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I run a 7-figure branding and web design agency with a completely remote team. AMA.

Hey fam, I’m John, I’m a web designer focused on creating digital experiences for startups. As a creative with a digital strategy background, I make informed design decisions based on data.

Working with 150+ brands, our team is able to leverage no-code tools to execute beautiful, functional websites that convert.

I’m also the Founder of a successful illustration platform called BlackIllustrations.com, sold a few e-commerce businesses, and run a course accelerator with 400+ students helping other web designers scale.

AMA!

  1. 2

    About your agency, how many recurring / long term clients to you maintain? Do your engagements have fixed durations / fixed cost ? or are they open ended?

    The reason I as is that I have heard that marketing agencies suffer high rate of customer churn and subsequently most of the business development activity is focused on acquiring new customers.

    If you wave a magic wand and reduce churn what would change in your business?

    1. 2

      Great questions, I'll unpack these.

      ---How many recurring clients do you have?

      • Currently, we host about 40 clients. We take care of normal maintenance. Blog updates, site tweaks, and copy edits. It's a small fee ranging from $99-$250 a month contingent on client needs. At any given time, we're handling 10-15 branding and web design projects.

      ---Do your engagements have fixed durations?

      Yes, about 90 days. After 3 months we provide clients with two options:

      1. We provide training on using the platform and transfer sites to them
      2. We offer to host and handle updates on their behalf

      Regarding churn, we're lucky enough to have an influx of clients from providing value to the startup community for years in the form of actionable content, training and YouTube videos. So, about 80% of our clients stay in for hosting.

      We also receive a good amount of referrals from existing clients as we work with startups and the community is pretty tight.

      ---If you wave a magic wand and reduce churn what would change in your business?

      Honestly, not much. We understand that clients will probably slow down or taper off toward the end of an engagement. The way we leverage that into more revenue is by:

      1. Documenting our process - we turn all of our systems into standard operating procedures. We can then turn around and sell that to other agency owners (Thus, creating a nice passive income stream). We currently have close to 400 web design agency owners in our accelerator

      2. We launch our own products - being a part of the startup community has its benefits. Especially when we can build our own products. We built urbanwallet.co (was recently acquired) and we're currently growing BlackIllustrations.com

      These two options above provide the freedom to be selective with clients and since we have a lot of experience in the space, affords us to charge a premium for services.

  2. 1

    Great AMA, John! Including in tomorrow's Indie Hackers newsletter. Also, very dope illustration site!

  3. 1

    Webflow cms limitations ever became hurdle in your path, if yes how did you manage that, workarounds available?

    1. 1

      We haven't had any issues with the 10,000 CMS limit currently!

  4. 1

    @JohnDigital Hi John, what software do you use for client billing and how many full time staff do you have?

    1. 1

      FreshBooks!

      5 full time, 5 per time and a few contractorsz

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        @JohnDigital Thank you! Appreciate your response. Also, any tips you could provide to train staff who are inexperienced is their any training provider you can recommend.

        1. 1

          Sure, start developing your SYSTEMS. For new hires, they need guidance, so give them onboarding materials including:

          1. Daily Tasks and Items
          2. Standard Operating Procedures for their role

          These will change, but it provides a starting point and can help you with delegation. I made a video here that can help: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sb4KCj0iH2Y

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            @JohnDigital So I dont give them training courses from linkedin learning etc to learn and follow the two options you mentioned above and that should be enough for on boarding. Also, can I ask more questions 😊

  5. 1

    The tweet says 40 are recurring, what service(s) does that entails?

  6. 1

    How did it all start? How many of you worked on the first client? If it was just yourself as freelancer, when did you started realising that you might need help? And how did you go about finding it?

    1. 1

      I worked at an agency for 4 years prior to going out on my own. A lot of folks will tell you to go cold turkey, but I think it's important to establish yourself prior to leaving a full-time job. So, on nights and weekends, I worked on my craft outside of work.

      I collaborated with friends and family and entrepreneurs I knew to build a portfolio. When I launched, it was just me and I was working A TON and eventually burned out.

      That's when I'd heard about SOPs (or standard operating procedures). I started to document everything I did at the agency and made my first hire: a web designer. I used platforms like upwork and would hire on a project basis until I had enough work to scale.,

      Then, I focused on systems and delegation and slowly built my team. What really helped was when we decided to offer JUST a few core services (Branding and Web Design) and niche down to startups.

      I created massive amounts of content around our process and working with startups and the rest was history!

      1. 1

        Very very interesting - thanks for this. When you say that you built a portfolio and it was just you, were you branding yourself as agency or as freelancer? Either way, how did you find the first few clients?

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    Sounds impressive.

    Are you specialized in Webflow only? Is this specialization a part of your pitch, or you rather target more broadly?

    How big your team is? Is it globally distributed? If so, how do you cope with the time differences?

    1. 1

      Thanks Yes, we’re mostly focused on Webflow and service-based or SaaS businesses. This provides a competitive edge because we dm I’d rate and go to dev fairly quickly! We also provide custom shopify solutions, as well.

      We’re a team of 12, with a few part-time tram members and independent contractors based on project. We work with time differences by working through a project management system. Here’s a quick example - https://youtu.be/SZhV0HXkFeQ

      We also have some “overlap” hours where everyone is online and we can conduct quick checkins. We use slack a lot for communication, as well.

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        So it looks like an async workflow for most of the time.

        Great. Looks like you've got your processes in place 👍

        1. 1

          thanks, definitely! We use SOPs for everything.

  8. 1

    Hey John, thanks for the AMA.

    What's the single biggest thing that should be thought about when anyone is rebuilding and redesigning an already established website?

    1. 2

      Great question. 301 redirects! We’ve seen it a lot where clients do a site redesign a with Ana agency and the site is great, but they never set up redirects.

      A 301 signals a permanent redirect from one URL to another, meaning all users that request an old URL will be automatically sent to a new URL. A 301 redirect passes all ranking power from the old URL to the new URL, and is most commonly used when a page has been permanently moved or removed from a website.

      So, if you’re building a site redesign, you should include redirects for your best performing pages and try to maintain:

      • headlines
      • general content
      • keywords

      This should be a top priority!

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    What approximate investment does a client need to build a complete website for a startup?

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      Our engagements range from $10k-$30k depending on client needs and will include Brand guidelines, design system, LO HI fi wireframes, development and on-site SEO including titles, meta descriptions and content organization.

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        And the typical turn around time?

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          90 days! The process includes:

          1. Brand discovery
          2. Sitemap development
          3. Design systems
          4. Lofi wireframes
          5. Hifi wireframes and content
          6. Development
          7. Quality assurance
          8. Website launches

          We also provide optional hosting for clients, as well.

  10. 1

    Hey John, love to see a fellow Webflower here!

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