If you are a web studio owner or a freelance web developer, you may have already faced the problem of a lack of work. Finding web design clients is typically the biggest concern on any freelancer's mind. Even established web design agencies sometimes struggle to find a steady stream of projects!
Don't worry if this sounds like you as it happens to the 70% of those of us involved in the web design business at one time or another.
The competition in this market is tough. There are lots of freelance designers and developers out there from across the world. There are also more places to find them. Finally, there are lots of freelancers who live in countries with an incredibly low cost of living, so competing on price alone is never enough!
You can be an excellent web designer but when it comes to selling your services, this requires a different set of skills. If you don't have the skills to sell yourself well, you may find yourself not knowing where to begin when looking for more web design clients.
15 Effective Ways to Attract New Web Design Clients
Here are some effective ways to attract new web design clients. Each has proven workable for freelancers and small businesses across the world. Best of all, they are free, or at least, mostly free!
1. Keep an eye out on job boards and marketplaces in your niche
Every industry has a jobs board or series of jobs boards. Setting the more popular boards as shortcuts and visiting them regularly can help you secure more work.
Freelance marketplaces, by their very nature attract companies and or clients which are looking for web design and are literally in "buying mode". Given the volume of clients and the fact that they are looking to hire, you should always endeavour to create your own profile on the popular freelance developer marketplaces.
While marketplaces may be competitive in nature, they are still one of the best and sure-fire ways of finding new clients. You still have to project a professional image though and these tips should help:
- Take the time to create a highly detailed profile.
- Check out the following video which discusses the difficulties of creating a good profile and how to achieve this result:
- Describe all your skills and experience, attach examples of your projects, especially the ones which can show your most marketable skills.
- Be sure to include the value that your projects have brought to your clients.
For example, if you've implemented extra functions or implemented specific value-added functionality, ensure that you list these.
You should mention such differentiating factor as:
- Built a full sales funnel
- Implemented email marketing or drip marketing campaigns
- Implemented a full conversion and / or CRO exercise
- Full eCommerce setups including such stuff as Cart Abandonment, scarcity tactics and ways to increase the total value of purchases
- Site structure implemented using keyword research which is optimized for SEO
- Landing pages optimized for PPC campaigns
- Specializing in certain niches or markets
Given that you are competing with thousands of other profiles, you have to find ways to differentiate yourself from the rest. Creating a profile and application which is different, and helps you stand out from the crowd is key to winning business.
Once your profile is ready, you need to get proactive. You need to methodically sift through submissions and regularly apply for jobs yourself. Dedicate time to find projects which make sense for you, then craft a proposal or application which pushes your strengths that would benefit that specific project.
It is critical that you customize the application towards the specific project, so that your application stands out!
Freelance marketplaces offer lots of opportunities to take on short-term projects. But you need to take the process seriously and dedicate enough importance to it.
If you are still getting started, there is another way to differentiate yourself. This is by bidding lower than most other freelancers. This isn’t a sustainable practice but in those early days, or when you have no other work, such that you can improve your portfolio. Do a good job, get positive feedback and other clients should follow.
As your portfolio improves, you can then start to increase your fees and use previous projects as examples and positive reviews as reasons why a client should pay more.
Here are the most popular freelance marketplaces you should consider joining:
If you are highly skilled and are ready to pass a number of high tests to get included in the very exclusive top talent marketplace, you might want to check out and register as a freelancer with Toptal.
2. Pay attention to your own website
No one would trust their new website to a company that can't optimize their own online presence. It goes without saying that the design and functionality of your website should be 100% on point. Make it as user-friendly and intuitive for the user as possible. However, this is not the most important factor.
To be able to get new web design clients via your website the clients need to be able to find it.
Optimize your website to show up in the SERPs. If necessary, set up a few Pay-Per-Click campaigns on Google Ads. Target your niche and local-based searches around your niche.
Remember that to influence your position in search engine results you need to have your name mentioned throughout the web.
Here are several simple steps you can take right away:
- Use portfolio websites like Dribble.
- Ask your friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who have their own blogs, websites or accounts on social networks to link to your website.
- Reach out to popular web design blog owners and offer to write guest posts for them.
- Join online communities, groups and forums relevant to the web design niche. Be helpful in such groups and establish a reputation for being helpful.
To be aware of how things stand right now, Google yourself. It is always interesting to know what other people find when searching for you. It will also give you the opportunity to right any wrongs, correct any errors and fill in any obvious gaps in your coverage.
3. Ask for referrals
Word of mouth is still an incredible motivator when it comes to employing people. Think about your home, are you more likely to hire a plumber or electrician you have never heard of or hire someone your friends or family have recommended? There is a high likelihood it will be the latter. You can leverage that same power for your own business.
Whenever you have a client, don’t be afraid to ask for referrals. They are a powerful inducement that attracts new clients.
It is easier to get a referral from a client you have a history with. If you have some clients that keep coming back for more, ask them in an email or on a call if they would refer you if they hear of someone needing your skills.
If the client hesitates, offer an inducement. A free product, free hour of labour, solve a problem for free or something else. Avoid paying cash where possible to avoid any negative fallout.
You could also use ‘recommend a friend’ features on your website. Offer a discount or some other inducement for a referral and you should begin seeing more enquiries.
4. Implement one marketing tactic well
Marketing is a huge and varied undertaking that every small business or freelancer has to master to one degree or another. If you don’t have time to master the entire spectrum, find a niche you’re good at and go all out on that. Two very effective marketing tactics are social media and content.
Social media plays an important part in the life of our society. There are no two ways about it, you have to be visible and active on social networks in your web design niche. It is a crucial part of your digital marketing effort.
The number of social networks out there is significant. You will need to dedicate time to keep all of them up. So, do you need to join all of them?
Go where your clients are
First of all, you need to analyse who your clients are and which social networks they use.
- LinkedIn is a must-have for those who are searching for business contacts and potential clients. Here you can build a professional profile rich with keywords associated with your specialisation. LinkedIn allows you to create strong relations with your colleagues and clients. It also allows you to write great articles with industry-leading insights and thought-leadership posts.
- Facebook is perhaps the most popular social network. Unlike LinkedIn, it is better for laid-back content and relaxed communication. Just remember, don't sell, build an online community which shows how your services will bring value. Video and animated content, and human-based imagery are winners on this platform.
- Pinterest is an ideal choice for a web designer as it provides a great opportunity to showcase your work in image form. This is also great if you can couple this with any photography skills you may have.
- Twitter will help you to keep your clients updated about the latest news regarding your company. We believe that posting occasionally, just showing that your profile is not abandoned is more than enough unless you already have a strong following.
- Instagram is similar to Facebook where clients want to be entertained. Strive to keep them engaged and wowed.
- Google My Business is important because if you are able to generate good reviews on your profile, you will rank better for organic and location-based searches for your services.
Choose the social networks to focus on depending on your needs and where your target clients are most likely to be found.
Create a detailed profile (use the same concepts we discussed for marketplaces), stay active, join communities and groups related to the web design niche.
However, remember to use social networks not to sell but to build relations with your audience!
Using web content
Another way to leverage a single marketing method is with web content. The phrase "Content is a King" sounds pretty hackneyed nowadays. That doesn't make it any less essential, or true.
A well-written article will assist in creating a positive image for your brand, showing you as a real web design professional. This also increases your chances for higher rankings in search engine results.
If you take a look at the articles on this website, you can see that we always try to come up with highly-actionable articles which make sense in the context of what the user is searching for. We also make sure each topic is covered from as many aspects as humanly possible.
You don't necessarily have to limit yourself to the textual content only. The more creativity you would put in, the higher will be the response.
Here are several ideas you can use:
- Infographics based on original data insights
- Videos with actionable advice
- Checklists or templates for your ideal clients
- Free tools which provide value (think calculators, or other online tools which can be easily programmed)
- Podcasts with influential or knowledgeable people in the industry
- Newsletters which focus on adding value
Done right, your blog could be an excellent source of clients, particularly if you target specific keywords which are close to the intent of the search. In this case, designing or creating websites.
Even if your blog doesn't bring you many new clients, it will help to create credibility and recognition of your brand on the web. It will also complement any other initiatives which you are taking such as posting your site on freelance marketplaces above.
5. Improve your skills
One thing they probably didn’t mention when you first asked about being a web designer or developer was the constant battle to stay current. Technologies and platforms are changing all the time and we have to work hard to stay ahead. Even when you’re trying to build your business and attract new customers, you also have to be improving your skills and learning new ones.
There is no single way to do this. You could go the formal route with college or night classes or use online tools and walkthroughs to learn new skills. Some people learn by doing, so even buying new software or trying new techniques can help.
Look at other web designers to see what their skills are. Look at job adverts to see what the required skills are. Read industry papers and news to identify skills shortages and learn skills in demand. It’s a lot of work but it will pay dividends!
6. Niche and become the expert
An extension to improving your skills is finding a niche. Look on any of those freelance marketplaces or jobs boards we mentioned earlier and you will see hundreds, if not thousands of web design generalists with mainstream skills. You will find it very difficult to compete with these on price so you have to outskill them.
Look at emerging web design trends and see how you could use them. Look at in-demand skills lists and see if anything takes your fancy. Check out this Reddit for web developers as it has a list of key skills for 2020.
When you have a niche, you can refine all of your products and services around this niche. Rather than offering a wider range of generic services, refine your offering to just a few high skill, niche services. This will narrow your target market but should deliver more targeted queries.
7. Have a strong lead magnet and anchor client
A lead magnet is an opt-in that captures client data for later leveraging. It could be a free download, PDF document, free Java app or something else. Make sure it is relevant to your industry and your niche and ideally, showcase some of your skills too.
Create a popup or opt-in form on your website and provide that freebie in return for an email address. Remember to be compliant with GDPR and local data collection rules and use the email address selectively in targeted marketing campaigns.
The term "anchor store" is typical for the retail trade. In a shopping centre, an anchor store serves as an attraction that draws the clients to the smaller stores. It is not the anchor store itself that generates the main profit for the owner, but the smaller shops.
This principle can be applied to the web design niche as well. One anchor client in your portfolio is enough to attract dozens of smaller profitable clients.
How can you catch such a big fish? First of all, you need to identify a company that is well known in your industry. Now, you need to hook them in any way and by any means. A good idea would be to meet them in person and offer them a redesign of their website giving valid reasons for every suggestion you make.
This will show you as an expert in your area.
Or you can offer to create a brand new website for them with a huge discount. You can even do it for free if you think it makes sense for your long-term business and future referrals. While we don't like working for free, in certain cases, the referral more than makes up for the initial loss you make.
When other potential clients see such a big brand in your portfolio, they will be more willing to pay premium prices to have their website created by your company.
8. Speak at events
To some, the idea of speaking at an event is a fate worse than death. For some, it’s just another day at the office. Whichever side of the fence you’re on, there is no doubt that keynote speaking is a fantastic way to get your name out there and build authority.
There are a number of web development conferences and events in every corner of the world. Shopify Unite in Canada is one example, while Shoptalk is another. There are conferences and events for every aspect of the web and the more you specialize, the more in demand you could be as a guest speaker.
If you have never spoken in public before, Catt Small has an excellent guide to becoming a public speaker in just one year. It is well worth checking out.
9. Guest on podcasts and webinars
Once your public speaking is up to scratch, consider guest appearances on podcasts or webinars. Both are incredibly important marketing tools and are increasingly popular mediums for marketing and for listening. Qualified guests are often welcome on podcasts and you could even host your own.
Prepare a script in advance so you have a good idea of what to say. You can ad lib of course but notes are always good to make sure you cover everything.
Offer to solve problems or answer questions. Offer comments on new products, technologies, new laws or industry trends. Make sure what you say is factual, double checked for accuracy and offers value to the listener.
It should go without saying that using humour is incredibly powerful if you can pull it off but make sure you don’t say or do anything that will cause offence!
If you see a request for guests, don’t reply until you have heard a couple of those host’s podcasts. Get a feel for their style and the substance of the podcasts, have an idea of the format, the level of expertise they expect and whether they have a habit of ambushing or pranking guests.
Preparation is key when guesting and the more you put into it the more you get out of it.
10. Know your good/bad client types
In a perfect world you would have performed extensive market research when you first set up your business. You would have looked at the competition, local markets, clients, created client personas and assessed your USP to help you compete in a crowded marketplace.
Part of that research should have been ideal client types. Although, to be honest, if you’re anything like us, what was originally your ideal client may not be after a few years in business!
Client personas are ideal for modelling what is your perfect client. You could outline aspects that work well for you, your services, your scale and skills. For example, create different client personas for small business clients, entrepreneurs, startups, medium-sized businesses, IT or Marketing Managers, or something else.
You can create as many personas as you like as long as you record their pain points, how you can address those pain points, positives, negatives, age, demographic and any other relevant data. Add where you are likely to find them online, forums, LinkedIn, web design bulletin boards and so on. You will need that information later.
While you may not initially be in a position to turn down clients, having these personas tells you exactly whether a client is worth fighting for or whether you should let them pass you by. Sometimes it’s better to go without the money than have to lose money, time and effort on a bad client fit.
11. Understand your client's buyer journey
Understand your client's buyer journey is exactly the same as understanding the buyer's journey on a website you design and build. If you understand how particular clients arrive at a buying decision you can tune your pitch and your approach to suit.
For example, a corporate client will likely have a long drawn out journey with many steps. You could become more valuable to them by having more formal processes, regular progress reporting, regular feedback reviews and a more corporate approach.
A startup on the other hand may just need a website in a hurry and want to be able to tell you what they want and leave you to build it. In that case you could tune your approach to be a hands-off process where you send regular updates and questions but otherwise get the job done quickly and professionally without much interaction.
12. Solve your client's problems
Providing any product or service is all about solving problems. We generally buy things because we need to address an issue. We hire people to solve particular problems we cannot solve ourselves. Knowing how to solve your client’s problems not only helps deliver a quality project but can also help with referrals.
When you design your service packages, you must display an appreciation of common client problems and the way you will solve them.
For example, you may be building an eCommerce website but your client may actually want an online store so they can achieve financial independence. They are both the same thing but are viewed in completely different ways by you and your client. Knowing the difference can help you empathise with the client and solve their problem at the same time.
Solve a problem, make a friend. Or in this case, deliver on your client’s hopes and dreams while fulfilling your own.
13. Offer free stuff
Offer special deals, promos and discounts. If you are able, offer free imagery, PSD files, templates, themes, even whole plugins. You can also offer free advice, problem solving or consultation depending on your personal strengths and weaknesses. Whether they are complex, or fairly simple targeting a very specific need is not so important.
You can add freebies to your website as they can help attract links and traffic. For example, if you are in the niche of website or WordPress templates, make sure that you have a number of free offerings. Ensure that the freebie is a showcase of your capabilities and a piece of work you are proud of.
It may hurt to give something so good away for nothing but it should provide a return on that investment. If the user enjoys the free product they may want to buy the premium version with extended functionality and customization options.
The main advantage of offering free resources on your website is traffic. It's an easy way to get people through the door. Plus, these resources allow you to show your skills and expertise. They are as much a sales pitch as a service.
Such stuff as business cards or flyers, mockups or design for SWAG, anything that doesn't take too much of your time to create, but would be very much appreciated by the client. A satisfied client is more likely to recommend you to the others.
You don’t have to restrict your efforts to just your website either.
Offer free advice where your audience is
When we discussed marketing, we touched on client personas. As part of that research, you will have tried to analyse where a particular person might hang out. Visit those places and read questions, answers, forum posts, social media comments and research as much as you can.
Try to identify where you could add real value. Whether that is answering a specific question or commenting or correcting other online content. Show willing to be helpful for free and you will gradually build a reputation for positivity and professionalism. Two things that will help attract new clients.
14. Underpromise and overdeliver
One of the first lessons we learned when we first joined the world of work was to under-promise and overdeliver. It’s all about expectation management and the psychology of expectation. If you tell a client their website will be ready in 8 weeks’ time and it takes nine, they will be disappointed. If you told them it would take 10 weeks and delivered it in nine, they will be delighted.
Expectation management is a key part of running any business and is something you had better get to grips with as a freelancer or web development studio. Balance those expectations carefully so you have enough time to deliver excellence without making the client wait an excessive amount of time.
As experience grows, you will know how long it will take to build a Magento store or develop a Java app for a web page. Use that knowledge to come up with a realistic deadline you could comfortably exceed. That’s how you delight a client!
15. Be responsive and follow up
A wasted lead is wasted income. Remember that 80% of a freelancer’s work comes from 20% of clients. Not following up on a lead or being lax in responses could lose you a significant amount of work.
Follow up quickly and efficiently when:
- You receive an email, web form or phone enquiry.
- When you meet a potential client at an event or conference.
- When you receive a referral, respond to both the person referred and who did the referring.
- When you see a comment or query on your social media channels.
Have you heard the term ‘you snooze you lose?’ It could have been coined for small businesses and freelancers. We have the flexibility to be responsive and agile. Prove it.
If you don’t always have time, use automation to help. Create an email autoresponder to your info@ web address. Have a partner answer the phone or employ an agency to run your social media. Other freelancers would be happy to handle your marketing and PR and follow up can be part of that.
Use calendars to manage contacts and appointments, meetings and events. Share the calendar with employees and across devices so you never miss a thing.
Conclusion: Work harder, but wiser
Throughout this entire process you will have learned a lot about yourself, your business, the wider business community and your ideal client. Now it’s time to use all that knowledge to your benefit. You should have the information necessary to target a niche, the skills within that niche and the knowledge to promote yourself to the wider world.
You will be working harder than before but you will be working wiser. Rather than the usual scattergun approach trying to attract every client for every kind of project, you can target qualified clients you know you will work well with. You will have a quality web presence, be active on social media, be commenting in forums and other places your clients hang out online.
You will be guest speaking, appearing on podcasts, blogging on your own site, guest blogging on other websites and offering valuable insights wherever you go.
After all this, you should still hopefully have the time and energy to complete a web design project or two from your new clients!
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