thus reducing the price that you would need to charge. It would still give the client a site that feels more like a custom website that was built especially for them. This can be a good option for clients whose budgets are a little low for the site that they need, but large enough to give you something to work with.
4. Limit the Scope of Your Services, and Present Options
The problem with low-budget projects usually isn’t entirely about the money. It’s also about what the client needs or wants to get for that budget. If you’re able to work with the client to reduce the “must have’s” of their project you may be able to give them a basic website that will fit within their budget.
One of the best ways to do this is to present some options. Give them an estimate for a website that will include everything they’re looking for, and also a proposal for a website that will fit within their budget. If their budget and wish list don’t match up, the first quote will be much more than they want to spend, but the second option can show that you are trying to work with them and find some middle ground.
At that point they have 3 choices:
- Increase their budget to get everything that they want.
- Compromise some of the things they want in order to keep the price down.
- Look for another designer.
If they choose either of the first two options you’ll get the business without compromising too much. If they choose to look for another designer, at least you will avoid spending too much time without making enough money. And they may even come back for one of your packages when they see their other options.
5. Use Affiliate Programs
If none of the other options sound like a good fit for you, you could also consider using affiliate programs to get some financial benefit from lower-budget clients that you aren’t able to accommodate. There are a lot of web builders out there (some better than others) that allow anyone to create their own website, and most of them have affiliate programs.
As an affiliate, you can recommend their product. Anyone can set up a website with their system without the need for a designer, and for many types of businesses, it can be a good low-cost option. As an affiliate, you can make $50 – $100 per referral. There are of course plenty of similar products and services out there that you could promote as well or instead.
For clients looking for e-commerce websites on a low budget, you could recommend a solution like Shopify. They have an affiliate program and users are able to set up an e-commerce site for a very low cost with the pre-designed templates that are free.
Affiliate programs can also be helpful for supplementing the income you make for lower-budget projects. For example, almost every hosting company has an affiliate program, and most pay anywhere from $50 – $100 per referral. If your clients are signing up for hosting through your affiliate links, you can make a little bit more on those low-budget projects than you would otherwise.
Although a client’s budget may be smaller than you would need in order to do the work yourself, there may be options to outsource the work to another designer/developer who can do the work for a lower cost. There are certainly pros and cons to outsourcing. Personally, I’ve never outsourced client projects (aside from PSD to HTML coding services) because it has the potential to still be a big headache with little financial reward. However, I know others who outsource almost every project, and overall it works pretty well for some designers.
Whether you want to pursue outsourcing is, of course, up to you. Even though it is not something I have personally chosen to do, I did want to include it on this list because it does work for some people.
7. Partner with Another Designer
By partnering with another designer you may be able to get a lot of the benefits of outsourcing without all of the cons. When you outsource the work the client may or may not be aware that you are not personally doing the work, but either way you are still acting as a middle man between the client and the other designer. You would be accepting some financial risk, taking on some responsibilities for managing the project, and opening yourself up to potential headaches if the client is not happy with the work of the outsourced designer.
By partnering with another designer, what I’m suggesting is that you find a designer who’s willing and able to work with client budgets that are below a level that you service. When a client comes to you and their budget falls below a level that you can work with, you could put them in contact with this other designer. You can work out an arrangement with the other designer that makes the referral beneficial to you as well. Maybe they would be willing to pay you a referral fee for anyone who becomes a paying client. Or maybe they could do something else in exchange, such as refer a specific type of client to you.
Unlike outsourcing, when you’re simply introducing the client to the other designer you would not be taking a financial risk or committing yourself to the time needed to oversee the project. Finding the right designer to partner with is not always easy, but there are a lot of opportunities out there. If you are able to find someone who can consistently service clients that you are not able to, that can be a very good way to have something to offer to these types of clients.
Related: Principles of Effective Networking