Ask Me Anything: Writers Taking on Design Pages

Beth asks,
I’m a freelance writer in my first official year of business. A potential client contacted me about writing a sales page. No problem. I can do that. But, he also wanted help with the design of the page, including setting up banners and buy buttons and the like. Here’s the problem: I’m a writer, but definitely not a designer. What’s the best way to handle this type of request? The sales pages I’ve written in the past have been for larger companies who have people who design their web pages. The new client is a one-man show. Is it common for people looking for sales page work to want it all done by the same person? Is it best to offer to manage the project, but let the client know I’ll be subbing out the design? What’s the best way to find a designer who might want to partner on projects like this? Any suggestions?

It’s not uncommon for a small company to want one person to handle all aspects of a job. As long as you explain that you will be subbing out the design aspect of the work, your clients should be comfortable doing so — though some may ask to approve the designer in question. I haven’t had an issue with getting my choice of designer approved. If you have a designer that you work with regularly, you can easily build their numbers into your overall estimate.

Finding a designer you want to work with can be a little tougher. A good starting point is someone you’ve worked with before (like the designer who may have worked on your own website). Otherwise, start looking at organizations you belong to and your own network. (A special note for Bethany: I see you’re in the Third Tribe — ask for recommendations in the forums!) You want to look over the portfolio of any designers you’re considering working with and check out their estimate for designing a project to make sure it fits the overall budget.

Got a question about the business of writing? Leave it in the comments below and I’ll answer it next weekend!


  1. Beth   •  

    Thanks, Thursday! Your reply was really helpful.

  2. John Soares   •  

    Thursday, I personally would be wary of subcontracting out web design. If there are any problems with the site in the future (like a WordPress site that crashes after an update, or gets hacked), the client may come to you directly and want you to fix the problem. You may or may not be able to get the designer to handle the issue quickly, if at all.

    I’d be comfortable suggesting designers, but I wouldn’t want to be responsible for one, unless it was someone I knew very well and trusted completely.

    • thursday   •     Author

      I’ve actually subcontracted web design on a number of projects without a problem. I’m very careful to specify what sort of support I and my contractors are willing to offer a client, and I think that helps. But I’ve worked with a lot of small businesses who simply won’t do a project if they have to work with more than one person. I’d rather run the risk of needing to come back and help the client out than turn down a client’s project.

      It certainly helps that I only work with web designers that I really trust. In fact, I almost never would bring someone in on a project like this unless I had worked with them previously (such as on designing my own website).

      • John Soares   •  

        Thursday, you obviously have more experience than I do in this particular area and I’m glad you’ve got all the important bases covered on it.

        I’ve had a couple of instances of being one of multiple people working on a project where others didn’t do a satisfactory job and there was problems overall. I wasn’t responsible for the other parties, but it made me wary.

  3. Austin L. Church   •  

    When I first began freelancing, I thought of myself as a writer. Then, I realized I had some valuable connections and relationships that would benefit my clients. Many of them didn’t want to invest the time necessary for researching and hiring designers, web developers, or photographers. I was soon acting as the project manager for many of my projects, coordinating the other freelancers and ironing out communication.

    I’ve learned a couple of lessons along the way:

    1) If you are going to act as the project manager, then you should formally take that “hat” and charge accordingly. The people on the team should know who’s in charge, who is taking responsibility, and who is the point person for questions and decisions. Answering emails and phone calls, scheduling and attending meetings, and organizing client reviews and deadlines all take time to do well. I would end up spending 150%, if not 200%, of my original time estimate on administration. Including project management in my initial proposals has helped to protect me from burn-out and ensured compensation for a valuable service.

    2) I’ve gone back and forth with this one, but I think freelancers should consider charging their clients for referring other creative professionals, even if they happen to be friends. Isn’t this simply making a quick buck off a client for what you would have done anyway? Aren’t you just setting yourself up as a middleman? Perhaps. You could certainly make that argument. But you also give your client a better experience by providing a team that can runs smoothly, as smoothly as if the client had opted for a traditional firm in which the writers, designers, and account executives work together every day.

    When I hire one of my friends to work for one of my clients, I can guarantee a better outcome. For the client to choose his or her own freelancers introduces variables beyond my control, and I can’t predict the quality of their work, dependability, ingenuity, professionalism, or any of the other attributes that contribute to the success of creative projects. When you charge your clients 15% to assemble the team, they are paying for your rapport with each team member. They are paying for your knowledge of the field and expertise in choosing excellent freelancers. They are paying you to “speak the same language,” and that 15% comes with greater responsibility.

    That leads me to my third point:

    3) Try to give your clients at least two options, such as an email with links to two different designers’ portfolios. Beware clients who say, “You just choose,” or “I trust you.” Don’t let them disengage from the project. The ones who act as if they have no opinion at the beginning are bound to be the ones with the strongest opinions, and the most vindictive disappointment, at the end. Involving them in major decisions helps establish reasonable expectations, keeps them invested in the outcome, and prevents them—and you—from having a nasty surprise and nastier mess when they hate the finished product. Presenting more than one option is another way of communicating more rather than less. Clients may still want your recommendations, but having options builds their confidence in your expertise.

    I guess I just wrote enough for a blog post of my own! Good question, Beth, and good answer, Thursday.

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