If you're thinking about becoming a freelance web designer, there are probably a lot of things on your mind all at once. If you have actually started, on the other hand, chances are you're focused on just one question: how do you get clients?
The bad news is that this is the hardest part of any freelancing startup. The good news, on the other hand, is that there are many ways to go about it and all of them work. Today, we'll be going over some of those methods.
What web design business owners need to know
As a freelancer running a small business in the web design sector, there is an inconvenient truth that you will need to come to terms with before you can get started. That truth is this: that you are a marketer first, a negotiator second, and a web designer last.
The first extension of that truth is that developing an effective marketing strategy to sell your web design services is far more important to your success than practicing to improve the quality of those services. High-quality designs won't make you a single penny if nobody knows they exist.
What this means for you
On the one hand, this can be a bit tough to deal with if you have no sales experience. Digital marketing is a skill all its own, and if you're the sort of person who has trouble with negotiations and putting yourself out there, you might find it especially challenging.
On the other hand, you don't have to be an especially good marketer to land clients. If you have any past sales experience to draw on, or even if you're just naturally extroverted, you will find that you can pick up the necessary skills in short order.
What this also means is that you don't have to be an amazing web developer to make money in the field. What's more, marketing skills apply to any freelancing field. If you decide down the road that you don't care for this type of work after all, you can easily pivot to a different niche.
Choosing your marketing strategy
Once you understand the importance of making the sale before worrying about providing the service, the next step is figuring out how to actually get new web design clients. Generally, as a freelancer, strategies for attracting potential clients fall into one of two categories: your first client, and every client after the first one.
Now, at a glance it may seem strange to have an entire category of sales ideas dedicated to your first buyer. You must understand, however, that finding your first client is a fundamentally different task to all the others. The first person to pay you for your services is a proof of concept, a validation to yourself that this is something you can actually do as a source of income.
Without that validation, it is exceedingly difficult to convince someone else that your services are worth real money when on some level you may not believe it yourself. Once you have that, however, every future client will be comparatively easy to find.
Category one: Your first buyer
Plans for attracting the first type of client are, for obvious reasons, most effective as short term strategies. You can continue using the same types of marketing over the long term with some success, though you may find that you sell yourself short of your potential by doing so.
This early on, however, any results are a million times better than no results. It is recommended to choose an approach with a low barrier to entry so that you can get started without wasting too much of your precious limited time.
There are a variety of job boards dedicated to freelance work, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. They offer perhaps the lowest barrier to entry of any method for attracting freelance clients. This does mean that they are flooded with low quality freelancers and low quality clients alike. For your first step into the market, however, that's okay.
There are far too many boards to list them all here, to say nothing of all the specialized boards specific to your field. To get you started, though, here are a couple of the most well-known and respected ones.
Being an Upwork 1099 worker is a common name in the freelance world, and for good reason. It is home to freelancers of all skill levels and just about any field you can imagine. One thing that sets it apart from other boards is location-specific jobs, which may be a blessing or a curse depending on your home country. Freelancers located in the United States have a significant advantage here, as many of the best jobs posted are US-only.
Fiverr is a name that carries some rather polarizing opinions. Some swear by it, others avoid it. While the base price of five dollars that many projects go for on the site is quite low, there is still potential to make some good money here. If you become especially successful you may be invited into the Pro program, where clients go in search of superior quality work at professional rates.
Cold email marketing
If you're looking to put in some extra effort in search of greater potential rewards, you might consider targeting the people or companies you would like to work for directly.
Through cold emails, you can bypass a huge amount of the bureaucracy that usually goes into hiring decisions and speak to the decision makers directly. Most of the time you will also avoid having to deal with any competition, as oftentimes you'll be aiming for a job that other freelancers didn't even know existed.
The downsides include the fact that it will be a lot scarier than a job board at first, as you will question who you think you are to be addressing people far above your income bracket directly. There is also the matter that you will be putting forth more effort up front seeking a job opportunity that may not actually exist at all.
In spite of these downsides, emailing is the early strategy of choice for many highly successful freelancers.
A brief intro to cold emailing
Getting clients through email is both simpler and more complicated than you might imagine. The steps are straightforward. First, make a list of your ideal clients. Then, make another list of clients that you would be willing to work for, even if it wouldn't be particularly exciting. Finally, make a third list of any companies you can find that are desperately in need of your services.
Once you have your lists, travel the internet from search engines to social networks to find contact information for the decision makers in those companies. As for what to say in your emails, you have a couple of options.
If your list is long and you have lots of emails to send, you might consider using an email template and modifying details to suit the target recipient. If you are having trouble finding companies worth emailing, however, you may want to spend more time personalizing your emails to each target in order to maximize your chances.
Bonus: Cold calling
If you are among the few who are more charismatic while speaking over the phone than through the written word, outreach via phone can work just as well using the same principles. Make sure to be prepared with a planned conversation flow, talking points, and answers to questions you anticipate the client having. But remember to be flexible to keep the conversation natural, focused on the client's needs and how you can help them.
Category two: All the rest
If you have sales experience, you may have recognized that the strategies from category one consist entirely of what is known as outbound marketing. Such proactive methods have their place in any freelancer's toolbox, but once you get a little more comfortable it will eventually be time to put some new strategies into action. Now we're going to look into some hybrid and inbound marketing options. There are a ton of freelancer softwares to help you out with this.
When the topic of hybrid marketing comes up, it tends to be referring almost exclusively to social media. Such platforms are a goldmine for the resourceful entrepreneur, a way for you to find clients and for clients to find you in turn. Here are just a few of the many social hubs that can be put to work for the betterment of your career.
This is an all-important one, for reasons that are hopefully obvious. You can connect with your existing clients here, and they can refer you to new clients all while you research your target market and collect email leads. Share your freelancer resume to your audience. Add business owners in your niche, post tips every day about web design and get inbound leads through LinkedIn.
While Facebook has collected a bit of a bad rap in some circles in recent years, it remains a bustling hub for freelancers of all types to drum up new business. Many seasoned professionals swear by Facebook groups as a means to find prospective clients in an environment where they are less likely to be on their guard.
This is a bit of an unusual one, as you are not likely to get a lot of direct business through it. The real strength of Meetup is connecting with other freelancers through networking events. By building relationships with other professionals, you will open yourself up to piggybacking off the success of others by offering new services to their clients. Just make sure you bring a hefty stack of quality business cards to each event.
Your own website
If you are a budding web designer - or anyone else engaging in any form of e-commerce, for that matter - and you don't yet have a brand new website of your own, you are missing out on a huge opportunity. Not only is building your own site a perfect chance to flex your web development muscles, it is a key component in any true inbound marketing stream.
What your site needs
For starters, it does not need to be your best possible work. Most of your clients will not appreciate all the ins and outs of an elaborate design with lots of complex plugins at a glance, and time spent perfecting your site is time not spent working on a paid project.
At first it only needs to be good enough to be attractive to your ideal clients and target market in general. A simple yet elegant Wordpress design will do the job. You can always update it later.
The landing page
When your visitors first arrive on your site, you need them to see reasons why they should choose you over your competitors. But if clients don't see good web design on its own merits, what will you use?
First and foremost, testimonials. Social proof is incredibly powerful in business, and anyone who arrives on your site to see glowing reviews from happy customers will be more easily swayed to work with you.
If you want to go the extra mile, you might hire one of your writer friends from those networking meetings to write you a case study or several. A deeper look into the results you've achieved for your clients is always a welcome sight to new visitors. While they're at it, they may also help make sure all your content is SEO-friendly so your potential clients can find you.
The pricing page
While you want to demonstrate the value you have to offer before clients see your prices, you do still want to ensure that your price structure is transparent and easy to find so that they know what they're getting in for. It is recommended to include contact information on this page, so that clients can get started speaking with you before the price alone scares them off.
What your site can do for you
Once it is set up, make sure your website link is displayed prominently wherever you can be found on the net, so that everyone knows where to find you.
As both a passive demonstrator of your value as a professional and a single location people can go to when seeking your services, your site is the lynchpin of true inbound marketing. When you're fully established, eventually you can reach a point where you have clients practically beating down your door. Show off your freelance portfolio of work.
Once you have so many web design clients coming to you that you have to turn some of them away, you may never have to bother with outbound marketing again. But how will your website accomplish this?
Word of mouth is the lifeblood of marketing. Referrals are the ultimate way to get new clients, whether you do web design or anything else for that matter.
The more clients you make happy, the more they will want to refer you to their friends.
When you make friends with other freelancers, they can refer you to clients who need your services in addition to their own.
If you know someone who owns a popular YouTube channel or podcast, whether through work or otherwise, get them to give you a shoutout and you'll be swimming in new connections.
As long as people know where to get in contact with you, that is.
We've covered marketing strategies for your web design business from the first contact through to having so many clients that you can't handle them all.
With any luck, you've picked up some ideas along the way that you can adapt to work for you personally. Don't forget to use an expense tracking app like Keeper Tax to handle your taxes.
Be sure to check back often for the latest tips and guides to making the most of your freelance career.
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