Back in 2006, I started doing some web design work for friends and family as a way to make a little extra money. In 2007, I decided to take the next step and create my own website so I could attract more clients. What started as a little side hustle turned into a full-time web design and blogging business that I’ve been running since 2008.
Over the years, my business evolved and I stopped doing web design and maintenance for clients (so I could focus on my own websites), but I’ve always appreciated how that decision to start a side hustle has impacted my life.
If you’re looking for a way to make some extra money, there are plenty of options (see my list of side hustle ideas). Service-related side hustles, like web design, can be a great option.
This article will cover the basics of why you might want to work as a web designer and the steps that you can take if you want to get started making money as a web designer. You’ll also read an interview with Peti Morgan, a real-world example of someone who is making money with a web design side hustle. Peti is a perfect example of what is possible with a service-related side hustle, and how it can impact your individual or family finances.
Why Web Design Makes a Great Side Hustle
Before we get to Peti’s story, let’s first look at some of the reasons that working as a web designer can be a great side hustle.
1. There is Plenty of Work Available
As a side-hustling web designer, most of your clients are likely to be small businesses and organizations. The cost of hiring a larger agency to design and code a custom website is out of reach for many small businesses. Freelancers and side hustlers can fill the gap by offering services that small businesses and non-profits can afford. There are so many small businesses and organizations out there, and new ones popping up all the time, that there is plenty of demand.
2. You Can Earn a Good Hourly Rate
Don’t be put off by the statement above that freelancers can offer “affordable” services to small businesses. I’m not suggesting that you work for extremely low wages, and you shouldn’t need to do that. To put it into perspective, many agencies have a starting rate of somewhere around $25,000. That means they won’t work on any web design product that has a budget below $25,000.
Of course, that’s a generalization and every agency is different, but in general, a high percentage of small businesses cannot realistically afford the services of a web design agency. As a freelancer, you can charge a fair rate and still come in well below the price of just about any agency.
3. The Needed Skills Can Be Learned (or You May Already Have Them)
As you’ll also see in the interview, Peti primarily uses existing WordPress themes and the Thrive Architect plugin to create custom websites for clients without the need to code. She’s not alone. Many freelancers will create websites for clients without coding, thanks to the existing resources (like the awesome Divi theme) that make it easier than ever to create a website.
You may be wondering, “If it’s possible to create a website without coding anything, why would small business owners hire someone else to do it for them?” Well, some will choose to do it themselves, but many business owners would rather hire someone to do it so they can use their time for running their business. Even though it may be possible for them to create their own website, it’s usually not the best use of their time.
Creating a website may not require coding, but a business owner who has no experience with websites is unlikely to be able to create an effective website without some help. Things like design, layout, and usability are all important too.
There’s also a learning curve to create websites with WordPress themes and plugins like Thrive Architect and Divi. Business owners may not want to take the time to learn it when they can just hire someone like you to set it up for them.
If you’ve been running your own blog or website for a while, you may already have the skills needed to set up a customized WordPress theme for clients. If not, you can certainly learn how to use the available tools.
4. There are Plenty of Related Services You Can Offer to Increase Your Income
In addition to web design, there plenty of other related services that you could also offer. If you’re skilled with design, you could offer:
- Logo design
- Brochure design
- Business card design
- Other types of graphic design (Peti also designs e-books for clients)
In terms of running a website, you could offer:
- Social media marketing services (designing graphics or managing social profiles for clients)
- Ad campaign management
- On-going website maintenance
- General VA (Virtual Assistant) services.
Offering add-on services does a few key things. First, it allows you to make more money per client. Less time looking for clients, or talking to potential clients who never wind up moving forward, means more time to spend on paying clients.
Second, some of the services allow you to retain clients month-after-month. Instead of just designing a website, passing it off to the client, and being done, you can continue to provide services and get paid by that client. Those on-going services can include things like website maintenance and updates, managing social media profiles, and managing ad campaigns.
A one-time client could turn into a client that pays you for the next few years.
5. Potential to Become a Full-Time Business
This may or may not be important to you, but web design (like many other service related side hustles) is a side hustle that has the potential to turn into a full-time income. If you have an interest in being self-employed and working from home (or working while traveling), this side hustle could give you that chance.
The purpose of a side hustle is to make extra money outside of a traditional job. Some side hustles, like taking online surveys for example, are great for making a small amount of extra money, but will not give you the potential to make a full-time income. That’s something you should consider before you choose a side hustle. If the possibility of making a full-time income is important to you, choose a side hustle that gives you a realistic chance, like web design.
Service-Related Side Hustles
Web design isn’t the only service-related side hustle that offers great potential. In fact, a lot of the information you’ll find in this interview and article could be relevant for other service-related side hustles as well. Things like freelance writing, working as a virtual assistant, bookkeeping, photography, consulting, working as a travel agent, and many other services offer similar potential and perks.
In my opinion, service-related side hustles are often overlooked.
Here are a few reasons to consider service-related side hustles.
Realistic Way to Make $1,000 – $2,000 per Month
A side hustle that makes $1,000 – $2,000 per month is really good. That could equal $12,000 – $24,000 of extra income per year, just for something you do in your spare time.
That type of income with a service-related side hustle is not only possible, but it’s realistic. If the service you’re offering, like web design, allows you to charge a decent rate, you can make good money even with limited hours.
You Don’t Need That Many Clients
With web design, you’ll be making a nice amount of money from each client, so you won’t need too many clients in order to make a nice income from it. This is especially true if you’re offering on-going services and you’re able to make more from each client.
You’ll Be Paid for Your Time and Effort
One of the nice things about service-related side hustles is that you will be paid for your time. Some other side hustles like starting a blog or building a niche website give you the potential to make a lot of money, but you’ll have to put in a lot of time before you start making money.
With a service-related side hustle, you can start making money with just a single client, and the work that you do will be earning real money.
Most service-related side hustles, especially those that are done online, will allow you to have a flexible schedule. You can do the work around your existing commitments, whenever you are available.
Perfect Way to Monetize a Side Hustle Blog
A lot of people are looking for ways to make money with a blog, but most people ignore the possibility of monetizing a blog with a service. If you’re a blogger, think about the types of services that you could offer to your readers. The possibilities will vary depending on the niche of your blog.
Another nice thing about monetizing a blog by offering services is that you don’t need high traffic in order to make this work. Even small bloggers can make money with services, while other monetization methods like ads and affiliate links tend to require more traffic.
Can Be a Temporary Way to Make Money Until Your Blog Grows
Even if offering a service is not the end goal for your blog, it can still be a useful way to make money in the short-term. This is actually the approach I took with my own side hustle back in 2006-2008. I started by offering web design and maintenance services. Later, I also added freelance writing. While I was offering those services I was also working to grow my own blog. When the income from my blog picked up (from things like ads and selling digital products), I scaled back and eventually quit the services.
Interview: Web Design as a Side Hustle
Peti Morgan is a real-world example that making money with a web design side hustle is possible (you can even read her income reports to see details). Peti kindly agreed to answer my questions related to her side hustle, and you can read the interview below. If you’ve been looking for a side hustle, I hope you’ll be inspired by Peti’s story.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
“Hi! I’m Peti Morgan, founder of The Leveraged Mama, a blog that helps women create more financial freedom in motherhood. I’m 41, live in Wellington New Zealand with my husband and 3-year-old daughter. I also design and develop websites for small businesses ready to scale up out of the DIY phase – via MyAgileVA.com.”
What do you do full-time?
“I actually quit my corporate job as an Agile consultant, in May last year. I did this so that I could focus on my health, my family and my side hustles! I’ve worked in software design and development for the past 15 years – not as a designer or developer, in fact, everything but! I’ve done project management, Agile coaching, design studio management, and dabbled in functional testing, user experience design and information architecture.”
How did you get started with the web design side hustle?
“When I left my job, the drop in income created a shortfall in our household budget of between $500 and $1,000 a month. My intention was to grow my blog income to cover this shortfall, and more – through affiliate sales, ad revenue and selling products of my own. At some point, I realized that in order to do this I needed much, much more traffic to my blog, and this wasn’t going to happen overnight! So I decided I needed a service-based side hustle to bring in some immediate income – firstly, to cover our budget shortfall, and secondly to fund my online business and blog.
“Initially, I offered Virtual Assistant services to small business owners I knew. I chucked together a website listing what I offered – at the time it was website design & development, email newsletters design and set up, eBook design and social media graphic design.
“But after working with my first few clients, I realized that I was most fulfilled building websites and other small web design projects (like eBooks). I don’t like doing scrappy bits of work here and there – I really LOVE making a big impact for my clients. So I decided to niche down further and offer just that – WordPress website design and development, and eBook design.
“I don’t label myself as a web designer – I have way too much respect for the amazing professional web designers I know and have worked with, to think that I am on a level with them. Instead, I just call myself a ‘creative, technical VA’ and steer people towards the website packages that I offer.”
How much time do you spend on this side hustle, and about how much money does it generate?
“Currently, I spend between 0 and 15 hours a week on this side hustle. I batch schedule the work, usually in the mornings when my daughter is at kindergarten. Sometimes I’ll work all day – an hour on, half hour off.
“In the beginning, I offered my services for $25 an hour to my first 3 clients. I wanted to build up a portfolio of work, and test drive my side-hustle alongside caring for my daughter, growing my online business and blog and looking after the household. I quickly realized that I am really dedicated to, and capable of delivering high-quality work, so in hindsight that was too low. I had doubts about my ability to manage this side hustle well, with my daughter at home full-time with me at the time. I was wrong! We quickly got into a scheduling groove and I was able to crank out some pretty good work.
“I put my rates up to $45/hour for new clients after that, and now they are at $60/hour – which I still think is quite reasonable given all the experience I bring to the table.
“My income over the past 6 months for this side hustle, has been between $450 and $1,700 a month. It has low overhead, so most of that was funneled towards my online business and blog, and the budget shortfall.”
What kind of skills or experience are needed for someone to get started?
“I think if you want to offer any kind of website design and development service, it helps to have worked on those sorts of projects before. There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to designing and developing a website, so if you want to offer this service as an individual person (not as part of a project team), you need to know quite a lot of stuff. I think this is where my career experience has been really valuable. However, a lot of the stuff I’ve learned has been through creating my own websites and blogs – so any blogger who has done a good job of their own website could feasibly help others to achieve the same.
“The web has changed immensely over the past few years, and this has made it a lot easier to design and develop websites without being professionally trained. I think this is really important for small business owners and entrepreneurs bootstrapping their businesses. It doesn’t cost a lot to look professional online, i.e. you don’t need to pay a full-service web design agency thousands of dollars when you’re just starting out. Many VAs can do this sort of thing.”
Do you use existing WordPress themes or create custom themes?
“I use a mix of both WordPress themes, and I use Thrive Architect to create custom landing pages. Some of my clients just need small brochure type websites, so in fact, you don’t even need a WordPress theme in place to build a custom landing page with Thrive Architect. But if they want to be able to easily add extra pages in the future, or want a blog, then I make sure that they have an appropriate theme customized for their needs.
“My blog currently uses X theme + Thrive Architect custom built landing pages. The two give me a LOT of design options and elements. I can pretty much throw anything together with this combination. I’m sure there are many other combos that would work well too though.”
Marc’s note: Like Peti, I also use Thrive Architect with some of my websites and I definitely recommend it. My favorite themes are Divi and Extra from Elegant Themes, and they offer a ton of flexibility as well.
For someone who is just getting started, how would they know what to charge?
“Start with what you’re comfortable with, and test the waters. If you have a lot of client opportunities, then you’re probably charging too little for the value that you offer. Beware that it can be quite hard to judge your own value. Women, more than men, tend to undervalue themselves. So, for this reason, I don’t necessarily recommend just looking at other people’s pricing, and basing your own pricing on theirs. Because they could be undervaluing themselves.
“You also need to think about what section of the market you can help the most, and who you want to work with. If the people you want to work with don’t have the money to pay you, then it’s going to be difficult to ask for a lot. Likewise, if you want to work with people who will pay you more, your services and products need to appeal to them. Look for people who are willing to pay you for your services, and who value what you have to offer. Avoid bargain hunters, people who want you to work for free ‘for exposure’, and people who try to negotiate down your quotes! This can sometimes indicate that they don’t value your services, or actually need less than the value you offer.”
How do you find your clients?
“Most of my clients have come from a ‘business school’ that I’m part of. They know, like and trust me already, and many of them are in my target market, which is – small businesses ready to scale up out of the DIY phase. Ironically, it was this business school that helped me work out my target market! A good business coach goes a long way!
“My portfolio is looking pretty good now – it has 2 website redesigns and 1 eBook design on it, and I’m about to add another website design & development project to it – so I am going to look at targeted Facebook ads, to reach out to a wider audience.”
With so much competition from other designers and DIY website building solutions, how do you stand out?
“This is where the ‘know, like and trust’ factor is so important. If someone already knows who you are, they like you, and they trust you, then it’s you that they think of when they begin looking for your services.
I’m not worried about ‘standing out’ or ‘being the best’ or ‘being the cheapest’, because I want to work with people who know, like and trust me already. From experience, they make for excellent clients! Because you have already bridged that relationship gap, and you can work well together from the start.”
Do you do any on-going work for your clients (like maintaining or updating websites)?
“Yes, I do – I try to make it easy for them to understand how to update their own new websites, but my clients tend to want to move away from this, to focus on their zones of genius within their own businesses. So I’m available to help them as needed.”
What are some of your favorite and least favorite things about this side hustle?
“My favorite thing about this side hustle is the that I can make my clients feel proud of their online headquarters. I love bringing someone’s brand to life, and knowing that they feel confident in front of their own clients, because of the work we’ve done together.
“My least favorite thing about this side hustle is looking for new clients. I just want everyone to be falling over themselves to book me! But the reality is, that you need to work on new relationships and networks, in order for them to bear fruit.
“But there’s a good reason it’s called a side ‘hustle’, right?”
Getting Started: How to Make Money as a Web Designer
After learning more about Peti and how she’s making money, you may be wondering what steps you should take if you are interested in following a similar path. Here is a look at what you can do if you want to get started.
Step 1: Define the Services That You’ll Offer
Earlier in the article, I mentioned that there are several services related to web design that you could offer. To get started, I suggest deciding on and defining the services that you plan to offer. Of course, you can always adapt and change later, but as you talk to potential clients it’s a good idea to know exactly what you can offer them.
“Web design” services can mean different things to different people. Are you going to be using existing WordPress themes? Are you going to customize themes or create your own from scratch? Before going any further, decide on what you will offer and how you will do it.
Step 2: Get a Few Clients from Your Network to Build Your Portfolio
Getting some experience under your belt is an important step. Most potential clients will want to see examples of your work before hiring you, and that’s where your portfolio site comes in. If you don’t have any work to showcase in your portfolio, you should try to address that right away.
When I was getting started with web design, my first few clients were friends and family. That’s a great place to start because these people may be more willing to give you a shot without having a portfolio of past work to show them. Most of us know several people who run some sort of small business (or maybe they work at a small business), and these people are a good place to start.
With your first few clients, before you have established a track record, you may need to offer your services at a low price in order to get the business. Peti mentioned that she was only charging $25 per hour in the beginning. I used project-based pricing rather than an hourly rate, but my prices at first were definitely low.
In addition to building your portfolio, your first few clients will help to give you some experience going through the process from start to finish. You’ll probably learn some things about the best ways to communicate with your clients and how to manage the projects.
Step 3: Create Your Website to Show Off Your Work
Once you have a few projects to show off, it’s time to create your portfolio website. Your website should include a description of the services that you offer (including prices is optional) and show examples of the work you’ve done.
You don’t need a lot of work samples before you can create a portfolio website. Even having just two samples can be enough to show potential clients what you can do.
When it comes to the items in your portfolio, quality is much more important than quantity. Don’t showcase a project in your portfolio unless you are proud of the work. And as your business grows, you don’t need to continue to add every project to your portfolio. Only show off your best work. If potential clients want to see more examples, they can always ask you for it.
Step 4: Promote Your Services
Once your portfolio site is complete, you’re ready to start promoting it and attracting potential clients. Obviously, getting clients is a critical part of making money with this side hustle, so don’t just put up a portfolio website and hope that people start flocking to you.
Here are some ideas for ways you can promote yourself and get work when you are still relatively new:
- Share your portfolio website through your personal social media profiles and mention the services that you are offering.
- Create professional social media profiles.
- If you have a blog, promote your services prominently on your blog.
- Talk to people in your personal and professional network, in person or online.
- Post your services to Craigslist
- Attend Chamber of Commerce and other local business groups.
- Look for work at freelance job sites.
- Proactively reach out to ideal clients.
Step 5: Offer Addon Services and Ongoing Maintenance
The best way to make more money is to increase the amount that you make from each client (as opposed to trying to get more clients). On-going services are great because if you have a few clients on contract, you won’t need to spend time looking for new clients and you’ll always have paying work.
Your on-going services could include maintaining and updating the website for clients, managing their social media profiles, creating graphics that your clients can use on their own through social media, managing advertising accounts (like Facebook ads or Google AdWords), and general VA services.
Many of your clients won’t have the time to do these types of things in addition to running their business, so they may be very interested in paying you to manage it for them. Even though WordPress makes it easy to anyone to update their own website, there are a lot of small business owners that would rather pay someone to do it.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are positions available as an in-house designer (you’ll design only for your employer) or for an agency where you’ll work on projects for clients. You could also choose to work as a freelancer and find your own clients.
Yes, working as a web designer is a good job/career. This are plenty of jobs available and demand is likely to remain strong for the foreseeable future. The income potential and average salary also make it an above-average job. Additionally, you can work as a freelancer and do it part-time or full-time.
Yes, web design is an ideal side hustle for someone creative. You can earn an excellent hourly rate by freelancing, and it also gives you the potential to grow the side hustle into a full-time income.
According to ZipRecruiter, the average U.S.-based web designer makes more than $60,000 per year, or $29 per hour.
The average salary for a web developer is higher than the average salary for a web designer ($75,073 compared to $55,233 according to ZipRecruiter). Coding is a valuable skill, so it’s worth learning. But even web designers who do not code are able to earn an above-average income.
Some web designers code and some don’t. Those who do code typically stick with front-end development, which usually includes HTML and CSS. But with modern drag-and-drop website builders, it’s possible to build a professional website without coding.
Web designers need excellent communication skills, creative and artistic skills, the ability to manage projects, and the ability to work well with clients and stakeholders. If you choose to freelance, you’ll also need to be able to market your services and run the financial aspects of a small business.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 13% increase in employment of web designers and developers between 2020 and 2030 (source), which is above average growth.
If you have some experience designing your own websites, it’s possible to get started right away. You may not be able to land a job as a web designer without more significant experience or education, but it’s possible to work as a freelancer and build websites for small businesses using drag-and-drop web builders.
Many web design jobs are remote and can be done from home. However, some jobs require the employee to work on-site at a particular. If you’re looking for a work-from-home job, freelancing is always a possibility.
Some employers will require a degree, but in general, it’s possible to become a web designer without a degree. Real-world experience and a proven track record will be worth more to most employers. Additionally, you can always freelance.
If you’ve been inspired by Peti’s story and you’re interested in trying this side hustle for yourself, get started with the steps listed above. I think you’ll find that a service-related side hustle like web design is a perfect way to make some extra money each month. And you never know, it could grow into something much bigger.
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