In my Getting Started course, I describe a few different ways to get started in Subscription Web Design.
The ideal, of course, is that your entire offering—including the design and build of the site itself—is wrapped inside of a subscription program.
That’s how you create stability in your business and a longterm mindset with your clients.
But for many, the decision to move quickly into a full-fledged subscription web design model is a bit nerve-racking.
Fortunately, there is a way to get started that requires little adjustment to your overall business and will be easy for clients to understand.
What Happens When You Don’t Manage a WordPress Website
Let me tell you a story.
When I first began offering website design services in the mid 2000’s, I did not have the subscription model in mind.
As a result, I did not have any systematic way of following up with clients after their project was completed. Sure, if they came back to me, I would be willing and available to do work for them.
But this rarely happened.
Plus, I was busy with other new projects that came along, so it was not feasible for me to keep track of those clients and reach out to make sure things were okay.
To make matters worse, this was at a time when it was not as easy—or as common—to log into a website and make changes as it is today. These days, it’s almost like editing a Facebook page.
Even WordPress was relatively new back then, though, and people didn’t know what they were doing.
So while I never followed up with clients, they did not end up doing much on their own, either.
This is the death knell for a website.
Murphy’s Law took over. Sites got neglected, out of date, infected with malware, and completely shut down. Or in the case of one website I designed for a pastor, redirected to a pornography site.
It was not a pretty picture, and it was entirely my fault. There was nothing built into my process for working with those clients long-term.
Introducing CarePhase: The Website Management Model
Before diving “whole hog” into the Subscription Web Design model, I decided to latch onto a trend I was seeing in the web design community.
They called it a “maintenance plan.” I never liked the term (more on that later), but it was a neat idea.
The premise was this: For a relatively small monthly fee, we’ll keep the website updated, backed up, and maintained from a security perspective.
Doing this would ensure that could at the very least keep the website from getting hacked and infecting other sites on the server (yes, this was before moving away from “shared” hosting).
And it worked!
It didn’t really help with people using their website. It did, however, keep the status quo. As long as we were keeping a good eye on the website itself, it would not get hacked and everything was hunky dory.
Over time, I pretty much dropped the word “maintenance” from my vocabulary where possible and opted instead to start using the word “management.”
Website Maintenance implies reactionary work—Website Management implies proactive work. And, also over time, the work became more proactive in nature. We started to include an hour of small changes to the site throughout the time period and implemented a discount on additional services rendered.
Here’s what was cool:
When we did finally take the plunge fully into subscription web design, we developed a four phase system to take clients through:
And with that, the “CarePhase Website Management” plan was born. This is exactly what I teach students to do in our course and mentorship program.
What is Subscription Web Design?
If you’re new to the concept of subscription web design, allow me to explain:
Most website designers are living in the “feast or famine” cycle. One month, you might have five projects come in…and then the next three months, nothing.
This is, sadly, the world most web designers live in. And I don’t think this is okay.
Not only is bad for the designer because of the instability, but it’s bad for the client as well! I have lots of names for “traditional” website design, but my two favorites are:
Pay and pray
The client conveyor belt
Fact is, the traditional model puts clients in a situation of paying huge up front fees and then praying their designer keeps their word and stays in communication (which is sadly rare).
And then, because the web designer has to eat and feed her family, she is forced to quickly move on from that project to another. And if there are no leads in the pipeline, she has to get that thing filled up through uncomfortable networking events, etc.
Now—look, if you’re in business at all you have to have leads, convert clients, etc. The subscription model does not get you out of that.
However, it’s an entirely different experience. This model assumes long-term relationships with your clients. It assumes clients will pay you month after month, year after year, and as you add more/improved services to your offerings, you can gain more wallet share from them.
This is a radical departure from the way most web designers work, which means you may be thinking it is risky or scary to jump into.
And while I’d say “come on in, the water’s fine!”, I totally understand your hesitation.
This is your business and your livelihood, and it can be risky to try out a new business model.
So putting it all together, I recommend you at least get STARTED with a website management plan.
Website Management as the Gateway to Subscription Web Design
This is a fantastic middle ground, because you will not have to worry about changing up your entire business model.
When you add website management, you are telling your client: “Look, after we launch this website, it will stay up to date, performing well, backed up in case there’s any issues, and we’ll even make small changes and updates for you every month.”
And there’s lots you can do here.
You could offer a quarterly call to check in with the client (which would allow you to offer new services, etc. as well).
You could include the management plan for the first 6 months after the website, giving them time to see the benefits so you can ask they continue after the 6 month period.
If you plan to offer additional services in the future (like SEO), you could include reports for free each month that would show them the advantage of taking you up on those offers.
Once you build up a website management recurring income base from your current and past clients, you can begin to consider making the move into full-fledged subscription web design.
Making the Jump from Website Management to Subscription Web Design
To be clear, website management never leaves your portfolio. We signed a new website management client just the other day, with the hopes that he would eventually become a client in one of our subscription web design plans.
(Btw, there’s no trickery here. We’ve talked about this. The fact is he already has a website that he needs help maintaining now.)
In other words, website management is a great way to take on new clients without having to redesign their website, and since they’re used to a subscription plan with you, it will be an easy transition to move their website rebuild into that model as well.
Step 1. Your Livability Quotient: Decide how much money you and your family need to live on a regular basis.
One of the biggest mistakes most business owners make is letting their business run their life instead of the other way around.
YOU make the rules.
Let me be abundantly clear: Your life is more important than your business. Never sacrifice your family for your business.
So first things first, decide what your family needs. Think about not only maintaining your standard of living, but account for the fact that perhaps you’d like to increase it over the next 3-5 years as well.
Step 2. Identify Your Upsell Targets
Yet another huge mistake small business owners make is focusing all their time and attention on getting new leads and prospects.
New leads and prospects matter, for sure, but a fundamental premise of subscription web design is putting your current clients first.
It might surprise you to know that in the year 2022, I have only onboarded four new clients.
You read that right.
Most businesses could never afford to take on only four new clients in a calendar year.
But we are not most businesses, and you don’t have to be either.
To put this in perspective for you, given the average cost of a website these days, most “traditional” web designers would need between 35-45 NEW clients to hit the numbers we are going to hit this year.
We took on four.
How is this even possible? It’s because of subscription web design.
By working deeper with current clients, offering them new services they need to market well, etc., we are able to have more intimate relationships with them and work closer.
The lesson: Look at your current and past client roster and identify opportunities to move any of them into subscription web design plans.
Go back to your traditional clients who aren’t on website management plans and make them a good offer to get on your plan.
Go back to clients you worked with years ago and check on them. They may need a redesign (you could offer them a full-fledged subscription web design plan) or maybe they have other business activities going on you could help with.
Assuming your past and current customers are satisfied, go back to them and simply ask if they know of anyone else who could use your services and request their contact information.
It’s infinitely easier to work from your current base of clients to increase revenue and offer new services than to start from scratch with a cold lead.
Step 3. Jump Off the Dock
At some point, you will have to decide that you are only going to offer subscription web design services from now on.
An acceptable middle ground is to offer some clients the choice between the traditional “milestone” payment model and the subscription model.
However—I have personally witnessed that to be less effective, because now you are giving them a choice. And the confused mind always says no.
I would rather you show up with leadership and confidently recommend the subscription web design model with a list of solid reasons why.
As long as you have the financial runway to make it work, begin offering subscription web design exclusively and watch your stable base of recurring income grow.
One of my students, April, pointed out that she no longer views a sale as “I made $X this month!” Instead, it’s “I added $Y to my annual income.”
That’s the shift, and it’s a big one.
When you can operate from that mindset, the world is your oyster. You got this.
You have what it takes to be a successful subscription web designer, and it all starts with implementing the website management model and moving forward from there, one step at a time.