3 Steps to Handling Growth in Your Subscription Web Design Business

Apr 4, 2023

If you’re reading this piece, there’s a 100% chance you are here because you have a business and want it to grow.

(If that’s not you…seriously, why are you here? Would love to know.)

So assuming I have the right audience—motivated web design and marketing business owners looking into the subscription model—“growth” of some nature is one of your goals.

In the past 5-10 years, the “Growth” mindset has definitely overtaken modern American business. Especially Silicon Valley, and I’m sure it’s this way for many other areas of the globe as well.

A few voices have been able to rise above the noise during this same period to say there’s a better way. As Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson write in Rework:

Small is not just a stepping-stone. Small is a great destination in itself.

Paul Jarvis’ book, Company of One, is full of similar valuable thinking.

Growth doesn’t have to be your end goal; almost certainly, though, growth will happen. It’s the nature of a good business.

You are building a good business, right?

If you’re serving customers and doing great work, word will spread and things will start happening for you.

I want to give you some advice from the trenches that I have learned in hopes you’ll apply it to your business earlier than I did.

1. Don’t Over Plan — Do Great Work and Make Reasonable Decisions

For me, the entrepreneur life is up and down.

One minute, I’m Walt Disney or Elon Musk creating new worlds and leading humanity writ large in exciting, unknown territory.

The next? I’m wondering how quickly I can build something that runs entirely without me so that I can retire on a beach somewhere.

The truth is, the perfect life for me is somewhere in the middle.

One of the great dangers we face as entrepreneurs is that we pretend we can see the future. But we can’t.

Now—I am not suggesting there’s no merit to vision casting. I recall a great story of how Michael Hyatt turned around his division at Nelson Books by creating a vision of the future, writing it as though it had already happened, and rallying behind his team.

I’m sure that can work.

But I don’t see how you can rely upon it—after all, the only thing that is real is what’s right in front of you. It’s the only thing you have to go on.

In that respect, how can you do anything more than:

  1. Doing great work with what’s in front of you; and

  2. Making wise decisions with the options that have been presented?

I am always wary of fortunetellers—sometimes those come disguised in suits and ties or fancy lights on a YouTube channel.

But if you’re always doing great work and making the best decision you can with the options you have available, that’s an amazing business in itself.

This path has worked for me—perhaps you should try it too.

A story:

One of the most profitable decisions I’ve ever made for my business was coming up with CREST—an acrostic that stands for:

  • C – Conversion-Based Website (the foundation)

  • R – Review & Reputation Management (capture word of mouth)

  • E – Email Newsletter (retain and create repeat business)

  • S – Search Optimized Content (attract new customers)

  • T – Tracking and Testing (A/B) (optimize for results)

This is a framework I developed and our business uses to streamline the marketing process and get results for our customers.

This has been more financially profitable than anything we’ve done so far (though not without its downfalls, which we’ll discuss in Point 3).

The thing is, I didn’t plan CREST. It happened one day while sitting on my couch. It wasn’t part of a master plan. It didn’t come during a 3-5 year goal planning session.

It just happened.

Some of the best things “just happen.” I recommend creating an environment that leaves enough space for that kind of serendipity.

2. Find a Reliable Source for Subcontractors

This is an uncomfortable topic for some, but the reality is you either grow by:

  1. Becoming an extremely high-ticket consultant, charging outrageous fees, and taking on fewer clients, or

  2. You begin outsourcing work or hiring employees so you can do more work in less time while keeping prices reasonable

I don’t see a thing wrong with either one of these options.

Personally, I chose path #2. Again—I think path #1 is perfectly fine.

But even if you charge so much that you could survive weeks or months on the work of just one client, it still does not give you freedom from the computer screen.

Now—obviously—I spend most of my time in front of a computer screen. That isn’t the point.

The point is, I don’t have to be in front of a computer screen in order to make money.

I am going camping later this week. While I am gone, my business will be running.

It seems so simple—but web entrepreneurs usually have to be taught to think this way because the Internet makes things so easy to go it alone.

So I am a bit biased, but I think #2 is the way that most should consider. Given that, where do you find good people?

Your mileage may vary in this area. I recommend Upwork.

What I like about Upwork is that I’ve developed a consistent, repeatable process for finding new talent and adding them to my company when the need arises.

I don’t take the traditional path of placing a job description on the Internet and hoping someone applies. I seek people out.

Will I change my tune there in the future? Maybe.

Maybe you want to go that route from the beginning—totally cool with that! Just have a plan so that you’re not going back to the drawing board when you need to scale.

Often, the need to scale happens fast. I hired one subcontractor…and then within a couple months, the work scaled so quickly that I needed to add more people right away.

That’s a heck of a lot easier to manage with a plan and a process for making it happen.

3. Tread Lightly in “Whale Territory”

This might be one of the most important pieces of advice I give you.

I also need to caveat that it might be perceived contradictory to another piece of advice I gave about building your financial runway.

It isn’t. But allow me to explain.

“Going after whales” is marketing speak for landing big accounts.

These are higher ticket relationships that can end up being very profitable and great clients.

When you’re just starting out and trying to build a runway to go full-time into subscription web design, it might be a good idea to find a client (or a few) that could be higher ticket.

Maybe they need a higher level of service or just a lot of work done (think working for them as a subcontractor).

Because it can take a while to scale with lower monthly rates, this could be a good way to get started.

However—I would caution against making “whale hunting” a long-term part of your strategy.

Some agencies choose to go this route, and that’s fine.

But there is a point in time where you must do a balancing act between finding clients that are profitable for you and those clients making up a significant piece of your income.

In full transparency, CREST started as an exercise in whale hunting. My idea was to find high ticket clients that could bring in a significant amount of revenue.

And, I did. The plan worked. However, I didn’t have a great strategy for converting these clients and to be honest, the conversation rate of the program is far, far lower than I had hoped.

One way I have combated this is by breaking down each element into its own standalone product.

In this way, every customer is a CREST customer! It’s just a matter of which stage they are in and how many services they have going concurrently.

Part of my customer education now is to let them know that they are a part of this process, and as they grow, we want to be there to support their efforts in these areas.

There is plenty of merit to the idea of “low ticket + scale” as an alternative to “high ticket + exclusivity.”

For example, I am considering adding a tier of service that falls below my custom website rates and offering template packages. I don’t have any details worked out yet, but I am considering it.

Why? Because:

  1. The onboarding is easy

  2. I can charge less and scale it easier

  3. If someone leaves, it’s not a huge hit to the bottom line

They can always upgrade into a full custom site, and/or they can still ascend up the ladder of CREST. This just makes it easier to get in the door.

You should be thinking about these things. About how to manage growth in your business.

Maybe you’re not there yet, and I get it. But you’ll be much better off if you’ve already thought through some of these ideas and have a plan for dealing with growth.

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