How Web Designers Can ACTUALLY Prove Brand Promises with the Subscription Web Design Model

Oct 20, 2022

I’ve been privileged to work with and around a lot of web designers over the past seven years of running my own small agency.

We make a lot of promises. Some bold, others conservative, but still we want to set our brands apart by making a promise to our clients and keeping our work.

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And yet—despite all the tools at our disposal—we often have trouble delivering on those promises.

Know what I mean?

What are Brand Promises?

In case you don’t quite know what I’m referring to, allow me to explain.

Have you ever said something like this when trying to sell a client?

  • We always answer the phone!

  • When you work with us, we want to parter with you in your success

  • We have a great team of people at our disposal to help accomplish your goals.

  • Etc.

Most of us have. And to be clear, I know that you mean it! I always meant it too, even when I did not fully deliver.

One thing is for sure—if it’s left up to human will or effort to make good on brand promises, it will be much harder to accomplish.

The reason is simple. Often, willpower just doesn’t work!

Example: The Profit First Model

In my opinion, one of the best modern business writers today is Mike Micalowicz. His book Profit First became an instant classic, and is helping a new generation of business owners become profitable from day one.

But the model itself is quite simple, and can be boiled down to two very basic insights:

  1. The Backwards Formula: Income – Profit = Expenses

  2. Bank Balance Accounting: Humans naturally bank by the numbers in their bank account.

Both insights trade on scarcity and the removal of willpower from the equation.

In the case of #1, rather than using willpower to stay on top of your expenses and (hopefully) secure a profit at the end of a fiscal period, the model asks you to take your profit off the table first.

Your expenses will be naturally constrained at that point, due to the scarcity involved. Translation: If there ain’t no money in the account, you can’t buy the thing!

Of course, this insight relies on the assumption that you don’t have some amorphous pile of money that you’re allocating in your mind. This is where the bank accounts come in.

By keeping operating separate from profit, and both of those in separate accounts (ideally at separate banks!) from expenses, you will only spend what is there to be spent in your expense account.

When it’s gone, it’s gone, and given Mike’s model, it is both a psychological and physical pain in the butt to transfer those funds and save the day.

Willpower in Branding

I am suggesting there is a connection, here, with the way most web designers make brand promises.

In the absence of a real mechanism to facilitate delivery on your brand promises and marketing efforts, all that’s left is human will.

If you don’t make the calls, do the followup, stay on top of your team, stay on top of yourself, etc., it doesn’t get done.

Here is where the Subscription Web Design model can really, really shine.

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Brand Promises in Subscription Web Design

Like I mentioned above, I am pretty sure you truly want to be able to deliver on the brand promises you make.

What if your team really was different? What if you really did answer when someone called? What if you truly cared beyond the initial sale and were highly available long into the future?

This is more than possible with Subscription Web Design, it is a necessary assumption of the model.

Subscription customers pay every month, month after month, until they cancel their plan. I recommend a contract with an 18-month minimum.

When I take on a new client, two things are true:

  1. They are going to be with me for at least 18 months, per our agreement.

  2. I am on the hook to deliver a level of service for which I want to get paid each of those 18 months!

See that?

There is now a contractual obligation for every party in the deal to keep their word, be highly available and responsive, and make good on any promises made during the sale.

Warfare: Willpower vs. the Model

Practically speaking, you might be wondering what it looks like to implement this model and make good on your marketing.

This is where it gets really cool.

Let’s consider the “our people are different” angle, first.

In a traditional web design model (I call this the “pay and pray” mentality for reasons we can discuss later), the business owner will likely be paid in draws of some sort, the first of which will cover his or her team member expenses and the final which will end up producing the profit for the project.

(YUCK, by the way. That sounds awful.)

You probably hire awesome people. I don’t doubt that. But the fact is, they are not incentivized to care beyond the initial “churn and burn” of the project.

Once this project is done, you’ll have to move onto another pretty quickly, or else they will not get paid. (This criticism won’t apply as strongly if you hire full-timers, but that’s a minuscule percentage of you.)

When your client comes back and needs something, they are perceived as “needy” instead of appreciated. I know, because I’ve been there.

Don’t tell me that mindset doesn’t happen.

It. Does.

Can that be overcome? Yes it can. With willpower. But then you’ve made willpower—which we know doesn’t always (or even usually) work—the controlling factor in your client’s perception of your company.

Not good.

But in the subscription web design model, there is a built-in assumption that the client will not only be coming back, but will be in regular communication with your team moving forward.

The fabric of the business is built around working closely in relationship with each of your clients. And everybody is getting paid to take part in that relationship—including you, the business owner.

Let’s take one more example.

You want to promise a 24-hour response time with clients, but don’t have a mechanism in place for quick responses to client questions.

So, a client whose site you finished up a couple of months ago reaches out for a small request. (I mean they are still a “client” right? Even though they aren’t paying you? That’s a good question…)

You see that email or phone number come through, but you are slammed with current paying projects. The client is a bit long-winded, and even though it’s probably a 15-minute or less fix, they will take an hour to tell you about it.

And…you ignore them. Not intentionally. In your mind, you snooze them. But deep in the recesses of your brain, your subconscious is actively working to make you forget about them!

Remembering them stirs up all kinds of negative emotions:

  • It will take an hour to learn about a 15 minute problem.

  • Are you gonna bill them for the call? It’s just a call…

  • The work will take 15 minutes. Should I create a todo for my web design or just “do it myself”?

  • Gosh, it’s only 15 minutes! I can’t bill them for that time.

  • and on and on and on…

Suddenly, that 24-hr response time is out the window. The client reaches back out in a week and half to ask if you got their message.

You did. But you didn’t. And now, any trust you’ve earned is potentially broken.

What does it take to finally make that call? You guessed it! Willpower.

On subscription web design, though, they paid the same amount this month as the month you wrapped up their project!

You remember your invoicing software sending you a notification that they paid their bill for the month, and you even recall that brief sense of satisfaction that you haven’t touched their website for the past few months, yet the payments have kept rolling in.

Strangely, you feel a sense of obligation to get back to them. Remember—you haven’t worked for them in a while, yet they are paying you! You owe it to them to respond promptly.

What a different subconscious conversation! Instead of mustering up the willpower to be responsive and overcoming internal objections, you feel fundamentally compelled to answer.

Oh and by the way, there’s no internal warfare at all, because your subscription plan includes up to one hour of work on their website per month. That 15 minute fix is no problem.

Bill them for the call too. If they take an hour for the call, then 15 minutes for the work, bill them an hour and 15 minutes, pro rate the one hour of included work, and you will be left with 15 minutes of work on their next month’s bill.

No games, no tricks, just the relationship you’ve built, backed by the details of your ongoing subscription web design project.

It’s a beautiful thing and a much less stressful way to do business.

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