It all started back when I used to work at a grocery store.
The merchandise receiver was going on a month-long vacation and I was going to cover him while he was gone.
On my daily routine, I would receive products and merchandise from dozens of companies.
They all left a paper invoice for me to sign as proof that the merchandise was received by the store.
It always surprised me that these companies would list their phone number, FAX NUMBER, maybe an email address (they were always @gmail or @yahoo.com addresses) but NO website.
I would think to myself:
“Hmmm this company just dropped off $5,000 worth of merchandise to this ONE store and yet they don’t have a website.
It’s 2012………What the hell?!”
That’s when the light bulb went on in my head.
“Wait a minute….Maybe I can build and sell them a website”
I figured these companies didn’t need anything fancy. Just a simple website to show what kind of products they distribute, contact info and maybe some pictures.
Lets get started
I had created a couple of websites before just for fun using online web builders, so I was familiar with the process.
It had been a while since I had made a website and I figured that there would probably be new companies/services by now.
Sure enough, my research landed me on some modern web builders. I tested them out and decided that I would be using Wix.
There was a free option which let me play around with and build sites. There was also plenty of pre-made templates that look pretty professional. All I had to do was replace the dummy text/pictures with the company’s and voila! A modern website.
I started making a list of the companies that would come in and had no website. I would then write down their contact info so I could send them my sales pitch.
I quickly compiled a list of about 30 possible customers.
I typed up a quick sales email (I was too shy to cold call any of these companies) and send it to each customer one at a time.
I waited a day…..and another day….and then another day.
After about a week with not a single response, or call back, I started feeling very discouraged.
I even considered asking some of the vendors if they might know who in their companies might be in charge of making a decision like this for a website but I chickened out in the end.
Dream over 🙁
Even though I didn’t get any customers from my first try, I kept playing with the web builder and built example sites for different businesses.
I made a business plan, designed flyers, designed more and more websites and more layouts.
Eventually, I started building websites with WordPress and started getting better and faster at designing websites.
I moved to WordPress from Wix mostly as a cost saving measure for both me and my clients. Wix was $9.99/month per website where a WordPress hosts allows you to have “unlimited” websites on an $8/month plan.
For about 2 years, I toyed around with the idea of becoming a web designer without actually ever signing up a real client.
In the mean time, the practice I got building test sites sharpened my skills with WordPress and designing websites in general.
One weekend I was reading a Neville’s blog about copywriting and how just by tweaking your sales pitch you can get more leads and therefore more sales.
I stumbled on a post of his in which he gave an example of selling WordPress design services……on Craigslist.
I didn’t even know you could do that on Craigslist.
He gave the exact template of the copywriting that he used and encouraged his readers to try an post it on your local Craigslist to see what kind of response was received.
I copied/pasted the template, changed the contact info and then posted it in my local Craigslist area.
I didn’t think much of the post—It was probably going to fail like most of my other ideas.
But then something happened….I stepped away to the kitchen and when I came back I checked my phone. I was surprised to find two new messages.
While I was reading over the messages a third one came in.
I was surprised since this was on a Sunday night around 10pm.
One was willing to pay me $20 and hour if I could “teach” him how to modify his existing WordPress site and the other 2 were actually interested in new websites.
About 5 additional people contacted me the rest of the week.
I texted back and forth with every lead I received and naturally some where weeded out by my availability and ability (Some guy wanted me to create him and adult video-chat site! ) but at the end of the week I actually managed to set up a real meeting with one of those clients.
We agreed to me at a local Starbucks to discuss the project.
I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never had a solo meeting with anybody else let alone to convince them to give me money.
I arrived 30 minutes early and texted my client to let him know I was there and asked him if he wanted anything to drink. He told me he’d be there in about 25 minutes.
I ordered a Chai tea latte, pulled out my laptop and anxiously waited.
About 35 minutes later, my client called me and told me he AND HIS PARTNER were outside.
This got me even more nervous as he never mentioned he would be coming with anybody else.
2 sharp dressed men walked in, shook my hand and introduced themselves. We had a seat and they started talking.
In a way this was better as they were doing most of the talking. They took me over their business model, what they did, and showed me some examples and sections of other sites they liked.
I mainly just took notes and listened. Before I knew it an hour had gone by.
They finally asked me if I could do it and how much would it cost.
I HAD NO IDEA
This was the very first site I would be doing for money. I had done very little research on how to price myself and services before the meeting.
I did remember reading about a pricing model where you basically estimate the number of hours it would take to build a site and then multiply that times your hourly rate.
I didn’t have an hourly rate. I quickly thought about it and decided that if I could make $25/hour, I would be happy. I let my clients know that I was estimating 8 hours to do their site so we agreed on $200.
Time to finally begin
I started hashing out the site as quickly as I could. Not only because I wanted to deliver it on time but I wanted to maximize my profit—after all I had just spent about 2 hours (round trip to Starbucks in traffic + meeting) meeting with my clients that I did not charge for.
The next week, I went back and forth with my clients working together on getting their site complete.
A lot of it was a waiting game since I usually had to wait for my clients to email me back for any changes/requests.
This was mostly my fault since I still didn’t feel comfortable calling them.
It took about a week and half in total and around the 8 hours I quoted to finish the website.
They paid me via an online invoice and their website was live.
The whole thing was an awesome opportunity to learn the whole process and Looking back on it they were the perfect first client.
- They did most of the talking on our first meeting,
- They were realistic about their website expectations
- Communication via email was pretty good
- Payment was prompt
- Pretty good about getting content to me on time
Side hustler status Achieved
I continued setting up ads on Craigslist and taking on any client whose request for a website was reasonable. Over time my shyness of meeting strangers at Starbucks has gone away and my love for London Fog Tea has grown.
I have learned a lot about the whole process and have implemented new methods in my work, like requiring a deposit and knowing when to turn down a clients. Like that time a guy hit me up wanting a website identical to Katy Perry’s for $200.
These days I usually average about 2-3 paying customers per month. My process of using pre-made layouts has cut down my build time significantly and I can usually finish a full website in 3-4 hours.
I have also more than tripled my hourly rate from $20 to $75. I realized I was under pricing myself and my work at the beginning just to get clients. Now the minimum I take for a standard website is $300. I have no overhead costs so minus the fee for invoice and payment processing, virtually all of it is profit!
I don’t post on Craigslist anymore and most of my new clients come from referrals or word of mouth—and while it sounds easy now it wasn’t like that.
I had to work my way through my share of hardships in order to learn how to make the process more efficient and not make the same mistakes again. There were times where I had to chase clients down for payments or struggle between handling 3 clients at a time. It was plenty of work in the making.
Now it’s a sweet little side gig that makes me a good chunk of extra cash every month. I usually have the profits directly deposited into a separate account which I then use to fund my Roth IRA.
So there you go. From merchandise receiver to web designer!
Do you have any cool side hustles you like to share?
If you are thinking about becoming a web designer and have any questions, let me know.