One of the main benefits of this website is connecting with people on the same path I went down years ago – you have WordPress skills and you’re looking for how to find your first local web design client.
Getting clients is the MOST DIFFICULT job in freelancing! Let’s discuss 7 ways that you can land your first paid web design gig.
1) Personal Network
Yes, it’s cliche. And it is for a reason – it works.
Your best chance for new web design clients is through people you know. People do business with those that they know, like, and trust.
It’s much easier getting money from someone with a connection to you. Even if it requires a few degrees of separation, any connection will reduce the friction during a financial transaction that is inevitable.
Be Realistic With Your Expectations
- Don’t expect to reach out then get 10 new jobs
- Don’t expect a major pay-day from day one, be humble at the beginning
- You may need to work for free at least once to get experience working with someone else
- Most business people are reluctant to spend money on any service, even if they know you
- Until you have a few verified testimonials, many people WILL NOT choose you
- It’s about planting seeds, not instantaneous results
- It can take weeks or months for those seeds to blossom, or they may not at all
- You need to be proactive over a long period, don’t ask once and expect magic
- Once you build a reputation, there is a compounding effect of referrals
- Your goal should be a few long-term clients, not tons of short-term clients
These are all beliefs that I came to after being stubborn and thinking the opposite while things weren’t going my way.
With the benefit of hindsight, I now understand why the long-term approach is more important than the success or failure of finding clients today.
Be Direct with People
When it comes to finding clients through your personal network, you don’t necessarily want to blast Facebook with a status update saying that you are looking for work. You want to be as direct as possible.
Go through the people you know that have a business, hobby, or an existing website that isn’t that great. Send them a text, email, or any message that is one-on-one communication. If they don’t need a website or help, see if they can refer you to someone that does need your talents.
Go through one or two degrees of separation via your personal network to find new leads. You are likely going to have to talk to them over the phone or meet in person to get their business. But, having that connection is going to make things a lot easier.
2) Target a Niche
I first started thinking that I wanted to build websites for every type of business and that was the absolute wrong way to go.
If you target everyone, then you aren’t really appealing to anyone.
I recommend finding a specific business industry that interests you and that you want to learn more about. Not just the online side, but actually how the business works offline, marketing, etc.
If you know intricate details about a specific type of business besides the technical side of building a website, you are going to offer more to your client. You are also going to understand the language that they speak.
That means you will be more comfortable with the sales conversation selling them the website!
3) Free Offer
Another good strategy is to have a free offer that can be as simple as registering their domain. I did this once with a client who was not sold on creating a website at the current moment, but I told him I will register the domain name for free.
It only costs $10-20 and over the next year when that person is ready to build, they are going to go to you as opposed to someone else.
I have also offered a free setup fee. This can be a little bit complicated because you will run into flakey people who are going to take advantage of that free offer, and then not pay anything down the road. However, if you sell them on the fact that you are going to launch for free and then charge a monthly cost to maintain/update the website, you may potentially get a solid long-term client.
Also, for businesses that don’t have a website and want to create one, I have offered free business cards. If they have a new website built for them, they are going to want their new email address and new domain name on their business cards.
4) Provide Example
The best example you can have is the work that you have done for someone in the past. Maybe you’re freelancing now, but you had a job where you created websites or did something related to websites or online marketing. Those are perfect examples to share.
If you don’t have work from previous clients, build a demo website similar to other websites within an industry, and show them what they are going to get. This way they can at least visualize the work you are going to do for them. A demo website will bridge the gap between the abstract concept of what the website in their mind, and how it actually looks within the browser.
The most powerful asset you have is previous work with a similar type of business or person.
If you are looking for your first client then it’s more difficult. However, when you do get your first client, use the results of that client to sell your subsequent clients. You can create a “case study” of the results that you got for that person and a short testimonial of their experience working with you.
5) Cold Email
Once you have an industry type or local businesses that you are willing to target, you can go to their existing website or local business directories (if they don’t have a website) to get their email address.
You want to be as personal as you can when you send a cold email. It’s important to realize that business owners get pitched every single day and their instinct is to ignore you.
Find the business owner’s first name if you can and information about them or their business. Weave those connections into your initial email.
You want to have cold email scripts that you can work off of, and I open emails with one of the biggest benefits they are going to get by having a professional website. This may or may not be specific to the business, but one constant is that all business owners are looking for new leads.
If you can articulate how having a strong online presence is going to help them gain more business, they will be open to your pitch.
You also want to discuss a little about who you are after you explain the benefits. Don’t start by talking about your skillset, instead focus on a real personal connection you have to the business that will separate you from the noise.
This is why I specifically recommend going local. That in itself will stand out compared to generic service offers from around the country or internationally.
6) Cold Calls
As an introvert, cold calling is something I have avoided for a long time. However, it’s undoubtedly the easiest way to get in touch with a decision-maker and influence them.
With the business type I work with – local home service contractors – most calls are answered by the owner, or by someone who works directly with the owner (like a secretary).
You don’t necessarily want to sell them right away unless they display an eagerness to begin work immediately. You want to set up an in-person meeting.
Once again, that’s why it’s best to focus on your local area to meet people face-to-face.
In my experience, the fact they are willing to set up a meeting is a massive indicator that they are close to making a decision. You’re also more likely to close a deal when they get to know who you are by spending time with them.
I’ve had clients write me a check on the spot!
7) Follow Up
All these methods require you to contact someone for the first time, but I have seen so many sales studies out there that say 80% of sales deals are closed after five or more contacts.
Conversely, about 85% of salespeople contact their leads three times or less.
You are leaving a lot of business on the table if you don’t follow-up! Be creative in your methods, too. These follow-up messages can be phone calls, text messages, emails, advertising campaigns, etc.
Ultimately, you have to be persistent if you really want to get that first client.
As an example, for my last two clients, it took multiple emails to finally coordinate a time where I could pitch them my offer. They would say, “I’ll get back to you soon,” and not surprisingly, they didn’t.
I just had to consistently reach out to them over the course of a few weeks, slowly pushing them along the process and making sure they felt comfortable asking any questions.
In the end, I set up those meetings, further educated them, and landed their business.
I’m not here to convince you to become a hard salesman and start harassing people until they hand over their credit card. I’ve stated it many times, I’m introverted and found my best clients through personal referrals. But you must get out of your comfort zone to achieve your financial goals.
For instance, I found my first web design client because he did work on my parents’ roof. I built his website for a one-time fee and occasionally did hourly work for him.
I got this initial job with literally 1 contact, all due to the personal referral. Because my parents spent money with him, he was more willing to reciprocate with me.
It took nearly 2 years before he decided that he wanted to advertise online, only through my persistence.
We met at least 10x until I convinced him to pay me monthly to manage his online advertising campaigns with Google. Some of these meetings occurred because I helped him fix computer virus and speed issues, not pure website work.
This is why you have to set the bar lower at the beginning and practice friendly persistence while helping people along the way.
Earning good money takes trust, and trust takes time.
Sometimes a small project or personal connection turns into something much better when you least expect the tide to turn. That’s why determination is as important, if not more so than your skill level.
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Have an Open Mind & Be Realistic
The first barrier to financial success could be your own mindset, and that’s why you must start here instead of pure tactics.
We are taught for years that our life plan must be high school, college, get a well-paying job, then start a family. It’s the straight and narrow track to the “suburban dream”.
If you stray from this in any way, you are viewed as an outcast.
Along with this thinking comes the idea that we deserve to be paid for our skills. You believe someone owes you a consistent income because of your knowledge or degree.
I’ve learned the hard way, this is not the way business works.
At the beginning of my freelancing journey, I felt confident with my skill set in WordPress and web design. My yearly income would need to be $60,000 to come close to a computer engineering job.
In my first two years, I made a tiny fraction of this while living at home with my parents.
It’s a gut punch to your ego. It’s easy to question the decisions you’ve made if your goal is purely financial and you’re thinking short-term.
The harsh truth is finding web design clients takes time. Finding the right clients can take months or years.
And unlike learning the technical side of WordPress or websites, there is often no clear “right” or “wrong” to how you approach client acquisition.
Things don’t universally work, because there is this major variable in business – HUMANS!
You truly need to earn every dollar you bring in as a freelancer, entrepreneur or business owner.
It ain’t easy, but the reward of setting your rules and pursuing your interests is well worth the sweat and tears (hopefully no blood).
Diversify Your Skills & Toolkit
There is one inherent downside to schooling, at least as I see it.
By choosing one major in college, you learn an area deeply which has considerable benefits.
However, in order to put ideas into practice in the real world, it often takes a wide variety of skills PLUS a deep focus on one area.
Let me give you a unique example.
Have you ever built a chicken coop?
I can see this outdoor project in my future, and my cousin did. Her husband (one of my clients) is a successful business person.
He owns a high-end service business and most clients find him through his website. Lately, I’ve been pushing him to take his skills and put them online – whether it’s a book or instructional videos. Something that is more passive, because his service is extremely time consuming and he works odd hours.
To educate him about the possibilities of building a presence online, I showed him this website which sells training on how to build a chicken coop:
The creator of this product is a rural farm family. They are hands-on and old-school.
You might think, “What would they know about online business”?
To release this digital product, they needed to:
- Register a domain
- Set up website hosting
- Build the website
- Create & edit an animated sales video
- Write an e-book
- Write sales copy
- Find a shopping cart solution
- Create a full marketing plan
- Consider advertising channels
- Drive quality traffic to the website
- Implement a referral program
- Find affiliate sales opportunities
- Manage freelancers
- Manage customer service issues
Big companies have the money to fill these discrete needs with specialists.
If you have a degree in Creative Writing, you might be a good match as a copywriter, but you probably know nothing about the website technology or shopping cart.
When you are a freelancer creating your own business, EVERYTHING is on you.
If you are hiring help, you are managing someone else, which can prove to be even more challenging than doing it yourself (especially for business beginners).
It’s overwhelming at times…. in fact, most of the time. You need strong determination to match the knowledge you must learn.
However painful it may be, continue to gain new skills when times are tough finding new web design clients. Particularly marketing because those lessons can apply to all businesses.
The more you offer, the more valuable you are to your existing clients. Upsell them services to make more money instead of constantly needing to find clients for one-time work.
Target Cool People (Like You)
Maybe this is simplifying things, maybe not.
Why choose an industry purely for money if your clients are bad people or have nothing in common with you?
I met with a divorce lawyer once thinking he could be my best potential client for web design. This opportunity came via a referral.
I thought the meeting went well, however they never got in touch with me after I followed up.
Maybe if I followed the aforementioned advice, I would have reached out multiple times thereafter.
The bigger story here is the guy who referred me to the lawyer said their relationship soured not long after. He ended up breaking his word on something, and I may have avoided a huge mess.
After then, I realized the importance of finding an “ideal” client type and working solely with them. I put “ideal” in quotes because it’s impossible to expect every business owner to be the same, however, you can target them closely.
Your ideal client type should match your personality. A divorce lawyer would have been a horrible match for me in retrospect.
My best clients give me a good “vibe” when we meet and discuss ideas.
This is something I cannot really explain, it’s something that you need to feel through working with someone.
The meeting with the lawyer was uptight, he had someone who did bad work on his website previously so he was very guarded about letting that happen again.
After you work with 3-4 different people, you should know which put you at ease and which you’d rather not be around.
The easiest way to get your foot in the door is through your personal interest.
This is like creating a larger personal network of strangers through common interests.
You could be alumni at the same college, from the same town, played the same sport growing up, have a similar hobby. It doesn’t really matter what, if you share something with a potential client, they will think more fondly of you.
I’ve done some odd experimenting with my dieting habits, and I can’t tell you how many times meeting with a client turns into an extended discussion on how to eat more healthily.
When I leave, I feel like I was having a conversation with a friend, not a client. That’s the feeling I want, but it only got to that point through my hard work over a long period time.
It’s funny because this is a lesson I know from my dad. I swear, he runs into someone he knows every other time we go somewhere together. He always strikes up a conversation with new people. This is undoubtedly the biggest reason for his success in life, working from a carpenter and warehouse worker to multiple executive positions.
As an introvert, I always believed there were other methods for finding web design clients while working in the background. I thought my technical skills would shine through my lack of conversational ability.
My dad was right, I was wrong.
Being a people person is more important than anything because that’s what it takes to close more sales.
I’m admittedly still working hard on this. I enjoy being reclusive, but I’m slowly getting better at the whole social thing!
Build Your Online Presence
If you aren’t thinking into the future and dedicated to building a presence online, that’s another avenue of client acquisition lost.
I say this with a twinge of regret because I planned to be more consistent with this years ago and never was.
Even with my small effort, I received multiple phone calls from prospective web design clients inquiring about my services.
This resulted in a few one-time small jobs and one client that currently pays me monthly.
If I had stuck with building on my portfolio website and blog, I’m confident it would have resulted in more paid projects.
It’s difficult to look past the short-term pain of doing work up-front with no guarantee it will lead to anything. You need to believe. Have belief in your ability to learn, and your ability to plant seeds that will eventually blossom.
I lost sight of this and got into a funk where I felt I shouldn’t work on anything unless it was for cash. That isn’t the correct way to go about life in general.
Money is a byproduct of genuinely helping people solve their problems. And the easiest way to help people is to discuss things you know that they don’t. The best place to do this is on your website or blog where people searching about those topics will find you.
Start building it today, give back, and leave your mark on the web.
80% of Success is Showing Up
We keep hitting on this long-term idea, and not getting down on yourself in the short-term. That’s exactly what this quote embodies.
It’s easy to think you should go from 0 to 100 in year one, however, success (whatever it means to you) takes time.
It’s way better to plug along each day vs. going full-speed for a month and then losing focus when things don’t go your way.
It’s the compounding effect of momentum. Starting to roll the ball down the hill takes focus and dedicated effort. But once it’s on the way, it almost cannot be stopped.
Sometimes you can point to your efforts and say, “this directly lead to finding a client”.
I think a lot of people would agree, though, sometimes the best encounters that propel you forward happen completely by accident, because you show up every day for a long period.
Two clear examples of this in my life:
1) I golf often and get paired with strangers, this has led to exchanging business cards when I talk about my work
2) I once got a well-paid gig through a friend of a friend that I met at a bar before a concert.
These times weren’t planned for business networking. Yet they resulted in work.
Because over the long haul, I stuck with a vision and successfully helped people along the way to build my list of testimonials.
I can’t help but point out the personal nature of both. Golf is a passion of mine, so others that share the passion want to work with similar people.
And my buddy’s friend referred me two months after the bar meeting because he knew a company that needed website help and had my business card.
After the interview, I got a distinct feeling that the company had no other candidates.
A day later, they shared their Dropbox folder and I got the notification when it started syncing. This is how I found out they gave me the opportunity to work on their existing website before they sent me a “we chose you” e-mail. Pretty cool moment.
I’ve continued to work with them on small projects for over a year.
Focus, Focus, Focus
I can’t stress enough that you eventually want to settle on a specific business niche or “client profile” for your website or WordPress management.
You want to develop a “sixth sense” when it comes to understanding your client’s business decisions outside of the website.
It’s easy to understand how to add a widget to their website, it’s a lot harder to offer practical advice on how they approach their marketing because you understand their business as well as they do.
That’s the level you eventually want to reach because that is where the highest degree of trust will exist between you and your client. They won’t see you as a commodity, you will instead be an indispensable resource advising them on how to get the most of online marketing AND customer retention beyond the initial website visit.
Plus, once you reach this level, it becomes much easier to pitch your services to other similar types of businesses. You know their biggest problems and you know the best way to solve them.
Here’s the deal, if you want to make money FAST, you need to be aggressive.
This wasn’t necessarily my method, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have thoughts on how you can approach the process most efficiently.
Sales is ultimately a numbers game. You will not get paid by the vast majority of the prospective leads you have.
If we limit this to your personal network, maybe a 20% response rate is reasonable.
If you are pursuing businesses that don’t know you, a 2% response rate could be the end goal.
You have to put in a lot of effort and contact people consistenly if your goal is getting sales as quickly as possible. That means advertising, cold-calling, pitching your services to almost everyone.
It’s definitely possible, just not my style. If you are an extrovert with the right web skills, you could strike a gold mine if you are savvy.
Even if you are aggressive, I still think you cannot overlook keeping your current clients happy and up-selling them with more marketing or management services.
That, to me, is the better way to build a business that stands the test of time by building a relationship with every client.
Pay to Play with Advertising
Other than cold-calling, paid advertising is the most aggressive way to acquire new web design clients. The stakes are much higher when your credit card is charged each day your advertisements are running.
My first advice is never even consider paid advertising unless you are incredibly specific with one of two areas – your business niche or your location.
The more specific you are, the easier it is to choose your best marketing channels, and the cheaper it will be to reach your ideal customer.
If you are generic, you’ll waste your marketing budget serving ads to people that have no interest in your services, and they view you as a dime-a-dozen business.
Crude example – which advertisement for a Chevy Corvette would do better?
1) An ad in the local newspaper which is delivered to every household
2) An ad in “Car and Driver” magazine which is delivered to auto-enthusiasts
The answer seems obvious, but so many small businesses make the mistake of advertising on platforms that don’t offer much return on investment.
Even if you are paying for advertising, you still need to hone in on your selling process because that’s the only way you will convert someone responding to your ads.
You Are Braveheart
You need a strong will and belief if your working for yourself.
Learning WordPress, web design and web development are the first steps of the process, but it’s not over there.
There’s a lot of mixed emotion.
It’s lonely but it’s so rewarding as you gain knowledge. One success can change everything.
You will feel like a failure at one moment, then an hour later revel in how you solved a problem.
You’ll work 100 hours without a dollar, then get a check for $1,000 when you least expect it.
The topics you learn are varied, but you begin to understand how they work together.
All of these things are not linear. You can have zero progress for weeks then a breakthrough. Or a string of successes that are halted by bitter disappointment.
There is no secret bullet to finding new clients. What works one time may not the next. What works with one person may be undesirable to the next.
The key is to continue to fight the good fight, build your knowledge, reflect often to gain wisdom and never lose momentum because that is when good ideas die out.
You never know when you’ll find the perfect web design client that redefines your view of business and the value you provide.