3 Reasons Why Web Designers And Developers Must Learn Online Marketing


I’ve interviewed quite a few successful web designers and developers over the last couple of months. One thing that they all seem to have in common is that they took time to learn about online marketing and have built a strong online presence. This made me wonder, why don’t more people do the same thing?

I think that if you are a web designer or a developer who understands, and implements, online marketing, you not only have a tremendous advantage over your competition, but also a realistic shot of  creating a very nice lifestyle over a couple of years. Why?

When you are not only good at your craft, but also good at online marketing, that combination of skill and knowledge allows you to do three things:

1. Get more clients

Let me share with you one of my own experiences.

I’m not a web designer myself, so when I realized that I will need a landing page for my website in order to build an e-mail list, I went to one of the freelance job boards and posted a job.

I got a lot of response straight away.

Here’s an excerpt from a real bid on that project:

“I am a freelancer web Designer with having more than five year experience in Website designs, HTML, XHTML, Web2.0, J-Query, HTML5, Layout , W3c Standard, CSS , I phone & Android UI Design, environment with projects involving Requirement gathering, High level design, low level design, e-commerce, Maganto, Joomla Home page Design and theme integration.”

That sounds awesome, right? Wrong!

The problem is that the person making this bid doesn’t understand me (the client) at all. I want to build an online business, but I don’t know a thing about web design, therefore I’m looking for a web designer to do it for me. Who is more likely to get the job:

  • A web designer who talks about HTML5, jQuery and W3C Standards.
  • A web designer who talks about conversion rates, e-mail list and sales.

I really don’t care about “HTML, XHTML, Web2.0, jQuery, HTML5, Layout , W3C Standards, CSS , iPhone & Android UI Design.” In fact, I don’t even know what most of these words mean. However, when it comes to conversion rates and building an e-mail list…. THAT’S what I’m interested in!

You might think that it’s only me, but really, most people who hire web designers are like that.

Ramit Sethi is the guy who, among other things (such as writing a NYT bestselling book and running a popular blog), has helped thousands of people all over the world earn money via freelancing.

Here are his thoughts on the topic:

“Most people focus on features.

They say: “Here’s what you get with my web design service: you get a hosting account, you get ten pages design, you get this, you get that”.

Well…the client doesn’t care!

What do the clients want fundamentally? They want to make more money, they want to get more clients, they want to spend less time, they just want it handled. You can find this out by talking to them and doing research.

This is where you start doing your homework. You figure out what it is that they want and use it to present your services as a benefit. So, instead of saying “You get 10 web pages”, you say: “Look, my goal is to help you increase the number of subscribers by 25%” or, better yet, “My goal is to help you increase the revenue by 15%”. That is a benefit. Nobody cares about how many pages it is, or how much time you’re going to spend on it or what software you’ll use. They don’t care about all that. They want more money, more clients, in less time. Focus on what THEY want, not what you want.”

The point is that most clients who hire web designers hire them for business reasons. Consequently, if you want to impress those clients, you have to present them with solutions that will help them achieve their business goals. This is why you need to understand online marketing.

There are loads and loads of web designers who can make pretty websites. There are very few web designers who know how to get their clients more sales.

Who do you think will be able to get better clients and charge higher rates?


2. Build your brand

The biggest headache for freelancers all over the world is the “How to get paying clients?” issue. Think about it: wouldn’t it be nice if clients would come to you, ready to pay whatever you’re asking?

This is not some fantasy from the unicorn land, this is reality for people who have built strong personal brands.

Okay, so how do you build a personal brand online?

Here’s a summary of the process:

  1. You build a popular blog
  2. You build a decent social media following
  3. You do all kinds of “extra-curricular” activities such as speaking in conferences, etc.

Note: These are only the key points, the process is much more complicated than that, it requires a lot of business knowledge and perseverance.

All of that helps you to do two things:

  1. Establish yourself as an expert
  2. Get a lot of exposure

What happens when people need to get work done and they see someone who is a recognized expert in that particular field?

They want to hire that person.

It takes a lot of time and effort to build a personal brand, but the payoff is well worth it. Time is going to pass anyway, right?

However, you probably won’t be able to do that without decent online marketing knowledge, because “write good stuff and they’ll come” simply doesn’t work anymore with so many people writing good stuff. You have to know the rules of the game in order to win it.

I suggest you watch the TED talk “Building a personal brand” by Jacob Cass to see how helpful it can be to have a strong online presence.

3. Earn extra income

When you are a freelancer, you know that unexpected things happen, and it’s wise to do everything to make yourself as financially secure as possible. One of the best things you can do is to diversify your streams of income between client work and passive income. I love this excerpt from the interview with Sacha Greif who made over $15 000 from selling his e-book online:

“However, in general, having a source of passive income is important. It’s a must-have for me, because if you’re freelancer, you don’t have much job security. It’s hard to plan for the future without a safety net of some sort. Also, if you’re taking a holiday, or just stopping work for a couple of months, it’s nice to have an additional source of income that keeps going, even if it’s very small, even if it’s a few hundred dollars a month. At least it can cover your food bill or your rent, you know.

It’s important for me personally (although it’s not the only way to do it, you can be very successful without any sort of passive income). I don’t want to say that every designer needs a passive income source, because people would complain if I did, but personally, I think that it’s important.”

It’s really not that hard to create a small stream of passive income when you are already perceived as an expert in your field and have a decent online following. There are a lot of different monetization options, such as creating and selling your own products, selling products made by other people (affiliate marketing) or simply displaying ads on your site.

Wouldn’t it be nice to still have money coming in even when you are not working?

However, keep in mind that passive income aren’t as passive as some people picture it to be, because you have to first put a lot of time and efforts into creating a product and then put a lot of efforts into marketing it and selWling it.

Don’t make these mistakes

There are a lot of people who set out to build an online business. Most of them fail. Sorry, that’s the harsh reality. However, the question is why do they fail?

Here are two of the most common reasons:

1. They underestimate the time and effort required to achieve desired results

In most cases, people get into this expecting to be rolling in the dough in a month or two, which is completely delusional. No wonder they give up in less than six months.

You might have noticed that I’ve mentioned hard work and time quite a few times in this article. Most likely it will take you six to twelve months to gain momentum with your blog and social media following. Once you gain that momentum, you can start thinking about monetizing it in some way. It’s very realistic to build a successful online business in two or three years, however, please be aware of what you’re getting yourself into!

2. They think that it’s enough to be good at their craft

In order to be a successful baker, you have to be good at baking, but in order to run a successful bakery, you need to be good at business first, baking second. Are you following me?

It’s not enough to be a good web designer in order to run a successful web design blog or to sell a lot of copies of your e- book. Yes, sure, you have to know what you’re talking about. However, if no one is listening, it doesn’t matter how genius your ideas are, duh. Want to make money online? Study online marketing.

I’d say that if you have realistic expectations for how much time and efforts it will require, as well as willing to study online marketing and learn the trade, you’re very likely to succeed in building an online business.

Where to start?

Okay, so now you’re probably thinking that it would be kind of cool to learn more about that online marketing stuff, but aren’t sure where to start.

The good news is that you can learn the most important things for free, since there are so many websites that publish free articles on the topic.

However, the problem that new people in the field face is that most of what’s written about online marketing is total BS, which makes it kind of hard to separate nonsenses from legitimate material.

I can solve this problem for you.

It’s really not hard to learn the basics. Read a blog post or two a day. Listen to a podcast while jogging. Attend a webinar now and then. You will be surprised how fast you’re learning without even spending a dime on it. Then, go and apply what you’ve learned.

Who knows, maybe two or three years from now you could run your own online business?

Remember, time will pass anyway, so use it wisely.

Your turn!

Okay, guys, so now I want to hear from you:

  • Do you agree that web designers and developers should take time to learn online marketing?
  • Or do you think that learning online marketing would be a waste of time?

Share your thoughts in the comments!



  1. Victor Santoso

    enlightening…. i sound just like that (more IT talk, less marketing) when I offer my service. Will look through your post about learning marketing websites.

  2. Richard

    Useful and valuable information. I couldn’t agree more with the part regarding features. Customers don’t really care about how many features you’re adding or how awesome your company is, they care about results. Specially, results that relate to getting more clients or leads, increasing sales and profits, and overall growing their business. Now, it’s also true that you might need to add more pages, select a solid hosting provider and add a number of features, but at the end of the day what they want to hear is that your services are going to increase their profits.

    • agota

      ..by reading Founder Tips and blogs that are listed in that article.. :D

      P.S. Plus, by observing and analyzing what successful people are doing, and trying to understand the principles behind that.

  3. Anas LAHLOU

    I like this blog very much, it’s realy helpful to hear things that we never thought about it!
    As a web devloper, i’ve never thought about making a brnad, i always focuced on building websites, now i would like to make one, it’s like having an e-reputation in case of being hired in some enterprise.
    and i like also the idea of the passive income :)

    • agota

      I’m glad you got some new ideas from this article..

      Yup, having your own brand helps a lot, check you the TED video with Jacob Cass to see how useful it can be.. ;)

  4. Yes, a web developer and even a designer should remain aware of the latest online marketing trends to analyze the taste and behavior of their potential clients. Apart from this, they should deeply explore the competitors and industry to get familiar with potential customers demand and expectations to build a strong design strategy equipped with usable features and functions on the website.

    • agota


      Web designers and developers who know the business will be able to really stand out from the crowd!

  5. Great post, very insightful coverage of the topic, it will really help many newbie as well as professional web developers to get client.

  6. Wow, this article is right on! After reading that earlier article by Ramit Sethi, I started applying these marketing techniques to my business. My business has shot through the roof from this type of marketing.

    And you know what? Client’s actually like you to deal this way with them. I was talking with a Client about a possible website project and she was complaining how a different developer had put a bid on the project, but she didn’t understand all of his “technical lingo”. I took the time to explain to her exactly what a CMS is, why she would want SEO etc. Now she wants me to do the project! Just by taking the time to explain how all these “technical” things that someone else was talking about would benefit her business.

    Looking forward to more posts about marketing and SEO strategies!

    • agota

      Congratulations on landing that client, way to go! I’m happy to hear that you applied what you’ve learned from Ramit! :)

      There will be some articles here on 1WD on the topic of online marketing, but we have a whole website about online marketing for web designers and developers, so keep an eye on http://www.foundertips.com.. ;)

  7. For a long time all I understood about online marketing was link building. It was simply get the most backlinks and you will rank high in the search engines. My web design clients were happy that they appeared on the first page of Google.
    Now I subscribe to a couple of the blogs you mentioned above. “Smart Passive Income” and “Social Triggers”. I now understand that even if you have tons of traffic, that you have to be able to convert that traffic. I am adding “Think Traffic” to my list of blogs that I subscribe to. Thanks for the info.

  8. thank you so much for all this great advice! i am just starting my own web design business and with no experience and just graduating from school it is very hard to build clients right away. i am learning so much just from reading online and working as a intern. i cant wait for my business to grow! web designing is so much fun for me.

    • agota

      I suggest you to also check out Ramit Sethi’s free material on freelancing (starting with his interview here on 1WD), that stuff is priceless for anyone who aspires to be a freelancer.. ;)

  9. Mike Baranowski

    Great article. Seems to be very helpfull. TED speach added to bookmarks and its waiting for evening to watch :)

  10. Great article, I need to brush up on my marketing skills. I would love to be able to offer more than just design work to my clients.

    • agota

      Glad you are up for some online marketing action :D

      Even if you only offer design work, your knowledge of online marketing will make you stand out, because you will be able yo talk to potential clients in their language.