10 Things You Don’t Know About Scoring Web Design Clients

Clients are essential to a freelancing business, but many new designers don’t know how to get them. Here are ten things to know in order to gain a larger client base for you business.

One of the most scary areas of freelancing is not being able to find enough clients in order to make a living. Many just starting out have trouble knowing to to gain clients, and some unfortunately end up giving up freelancing altogether. However, finding and obtaining clients can be an easy task, when dealt with the correct way.

The art of finding and winning over clients does not include applying to every job available in the marketplace, hoping to gain at least one out of every thirty. Instead, the focus should be on selling your services to the client via the resources you have already, and getting the client to come to you.

If you regularly have trouble finding clients, here are the 10 things you probably don’t know.

1. Most potential clients won’t understand your highly creative web designs.

When a potential client eventually finds your portfolio, they immediately (and most likely subconsciously) start asking themselves questions based on your portfolio design:

  • Does this design style match what I want for my website?
  • Does this style match my company and it’s goals?
  • Will the visitors of my website understand and react to this design well?

The point being, you could have the most creative, high-end, and original portfolio design, but if it is not usable nor practical, that potential client will fear similar results in their own finalized product. That client is looking for someone that can make them a website that will appeal to a wide audience and make them sales.

Southern Media is a great example of a web design company that has this in mind. Their design is practical, not too ‘on-edge’ and shows that it can easily meet a client’s needs. At the same time, it is attractive and a very modern and creative web design.

Southern Media

This is not to say that we should avoid creativity and alternative layouts altogether. It is just to say that it is important to keep in mind how your design is going to be viewed in the client’s mind. If the client, as an average web user, cannot find their way around your design, they’ll assume visitors on their site won’t be able to either given a design provided by you. So feel free to be creative, but as a rule, keep user-centricity in mind. That will keep you in line while still showing off your talents.

2. Many potential clients have never worked with a web designer before.

A good portion of potential clients have never worked with a web designer before, and will not understand how to work with you, how much they should pay you, or how to communicate with you. So the trick is to make it easy for them.

The number one mistake I see many new web designers make is not having any, or not enough, information about their services on their portfolio. You can greet them with a killer welcome message telling them that you’re a designer, but then what? Then you should lead them to your services page, where you provide detailed information on what you do and how you do it.

For example, I define myself as a web designer and developer, but when one ventures to my services page, they see that I do web designs, logo designs, PSD to XHTML/CSS, WordPress Themes, etc. Under each I provide a description, and where appropriate, I include tools used or features of the services. I also provide a price for some of the services, although whether to include prices directly on a portfolio or not is very debatable. (I do it to only attract serious clients, while others find making contact with the client first is a better way to make a sale.)

My Portfolio

It may also be a good idea to create an F.A.Q. page, that will answer common concerns for potential clients, or information on your workflow, guarantees, and how you do business otherwise. If not an F.A.Q. page, then try to implement some of those answers throughout your content.

3. Job boards are not the place to look.

Trying to stand out? Well a freelance job board is probably one of the worst places to be then. Many jobs posted on them seem like dream jobs to designers, and are indeed great opportunities. However, if you’re just starting out, or don’t have a large client page and portfolio yet, that great job is going to go to someone more experienced.

Go ahead and apply if interested, because it’s always worth a try. However, don’t let that be your sole option for finding clients. There are many other areas to search for clients that are willing to hire someone just starting out.

Larger websites like oDesk, GetAFreelancer, or eLance are great places to find jobs, but they are overrun with individuals who may charge cheaper rates than what you’d like to work for. Nevertheless, you can find jobs and clients pretty easily on these huge sites because new jobs are posts literally seconds apart from each other. While you may end up landing a job that is not at an ideal rate, these types of websites are perfect for anyone who is looking to build their portfolio.

When starting out, I did a few jobs that were on average $75-$150 for a complete redesign. However, I got that bit of extra income out of it, and it gave me some great portfolio examples and testimonials. These are what other clients are looking for, and what potential clients on those job boards are also looking for. Point being: it’s a place to start.

Other options are looking locally, or getting out into the community to help raise your portfolio’s webpage ranking. Start a blog, or try to do guest posts or get featured in larger publications in the web design niche.

4. Social networking can help you out, probably more than you think.

Many of my clients come from social networking sites like Twitter, Digg, StumbleUpon, Facebook, etc. That is exactly why so many marketers stress the power of social networking so much.

This works because large social networking sites are not solely within the web design or web development niche. They represent an entire population of web users, including anyone looking for a new website. By not using social networking, you are mainly targeting those that do not need websites. With a wide audience, they will come to you.

Remember, joining is not enough. It’s social networking, which means being active on the website, contributing, and actually networking with others is how that potential client is going to find you.

Twitter

So don’t just Stumble, stumble and save favorites; Don’t just search through Digg, actually digg posts, make comments within digg, and make friends; Finally, don’t just tweet to your friends, gain loyal followers by tweeting relevant and useful information, and create a large following.

5. Getting referrals and repeat work from previous clients can be your best asset.

If a good friend were to tell you how good the new restaurant was down the street, you’d probably go try it out. The same works for any business, including a freelancing business.

Many potential clients that need a website don’t know where to look for a good web designer. However, in today’s age, many people know at least someone who has a website and that may have worked with a web designer. If you go above and beyond all of your projects (even starter projects that may not pay much), you have just made a probable and personal recommendation to each of that client’s colleagues. People will follow personal recommendations over any other form of selling your services.

Also, when going above and beyond with every project, you increase your chances of repeat work from that client. It’s easy to quickly assume that the client will only want one website, but many clients end up working for companies that own multiple websites, and they happen to be in charge, or partially in charge of all of them.

So as a prime rule, always do your best. We always say we should do this anyway, of course, but motivation can lack and our services can dwindle. Use the possibility of repeat services and recommendations as motivation to create the best final product.

6. Many potential clients don’t like to go through extra work to find out more.

This goes back to the point that you should provide as much common-knowledge information within the content of your portfolio as possible. Beyond your services, though, provide adequate information on yourself, your past works, and your talents.

Clients are always looking for someone specific. Sometimes having years of experience under your belt is what’s most important to the client. Sometimes its the amount of knowledge you have with a piece of software, or your extensive knowledge in a certain programming language. Whatever it is, if you don’t tell the visitors to your portfolio about you and what you can and can’t do, they’re just going to assume that you cannot meet their needs.

You may be the perfect designer for them, but “I’m a great web designer,” isn’t going to tell them that. If they only see that, they are unlikely to go through the trouble of finding out more. To them, it is more likely that you are not what they are looking for. Also, that potential client is probably looking through other portfolios, and they may find another designer that suits their needs better (according to what that other designer’s portfolio shares).

Below is a sample from my own about page:

Hello — my name is Kayla Knight, and I am a freelance web designer, developer, and blogger located in Iowa, USA. I love to create user-centric, beautiful, and efficient web designs that will meet the goals of any business. I work full-time from my own cozy abode, taking on a variety of projects, constantly experiencing new things in the field.

The first paragraph already tells a lot about me, and how I work. For one, it states my general job description, “web designer, developer, and blogger.” It also shares where I’m from, which states what time zone I would be working in and a bit about my underlying culture and language.

It then states what I focus on, or what I am known for with my work. Some designers may want to focus on creative and original designs, while others like to focus on mainstream goals of a client. Finally, I state that I work from home, which provides the reader with an idea of my availability.

The rest of the page provides more of my history, experience, and more professional qualifications such as schooling and past relevant jobs.

Once you do convince them to make further contact, or at least think about making contact, it’s helpful to even guide them along that process. In both my about and services section, I have a call to action that generally says, “If you are interested, contact me,” with a convenient link to the contact page. This invites the reader to directly make contact right after reading a section of my portfolio that they are interested in.

I find that most respond to contact forms the best, so I make that my main contact method. I provide a series of check boxes to let them clarify what services they’d like. The form is quick, easy, and remains focused on client work. Also note that a contact form is not my only method. I have a few others, as some potential clients may find them more convenient.

Contact Me

7. You are as popular as you make yourself seem.

This is a classic self-marketing and SEO trick, and it can very easily be applied to freelancing as well: don’t wait for others to discover your talents first, make yourself popular.

There is no doubt that a web designer with a popular portfolio, references on large web design blogs, and a strong following gets a lot of clients. People love popularity, and relate it to credibility and great work. After all, aren’t those the two things you’re trying to convince potential clients you have?

If you are featured in anything, do any side work that gets you recognized in the community, or you just know you are darn good at one particular thing, let the reader of your portfolio know that. Don’t be ashamed, and don’t consider it bragging. Modesty is not for portfolios. A portfolio is just the place where you are allowed to show off what you have done and what you are capable of.

Popularity

On my own about page I feature a “My Network” section at the bottom. I show off my other projects, and even mention a few of the top blogs I write for within the community. This builds credibility, and displays something that makes my different from many other web designers in the market.

My Network

In addition to freelancing, I run a design and development blog at Webitect.net, as well as an inspiration blog at DesignFinds.Me. These two blogs are where I explore new venues, make great connections, and explore the world of content creation and blogging. I also spend much of my time writing for top design and development blogs such as Smashing Magazine, Web Designer Depot, and Six Revisions.

A web designer with no credibility or impact in their niche has a lower chance of making “the sale” to potential clients, no matter how great their portfolio work is. So tooting your own horn on a portfolio is not only fun, but a great way to sell your design services to the client.

8. Don’t forget about the power of partnerships.

Make yourself available not only to potential clients, but also to other web professionals. There are many other web designers, developers, or others with an access to clients that may need your help on bigger clients, in areas where they’re not excellent in, or when they just have a hectic schedule.

The benefit is that both professionals are getting a client, and making income, but both parties do not have all of the responsibilities of a full client. This provides a better final product for the client and usually quicker outcome.

Web Design Partnership

To gain partnerships, the actual pieces in your portfolio are your best asset. Another web person will be looking for a web designer that matches their own style, or the style the client needs. The pieces in your portfolio is what will make the sale with another web person.

This is also another area where getting into the web design community will help. Not only will it build credibility to potential clients, but it will help others in the niche find you in the first place.

9. Professionalism of of the utmost importance.

Would you give your hard-earned money to someone who can’t take themselves seriously? Probably not, and likely your client’s wont want to either. Be sure to present your portfolio in a professional tone, and speak with clients during any project process in a professional tone.

So the above is obvious, but it goes much beyond what we would think at first. A good article for some more ideas on making a freelancing business more professional is “Give Your Freelance Business a Professional Make-Over“. It covers everything from using a professional email address (Candybar9099@hotmail.com doesn’t look too good), to the most professional methods of contact, and to working with the client and payment options.

10. Clients are looking for you, they just can’t find you.

Make yourself known by advertising your services in the right places. Many forums have areas where you can post your services or you can create profiles on larger freelancing or outsourcing websites. (oDesk, eLance, Craigslist, etc.) While you may not get a lot of clients right away, that link is there  if a person comes along looking for a web designer in a month, or in a few months.

Do a search for “find web designer” and a ton of web designer directories, freelance, and out source services come up. Post your services in as many places as possible, and perhaps those looking for a web designer will find you and find that your style is perfect for them.

Find clients

It may seem like your profile will be drowned in the crowd of thousands of designers on large sites like these, but one must also remember that there are thousands more clients looking for services. When I started doing this, I was truly surprise to see how much it did affect my business.

How do you do it?

Hopefully these ten items have helped open some doors for many just starting out. Feel free to share any tips or suggestions on how you gain web design clients, or how you’ve gained clients in the past.

Written By Kayla

Kayla Knight is a 20 year old college student, part-time web developer, freelancer, and blogger. Webitect is where she spends too much of her freetime, sharing interesting finds and valuable resources. Be sure to check out her portfolio.

19 Comments

  1. Adrian A.

    September 25th, 2009 at 02:11 am

    Excellent article Kayla, as always. You pointed out some crucial steps in becoming a successful freelancer. Great work!

  2. Noel WIggins

    September 25th, 2009 at 08:53 am

    This is a tremendous suggestion on establishing and growing your design business. I agree with staying away from the job boards and crowdsourcing places, being you will waste a lot of time with little rewards, it is better to try and get new projects from more “traditional” mediums.

    My big eureka moment was when I realized I did all kinds of promotional projects from my clients and not for myself, so be sure you do it for yourself as well, your business should be the first client and keep it an “active” client even after you start getting busy. (which is the biggest challenge)

    I agree with partnering as long as the “partner” doesn’t ask you to do a bunch of free stuff for the hopes for payment in the future, a partner should help you get things done that you can do alone. Not someone who adds more workload.

    Chin up everyone, I think we should be prepared for the “next economy”…

    Thanks and Regards

    Noel for Nopun.com
    a professional graphic design studio

  3. Amber Weinberg

    September 25th, 2009 at 09:34 am

    Do you seriously only charge $250 for a full web design and coding?

    That’s no better than the freelance job boards where high schoolers and Indian outsources are bidding for peanuts. How do you support yourself on $10 an hour? It looks unprofessional, cheap, and inexperienced. This is the main reasons people don’t put prices on their portfolio. I know you’re still a student, but if you’re good at what you do, you need to be pricing yourself at least $30/hr and above. You’ll price yourself into better clients also. Just a thought.

  4. Edwin Lap

    September 25th, 2009 at 08:34 pm

    Thank you for posting this article, arguably one of the best I have seen. I often struggle on how to explain to clients why things cost money. It simply it is not “copy and paste”!
    I believe that this is one of the missing elements in our industry and that outsourcing to India (Yes, there are good firms there) and free lancers (Yes there are good freelancers) , has unfortunately given a bad rep to reputable firms. It is increasingly more difficult to convince clients, because they heard that an e-com site can be established for $ 500.00 – so why are you charging $ 10,000?
    I would love to hear feedback from others regarding their experience.

  5. Rahul - Web Guru

    September 26th, 2009 at 12:20 am

    A must read article for all web developers. Nice compilation, I like it. Bookmarked for my future reference as well.

    Regarding the start up pricing for a complete web design, I too think that the $150 is far too less. Even I started at around $300 for a full web design.

  6. Jake

    September 26th, 2009 at 06:18 am

    Great Article, it really helped me with my thoughts about my new portfolio-site, thanks!

    I just want to agree to the upper commenters: I would suggest you dont sell yourself out too cheap. 30$/h is an aboslute minimum for your kind of work.

    In addition, what I find my clients especially interessted in, is some kind of work process. Show them step by step, how a website was built, and what tasks are involved. Explain to them, why your work may be more expensive than others, and highlight your invalueable advantages as working outside the box.

  7. Tom - New Evolution Designs

    September 26th, 2009 at 01:30 pm

    Nice article, you made some good and up-to-date points.

  8. Jason Stockton

    September 26th, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    Great article, I will definitely look into some of these tactics to find more work.

  9. Lucinda - eightyonedesign

    October 2nd, 2009 at 03:03 am

    Good article, I couldn’t agree more with point 5.

  10. Ujjwol

    October 2nd, 2009 at 03:11 am

    Hey, where did you get those pictures ?
    Can you share the sources ?

  11. Maicon Sobczak

    October 2nd, 2009 at 06:50 am

    Crucial aspects to think when creating a portfolio and living like a freelancer. Thanks for share.

  12. Sylvia

    October 2nd, 2009 at 10:25 am

    Good article. Other effective ways of finding new clients are seminars, business workshops and gatherings at local business networks.

  13. Michael

    October 2nd, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Great post! A lot of good points.

    Just in case you missed it, point 9 says “Professionalism of of the utmost importance.” Probably should be “Professionalism is of the utmost importance.” :-)

    Thanks!

  14. Karen

    October 2nd, 2009 at 01:01 pm

    Career advice from a 20-year old? Um… I think not. Come back and talk to us when you’ve got some real experience, and a portfolio that includes something other than very basic school projects. You need to be reading web design articles, not writing them.

    Did you lift this info directly from one of your classes/textbooks?

  15. Kayla

    October 2nd, 2009 at 01:48 pm

    Karen — it is unbelievable how many times I have to stress this. I’ve been freelancing for years. It doesn’t matter if I did it in high school of if I did it at age 30 — I’ve been successfully freelancing, web designing, and developing for years, and have had clients consistently for years. I might also note that my portfolio has just gone under a revamp, and that’s why it’s not stock full of my projects. If you’ve started later in the field– well hey–there’s a good indication of why you might be older than I am when getting into this level of the field.

    School projects are in my portfolio to expand my variety, and who are you to judge that a client project vs. a school project is any different in displaying what I can do with the software and themes at hand? My articles are obviously legitimate enough for some top blogs in the community, and to top it off, many top people in the community are in their early 20′s, while being some of the most influential people on the web.. Jacob Cass, 21..Vitaly Friedman 24 or 25, Micheal Dunlop, 21 — you get the idea.

    I can tell this is your first time coming to Webitect because you have seen nothing of value except for this post, my age, and my half of a portfolio I have up. If you leave a rude comment based on the points I make– then so be it, I encourage that sort of criticism. What I find appalling is people (such as yourself) immediately judging me, and my network, solely on may age and who I am. I’m incredibly proud that I can be making a living doing this at such a young age while balancing schoolwork.

    Basically Karen, what I’m saying is: I’m not stupid because I’m young.

  16. Michael

    October 2nd, 2009 at 03:21 pm

    Kayla, I totally agree with you. I think Karen is out of line with her comment. I, myself, am only 22 years old, and I would have to say that (not bragging of course) that I am more professional with my web development than a lot of other companies that do it on an enterprise level. Some of the young and upcoming developers are the most talented. They know what how to better handle the Web 2.0 stuff, and yet create simple and elegant sites. True, it may not be for any big names, but we can still learn just as much.

    Kayla, keep it up. This is my first time really visiting this site, but I like what I see, so I’ll be visiting more! Thanks for the post!

  17. Nakia

    January 30th, 2010 at 07:59 pm

    Kudos to Kayla! Young or old if you know what the hell your talking about no one can mess with you! Different things work for different people. Being able to do things your own defined way makes you rock! There are great articles on your blog, I’ll keep coming back for sure! Keep up the good work!!

  18. Todd

    August 14th, 2010 at 03:17 pm

    Thanks for all of the great info Kayla. I am bookmarking this particular article, and I have been impressed with the website in general. There is a lot of good stuff here! Thanks for your work.

  19. JNsites

    April 18th, 2011 at 08:29 pm

    Thanks for the great post, as a web designer I feel like I spend to much of my time looking for clients.

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