Ilise Benun on Positioning Your Web Design Expertise

As a web designer, you spend a lot of energy improving your technical skills. How would you rate your business know-how? To address that need, we’ve asked Ilise Benun of Marketing Mentor to present a half-day business bootcamp workshop at the HOW Interactive Design Conference West (San Francisco, October 28–31). Benun, who consults with creative professionals, will teach the essentials of positioning, proposals and pricing for in-house and independent web designers.

This conference is all about technology. So how did this business-focused session come about?

Last year at the first HOW Interactive Design Conference, people were asking for information about how to run their businesses. They were learning about interaction design, and they began to realize that there were these basic business skills they didn’t have or needed to improve.

Looking at the list of attendees, it appears to be half who are self-employed and half who are in-house. The people who work in-house have clients, just like anyone who’s independent has clients.

What are the business skills that in-house designers never thought they’d need?

They find that they have to market their services internally, because their clients can choose to work with outside designers. It’s a challenge for them to communicate their interactive expertise to the other people in their organization. That’s all about positioning.

How are these business functions different—or are they—if you’re doing interactive design or print projects?

No. 1, the interactive work is newer than the print work they’ve been doing for years and years. So there’s less known about it. And 2, there’s this technical aspect to the work that they may know a little about (but need to know more) or they know a lot about it, but it’s constantly changing (and they need to know more).

Simple web projects are similar to simple print projects. But when you get into e-commerce or mobile, and it’s more complex, and often, the client doesn’t know what they need.

As you’ve talked about many times, history is the key to pricing a design project: knowing how much time a job will take based on your prior experience. When you’re breaking into a new category of design (like interactive design) and don’t have a lot of history, how do you approach pricing?

You have to pay your dues—sometimes, that means that you offer to do something for less than someone else might so you can get the experience. Sometimes that means throwing out a price without knowing how accurate it may be, and if you’re wrong hopefully you learn from that. It’s important to overestimate, because we tend to underestimate because we want the work.

Often, web designers—whether they’re independent or in-house—get in over their heads on a project because their client doesn’t know what they need. Print designers run into this, as well, but it can be much more problematic in web designers because of the complexity of the work. How can web designers deal with uncertainty on the front end of a project?

A potential solution is one of the things I’m going to talk about in the workshop, which is to develop a website blueprint service. Essentially, you take Phase 1—where you scope out the project—and offer that as a separate service that you get paid for. It’s a document that says, this is what you need. Instead of doing all that work as part of the proposal process and then not getting the project, you offer that as a deliverable.

Positioning is the other piece of it, and that has to come first. There are a lot of designers who don’t want to have to reinvent themselves. If you’ve been a print designer, you need to position yourself, when you don’t know enough to claim expertise in web design—but you know enough to help clients, to assemble teams, to collaborate with technical people, to solve problems.

Learn more about Ilise Benun’s business bootcamp pre-conference workshop at HOW Interactive Design Conference West, and register soon while space is still available.

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