I’m so excited to have fellow website designer Josh Hall on the podcast today. Josh is a web designer turned educator for designers, and he’s bringing the good stuff today! Josh and I jump all over the place from his business story to his advice for scaling your web design business, maintenance plans, messaging as designers, time management, fatherhood, and so much more.
Josh built his business to 6-figures/year as a solopreneur, and we talked extensively about this journey and the exact HOW of him doing this. We also discuss his journey as a cabinet maker by day and drummer by night in 2009 to starting his freelance website design business journey. He built his web design career as a solopreneur from 2010-2016 and scaled his web design agency up before selling it in the summer of 2020 to focus full-time on teaching others how to build their website design businesses.
Josh and I had so much fun chatting together. We did back-to-back interviews for both of our podcasts. First, I interviewed him, and then he interviewed me. So all together, we chatted for about 3 hours. Hear my interview on Josh's Podcast! Listen on: YouTube | Apple Podcast | Spotify
LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE NOW:
Josh Hall’s Business Story
Josh is an online course creator who helps people build their dream website design business. In addition, he is the host of the Website Design Business Podcast. Before starting his personal brand, though, he was a solopreneur and web designer for a decade.
Josh shares that his path to web design was anything but typical. “I was a cabinet maker for a tour bus customizing shop. I was also a drummer in a rock band at that time. So I was kind of a weekend warrior in a rock band. I was always interested in art, and I was always interested in design. We were playing a festival, and a guy asked me one time, how much would you charge to design art t-shirt stuff? This was a lightbulb moment because I realized I could make money at something I enjoyed doing.” Eventually, Josh got into graphic and web design and started his own business.
How ‘Unrelated’ Skills Can Transfer To Your Business
Josh believes it is vital to lean into your background. Even unrelated things can help you in business, as a web designer, and as an online entrepreneur. With cabinet making, Josh explains that precision is everything. If something is slightly off, you'll hear about it from your client, just like web design.
Josh Hall’s Offers at The Beginning of His Business
Josh started out doing a little bit of everything. His first business card is still on the website; you can find it here. In the early days of his website design business, Josh explains, “When I designed MySpace pages, it was before WordPress. I learned to build websites on Dream Weaver. So I was doing pure code, which was awful. And I hated it. Because I was also doing graphic design, I made cards, brochures, flyers, door hangers, and t-shirts.”
When Josh created his first business card, he did drum lessons as a side gig. So his card said, “Websites, graphic design, drum lessons.” Once he started getting real clients, it dawned on him that keeping his drum lessons on the card was irrelevant to his offer. Over time, Josh transitioned away from graphic design to focus entirely on his website design business.
Niching Down As a Website Designer
Josh believes that even though he could have made more money if he had niched down sooner, it taught him a lot about the value of being specific with your offer. Now, as an online educator, he can warn people about waiting to niche down and how costly that can be in the long run.
Most people start out offering everything they are interested in doing. Over time, you can see what you're best at and pursue that alone. Despite stepping away from graphic design, Josh believes this helped his web design career. He shares, “I would do business cards for a company, and they would say, ‘Oh, you do websites; we need website help.’ I also had a lot of brochure jobs that led to excellent website jobs.”
Josh remembers a precise moment when working on a $250 business card: his web design projects were making him thousands and Josh realized his time was better spent there. This was when he shifted his focus. A quote emphasizing this says, “What got me here, won't get me there.”
How Josh Hall Got His First Paying Client + His Advice For New Designers
His first clients were within his network, from T-shirt design jobs in his band days. After that, Josh made it known to everyone that he was doing website design for business. He shared that he still sees referrals from the first few times he shared about his website design business.
Josh shares, “I know so many people are curious about how to start getting clients. The easiest way to do it at first is to start with who you already know because of who they know. If you post on Instagram or Facebook saying you do websites now, maybe some of your friends and family will be interested. They're probably not going to be your best clients, but they may know a hundred other people in their professional networks that need web design.”
One of Josh’s first paying clients, a construction company, came from Craigslist. It was his first experience trying out an ad. He primarily received ‘junk’ messages, but this one was real. He ended up doing brochures for them and eventually designing their website. He continued to work with them for years after that.
Josh reminds us that if your marketing language makes you sound cheap, you will likely only get cheap clients. You will want to get to a place where you can charge premium prices that keep you in business and attract good clients. Your messaging makes a massive difference in the clients you attract.
Even in a networking group, Josh explains the importance of your marketing, “In a networking group with 20 people, if I say, ‘I'm Josh, and I do cheap websites,’ I will only attract the people just starting, with little to no budget. But if I say, ‘I’m Josh. I build websites that help convert and grow your business,’ that will attract a whole other serious business person. They will be much more willing to invest 2,000 to $15,000+ for websites, if it grows their business.”
If you start talking about what a website can do for your clients early on, you will land more clients than simply saying you build websites. If you can share how your websites are built to help them increase traffic and turn visitors into customers, this will help the client see your work as necessary.
How Josh Learned Business in The Beginning
Josh shares that he did not start by investing in courses or training to help him develop the correct business mindset. Reading a lot of business books shaped his perspective the most. At first, he felt like he was fumbling around. But, before hitting six figures, Josh knew he had to get serious about what he enjoyed doing and what would truly help his clients.
What It Looked Like For Josh Hall to Build His Business to Six-Figures
Josh scaled on a small level and did not consider his business an ‘agency’. This helped his clients feel more confident in him because agencies had burned many in the past. In the beginning, it was 100% Josh doing all the work. Along the way, he had friends and the occasional subcontractor come in and help.
Josh shares an impactful quote from Free Time By Jenny Blake “There is no reward for wearing all the hats in your business other than burnout.” You may feel your work has to be hard, success should be challenging, and you must do everything yourself. The problem is that you will burn out and stop enjoying the business you started with the intention of loving what you do.
Josh elaborates on his outsourcing process, saying, “I got to a point where custom contracting became important. I was in the WordPress world and used a builder called Divvy. I ended up finding a contractor who was awesome and started building websites. I was essentially doing all the sales and project management, and then he started building sites. I ended up giving him more roles, and then eventually I started scaling it a little bit more to the point where I was just at the end of the agency, just focused on sales and getting projects started.”
However, Josh did achieve six figures on his own. This was due in large part to his maintenance plan. When he learned the power of recurring income, he began offering a maintenance plan that became the bottom line for his business. This grew month over month and brought many people back for additional work. Eventually, he increased his prices, pushing his website design business to six figures. You need high ticket services and streams of recurring income to see high-level growth.
What is a Maintenance Plan for Website Designers?
Early on, Josh had a mentor who told him to start charging around $39/month to update plugins for his clients. Josh didn't initially think anyone would go for it, but he realized many business owners don't want to touch their sites or mess with them. So instead, they'll willingly pay someone else to update the website monthly.
Josh learned, “With maintenance plans, it is ideal to wrap in hosting as well on the WordPress side, because as a web designer, you almost become a ‘webmaster’, and you're going to get a call if they have a domain issue or a hosting issue. So you might as well charge for it. I'm sure everyone's had the situation where you get a call from somebody who can't remember their domain information, or they're trying to set up an email or something, and you're probably doing free work. So that's what I put in my maintenance plan.”
Eventually, Josh learned that it's extremely powerful to have a few different tiers of maintenance for your different types of clients. For example, a local business is not going to need much maintenance. However, an eCommerce shop is a whole other ball game. They will need you in their corner every month.
Creating an Offer to Retain Clients on Other Web Design Platforms
Josh has a lot of students now who have been through his maintenance plan course who don't use WordPress. Many people will call it a “care” or “optimization plan” instead of a maintenance one. Aside from the WordPress world, you can update plugins and other things. You can also offer general website optimization. You could provide SEO services in a maintenance plan, like adding alt text on images and other technical stuff you need to do for better results.
In terms of high-end monthly services, Josh suggests adding additional pages each month, adding more features to their site, and helping with blog posts, content, copywriting, and messaging. You could also offer conversion and traffic management for things like their email list. It’s also important to blend the right services. For example, you might not want to offer general hosting with SEO because hosting is more likely to be a constant need.
Clients want to have their web person. If you can be that person for them, they will pay you to stick around, and you can eventually build great relationships with them. If you can give your clients results, they'll pay you more, and they'll pay you consistently.
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Figuring Out a Price Range For Website Maintenance Plans
Josh says you'll see people charging $39/month for basic updates on the low end. He recommends starting closer to $49/month because most people will be willing to pay that much. The three average tiers would be $50, $99, and $149. You might also create a top level that costs anywhere from $199 to $499. The higher price points are the place to put additional add-ons, so people never turn off the services they need.
Josh Hall’s Advice for Finding The Right Team Members
The hardest thing Josh has seen with scaling is giving up control. This is especially true when you've always been the one who does everything in your business. When you begin to scale, you will have to give up pieces of control. Josh emphasized that to start, you give your subcontractors smaller tasks and let them figure it out. One of the keys to hiring in web design is finding someone who loves to learn and can figure things out.
Josh shares a personal example: "I would lay out the design for the homepage, the main pages, and the main design elements. Then I would have him fill in everything else. So if I had the main page, the header, the footer, and one service page done, I might have him create the about us, the rest of the services pages off of that template, the contact page, fill in content and get some stuff from the client. So I could tag team with my contractor and get the whole website done.”
Eventually, Josh gave his contractor more and more control of the project as they moved forward. Finally, it got to the point where Josh would get the website's strategy, ideas, and visions and then turn it over to him. Eventually, some of the designs in Josh's agency portfolio were designed entirely by his contractor. It took them about two years to get to that point. Josh adds, “I know it's tricky because you'll pay more per build. But if you save time and free up yourself to run and grow your business and get better clients, you'll make much more money quickly.”
What it Looked Like For Josh Hall to Build And Sell His Agency
Josh says, “I think it's probably obvious now I fumbled into business. I did not have a five-year plan and started my web design agency to scale and sell it. When I started my business, my goal was to become a web designer and get a job at an agency. But because I was starting to make some money, I realized that if I made this a business, I could probably make six figures. And I did, but I did not have a long-term goal or vision. At the time when I started scaling, I had started teaching. Teaching just became such a passion project for me. The fifth anniversary of starting my personal brand website just passed.”
Josh started because he loved answering questions in the online groups he was a part of. He began to post tutorials for using WordPress and Divvy on Youtube. When Josh started getting into course creation, it took off for him. At this point, he wasn't doing much in his website design business anymore. He was mainly making sales and kicking off projects. Eventually, Josh reached the ‘seven-year itch’ period in his business. He realized he was making more money creating online courses and no longer had the time to create content while running his primary business.
Josh knew he had to choose where to go next. He consulted a student who had reached six figures in his own business and discussed what it would look like to go to the next level. This student ended up being the one to buy out the agency from Josh. Josh retains a consultant role in the business, knowing his clients are well taken care of. Despite not feeling burned out from the business, he knew his interest had shifted to courses and teaching and chose to go in that direction.
Josh describes the benefits of his current role, saying, “I'm really happy with how that all worked out because I still am an agency founder. I still have a foot in the door with what's going on and what isn’t working. A lot of that relays directly to my students now, which is cool. So it's kind of the best of both worlds.”
Josh says that if you’re considering selling your business, you need to make it a point to create recurring income. Otherwise, you end up selling a job and a few leads, which are not high value since many of Josh’s clients then needed their website redesigned, which was a perfect support plan to keep the business going.
What It Was Like to Transition to Being an Educator
Josh says, “It’s a unique skill set to sell and build a personal brand online. It differs from networking in person and being a service provider.” While being a designer is hugely fulfilling, Josh and I agree that it’s nice to have more control over your personal brand and not have to wait on clients to complete a project. It’s a different form of selling than direct services.
Josh explains that a benefit of working in design is learning to complete projects under time constraints. When he first stepped into his brand full-time, Josh found it challenging to focus on specific things and get them done on time. You have to set your deadlines and be strict with yourself when you move away from client work.
With something like a course, you will need to come up with a due date for yourself. One way to do this is a pre-launch. If you know people need this content by a specific day/time, you can get it done on time.
Josh Hall’s Experience Selling His First Course for Website Designers
Due to a difficult season of life when his daughter was first born, Josh relied on the income from his maintenance plans to support his family. This led him to create a maintenance plan course and see how he felt about course creation. He didn’t have a complete plan yet, but he knew he loved teaching and wanted to pursue that.
Josh shared every detail of his maintenance plan, processes, the back and forth of selling a maintenance plan, and how he sealed the deal. This was a game changer for his business, and he brought in 82 students in the first round.
Josh Hall’s Tips For Managing Your Offers
Josh shared, “I am pivoting slightly to higher tier programs that are a little more confined as far as my offers. A lot of my prime example students have gone through all the courses. They learn web design and start getting clients; they build their businesses and recurring income. What I have realized is that I'm at a point where I’m refining who I'm serving.”
Josh knows his passion is for teaching business rather than teaching web design. This will help him combine and condense his offers to be as relevant as possible. The business is headed toward specific offers at a higher level to give the highest quality education possible.
How Much Time Josh Hall Spends on Pieces of His Business
Josh’s business structure takes a few different forms. He has courses you can purchase and do entirely on your own. He has a support center for all of his students. His membership, The Web Design Club, is a community of like-minded business owners helping each other grow and scale. Within the membership, there are monthly pieces of training where members can communicate with Josh directly. He says this takes around 10 hours a week, and it’s his favorite thing to do.
Josh noticed a need for a membership structure when he saw many people go through his courses, find success, and never share that with him. In a membership, however, he’s been able to build deeper relationships with students. Josh learned that backing up your business offers with a subscription will help you see the results your customers get more clearly.
Rapid Fire Questions
What is Your Unpopular Web Design Opinion?
“There are so many people who are obsessed with site speed, and speed is essential. However, my site does not load very quickly, and I have no issues. So many people will add different CDNs or cloud flares and all these optimization plugins. And then they often conflict with each other, and it can be a big problem.
Now I'm not against those things. And I recommend the basics of speed, but I would say so many people will say, ‘Your website's slow. You need to speed it up.’ Yes, but don't let speed overshadow usability. One of my close colleagues has an agency in Nebraska. Their site is super slow. But all their clients are in Nebraska. And it's not that big of a deal. They have a high conversion rate with a very slow site. So, speed is important, but don't let that overshadow a well-laid out, usable site.”
What is Your Unpopular Business Opinion?
“Most people in business just harp on productivity. Particularly if anyone comes out of a corporate job, you're probably used to being a machine and getting as much as you can done in a certain amount of time.
What I've found to be way more critical in the online entrepreneurial world than productivity is priority. What you're working toward is way more important than what you're working on potentially.
Think about what you want to do over the next few months and what you want your days to look like. This will help you prioritize all your offers and everything you're doing in your business, and then you can be productive in the time you allow. Just don’t be productive because you feel like you should be working! This might end up being costly in the long run.
That's why I scaled to six figures a lot slower than many of my students because I didn't sit back and think and prioritize my best services and what I wanted to get out of my business.”
Josh Hall’s Tip For Working From Home
“I would just say plan for the days not to be perfect, like having scheduled times where you have a call or a deep work segment. It's very rare if you work from home that you're going to work eight hours straight; interruptions will occur. You might do a work segment and have a little one to take care of. So I would say you need to embrace the chaos. Don't expect things to be perfect.
There have been times on my podcast, especially in the earlier episodes, where you will hear my daughters going a little wild in the background. I could go into loads of tips, but honestly, right now, embracing the chaos and just expecting it not to be perfect is essential. Otherwise, you're going to feel like this is just impossible. You're going to feel overwhelmed, but it's just what it is.
That's one of the significant benefits of the website design business. You can 100% work near your kids and be involved as much as you want. You can align your projects and your deadlines and your day, and just get a lot done in the segments you have for work.”
What Impactful Business Book Are You Reading Right Now?
“I'm reading Free Time By Jenny Blake. That book has already really helped me. It helped me realize I'm doing a lot of things that I shouldn't be doing if I'm going to get to the next level for what I envision in my business. So I've gotta give up a little more control and dish that out.”
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You can even watch recordings of me in meetings with my clients. So you can learn through what you're seeing. We take things you're learning on this podcast. And so many topics I never even cover on the podcast, and deep dive into them.
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September 27, 2022