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How to move from freelance design work to running a 6-figure agency

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Rhami Aboud of Arch Web Design shares his personal experience and tips for freelancers who want to build a thriving agency.

Rhami Aboud went from a struggling freelancer to running a 6-figure agency — and he’s here to share the steps he took to get there.

Rhami took his first web development class at the age of 13 and has been making websites ever since. But when he transitioned his hobby into freelance work, he struggled to earn a living. 

After going to school for web design and development and earning a degree, Rhami worked for a few different companies. But by 2017, he knew he wanted to work for himself.

When he first started freelancing, Rhami spent a lot of time doing cold outreach and attending networking events without getting much out of them. Through some experimentation, Rhami figured out a process that helped him build up his client base enough to launch his own agency, Arch Web Design, in 2020. 

Rhami was kind enough to share this process with us to help others build and grow thriving agencies. 

Focus on your niche

If you’re spreading your focus across too many services and audiences, you’ll have a hard time making progress. Rhami recommends finding a niche you enjoy and sticking with it. 

Focusing on 1-2 services helps you go deeper into the industry, allowing you to build up skills relevant to your specific niche. Your portfolio will fill up with relevant work that shows potential clients that you have in-depth expertise. And if all your featured projects showcase the type of work you want to do more of, it’s easier to match with your ideal client.

“We feature all of our work…if you’re not proud enough of it to feature it, then you need to look at the quality of work you’re delivering…We ask clients during offboarding if they’re ok with [us sharing the work] and they say yes 99% of the time. It’s a win-win as they get some free promotion, too.”

To choose your niche, Rhami recommends you find an industry that you enjoy working with that also has the money to pay for the service you’re offering. So, if you’re thinking about something hyper-specific like making websites exclusively for artisan doggy food trucks, you’ll probably need to think bigger.

Just don’t overthink it. “I took way too long to choose my niche,” says Rhami, “when I did, it was a game changer and helped us scale up to 6 figures in less than a year…so just pick one. If it doesn’t work out, you can always choose another one later. Don’t get caught in paralysis by analysis.” There are also many tools out there that you can use to see what keywords people are searching for, so you can use this data to your advantage.

Rhami focuses on creating high-converting websites for SaaS clients at Arch Web Design because of his interest in tech, new software, and working with the startup community. 

Craft a perfect profile

For Rhami and Arch Web Design, their Upwork profile was a key tool for building up their client base. However, “profile” can also refer to profiles on freelancing sites like Upwork or Dribbble, your portfolio website, or a combination. For the first 1.5 years of the agency, this was their main lead-generation tool. They now rely more on SEO, but Rhami recommends using Upwork when starting out because it’s an inexpensive and relatively quick way to get leads.

To get an idea of what to include on his Upwork profile, Rhami looked at profiles of peers who offered similar services. This helped him discover common themes and come up with the key information to include on his own.

According to Rhami, a perfect profile includes:

  • An introduction (who are you and what do you do)
  • Social proof (Awards and certifications, such as official Webflow partner)
  • Examples of past work
  • Client testimonials
  • A short video that summarizes your profile
  • Rate information (fixed price versus hourly, minimums, etc.)

Client testimonials that go beyond “great work!” are key, so make sure you have a process for getting more detailed reviews. Arch Web Design uses Upwork’s built in testimonial request feature to send a few questions that encourage clients to discuss various aspects of the project. Rhami’s team also asks for Google reviews and uses a Video Ask to make it easy for clients to provide video reviews.

For rates, Arch Web Design sticks to project-based fees. And while Upwork tends to have a reputation for low rates, Rhami points out that Arch Web Design’s project minimum is $12,500, and they don’t have issues finding clients with that budget. “It all depends on how you position yourselves,” says Rhami.

If you’re not sure how to set your rates, Rhami has some tips. To determine a project fee, you need to work backwards. “Use a time tracking tool when you’re building a website and try to calculate how much time it’s going to take you,” he says, “Let’s say it takes you 100 hours to build a website and you want to make $50 an hour — just multiply the $50 an hour by 100 and there’s your cost, $5,000 for that website.”

Write perfect proposals

Great proposals feature a lot of the same information as profiles — introduction, social proof, past work, and testimonials — but in a more condensed form. The key is to keep it short and make it easy for people to take action. 

Rhami offers a basic formula: a brief introduction to who you are, followed by why the person should trust your expertise (social proof), backed up by past work examples, and wrapped up with a Calendly link (or similar tool) to schedule time to discuss further. 

Here’s how that might look for Rhami:

Intro: My name’s Rhami and I’m the owner of Arch Web Design, a Webflow-specific development agency that helps SaaS companies scale. We’re based in Canada and have built well over 200 Webflow websites. 

Social proof: I’m also proud to say that we are an official Webflow Partner!

Past work: You can see some recent work here:

Contact information: If you’d like to book a quick call, here’s my calendar link. And you can find more information on our website here.

Testimonials: PS: Here are some testimonials from our amazing clients: 

You can use this setup as a template, filling in your specific details and adding personal touches. 

Build with scaling in mind

You don’t go from a solo freelancer to a thriving agency overnight. Rhami used automation to streamline parts of his process, then made key hires at strategic times to build his team up to 14 people. 

Even if you have the perfect profile and proposal template, you’ll still need to find potential clients to send them to. While you could do this manually, Rhami shares how he uses automation to keep his client pipeline full. 

He recommends using Blogtrottr to create an RSS feed for Upwork job posts. This way, you can create custom search parameters for your ideal projects then have the results sent straight to your inbox automatically.

Let’s say you want to build ecommerce websites in Webflow. Set up a search using keywords such as “ecommerce” and “Webflow” in Upwork (or other relevant job sites). Then, set filters like experience level, hourly or fixed price, number of proposals, etc. Once you have your search parameters set, select the RSS feed icon to generate the RSS code URL.

Screenshot of Upwork job filters. In left side menu "Expert- $$$" is selected. In search bar, "ecommerce" Cursor hovers over "RSS"

Go back to Blogtrottr, select add a new subscription, and paste in the RSS URL from Upwork. Then, you can set up automated email alerts for any new job postings that fit your search criteria. 

Many jobs get hundreds or even thousands of proposals — and let’s face it, companies are not going to review them all. Getting your proposal in early increases your chances of being seen. With this automation trick, it’s easier to stay on top of new projects as they become available. 

Hire intentionally as you grow your business

As you build your agency, you’ll need to expand your team. Rhami recommends keeping your team as small and streamlined as possible for as long as you can. 

“Don’t try to grow too fast until you have the right processes in place,” says Rhami. For his first hires, he selected a UX designer and a Webflow developer. Bringing on these key team members in the first year of launching the Arch Web Design agency allowed Rhami to focus more time on sales and project management so they could build up the agency’s client base.

Arch Web Design’s second year focused on creating systems and processes for everything. Rhami hired a QA tester and project manager to support these goals and keep building the business. 

Now in their third year, Arch Web Design is reviewing data and client feedback so they can update their core offerings to accommodate client needs. 

“In the past, we’ve been building ‘Ferrari’ websites: fully custom, built from the ground up, which are expensive and take a long time to build,” Rhami explains, “In 2022, we started offering ‘Honda’ websites: they still convert as highly as our ‘Ferrari’ sites but take less than 30 days to build and cost much less.”

Rhami and the Arch Web Design Team came to this conclusion after speaking with more than 200 SaaS companies. Feedback revealed that most SaaS companies want a website that is built quickly and brings them leads and sales.

Continuous analysis and reflection is crucial when you are growing intentionally. Had Rhami’s team continued on their Ferrari-style path, they might have hired more team members versus adjusting their service offerings, which would not have served their target clients’ needs. 

If you are interested in original article by Rease Kirchner you can find it here


A helpful guide to marketing for freelancers fed up with Instagram

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Instagram has been a beloved tool to creatives everywhere since its launch in 2010. But recent algorithm changes and a push for more video content have left many artists and designers struggling to enjoy the same likes and reach. If IG has become too exhausting, what marketing alternatives are there? We explore some options.

Before we get started, we understand that many of you embrace reels and making videos and still enjoy some success on Instagram. Whilst that’s great news for you, for many others, even the idea of creating films is just too much to bear. We’ve had more than a decade of chasing ‘likes’ and trying to keep up with the changing social networks. Do we really want to stay on the treadmill? Particularly when we’re not in control of these platforms?

Yes, you could pay to reach your audience through social ads, but can any of us afford to in an age of uncertainty and rising costs? Can we even trust Meta to help us target the right people? If you’re looking for free or affordable options to market yourself, don’t fret! There are plenty of alternatives, which we’ll share now. Included in our list are suggestions and tips from the creative community.

Look at the website you own and turn it into a powerful SEO machine

If you’ve not yet considered Search Engine Optimisation, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. Your website has huge potential when it comes to organic reach. Although often confusing, terrifying, misunderstood, and forever-changing, SEO is simply a way of making your website rank highly for its chosen keywords to attract people organically. So if you’re a ‘graphic designer in Manchester’ and want to be found for those search terms, then that’s your goal – to create a site that Google thinks falls into that category and deserves to sit on its first page of results.

But it’s not a simple task. SEO experts don’t fully understand the mysterious inner workings of the world’s largest search engine. Nor can they keep up. Google is on a mission to prioritise quality content over sites trying to trick its algorithm. It even punishes those who step too far and try to game the system. It means you have to play fair and apply everything that’s currently known to succeed. We’re all busy, so how do we even get started?

There’s no magic wand. If you can’t afford to hire an expert, you will have to learn this stuff yourself. But as SEO is constantly changing, courses and learning guides can become outdated quickly. We recommend Moz for all your training needs. We’ve relied on it for over a decade, as it does a pretty good job explaining complex things in a language we can understand. Before you do anything else, read its Beginner’s Guide to SEO. It’s an important overview of how this type of search engine marketing works. Watch the ‘One-Hour Guide to SEO’ below, delivered by Moz’s founder Rand Fishkin.

According to Moz, you need to follow these seven steps to successful SEO:

  1. Crawl accessibility so engines can read your website
  2. Compelling content that answers the searcher’s query
  3. Keyword optimised to attract searchers & engines
  4. Great user experience, including a fast load speed and compelling UX
  5. Share-worthy content that earns links, citations, and amplification
  6. Title, URL, & description to draw high CTR in the rankings
  7. Snippet/schema markup to stand out in SERPs

There’s a lot of work to do. And it’s not going to be an overnight success. We’d recommend carving out an hour a day to learn and implement SEO.

For further reading, SEO expert Brian Dean also has Backlinko, a weekly newsletter that features tons of tips and insight to keep you on your toes.

Add an integrated blog to your website and get writing

One of the fastest ways to start making a difference today is to add a blog to your website. One that sits on the same domain and isn’t separate. Imagine your website is a boat floating on the sea of the internet, and its pages are various fishing lines cast out to catch and hook web visitors – it means the more pages you add, the better. That’s why a blog is so powerful. You can write as much as you like and attract people to your brand via endless means. HubSpot has a pretty good guide to optimising your blog content with loads of tips and recommended resources included.

Our biggest tip is to write within the theme of what you’re offering and how you solve people’s problems. So if you’re a graphic designer and help businesses build more powerful brands, what tips, advice, case studies, or insight pieces can you write and share that showcase your skills and expertise and entice people to your website and hire you?

“Writing consistently about one topic will always be a viable marketing strategy,” says Tom Berry, brand strategist and creative director at Studio Bennu. “Think about how you can help people. Add your unique perspective. Make sure everything you write adds value for a specific audience. Focus on creating timeless content that people can apply to their problems.”

And last but not least, you’ve got to think of your blog post titles, as these often can make or break the effectiveness of an article. CoSchedule’s Headline Analyser is brilliant for ideas and perfecting the most SEO-friendly content out there.

The #1 Free Headline Analyzer by CoSchedule
The #1 Free Headline Analyzer by CoSchedule

Actively build links back to your website and work on your PR

As you’ll quickly learn with SEO, one of its many aspects is the importance of link-building. That means getting other websites to link back to your own. How you do that can be achieved in various ways. You can guest author on blogs or online magazines. You can focus on some PR and pitch yourself for platforms like Creative Boom, and It’s Nice That. You can put yourself forward for podcasts and talks. It’s a big effort, granted. But the more links you have, the better – particularly from higher-quality sites like those of universities, newspapers or renowned brands.

Top tips for excellent PR management: – Be prepared to stand out by getting great photos of yourself ready for features and having a decent microphone for podcasts. – Consider press packs to make it easier for busy journalists. – For extra reading, check out our tips on getting featured in the press.

“Getting our brand in the press and having quality photography of us and what we do has helped grow our profile,” says Rebecca Wild of May Wild Studio. “Instagram is still a good visual resource or portfolio for clients, but it’s the PR push that has been the most effective.”

“We’ve even been collaborating with other creators on YouTube channels and in podcasts to talk about the industry and, by extension, our own work within it,” says creator, filmmaker and broadcaster Neil Evans. “That organic reach is huge for us.”

Build a list and send out a regular newsletter

There is nothing more valuable than building an email subscriber list. It’s yours alone. No one can take it away from you. It’s a bunch of engaged people who want to learn more about you and what you do. But there has to be some valuable reason to get them to sign up. Can all that fresh blog content, guest articles and press coverage be the solution? Yes, it can. Sign up to Mailchimp to get started, as it’s free to those with fewer than 2,000 subscribers.

Then, you have to market your newsletter on your website. Give people an enticing reason to join. Have a dedicated page where they can sign-up – see Creative Boom’s weekly newsletter landing page for inspiration.

Another top tip, add a ‘recommended reading’ section to your newsletter. It allows you to give back to the creative community, but it also builds happy connections who might be inclined to return the favour.

Creative Boom's newsletter page where people can join 35,000 subscribers
Creative Boom’s newsletter page where people can join 35,000 subscribers

Consider other social networks where engagement still rocks

Twitter, LinkedIn, Discord, Behance and Pinterest have their merits and are still drawing in lots of traffic and engagement for many creatives. “LinkedIn has been a favourite for quite a long time,” agrees illustrator Ari Liloan. “You get to put your work in front of people who have real hiring power instead of just other design fans. Some of my biggest commissions happened through organic recommendations there.”

Artist Russell Taysom loves using Pinterest. “I’ve always enjoyed it for collecting images I like, but recently I’ve been using it much more to add my art,” he says. “You can organise images by category with the board, and Pinterest images appear in Google searches.”

Manchester-based creative Jaheed Hussain says Twitter for his platform Fuse has been the go-to for a while now, along with the website itself. “Both seem to have the best engagement for what we do,” he says. “LinkedIn feels consistently strong for personal accounts compared to company pages, which we’ve noticed.”

Go old school and remind clients you exist (and ask for help)

It doesn’t hurt to send physical mailers, cold emails, updated portfolios and other bits and bobs to existing clients. They’re inevitably busy and will have things on their list that they keep forgetting to sort, so reminding them you’re still around will likely result in some fresh work.

Don’t forget to ask clients for referrals, either. Consider offering a discount to loyal customers should they recommend you to a friend. It all helps. “I went a bit old school recently and created a little PDF deck of my work that I email to clients, and it’s got amazing feedback,” says illustrator Connie Noble. “I also started a newsletter, which gets more engagement than my Instagram as people like to take the time to have a little read.”

Get out there and do things ‘In Real Life’

Is there anything that beats actual human contact? Many events are back on in your local town or city. Business meetups, creative talks, networking parties – add a few to your diary and get out and meet people. Even art fairs are proving to be a success for many artists and designers. “I’m getting out and about,” says Maz Leyden. “I love doing art markets and craft shows. It’s so great to connect with people in person, plus so many people take business cards, which leads to social media follows and website sales.”

London illustrator Loulou Elliott agrees and makes a final important point. “I discovered the joy of doing art markets last year. Anything in person is just great and very fulfilling. Because the art is directly in front of you, it’s very physical and tangible and ultimately real. It holds people’s interest better and engages their curiosity. It makes them more likely to remember you or buy something. People have very short attention spans on social media, especially with this generation’s TikTok style. focusing on the genuine connection over ‘engagement’ is a great breather from doing loud things to catch people’s attention.”

To conclude and recap everything we’ve learnt

There is no quick solution or fix when it comes to marketing. It takes a little effort every day to build your SEO, improve your network, and attract the attention of journalists. Here’s a helpful checklist to refer back to:

  • Set aside an hour each day to work on your marketing. This isn’t going to be an overnight thing. And there’s no magic wand.
  • Learn SEO with all the free resources available: Moz is a great place to start. And we recommend signing up for Backlinko’s newsletter.
  • Start that blog you’ve never had time to launch. Write quality content around the theme of your website and business. Add value.
  • Build links to your website through guest blogging, press coverage, talks and podcasts. Be brave. Get your name out there but don’t forget to be prepared, i.e. get some professional photography of yourself and your studio. Buy a decent microphone.
  • Create a regular newsletter to share your story and all your content. Develop a subscriber list but give them an enticing reason to sign-up.
  • Consider other social networks to build contacts and community. Twitter, LinkedIn and Behance still enjoy the high engagement.
  • Remind existing clients you exist and ask them for referrals.
  • Do things IRL: art fairs, networking events, conferences. Meeting people face-to-face is a powerful way to build relationships and meaningful connections.

If you are interested in original article by Katy Cowan, you cna find it here

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