I Left My Full-Time Job To Build A Six-Figure Digital Marketing Business
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Scott Daigger, founder of Buddy Web Design & Development. Buddy offers services including website design and development, logo design, graphic design, branding, web content writing, e-commerce, blogging, and search engine optimization (SEO).
While there are lots of web designers and developers out there, we differentiate our services by doing incredible aesthetic and technical work, while also aiming to be great to work with. Our customers are primarily growing businesses that are looking to refresh or “level up” their online presence, and need a website that looks amazing.
The business has been ramping up quickly over the last 6 months, evolving from a one-person freelance business to a growing team, currently bringing in around $25k per month, and I expect we’ll double that shortly. We’ve worked with clients nationwide in a variety of industries, with a particularly large portion of clients in the healthcare and medical device space.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
The bulk of my career has been in business leadership roles, primarily with start-ups and working with early-stage technologies. Immediately before starting up Buddy, I spent nine years leading up an innovations program for a large health care system. In this role, I managed a team and a large portfolio of early-stage medical devices and software technologies.
What prompted me to start Buddy was partly a deliberate career change, and partly serendipitous. After working in that role for several years, I started thinking about what was next in terms of career growth. My role and team at that time were quite a niche, so opportunities for finding a promotion or similar role elsewhere were pretty limited. So, I thought, since I had a strong background in leading teams and technology projects, if I learned a bit of coding, I could open up more career opportunities in the software development realm. Knowing the technical side was really important for me, to have the competency and credibility to effectively lead software-focused teams.
With that intent in mind, I did quite a bit of homework learning about different aspects of software development, and what languages or technologies would offer the most career opportunities. I found that web development seemed the most interesting and most promising for me personally, so I signed up for several self-directed web development courses on Udemy and started learning how to code. While my long-term goal wasn’t to pivot and become a developer per se, it was really fun.
After about 6 months of learning, I had a very humble web design and development portfolio, and I found myself discovering the freelancing platform Upwork. After putting together an online profile, I quickly landed three client projects. My business background helped tremendously to connect with these initial clients, understand their needs, and develop enough rapport and trust to earn their business.
With these early wins, at that time in my career and life, I was ready for a change of pace. So, with some paying clients lined up, and my wife’s blessing, I left my job to pursue freelancing. Our game plan was that I’d give freelancing a try, while also exploring other career options, just so all my eggs weren’t in that basket. If freelancing worked out, great, but if not, I’d just find another job. Fortunately, freelancing panned out and led to the evolution and growth of Buddy Web Design & Development.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Initially, when I started doing freelance web development, the bulk of my work came from Upwork. I spent a lot of time keeping on top of job postings there and replying as quickly as possible to try and lock down sales calls and get work. When I landed a job, I would work directly with the client doing initial mock-ups in Figma, and then building their website in Wordpress using an appropriate Wordpress theme as a starting point.
As Buddy has grown, though, our processes have evolved and matured, as well, both operationally and also on the sales and marketing front. While Upwork was a great starting point, my long-term plan was to have enough inbound leads that Buddy wouldn’t need to be reliant on that platform anymore. So, early and ongoing goals have been to consistently produce high-quality work that we can show off in our portfolio and also earn great client reviews. In parallel, we’re investing a lot of energy into SEO to play the long game for cultivating inbound leads.
Operationally, we also have a project manager we work with now, and a team of developers that have helped us to develop processes that help us work efficiently, keep organized and consistently deliver extremely high-quality work and customer experiences.
Image below - Upwork profile:
Image below - Screenshot of one of my first client websites and logo design:
Image below - another early client project screenshot:
Describe the process of launching the business.
I first started getting clients from Upwork.com. Of course, to earn clients in website design and development, potential customers need to see you’re competent and can deliver for them. So, as a part of the courses, I was taking to learn website design and development, I was developing an initial portfolio that I could display as work samples. I used these initial mock-ups and websites in my Upwork profile. Additionally, I built an initial business website to display my portfolio and share information about myself and my services.
Growing since launch has been an ongoing process, focusing on making sure each client project is excellent and portfolio-worthy and also aiming to serve customers well so that they are excited to give us a great review online. At Buddy, a sentiment we’ve developed internally is that we want every client project we take on to become two projects. That is, we want to do great work for each client and get paid, but we also want to do so well that we can have that project become a portfolio piece and testimonial that will lead to another potential customer finding us and recognizing us as a great development company.
Financially, a big key to our success has just been making sure each project is profitable and contributes to improving our long-term bottom line. I’m mindful of current and long-term cash flows and expenses. The business has been entirely self-funded, and we haven’t taken on any early-stage funding or used debt, other than just paying bills on the credit card, and paying that balance off each month.
Initial website image below:
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Initially, Upwork was our best source of leads, as on that platform, you have potential customers who are actively seeking out help and who want to work with a developer. However, a downside is that you’re competing against a lot of other developers, and it seems like clients can be pretty price-sensitive, which makes sense when you have dozens of developers providing price quotes to earn business. Also, Upwork does take out a decent chunk of the client payments when you work on their platform, so evolving away from Upwork was an early goal.
Accordingly, we’ve been focusing a lot on SEO to bring in inbound leads, and that has become our primary source of customers over the last 6 months. We expect that to only increase.
Early on, we also had help from freelance sales representatives, who helped “hunt” for new clients. A big challenge we found, though, is that while we did find some initial clients that way, it is finding needles in haystacks to reach out to a potential customer, and just happen to have the timing aligned where they need a website right when you reach out.
Instead, we’ve found we need to play the long game, by building relationships and getting our name and portfolio out there, so that when a potential client eventually does need a website – it can take a year or two, or longer before that need arises – we’re top of mind for them.
If we want to be great to work with for our customers, we also need to be great to work with amongst ourselves. This has made a huge difference.
Additionally, LinkedIn has been a great source of leads, as we share our work on that platform, and likes, shares, and comments help spread the word about Buddy. Long-term, though, I think we’ll continue to see increases in organic traffic from Google searches and social media, as we’re increasing our efforts on SEO and social media platforms. A key trick has been getting on people’s radar so that when it’s time for a website update, they already know about us and the caliber of our work.
Looking at our numbers for the last 2-3 months, almost 40% of our leads have come from LinkedIn, 23% have been inquiries from our website. The remaining percentages have come from personal connections, referrals, and a few other various sources. We’ve been aiming to have around 2 social media posts per week, including blogs, before and after videos, and educational content, so I anticipate we’ll see that website inquiry go up as we drive more customers to our website.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Business is going well and I’m optimistic about the future. I share with my friends that the business has evolved from the phase of “is this going to work” to “wow, this actually seems viable,” and now to “we’re a viable and growing business.” It’s extremely fun and rewarding, and I’m so grateful for the success so far and the team we’ve built.
As we continue to build our client base and grow our portfolio and customer reviews, we’ve been adjusting our pricing to be more in line with website design and development agencies of similar caliber. Operationally, our goals are to continue to do excellent work and just grow the business for the long term by taking on more and larger client projects and growing the team.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Something that’s been reinforced a lot through Buddy’s growth and evolution has been the importance of finding and bringing on incredible team members and developing a great team culture. A huge goal of mine with Buddy has been to only bring on rock stars to our team – people who are both technically excellent at their jobs, but who are also just really wonderful, nice, good people. If we want to be great to work with for our customers, we also need to be great to work with amongst ourselves. This has made a huge difference. It’s also made it a little slow to ramp up and find the right fits for hiring, but we’re playing the long game here.
Another thing that’s been reinforced is how important being honest and transparent with customers is. I’ve tried to be really upfront with potential customers about what things we’re good at, and what things we’re not. Just based on feedback I get from these potential customers, this approach doesn’t always seem to be the norm. But, fortunately, that honesty has seemed to pay dividends, as we get clients referred to us that seem to come out of nowhere because they’ve heard about our good reputation, which is incredible and so appreciated. It’s nice to get positive reinforcement for trying to treat others well and work with integrity.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We primarily use Wordpress for website development and the Elementor page builder within Wordpress. We’ve found it’s a good fit for us to be able to create really beautiful custom websites that function well technically, and that is also easy for customers to use and update once the site has gone live.
Beyond that, we use Asana for project management, Slack for team communication, and Google Workspace for email, documents, and file sharing. We’ve found these to be affordable, scalable, and easy to use, both for ourselves and our customers.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I learned to design and development on Udemy. Wow, what a great resource. For less than twenty bucks you can get a full course to learn a new technical skill, create work examples for a portfolio, and help launch yourself in a new career direction. It’s been a game-changer for me. I have an undergraduate business degree and MBA from the University of Wisconsin, and while I value my experience and education there, the bang for the buck you can get from Udemy is tremendous when it comes to learning technical skills.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Before starting Buddy, I’d worked in and around startups in the med-tech space, market research, e-commerce, and other industries. As you probably know, as CEO, your job early on is chief sales officer. And, if you’re trying to push a new product, sales can frankly just be hard.
In changing directions to web design and development, that was a very deliberate choice, in thinking about what services are already in high demand, where I could create a highly valuable service offering that would be differentiated from competitors.
It’s amazing how much easier life as an entrepreneur is when there are people actively looking for the product or service you’re offering. This hasn’t by any means made sales “easy” per se, but it is way easier to find potential clients in the web development space than in other industries I’ve worked in, because it’s a much-needed service, and we do really good work.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes! We’re currently looking for additional WordPress and eCommerce developers. If you’re interested in checking out our current openings, please visit our careers page on our website.
Where can we go to learn more?
Our website, portfolio, and more can be found here.
Buddy Web Design and Development has provided an update on their business!
20 days ago, we followed up with Buddy Web Design and Development to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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