- Brett Williams taught himself graphic design by creating popular Tumblr quotes while in college.
- Williams was working as a UX designer at a transportation company when he started out as a freelancer.
- This is how he scaled his service into a multimillion-dollar business, as he told Kiera Fields.
This is an as-told essay based on a conversation with Brett Williams, a freelance UX and graphic designer who runs the Phoenix one-person agency Designjoy.
I make up to $150,000 a month running a one-person design firm, but I didn’t study design in college. I studied international business at the College of the Ozarks in Missouri from 2009 to 2011.
I loved to design and taught myself how to use Adobe Photoshop by creating these cheap quote images that were popular on Tumblr and Pinterest.
At one point, I was making over 100 quote images a day to post on Tumblr. At the end of my period, I had 60,000 followers on Tumblr and started a business around it selling T-shirts.
In 2011, I was offered a job creating social media assets for a design firm in California, so I dropped out of college. At the agency, I started to delve into UX and website design.
In 2012, I met my wife in California. A year later, we married and moved to Arizona, where she lived. I hopped between desks until I landed a UX designer position at a transportation company in February 2015. Later I was promoted to creative director.
I started my UX design business as an afterthought
I found my corporate job boring and wanted more creative design work. Freelancing appealed to me as an introvert, but the lack of consistent guaranteed income worried me.
I came up with the idea to create a design subscription service. I would offer my services as a UX and graphic designer for a monthly fee and clients could request custom designs at any time.
In one weekend in 2017, I worked out the packages I wanted to offer, wrote a copy and built a website.
I initially offered two plans: $449 per month for the most basic package and $849 per month for front-end design – app and website development.
I would let clients request only one design job at a time and turn that request around in two days. Design tasks could range from a few email templates to entire landing pages and had unlimited revisions.
I broke bigger projects into chunks and delivered each new piece every two days.
A week after coming up with my subscription offer, I posted my landing page on Product Hunt, a platform for people interested in new tech products that operates on an “upvoting” system similar to Reddit’s, as a soft launch.
My project quickly became popular and I ended up in the top four products on the homepage. I had 40,000 unique visits to my page within the first day of launch.
Since then I have not invested any more money in marketing.
My growth was pretty linear in the first two years and I kept about five clients a month. Even then I was very quick at turning around designs and doing freelance work between meetings and after work.
I started posting about my business on Indie Hackers, a platform for entrepreneurs
I started “building in public” on Indie Hackers in 2019. I posted everything about my business on various threads and message boards: the highs and lows, earnings, and what lessons I learned.
I posted about my zero-meeting tolerance, giving customers just 20 minutes to get to know each other before purchasing a subscription. After that, I no longer communicate with my clients outside of the Trello boards.
My communication style allows me to work efficiently, almost no project management is required. The faster I can work, the more clients I can have and the more I can earn.
I got a lot of traction in these groups and generated a steady increase in subscriptions. Between 2020 and 2021, I incrementally increased my prices from $850 to $2,500 per month.
Of course, some customers would not renew their membership after a price increase and new ones came in.
Six months ago I was still juggling Designjoy and my corporate job
In May 2021, I was working with about 30 clients, making $47,000 a month while I was on my 9-to-5 job. My ability to work quickly meant I could do all the work for my corporate job in an hour, and then all I had to do was sit in meetings. I spent the rest of my days and evenings working on Designjoy.
I was going to resign twice. Both times the company offered the flexibility to keep working and run my own business, so I stuck with it.
I finally quit in October when I hit $70,000 in monthly revenue and kept about 40 customers. From October 2021 to January 2022, my growth stalled and my annual run rate hovered around $839,000.
I decided in February to start using Twitter as another platform to share my business story. I went from a handful of followers to 20,000 in three months.
My new Twitter fame has led many people to my business
3 weeks after I got on Twitter, I had a waiting list of 100 customers. I had two options: stop new registrations or increase my rates. By the end of February, I had doubled my rates to $5495 per month.
I may have five more customers than before I increased my rates, but within two months I had doubled my monthly run rate. I made $150,000 in April 2022 without significantly changing my workload.
I work from 9am to 11pm, five days a week, with no holidays or sick days. That’s no longer than I’ve worked before, but I feel the pressure to do better work because I’m charging more.
The next step is to keep increasing my prices and reducing my customer tax. I could live well on a handful of customers. Right now I’m too risk averse to say no to someone or turn down money, but I want a better work-life balance.
I didn’t mean for Designjoy to get that big. My advice to anyone wanting to follow my model is to only assume the number of clients you can reach in an eight-hour workday.