Louis Camassa July 21st, 2011

How To Sell Your Designs Without The Sales Pitch

Let’s face it: sales make the world go round. But as a Web designer, you’re concerned more with fonts, color, hierarchy and images than with the sales process. Some believe that designs sell themselves; while this may be true for a few designers, it is certainly not the case for most. Whether you're selling a prospective client on a website redesign or a potential client on a new home page, you have to demonstrate your design skills and show how your design will help them meet their goals. When it comes down to it, Web design is more about function than art. Without any kind of sales background, having to sell our designs to a client can suddenly make us feel lost and far from our comfort zone. Whether you are a sole proprietor or a lead designer at a large firm, you are always selling your work. You may be selling a concept to a client or your boss, but when it comes down to it, you’re selling it to someone. And what are you selling? You’re selling ingenuity, a concept, usability, design harmony: you’re selling the creative. And because design is somewhat subjective, this sale is harder than most others. If you learn how to sell yourself (without a sleazy sales pitch) you will be able to sell your designs more easily. This means fewer revisions, happier clients, more referrals, and a higher quality of work.

What To Do If You Don’t Know How To Sell

As a Web designer, you focus on what you do best: designing. But many designers get so caught up in the creative process that they fail to consider a business perspective. That is, they cannot articulate how their service will truly benefit the client. Without this ability, you will have a much more challenging time selling your services and designs to prospective clients. So, what to do? Incorporate sales tactics without becoming a sales person. Follow these tips, starting with the initial meeting with the potential client.

Know Their Business

As you meet with the client, ask about their needs and expectations, and try to understand exactly what they want. You will refer back to this information in all of your meetings with the client, and it will reinforce your design when you review it with them. Break down clients into different categories: start-up, established, service- or product-based, business-to-business sales, business-to-consumer, etc. This will help you select specific questions for each client. Research what their existing website does right and wrong (if they have one). What does it have going for it? Where is it lacking? People appreciate honesty, but don't offend. A few areas to investigate:
  • How many sales and visitors? If it's an e-commerce website, how much sales are generated each month. How many unique visitors come to the website?
  • What is the conversion rate? How many visitors convert into customers? What is the value of the average order?
  • How many repeat customers? How many new customers return to make purchases? How often?
When asking these questions, think more in business terms than in design terms. The client isn’t really hiring you to design a website: they’re hiring you to increase their sales or generate more leads. If you can connect with them on this level, you will find that selling your design will be much easier.

Sell the Sizzle

The client is now intrigued and wants to learn more about your work. So, compare your portfolio of designs to their existing website (showcasing your newest work), and explain how your concepts can help them meet or exceed their goals. You could try flipping back and forth between website designs to emphasize the difference in quality. Explain the key design elements, such as conversion-centric items and usability enhancements, and outline the major money- or lead-generating components. Explain how these elements will increase the client's bottom line. If you can connect your design strategy to the real needs of the client, the design will have sold itself before you have even quoted a price!

Sell the Benefits

Cite the latest studies, statistics, industry trends, etc. Some people respond best to hard evidence; facts and figures. Include the latest research to back up your design strategy. Use industry magazines, reports, benchmarks and case studies.

Paint a Picture

Help them visualize the new design with fresh ideas and examples. Use their own products, categories, services and content to help them visualize what you will do.

Discussing Price

Few of your clients will care about costs. They simply want a return on their investment. That’s right: people are willing to spend money if they know they will get it back many times over.
Your job is to demonstrate clearly that your product or service represents the safest and most secure purchase decision rather than merely being the least expensive or highest quality. Our customers today are the most experienced in customer history. They know that there is usually a close correlation between higher price on the one hand and greater security and after-sales satisfaction on the other. Your task is to make this differential clear in your sales presentation, especially when positioning you product or service against lower-priced competition. – Factors of Risk in Selling, Brian Tracy
Using the information gathered in the research stage, crunch the numbers and estimate how your design will increase conversions, leads, etc. Break it down into dollars and cents, so that the client can grasp the cost and benefit and you can make a convincing case for the investment.

Formulating A Proposal Or Contract

A true staple of the design process: the contract. This defines the scope of your services. Here’s what to include:
  • The process Clearly explain or document the design process, from prototype to production. Include everything from market research to wireframing and user testing. Break down your methodology so that the client understands it.
  • Services to be provided List all items to be included in the design, from the preliminary research to the favicon. Be sure to put a limit on relevant items (e.g. stock photography).
  • Client expectations Clearly articulate what you expect from the client: for example, content, images, photography, turnaround time on deliverables and other assets. Include deadlines and the consequences of missing them.
  • The design strategy Explain how many revisions are allowed and what’s included in one. Also, define how revisions above and beyond the specified limit are handled.
  • Buffer time To play it safe, account for hours above and beyond what you think the design will take. Due diligence and research don’t always catch special cases. When you encounter one, having buffer time to make changes and additions helps a lot. Very rarely do I work on a project that doesn’t require this buffer.
  • Hourly rate Tie in all these items with your hourly rate. Define your hourly rate for extra revisions, additional stock photography, etc. Now, when the project burns through your quoted hours and buffer time, you can fall back on the hourly rate.

What To Avoid

Knowing what to avoid is key to pitching prospective clients. Even with a strong pitch, not following the guidelines below could derail your effort.

Don’t Accept Every Client

Yes, this sounds like blasphemy, but it is very important when growing your business. Specialization truly is the key to success in design. Know who your ideal client is: e-commerce, social network, brochure website, start-up, small business, medium-sized business, large enterprise, non-profit;the list goes on. Know your strengths: lead generation, splash page, brochure website, etc. Identify who you work with best? For whom do you achieve the best results? Focus on that market. Pass along to another firm any leads that do not meet your criteria (and maybe get a kickback for it). You will grow your business much more effectively this way. Few firms do well by catering to all. This might work when you are starting out, but as you grow and land bigger clients, you will need to spend your time on projects that propel your design skills and company in the right direction. Carve out a niche for yourself, and become the best in that niche. That sharp focus will attract more quality business than you would if you are all over the board. Don’t be afraid to turn down clients or pass them onto a friend. If they don’t match your criteria, you most likely won't be able to serve them best. Both you and the client will have lost.

Don’t Provide a Design Sample or Mock-Up

Prospective clients will often ask you to submit a sample design or mock-up for their website. They want to compare your work to that of other companies from which they are getting proposals, and they want a tangible product to make a decision. Don’t do it! The reason is simple: you do not know the client’s needs yet. You haven’t delved into their business reality or market demographics, so you would be shooting from the hip. Don’t devalue your service by sending a sample before getting a clear and comprehensive picture of your client’s needs and business structure. Gaining this understanding could take weeks, but it is critical when designing UIs.

Don’t Focus on Your Designs’ Prettiness or Awards

Pretty designs are fun, and awards boost the ego like nothing else, but they don’t usually give prospective clients what they need: results. Instead, focus on what your design will achieve for the client: increased sales, leads, sign-ups, page views and so on. Don’t get me wrong: a good clean design will definitely help you in the sales process, as will design accolades and awards. But don’t think they will close the deal. Use them to reinforce your pitch or to show secondary benefits to the actual results you will achieve.

Be Cautious of Start-Ups

Ahh, the ever-popular start-up. I think every designer has invested some of their hard-earned money into developing a website for one new idea or another. But start-ups that make it are few and far between. The more start-ups you deal with, the more you will lose when their business plan (or lack thereof) doesn’t work as expected in six months to a year. Many start-ups take a while to flush out their business plan, because they lack direction and focus. Expect much more hand-holding with these clients than with established businesses. If you specialize in start-ups, then develop a methodology catered to their needs.

Never Ever Over-Promise and Under-Deliver

This should go without saying, but some designers are so anxious to close a deal that they sell themselves short and set the client's expectations too high. If this happens, you will be hard-pressed to deliver a solution on time, within the specs and on budget. Sticking to your niche helps you to set realistic expectations and to over-deliver them. Simply stated: sell what you know, and do what you know. You will get fewer surprises, and I guarantee you will end up with much better designs. When in doubt, ask an associate or friend for a quote or to review your proposal. Make sure your time estimates are accurate and that you are charging accordingly.

Other Sales Strategies

Listening and note-taking skills (the things we were taught in school) are indispensable; unless you have a photographic memory. Take notes in every meeting with a client, and log them somewhere. Listen to your client, and try to understand their needs. Ask for clarification when you get lost. Always send a list of references, even if the client doesn’t ask for it. It's a nice touch and builds credibility. I also like to mention that once the project is completed, we would like to add their name and testimonial to our reference list. Incorporate a few of these tips into your meetings. You (and the client) will benefit from them instantly.

Further Resources


Louis Camassa

Louis Camassa is a ecommerce project management specialist with over 12 years experience developing web systems for small businesses; with a passion for live production and drive to develop cutting-edge technology. Louis is Vice President of Web Services at TechXpress where he focuses on developing customized ecommerce applications for companies processing under 12 million dollars in sales per year.


  1. “Few of your clients will care about costs.”

    This could not be any more wrong. Every single client I’ve ever worked for has tried to haggle.

    1. Actually, Steve, we can’t really say that Louis is wrong in that statement, because that may actually just be his experience. You say you have had the exact opposite experience, while I have landed in the middle. With clients on both sides of the spectrum.

      So it could simply be a matter of individual experience. ;)

      Noupe Editorial Team

    2. Steve, if your prospective client is strictly focused on the cost of the design, then you have done a poor job selling him on your service.

      The point is to focus your sales energy into demonstrating the ROI of your service. You see, people are willing to invest money as long as they see a way to get a return on their investment.

      This isn’t to say that even after you have demonstrated your service that there won’t be negotiation. But, if you have done your job right, it will be you negotiating the details for the project, while your competition is out of the race.

  2. I found this article full of great advice! There are so many posts containing general information but this one actually lists very specific, relevant information. Thank you for your time and knowledge!

  3. Darn, I wish I had read this three years ago… :-)

    No, seriously: these hints and tips are just true, probably even worldwide. Over the years I had to learn some of these the hard way and can say that I’m yet not at the finish line.
    Still though I found some more truths I hadn’t seen yet – or didn’t want to…
    Thank you very much for your time and enlightenment.

  4. If I too get these suggestion before changing my profession, I would be a designer. But, now I have left that profession few years back. However, even today I try to design something special but every time I need to seek my friend’s help. Anyways, I will suggest these points to my friend, so he will get the marketing tactics of selling his designs.

  5. Great article. I’m just starting out on my own and I’ll definitely take some of the suggestions and incorporate them into my plans. Look forward to hearing more!

  6. Great advice.
    I like to ask, how and when do you ask for extra charges.

    See, I have clients coming back with changes again and again.
    Over 5 rounds. How can we make them pay?

  7. Great article! I run a small Graphic & Web Services business and I actually have many years of outside sales experience. I am looking to see how the pro’s of the Web Design field get their clients and I will most definitely use this advice.

    For me panning down who I really want to work with was a process. And I am learning from experience, that its NOT about design it really is about selling an answer to the person/business’s problem.

    Thanks again!

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