5 Business Concepts Every Freelance Web Designer Should Understand

by Babar Suleman

Last updated on March 9th, 2018

It’s true.  Business people need to think more like designers.

Modern business success is often tied to the competitive edge derived from superior design and the power of the visual.

But, for those of us working in design, it’s equally important that we understand the business framework we work in at all times.

As creative professionals, balancing ‘art’ and ‘aesthetic’ with ‘financial feasibility’ has always been a juggling act with no clear line.

But as the business world starts becoming design centric, it is becoming increasingly important for designers to accept that their work has an undeniable purpose: profitability.

To that end, here are 5 business concepts every designer needs to be aware of to succeed in the business world.

1. ROI (Return On Investment)

When you are bidding a design project, you will need to address the business owners primary concern:  ROI.

Return on Investment (ROI) is a math equation:

(Return – Investment) / Investment

When a business owner or manager comes to you for a design project they may already have ROI expectations.

Make sure you discuss the ROI expectations during the scoping and bidding process.

ROI might manifest itself as:

  • Advertising revenue
  • number/volume of sales
  • enhancement of brand image

By knowing the ROI expectations in advance, you can not only define project objectives better but also avoid conflict and disappointment.

2. IMC (Integrated Marketing Communications)

Whether you are designing a landing page for a client or an entire web experience, developing context is very important to understanding how your creation fits in your client’s business equation.

These days, designing a website isn’t as simple as throwing together some images and a few slogans and making it look as nice as possible.

Web design is one of the most important communication tools a business can use but it isn’t the only one.

Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) is all about businesses that strive to achieve a 360 degrees coverage and coherence in all their contact points with their customer.

Whether their customer is checking out their product in a store with the assistance of a customer representative, watching a television commercial or browsing their website, successful businesses require a streamlined communication process that sends clear and focused signals and messages to their customers.

When you are designing a website for your client, make sure you ask them about their overall communication strategy and what they want to achieve with their web presence. Being aware of the uniformity required across all communication channels will help you design much more effectively.

Notice how Nike integrates the web experience with their packaging and in-store experience.

Nike Brand Experience

For more on integrating design across the entire customer experience, read this.

3. 4 P’s

Designers that turn a profit for their customers understand the marketing mix, sometimes called the 4 P’s.   As a designer, understanding how the 4 P’s relate to your project will lead to a design that is congruent with the business objectives of the client.

Ask yourself these questions about the 4 P’s of your design project:

  • Product – What are we selling with this design?  How does it fit within the mix of other products offered by this client?  What need does it satisfy for the end customer?
  • Price – Is this about luxury?  Or should it look and feel like a smart bargain?  Are we communicating a special discount or offer?
  • Place – How does the end customer get what is being offered?  In store purchase?  Click to redeem a coupon?  Call a phone number?
  • Promotion – How is this being promoted?  PR?  Traditional advertising?

Can you see how the answers to the above questions would affect your design?

Do you see the 4 P’s of marketing on this home page design from Nordstrom, a luxury clothing retailer?

4. Budgeting

Budgeting is important for designers to understand.  It is the budget that determines whether there will be new projects and how much money will be allocated to those projects.

Ideally, we would have free reign to design whatever and whenever we want.

But clients have budget constraints that create limitations.   Be careful when adjusting your pricing to budget constraints.  Your work should be bid based upon the value you provide not on the budget constraints of your prospective clients.

Instead, consider offering different terms to prospects that have budget constraints.  These constraints can often be overcome if payment terms are more flexible.

5. Target Audience

Design, however good looking and labored it may be, becomes ineffective if it doesn’t connect with the target market.

Your business client will usually have a very good idea of who their potential customer is and getting a detailed analysis of their target market should be one of the very first discussion points on a design project.

Closely related to the concept of target audience is product positioning.

Here are three questions you can ask to get the conversation started about the target market:

  • Do you have any buyer personas I can use to create the design?
  • Do you have any documentation on your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)?
  • Who are your competitors and how does your company/product differ from theirs?

Your client will appreciate the in-depth interest you are taking in their business and that can help the entire project get off to a smooth start.

Pepsi has always targeted the youth and their latest web look continues that positioning by choosing a dynamic and colorful metro-type layout that prominently features the brand.

Remember, constant communication is the best way to ensure that you and your client remain on the same page throughout the project.

What other business concepts should designers be aware of? Sound off in the comments below.



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Babar Suleman

Babar Suleman (MFA, Parsons School of Design; Fulbright Scholar) is a visual storyteller and an experience designer. He is interested in the interplay of words and visuals in the communication process and uses his diverse experience as a writer and designer to create meaningful user experiences and effective branding strategies. You can contact Babar at his official website.


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  1. September 26, 2014 at 4:14 am

    Thank you for this great blog 🙂

    • Neil Patel says:
      September 26, 2014 at 11:31 am

      Alvira, glad you find it helpful. Thanks for the feedback 🙂

  2. Babar says:
    October 16, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Thank you for that valuable addition, Jason! You’re right- designers do need a lot of business savvy to not only produce their best work but also ensure that they are treated well!

  3. Cha says:
    October 15, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Great reminder!
    I will definitely print these four points 4P’s.


  4. Jason says:
    October 15, 2012 at 9:49 am

    Designers (all freelancers for that matter) also need to be aware of cash flow and profit! Without them, you are simply out of business. As the President of a professional collection company that helps freelancers, I can tell you that many rush in too quickly.

    Pre-qualify your clients as much as you can, discuss the scope of work clearly, have a signed/dated terms of service, get a down payment wherever possible, perform great work, communicate clearly with the client, invoice them in a timely manner for final payment, keep following up until it’s paid, and if it’s not paid by 90 days delinquent, contact a professional.

    Those are just the very bare basics you can do to ensure that you aren’t left hanging for products and services.

    Also, you can head to our website and read our blog under the “Freelancers” category.

    Good luck everyone!

    • Russ Henneberry says:
      October 15, 2012 at 10:55 am

      @Jason — Thanks for adding this Jason!

Show Me My Heatmap

Really easy to understand the user behavior with the new @CrazyEgg reports! @qubitTV #UX #prodmgmt

Francisco Mingote


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