5 Ways To Bypass Unfair Marketing Costs For Web Design Leads

When it comes to getting leads, the deck is stacked against us. A web design business is one of the hardest small businesses to get sustainable for a variety of reasons that feel really unfair to me. But it can be done. I’ve been doing it for over twenty years.

Let’s go over five ways to get leads without buying ads. The first step is you have to know who you want your leads to be. You have to know your niche. If you haven’t picked one, or even if you don’t know where to start, I’ll personally help you pick your niche for free.

We Don’t Have Endless Money

Spotify launched in 2008. Now, it is 2024. That was 16 years ago. So, during the course of those 16 years, how many years did it take for Spotify to become profitable?

Spotify has never posted a profitable year. Last year, in 2023, they lost 446 million euros (about $475 million). They say that this year may be their first profitable year. Apparently, they’re focusing more on podcasts which are more profitable because podcasts don’t have record labels taking a cut of the revenue.

But, my point is that I don’t have $400 million to lose every year for the next 16 years while I try to figure out how to become profitable. But they’re still in business and doing there thing.

What About The Artists?

Do you know how much money the musicians actually get to keep from the total revenue created by their work?

Now, to be clear, I’m only talking about their music. The only thing generating revenue is the actual music. Nobody else provides any actual value to the end product. Everything else is marketing and distribution. Of course, there is value in being able to access the music through Spotify or whatever way you choose to get the music. But the distribution channel doesn’t make you like the music. The music makes you like the distribution channel. Without the music there is no value.

So, if you’re a musician, you have devoted years, probably decades, of your life to learning how to play and write music. You buy lessons, instruments, recording gear, you travel, you put your whole life and your heart into producing your work. In the minds of the customers, your work is the only thing being sold. Your not buying minutes or Megabytes of streaming. You’re buying the experience of listening to Jacob Collier play Little Blue. (Watch how he “plays” the choir at 4:48!)

So, if you’re an artist, how much of the total revenue do you get to keep?

About 10-12% is all you get. Almost 90% of the revenue is consumed with marketing, distribution, and everything else.

What About Authors?

Suppose you write a book. Just like with the musicians, you spend years learning something worth writing about and learning how to write in a way that engages people. Years, if not decades of your life are invested in your work. How much of the total revenue do you get to keep?

If you go through a publisher, you only get about 5% of the revenue. You get a little higher percentages from hardback books, like maybe about 10%, but the paperback mass market copies are what most people buy. So, being generous, once again you create something and 90% of the money goes to marketing and distribution.

If you self-publish, you might keep more like 40% – 50% of the revenue. But you’ll probably sell far fewer copies unless you’ve somehow managed to cultivate a very large following on your own. That’s certainly not free to create.

What About Mobile App Developers?

Well, Apple and Google both take a 30% cut right off the top. Then, on average, app developers spend another 15% of their total revenue on ads. So, that’s 45% in marketing and distribution leaving them with only 55% of the total revenue. That’s a lot better than the 10% musicians and authors are getting. It’s more like a self-published author.

Be all that as it may, there is a lot of money going into everyone’s marketing, distribution, and promotion. When I first started as a web designer, I didn’t realize that this is how business works. So, when I was complaining about how hard it is to get leads, part of the problem was that I had radically unrealistic expectations about what was involved in the process and what other people were doing.

How Much Do You Spend On Marketing?

So, what about you? How much of your revenue do you expect to keep compared to what you spend on promotion?

This is where we, as web designers, get tricked. When I first started, my first few clients were already landed from previous relationships and referrals. This is very common. Most web designers I know get started because they have friends or family to help. So, it seems like it is free to get clients. In other words, it seems like you get to keep almost 100% of the revenue. There’s very low overhead. Pretty much just hosting and a few licenses for software.

So, normally what happens is you get a few clients and you make some money. I was able to ride that wave for almost two years. Then I hit the wall. I was out of friends, family, and referrals. I had no leads in the pipeline and no idea what to do about it.

It was a double-whammy.

  1. I didn’t know what to do get web design leads
  2. I didn’t know what to do about my ignorance

So, I tried to double down on referrals.

Unrealistic Frustration

I had one friend who seemed to know everybody. I’m at a point in my business where I was really hurting. I desperately needed to land some clients. I had a new baby. My wife wasn’t working. So, my friend – who was wildly wealthy – said he had a client for me, but he wanted a 10% referral fee. It was going to be about $500 for a $5,000 project.

I got mad. He knew how much I needed the work. I knew how much he didn’t need $500. The $500 would have been HUGE for me and something he would barely notice. So, I was a butthead over the whole thing. I gave him his referral fee but was mad about it… like for years. I was mad because I was operating under the false assumption that getting leads is supposed to be basically free. I had no marketing budget at all.

A Totally New World

I hired a business mentor and became part of his mastermind group. This guy was not a web designer, just a normal business guy. So, I get in there and start lamenting my lack of leads. He said, “What marketing channels are you using?”

I said that I didn’t know what to do so I wasn’t using any marketing channels other than a BNI group and word-of-mouth referrals.

So, then he asked, “What’s your marketing budget?”

Again, I didn’t know how to answer. I wasn’t spending anything on marketing at all. So, I said, “I don’t know. What should it be?”

He sort of rolled his eyes at me and I felt totally out of place. I had no idea at all how to run a business. I only knew how to code. He asked, “How much revenue would you like to make this year?”

That was an easier question. I said I wanted to make at least $100,000.

In less than a second, he gave me my minimum marketing budget. He said, “You’re going to have to spend at least $10,000 to make $100,000.”

Interestingly enough, that was the exact price of his mastermind group that I had just joined.

Five Ways To Invest In Your Marketing Without Buying Ads

You don’t always have to buy ads or spend money directly on marketing, especially for us as web designers. There are three ways to invest in promoting your business.

Cold Outreach: If you don’t have money, you can start marketing your business by investing your time. You can do in-person meetup groups. You can do outreach on social media. You can cold call people. All of those things will help you land a few clients.

Authority: The most powerful way to invest your time is by building your authority. I’ve developed a repeatable system called The Authority Framework that walks you through the five-step process of developing a network of people who view you as the go-to person in your niche. This is the best way to build a steady pipeline of leads without needing any money for ads or paid promotions. It also lasts forever.

Education: I personally set aside an annual budget of at least $10,000 to invest in my own education. These days, I spend it primarily on mastermind groups because that’s where all the most up-to-date information is. With everything changing so rapidly, by the time some topic finds its way into a book or something, it is probably already outdated.

Presentations: Look for opportunities to give presentations. You can find online opportunities on Meetup. There are local in-person opportunities in local networking groups. I’ve found several in my area on Facebook. Consider taking a podcasting tour as a guest on podcasts that attract your audience.

Partnerships: It’s free to develop partnerships and is a win-win for everyone involved. Just look for other businesses that serve the same audience that you serve but in a different way. For example, connect with bookkeepers, accountants, and CPAs. All of those people have small business clients who probably need help with their online marketing.

Think about your niche. What other businesses serve your niche? Suppose you want to work with Pest Control businesses. Create partnerships with people like real estate agents, home inspectors, lawn care businesses, and property management companies.

If you don’t know your niche, that’s the first place to start. Once you know your niche you will also know where to find your audience and what businesses to partner with that also serve your niche. I’ll help you figure out your niche for free.

Niche Mastery

Discover how to tap into the most profitable local markets without limiting yourself to a single industry.

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You can send me questions as we work on this together.