Core skills a web designer needs to know

If you’re just starting off, or you’ve been working on your business for a couple of months, you’re short on time. You feel like you need to know everything, right now, this minute, otherwise, you’ll fail before you even start. You don’t know what is going to make the biggest difference, the all-too-familiar confusion creeps in.

With the free Facebook group and my student groups, I’ve gotten to study and observe a lot of different web design businesses. From comparing those that are successful with those that are not, I’ve seen that there are 3 essential key skills that every web design business needs.

With these 3 key skills, your goal should be to always be developing all three equally as you progress. If you focus too much on any one of them, you’ll quickly plateau and stall. Later I’ll show you why that is.

Let’s jump right into it. First up I’ll talk about technical skills.

Technical Skills

You’re a service-based business, you gotta have something to offer

The service part of your business is the core value of what you offer. For a service-type business to exist, it has to be built on one or more technical skills. So that’s where we’ll start also.

Get paid to learn

The cool thing about web design is that it’s easy to get good enough to start making money. Sure, it might take you years to get very advanced. But, done right, you can learn enough within a few weeks to start getting paid. It’s 100% possible to have never coded before, and still become skilled enough to land your first paying clients within 1-3 months. I’ll do a full guide on the technical side of learning to code, but the overall trick is this: learn one basic technical skill at a time, get paying clients, and then go from there.

Using the method above, you could start with HTML and CSS for example. You would learn the basics, learn how to make a simple site, learn how to edit some HTML themes, and then go land a paying client. Then, once you are getting paid, you can improve some more and start on the next technical skill. After some time you acquired a bunch of technical skills and got paid to do so.

Get paid to learn” method in a nutshell:

  1. Learn one technical skill first.
  2. Get good enough to start getting paid for it.
  3. Start learning the next skill, while still improving the first.
  4. Get paid even more (because you now can offer more/better services).
  5. Continue until you have a nice collection of great and profitable skills.

Avoid these common mistakes

Where do most web designers go wrong? Let’s examine the two most common mistakes.

Mistake #1

Trying right away to get paying clients, but having zero skills (no real value) to offer.

Have something to offer before going after clients

People with no skills at all (mistake #1) will fail because no business will pay someone who has nothing of value to offer. A potential business client will usually be able to tell if someone doesn’t know what they are doing and they won’t risk their money.

Even if someone still manages to sell a project with having no technical skills, they have a very high chance of failure. They’ll most likely not be able to do great work and/or make a profit. This is because they still got to hire someone else to do all the work for them – a lot easier said than done. Especially on the smaller budgets, you will get when you first start finding clients.

Why should I not just sell a project and outsource the rest?

I see this “just get someone else to build it” method promoted a lot to sell courses and programs, but I don’t see many people who get any results following it. If you want to make money with web design, you’re going to need at least some experience in how things work – don’t be fooled by some guru saying otherwise.

Mistake #2

Spending way too long learning skills, before starting to work with real clients.

Keep up the momentum

Going after clients before having a real value to offer is dangerous. But this mistake is even worse and way more common. These people will fail because they spend way too long getting started. They lose all the momentum and motivation. Learning to code and design for months without ever making money is not too much fun.

Learn to solve real business problems

Another problem is not that obvious at first. People who spend too long learning don’t get experience working with real clients and real businesses for months. They don’t see what real clients want, what business problems they would gladly pay for to get solved. Instead of getting experience with real clients, they focus on learning a lot of “stuff” – but people don’t buy stuff, they buy results. Going with this approach you risk learning only how to design things that look nice, instead of things that actually get results and create sales.

Spending months or years learning to code and design without having any clients fills your head with a lot of information, but very little or no practical business experience. When it comes time to approach real clients you are not thinking like a business – you are thinking like a web designer.

Technical skills – conclusion

You’ll need to learn real skills to get your first web design clients. You need to have something basic to offer to get started. At the same time, you’ll want to start working with clients as soon as you can. You need to see how to use what you’re learning to help real businesses. Otherwise, it just a hobby with no marketplace value.

Time for the next key skill…

Sales Skills

Why sales is the most important skill in your web design business

Being able to sell is the most important skill in running a profitable web design business. If you want to have a profitable business, you’ll have to sell your services effectively. But that’s only a part of the answer. Most people think, “Okay, learn sales – so you can find some clients, yes?” Getting new clients is, of course, important, but it’s WAY more than that.

To make websites that people will pay for, you’ll need sales skills too.

Why website clients will pay for is more than nicely packaged lines of code

When you look at any website, you see the design side – the code, the layout, the software used, the colors, the text and images, and so on. That is because you make them – you care what is “inside” a website and how it works.

But when a business owner looks at a website, they don’t see that – they see a sales system. They see a tool that either creates sales, helps to find new customers, to better serve existing customers, saves them time serving their customers, brings in money, improves the business or it doesn’t.

In their mind, a website is ALL about sales. And if it sells, it’s worth paying for.

The language of sales

Now let’s examine the most common mistake in how you approach projects from the sales skills perspective.

The mistake is this: being too focused on pure web design: the code, the layout, how the website looks like and works.

You think and talk about all the things a business owner doesn’t care about. The reality is you talk in a language business owners don’t understand. It seems kinda weird at first, but it’s almost like talking in a foreign language.

The language of sales is something that every business owner picks up on and pays attention to.

It’s why some freelancers get meetings and sales calls so easy, while others send 1,000 emails and get nowhere.

People who know how to sell, and understand the language of sales, can easily talk to and influence other business owners. People who can’t sell never get anywhere and wonder why no one wants to do business with them.

Sales skills – conclusion

Once you know sales, you can do three things that all connect together:

1) Build websites that get massive results. You know how to generate actual website sales.
2) Show business owners how a website can help. You’re now able to communicate with business owners clearly and better understand them.
3) Close actual deals and make a profit. I don’t need to repeat why being able to sell your services is important.

Web designers who can’t sell (but maybe think they can) end up having a lot of problems with clients. They just can’t see what clients really want, what they are willing to pay for, and how to communicate with them. They might make some money, but the projects never get great results and they never make much profit.

I know I keep saying it but… you gotta know how to sell. If you look right now at your sales skills and you don’t really know what you’re doing, then you need to fix that asap. The level you can sell at is directly related to how much you are going to make in this business.

How to get started with learning to sell?

This is exactly why I started this challenge. I don’t think anyone teaches this properly, that’s why I want to help you learn. Follow along with the 0 – $1,000 challenge, and you’ll learn a lot quickly.

What is the third skill left?

Leadership Skills

A skill connecting it all

Once someone has some technical skills and some sales skills, it might seem like they are ready to go. Most web designers seem to think so. This is why they quickly run into a lot of trouble.

They’re missing the glue that sticks everything together – leadership skills.

Let’s look at why it is so.

Technical skills are the service you sell. Sales skills give you the ability to communicate with clients and sell that service. Leadership skills, though, are what you need to hold the business together and make sure you actually stay in business.

Leadership skills are what allows you to:

  1. Manage yourself correctly and get work done.
  2. Manage clients and keep them on track.
  3. Manage projects and make sure projects get done on time.
  4. Lead yourself and a team, so you can scale the business and increase profits.
  5. Work on business strategy and planning, so you stay ahead in your business.
  6. Create a business that continues to grow over time and doesn’t stall.
  7. Manage resources, cash flow, time, and staff.

Become a leader

Looking over that list it might seem better to use the word management but I prefer the word leadership. If you want to run a profitable web design business, you got to see yourself as a leader. Someone who can pick the best course of action, and make sure your business will get there.

People who got the skills and know how to sell, BUT who can’t manage themselves well or others, run into a lot of issues. Their projects get delayed, they get distracted, they have major client issues, they have problems with the design or the project itself, and so on. They just can’t seem to stay on track.

Future proof your business

No matter where you are on your web design business journey, you need to start developing your leadership skills right now. Without them, you might make some quick money, but it won’t last for long. A great business needs strong leadership.

With this challenge, we’ll cover leadership skills as well. You need to see yourself as two different people – one person who works IN the business (someone who does the actual work) and another person who works ON the business (managing and planning ahead). We’ll cover this later.


To summarize the article in 3 simple action steps:

  1. Learn some technical skills, so you got something to sell.
  2. Learn some sales skills, so you can actually sell your service.
  3. Learn some leadership skills, so you can manage yourself and the business to continue selling.

That’s it, folks. Let me know if you have any questions or feedback.
Catch you in the next challenge lesson.

Read other articles in the 1K Challenge series now:

  1. How a website can help a business?
  2. Why do most web designers struggle to make sales?
  3. How to improve your web design sales 1000% by earning trust.
  4. How to find the perfect web design client.
  5. A simple 6-step process to land portfolio clients.
  6. When should I work for free as a web designer
  7. Confused people don’t buy – how to control a sale in 3 steps.
  8. How to prepare for a sales meeting? (With a template and my notes.)

The Fox Web School $1,000 Website Challenge

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