🌪️ My new book is available for pre-order! Reserve your copy.

21 rules for web design agencies and freelancers in 2021

Over 15 years I’ve developed several rules for working on projects and deciding what’s likely to be successful or not. Below are those roles in no particular order.

Money is often a deciding factor in whether a rule should be broken or not.

  1. When working on a site, ask yourself if the site offers some kind of “sticky” feature that makes you and it invaluable.
  2. Does the client prefer a sale over a like? If there’s lot of talks of likes and followers, pass.
  3. Make sure the client is a large enough and profitable enough enterprise already. Despite what people would like to think, no one can take a bad business into a good business simply by making a change on a website.
  4. For every page you design, write, or develop, make it the best page on the internet for that subject.
  5. Think very hard about working with friends or family. It usually ends in heartbreak for someone.
  6. Always ask a client for an emergency contact. If they die, what should you do with their digital estate?
  7. Make every effort to develop a personal relationship with every client and their staff.
  8. Never ask what a client’s goals are. The goal is always the same: “Sell more stuff”.
  9. Consider avoiding working with organizations that have in-house marketing staff. Their salaries and close access to internal politics usually supersedes efforts of outside agencies.
  10. Likewise, think carefully about working with organizations that have in-house IT staff. The needs of IT are often wildly contradictory to yours and even their customers.
  11. Most businesses need more than just a website. Remember that.
  12. Remember that people respect good products. This works for the client’s business, too. You ultimately can’t get people to “engage” with a business if that business simply doesn’t make a good product or service.
  13. Clients should never have to think about hosting, DNS, or domain name registration hassles. And make sure the client’s name appears on the domain name record as either the Owner or Admin in case you get hit by a bus.
  14. Be empathetic about why a client may be behind or unable to afford a bill. But don’t allow it to become an ongoing problem.
  15. The customer is not always right. Just because a customer can’t get a website to load on a 15-year old version of WebTV does not make them right. Set technology support limits in your contracts, and don’t be so unreasonable you say “This will only work in Chrome.”
  16. After you plan out a website, ask yourself what you would change if you couldn’t see, use a mouse, a trackpad, or hear well. Imagine you have a temporary injury. Now imagine it’s permanent.
  17. Email and social media is shallow work. Improving sites, analyzing data, writing new material, and producing valuable insights is work.
  18. From time to time, ask clients how they’re doing and what their biggest problem is. Also, see #9.
  19. Pay your taxes early.
  20. Save at least $500 a month between a rainy day fund and retirement.
  21. Ask yourself today if you can see yourself doing what you’re about to do in another thirty years. If the answer is “no”, ask yourself again.

Want to know when stuff like this is published?
Sign up for my email list.

Photo of Justin Harter


Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

1 thought on “21 rules for web design agencies and freelancers in 2021”

Leave a Comment