Got your First Shopify Client as a Web Designer? Here's What to Do

Unsure about how to start on your first Shopify client? I’m giving you all information you need to do things right the first time so that you look like a total pro.

How to Use Custom Fonts on Shopify

First Steps for a Shopify Web Designer

So you’ve scored your first Shopify website design client but you have no idea what the best way is to start. Perhaps you usually work on Squarespace or WordPress sites and now you’ve inherited a Shopify website. Doing something you’ve never done before can be stressful and time-consuming. You may not be sure if you’ve done things the best way until a few stores in. Not to worry… we’ve got you covered. Follow these steps to get a good, fast start on your project and feel confident that you’re doing things the right way.

Create a Shopify Partner account

Create an Shopify Partner account here to officially become a “Shopify Partner”. You’ll now have access to several benefits:

  • If you start a client on Shopify, you’ll have unlimited time to develop the store (forget any limited trials)
  • You’ll earn a commission when clients sign up to a Shopify plan. (HINT: Read How to Earn Recurring Income on Shopify)
  • Request access to your client’s store as a “Collaborator” rather than a Staff member. Most stores only allow for 2 staff members, so you don’t want to take one of those places. Collaborators don't count towards the client's staff account limit.
  • By adding yourself as a “Collaborator”, you can see all the stores you have access to in one place, and easily log into any of them from your Partner account.
  • Shopify Partners have access to Partner education. This includes webinars, live events online and Partner updates so you’ll always know what’s new on Shopify.
  • Shopify Partners have access to a separate support channel on the Partner dashboard so you can get a different type of help to store owners.
  • As a Partner, you can invite other Partners to access different stores in your account. If you want to hire someone else to help you work on a store but don’t necessarily want the client to have to approve their access, then you can invite them to access one store as part of your Team in your Partner account.

Access the Client's Store

Now that you have your Partner account, you need to either access or create a client store. On your Partner dashboard, go to your Stores list and click Add Store. If you’re starting a new store for the client (they don’t already have an account), choose Development Store. If they already have a store that you need to access, choose Managed Store.

Again, development stores give you unlimited free development time and once your client starts paying for a Shopify plan, you’ll earn a recurring revenue share. If you create a development store, you will need to choose a store URL. For example: Note that this URL can never be changed. If a client is picky, this URL may be important to them, although it’s not a URL that anyone other than the client will ever see once the domain is connected.

For a Managed store, you’ll need to know their URL. I personally request access to everything, because I don’t like to run into roadblocks later when I can’t access something that I need, and I like to get the full picture of what’s happening in the business so that I can create a strategy in my design.

If the client isn’t comfortable giving full access, know that you will 100% want access to Products, Manage and Install Apps, everything under Online Store, and Manage Settings. You’d be surprised that uploading files in some cases happens in the Settings, so you definitely need access here to build the store.

Some stores require a 4-digit collaborator request code to even request access. Clients can find this by going to Settings —> Users and permissions —> and the code is under the Collaborators section.

Understand Shopify Themes

Choose a Theme

A theme is the base of any Shopify website. You need one. Choosing the right theme is crucial for building a site that has all the cool features you want. For example, if you want the website to have a certain feature you saw somewhere else, or you want text and images to animate in as you scroll down the page, make sure you choose a theme that has that! It will save you a lot of time and money to choose a theme that has the main features that you want, rather than adding them in later. I highly recommend reading our post How to Choose a Theme on Shopify before choosing a theme to help you clarify the features that you want.

If you’re buying a theme from outside of the theme store, make sure it’s from a trusted brand that has a great reputation. Consider staying away from cheap themes on Themeforest that will give you a headache later.

Purchasing a Theme

There are some important things to note about theme purchases:

  • Purchasing a theme gives you license to use it for one store only. Theme developers put in a ton of work to build and maintain the themes, and to provide support, so theme costs are very fair.
  • If purchasing from the Shopify Theme Store, the theme license is actually connected to the Shopify store. From the store dashboard, you can always download the latest theme version from the theme store since the store is connected to the lifetime license. For this reason, the store owner should purchase the theme. Also, if it is not a development store, the only option is for the store owner to purchase the theme. If you’re purchasing a theme that's not in the Shopify Theme Store like Flex (a trusted theme), then you can purchase this yourself, and either include it in your website quote, or agree that this is an additional cost that the client will pay you back for.

How to Work on a Client's Store

The confusion is real about whether to build the site on your own store and then move it over to the client's store, or build it on the client’s store. This is where you realize that Shopify, Squarespace and Wordpress all handle this differently.

Shopify is not like Wordpress where you can bundle up and export the whole store and all its files to a different host. But it is a lot more flexible than Squarespace where you can’t export much at all to move content to a new store.

First, you'll need to understand what is store specific, and theme specific, and what can be easily exported.

Store specific

  • Files (images, etc)
  • Pages
  • Blog Posts
  • Products & Collections
  • Apps
  • Policies
  • Settings
  • Navigation menus

Theme Specific

  • The theme and all configured settings in the customizer
  • Page templates (for example, many themes come with a "contact" page template)
  • Code customizations (if you install one of Luna’s sections, it is only on the specific theme)
  • Language settings (if you’ve edited the languages section of your theme)


  • Theme (although the theme license is NOT transferrable between stores)
  • Product list (including image links)
  • Customer list

How to Migrate a Shopify Store

So, can you work on your own store and then migrate it over?

You could build on your own development store and then move the content over, but then you may spend a few hours migrating everything that can’t be exported over. You can export/import the theme and products, but will need to re-add all the images and possibly page content.

My personal preference is to work within the client’s existing store because I don’t want to spend time copying content to my development store and then back over.

If you are working within the client’s store, this is where it will be important to make sure you’ve collected a part or full payment before starting work, in order to protect yourself.

How to work on a Live store

If you’ve decided to build a store within the client’s account, then you’ll want to be careful about not affecting their live store.

As we learned above, some things are store specific, and some things are theme specific. So if you make any changes to the products, then it will affect the live store. But edits in the unpublished theme won’t affect the live store.

Pages are somewhere in the middle since page content that’s added on the left side of the Shopify dashboard is not theme specific. But if you are adding all page content through Sections in the customizer, then this data is stored in the theme rather than in the page editor.

Although navigation menus are store specific, you can just create new menus to use for the unpublished theme you’re working on.

This may sound a little confusing but after a little experimentation, you’ll get the hang of it.

Duplicate the theme

Before starting to make edits to an existing store, you’ll most likely want to duplicate the theme. This will allow you to build in the background, without affecting the live site. This way, if any errors are made, it doesn’t affect the live site and you also have a backup of the original store. It’s also a way to get the client’s approval of any changes before the edits go live.


I hope that all of the above information has given you the confidence to get started on your first Shopify store, and know that you’re doing things the right way! 

If you found this helpful, you might like to check out our Shopify Store Launch Kit. The Kit will help you make sure you collect all the right information from your client, and don't miss a single step in setting up a Shopify store. You'll look like a total pro right from the beginning. 

Shopify Designer FAQ

How do I access a client’s Shopify store?

The best way to access a client’s Shopify store is using a Shopify Partner account. This will give you access to all your client stores in one place, it won’t count against the store's staff limit, and your client can decide which permissions to give you.

Can you duplicate a Shopify store?

You cannot duplicate a Shopify store, as the entire store contents are not exportable. You may export products and customers.

How to make a staging site on Shopify?

Shopify websites are hosted on Shopify, and store data cannot be transferred. Therefore, it’s not practical to work on a staging site the same way it would be on Wordpress. Instead, you may work on a draft theme to make changes that you’re not yet ready to publish. Product changes that need to go live at a specific time can be uploaded via spreadsheet at the time of publishing.

How to earn hosting fees on Shopify?

Shopify websites are hosted on Shopify, so there is not the opportunity to sell clients your own hosting solution. However, by bringing clients to Shopify, you can earn 20% of their monthly payments, as long as you have correctly transferred ownership from yourself to the client, they remain on a paid plan, and you remain and active referring Partner.

Enjoyed this post?

Watch our
Free Training

Watch now
Free Shopify Training for Designers