Today we are joined by Amber from Amber Phillips Design! She focuses on building custom WordPress websites as well as WordPress websites based on templates and has also recently launched a course teaching people how to create their own website. Amber tells us about her journey in pursuing her own full-time design business, and gives some great tips on what makes a good website!
Can you tell us about your design business? How did you get into it?
I have always been creative. Ever since I can remember I was drawing, painting, making jewellery, sewing… My mum was a designer at More magazine and my dad ran his own really successful business, so I was always inspired by them. I learnt about design and business from a really young age and was always pretty obsessed with it! When I was a child, all my friends would say they wanted to be vets or teachers or astronauts – I’d say I wanted to be an entrepreneur!
About 3 and a half years ago, I was working as a designer at an agency that worked with huge clients like TalkTalk, The National Trust, Scottish Power and RSPB. While it was brilliant working with amazing brands like that, I just wasn’t happy there. I wanted to work with smaller businesses that were more passionate and creative, in a less corporate environment.
I left the company and started up on my own as a freelance designer working on absolutely every design project for absolutely everyone. I quickly realised that doing everything for everyone was making me blend into the crowd and not stand out as an expert in any one thing, so now my design business focuses on WordPress website design.
I narrowed that down even more by offering two specific packages – Totally custom WordPress website created within 8 weeks and a starter WordPress website based on a pre-designed template created within 4 weeks. I do other work as well but it’s mostly by word of mouth and from people who have liked my website design work and approach me to do other things like branding or book designs. I’ve also just launched a course teaching people how to create their own website.
As you specialise in web design, what would you say are the keys to a good business website?
It’s important to keep in mind that a good website isn’t just about looking nice. Of course, it needs to look good but it’s about something deeper than that. You need to focus on the structure, the images, the content, the usability, and the goals you’re trying to reach.
Some key tips I’d give are:
- Make it 100% clear what you actually do – you’d be surprised at how many beautiful websites I come across where I’d admire the design but don’t have a clue about what they actually offer.
- Make sure your website is responsive – by responsive I mean the website adapts to the screen you’re viewing it on so it looks great whether you’re viewing the site on a laptop, a tablet or a mobile phone.
- Spend time crafting your content – make it about them, not about you. What problems do you solve for them? How can you speak directly to your target customer? A great resource that I recommend all the time for content is Worditude’s Ultimate Website Content Planner.
- Sometimes it’s good to get another pair of eyes on your website to see where you can improve. You might think it’s really easy to use and that you’ve made it clear what you do, but sometimes you’re too close to the project and can’t see the problems. Get someone else to go through it and see if it’s easy to use and flows well.
- Keep the most important information near the top of each page – people tend to scan through websites and don’t stop and read the whole thing.
- Decide on a key goal for your website – Something that’s not just ‘make more sales’ because everyone wants that! How exactly are you going to make these sales? Think about your sales funnel and the steps people take to become a client. E.g. if discovery calls convert well for you, then focus on that throughout the site with clear calls to action and engaging copy.
- Invest in great imagery – photos can make or break a website. You could have the most amazing design and layout, but if the photos are dark and blurry, then it devalues the website. By investing in a great photographer, you can get fabulous photos to use on your website and these also double up as images you can share across social media and in marketing materials to link everything together. If you can’t invest in a photographer right now, look for great stock photos or take the time to learn how to take good photos yourself. I love to get my stock photos from Pexels, Ivory Mix and Creative Market.
- If you can master all of this then that’s brilliant, but the last thing that may hold you back is website speed. Statistics show that people give up on waiting for websites if they take too long to load. Work with your website developer and website host to make sure your website speed is as good as it can be!
How did you know you were ready to pursue your business full time?
Honestly, I quit my job at the agency and went straight into being full time in my business thinking that I’d be able to do it from day one. I was wrong! I got really overwhelmed and stressed when I wasn’t making any money and it’s clear now that I didn’t really know what I was doing.
I ended up getting a part-time job at a local fabric shop, which was heaven for me as I adore fabric and sewing, just to keep me going financially. I worked there for a couple of years, while learning as much as I could about building a great design business, and then I quit my part-time job at the start of this year to focus again on my business full time.
This time I knew I was ready because I was so busy with my design work that even when I dropped down to just 2 days at the shop I didn’t have enough time to fit all of my work in.
People were recognising me as a good website designer and I hadn’t made a single cold sales call or email in over a year as all of my work was coming from referrals.
I felt confident in myself, in my business and in my plans for the future, and felt that it was the right time to pursue my business full time.
What advice would you give to someone starting their own business?
Just start! The best way to learn and develop is by doing. Don’t wait for the right time because it may never come. If you saw my business 3 years ago compared to today, you probably wouldn’t know it was the same business! It’s improved so much and my following has grown with it.
It doesn’t matter if your direction or your branding or your products change over time. Businesses always evolve and improve, so don’t let the fear of not being 100% sure what you’re doing hold you back. Start small, keep things as simple as possible, gain your footing, and then expand.
Also, plan! Have a clear plan for everything. Again, it doesn’t matter if it changes or adapts, but having a basic direction that you want to go in to start with helps to keep you focused and on track.
Were you met with any challenges during your entrepreneurial journey? How did you overcome them?
I’ve had a lot of challenges that at the time seemed like the end of the world, e.g. a client not liking a design, a website going down, my Instagram being hacked, but I always work through them. It’s important to not let little things hold you back or send you into panic mode. Take a breath and make an action plan.
The biggest real challenge that I’ve had is when I ran out of money the first time I was full time in my business. My savings were almost gone and I was suffering from extreme anxiety, to the point where I just couldn’t bring myself to do anything. I was scared of doing anything and when I tried to push myself to just do something, I couldn’t focus. I ended up in a downward spiral of binging on Netflix and crying!
The way I overcame this was by getting help from a counsellor. She was absolutely amazing and helped me to get back on my feet again. It turns out there were a lot of other underlying issues that helped to cause this mini-breakdown but we worked through them all and while I still suffer from anxiety, I’m pushing through my fears and making progress in my life and my business.
Another thing that helped me overcome this was by removing the issue that was stressing me the most. Money! By getting a part-time job that just paid my bills, I could breathe again and it meant that if I was having a bad time, I could take a step back from my business but still have the money to support me until I felt better.