How Designers are Profiting from Ecommerce

Let’s be honest : being a freelance designer or web professional is a mixture of extreme highs and devastating lows. For all the freedom it offers — for all the great and varied projects you get to work on— we’ve all experienced empty calendars and periods of self doubt.

I’ve had two large freelance spells in my career and for me it was all about finding the balance — the balance between filling the pipeline with new projects, whilst actually doing the work that had already been commissioned. It was a constant battle.

Thankfully, after a while I started to receive referrals — mainly for WordPress-related projects. I had become known, albeit in a small way, as someone who knew their way around the WordPress platform. This meant I spent less time lining up work and had more time to focus on the jobs in hand. I moved away from freelancing back in 2012, but the memories and lessons are still fresh in my mind. Today I work at Shopify — a hosted ecommerce platform, but working on WordPress projects showed me that specializing in particular discipline is one of the best ways to gain a reputation as an industry expert and thereby gain more referrals.

Over the last three years I have had the privilege of speaking with hundreds of freelancers and small agency owners who have chosen to specialise in ecommerce design.  Selling online has become a huge growth area and one worth considering in today’s highly competitive web industry. If you are looking to find a niche — a niche that you can succeed in — ecommerce is well worth considering.

How to profit from ecommerce

I’d like to outline some of the reasons behind our partners’ successes and examine how they are profiting from working in the ecommerce web design sector. In particular, I’d like to relate it to the three core tenants of this site:

  1. To help designers understand their true value
  2. To help designers with getting their clients to recognise their value
  3. To help designers become more valuable

How is ecommerce helping designers understand their true value?

Whilst it can be argued that a great marketing campaign has increased the sales of a product, it’s always going to be hard to attribute the increase directly to the campaign without qualitative and quantitative research.

The converse is true with ecommerce. If a designer does a bad job and creates a hard to navigate and visually unappealing store for a client, it’s unlikely that prospective customers will buy.

On the other hand, an enticing design that highlights the brand’s values, showcases products with great photography, and has an easy-to-complete checkout process will likely increase the number of customers who buy — a better user experience means higher revenue. Above all, great design shows trust. It shows that a brand cares;  they are investing as much in their online presence as their other outlets.

By showcasing how you have helped other store owners increase their revenue through great design and UX you will be able to showcase your true value.

How is ecommerce helping designers to get their clients to recognise their value?

Being able to charge the rate that you demand, and deserve, comes down to being able to demonstrate your value. You need to be able to showcase how your accumulative years of experience can deliver the results your client is hoping their ecommerce store will achieve.

When it comes to pricing, I am often reminded of this quote by Paula Scher talking about her “back of the napkin” drawing of the famous Citibank logo:

It took me a few seconds to draw it, but it took me 34 years to learn how to draw it in a few seconds.

Your clients are paying for your knowledge and experience. Why should you be punished for your ability to do a great job in a timely manner? Of course you shouldn’t, but it’s up to you to demonstrate why your client should pay the rate you ask for.

To turn the focus away from price and towards value, I recommend you keep track of a few key metrics when working on your ecommerce projects. These metrics will come in handy when you start pitching to new ecommerce clients.

Here are some ideas:

  • Site traffic pre- and post-launch
  • Conversion rate pre- and post-launch
  • A/B tests, the reasons behind the tests, and their outcomes
  • Related activities such as email template design, notification templates, banners etc.

Once you have completed a couple of ecommerce projects, you can start weaving these results into your presentations and pitches to clients. Not only will it back-up your successes, but it will also allow you to demonstrate your process and deductions. For example, you can explain your thought process behind homepage A/B tests and discuss their outcomes.

Help your client “get it” with stats, evidence, and expertise. By highlighting your skills, expertise, and experiences of helping other merchants increase their revenue your rate will be become less of a talking point and more of a sound business investment.

How is ecommerce helping designers become more valuable?

Ecommerce projects also represent the perfect “upselling” opportunity for designers. Whilst your skills and passion may lie in the design and build of the actual store, spending time and effort getting to know how you can help your ecommerce client beyond this will make you even more indispensable.

Areas that you can advise on, and help implement, include:

  • Brand assets for use on Facebook and Twitter
  • Product photography
  • SEO and micro copy – especially around product titles and descriptions
  • New feature A/B testing
  • Integration into Google Shopping
  • Third-party app integrations such as accounting, shipping, fulfilment, email newsletter platforms, etc.
  • Integration of customer support tools like HelpScout and live chat
  • Email list building forms and implementation
  • Transactional email designs including order confirmation, shipped notice and many more
  • Email newsletter design and integration
  • Digital delivery setup
  • Advice on additional selling channels such as Pinterest, Twitter, Amazon, etc.
  • Implementation of referral and loyalty schemes
  • Hero image designs for marketing campaigns
  • Product and collection specific templates
  • Packing slip design
  • Shipping label design

Being involved beyond the design and build stage of the web site means that you can forge longer lasting, and therefore more profitable, relationships with clients. The added bonus is that it’s also much easier to work with happy existing clients than to find new ones.

By specialising in ecommerce and understanding how you can build meaningful long-term relationships with clients, you’ll soon start to reap the benefits of specialisation. Before too long, you’ll need to reach out to new clients less and have more time to focus on helping existing clients.

If you’d like to learn more about this, I recommend the five-part podcast series I did with Ross Beyeler called “The Ecommerce Customer Lifecycle,” which is available on Soundcloud.

Grow – A free ebook

I work on the team that runs the Shopify Partner program — a free-to-join community that helps web designers grow their businesses with Shopify, providing help and support as well as technical training and regular educational meetups and events.

As part of our commitment to help our Partners thrive, we recently released a free e-book called “Grow Vol. 1”. Written by designers and entrepreneurs specialising in ecommerce, it comprises 11 chapters and covers everything from branding and customer acquisition right through to how to craft amazing proposals, win work, write client contracts, and ensure you get paid.
Good luck.

Post by Keir Whitaker

Keir is the UK based Shopify Design Advocate. He regularly writes about, and shares links on, ecommerce, the web industry, podcasting & travel on his personal web site as well as contributing regularly to industry publications including Smashing Magazine, Tuts+, Creative Bloq and Web Designer Depot.

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