How to get your first Web Design Client

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Updated July 10, 2015
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How to get your first Web Design Client


Tim Brown

Tim Brown is the owner of Hook Agency, and strategic marketer focused primarily on driving traffic and leads for small businesses and construction companies.

My first web design client was my future mother-in-law, a real doozie. A non-profit, I was paid $500 and an iPad. I’ve also been paid as little as – negative $ for making a website, because I was so eager for real world experience. Do you want a website? I want to give you one.. just let me pay for your hosting and I’ll make the website out of the salt from the sweat of my children.

Don’t sell yourself short. Charge a decent amount.

So the first real website I sold was a couple months later. I was just learning WordPress and I sold a site for 10 monthly payments of $250 dollars. Because it was a fairly simple marketing website and didn’t have a ton of custom features on it, this was actually a pretty solid deal for a starting out web designer.

The first half of selling yourself as a web designer is evidence. Let’s see the goods.

Make sure you have a decent portfolio out there, that you made yourself.

I don’t care if it’s on WordPress, straight HTML, or Ruby on Rails. Get that thing out in the open, give it the best you got and make sure it shows the best of your best work. Code up a non-profit’s website for free if you have to, and show as many real projects as you possibly can. I iterated on my website 3 times, with 2 live at my domain before I ever got my first real set of clients. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to exist.

 

Here’s my site I made in 2012 (click here to see it in the Internet Wayback Machine):

Getting your first Web Design Client

 

Here’s the site in 2013 (click here to see it in the Internet Wayback Machine):

Anthology of my website design

 

Yes.. I agree my portfolio was a little weak at this point, but guess what? I was getting clients. I wasn’t by any means, raking them in, but people I knew were coming to me and asking if I could help with their website or help them make a new website. I was eager to be of service, and make enough money to stop bussing tables.

Let the world know you’re making websites now.

Change your job on Facebook to ‘Self Employed Web Designer’, change your LinkedIn –  don’t put Aspiring Web Designer in your Twitter profile, put Web Designer. You’re a big boy (or girl) now. I personally took a good hard running jump at web design, and with one client and one month covered in expenses jumped out into the market as a web designer. No more restaurant job (which for me didn’t pay THAT well anyways.) When people hear that’s what you do, and you take a friendly and helpful attitude when they reach out, or you offer your services you can quickly earn some awareness around the new service you offer.

Don’t wait until you have it perfected, just go for it.

I’m not suggesting you make the new 3M website, or try to sell yourself as a ten year veteran of website design. You can, however, say you will go above and beyond for a client as you are starting out fresh and will do everything in your power to make them an excellent website. If you’ve created a couple examples, than that can help adjust expectations and although you may need to put ungodly amounts of time into your first couple websites you will earn your chops in the struggle. You’ll figure out how to z-index a logo over the top of overlapping nav div.

In defense of the designer developer.

Yes, I’m suggesting you will have to write code. Can you sell a website for $2,500 dollars and give half of it away to a front-end developer when you’re starting out? Perhaps, perhaps not. I personally couldn’t, and so… I learned to code. Basics at first, how to modify WordPress themes ever so slightly with CSS. Then cutting and splicing bits of PHP, then eventually writing my own themes from scratch. This is why I suggest having a couple websites under your belt before really having someone pay you for your web design services; you can find the rhythm that works for you. If you are an epic visual designer who can confidently charge $5,000 for your first website you could potentially find the right person to develop it for you and you can pay them adequately to make it good. It’s really to each is own, because I preach design / development, and you have an equally right person 2 doors down who wouldn’t touch a CMS to save his life. Literally… my old neighbor above me would sell sites for 7-8k and I thought he was an internet god. He would write the HTML, CSS, and Javascript (In Dreamweaver, hello throwback,) and then outsource custom Content Management System development for 2k. I just wanted to learn how to not pay that 2k.

Other ways to promote your new web design business

  1. Look for ways to trade your services for advertising: I sold my services in an auction by a Minneapolis newspaper in exchange for adspace in their lifestyle magazine VitaMN.
  2. Get every viable social media handle/url under the name you’re using to freelance, promote yourself vigorously on TWO of these, and understand you’re not going to do ALL of them well.
  3. Make a list of all the acquaintances who have small businesses, and that could use a website. Send them a quick note, and always be of the mind that you’re there to be of service – not sell.
  4. Go old school and create a flyer: I put boots on the ground and peddled my wares (a one page services sheet – without pricing on it) around every business that I could open the door to in my area of Uptown Minnesota. I focused on what I did that was different. Alot of times this is personal service, since you likely have less clients and more time and attention than alot of web design shops in town. – To be perfectly honest, this didn’t get me a client. Maybe what I’m really suggesting here is hustling your ass off and being as present as possible… take every opportunity to share what you do until you gain momentum.
  5. Put out content on a blog on your website and promote it on social media: Don’t sell dude. Don’t do it. You can still see my oldest posts on this blog that are salesy… it’s not going to kill your blog, but it’s really boring and no-one wants to read those. Just give as much value as you can, share your experiences and focus on the ONE SERVICE you are really trying to sell and things you’re learning in that discipline. Use it as an opportunity to dig deeper into your craft, and to share as you go.

Price High and Justify

After you promote the living shit out of yourself on social media, talk to your long lost friend with a supplement or house painting business, and make a few mistakes it’s time to price high and justify. You have to charge what people will pay, but as soon as you can push that number up as high as it can reasonably go. Why? If you have high prices it means you can make more excellent work! Justify the price with above and beyond service and you’ll feel great about what you do. Your work will mean more profitable businesses who benefit from the excellent websites you make. It feels good to help people feed their families by helping them get the word out about what makes their business special. And in the end that’s what it boils down to for me.

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Tim Brown

Tim Brown is the owner of Hook Agency, and strategic marketer focused primarily on driving traffic and leads for small businesses and construction companies.

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9 Comments on "How to get your first Web Design Client"

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Shaylee
Guest
This is all good advice… I’ve been designing/freelancing for several years and I could count my clients on one hand. I don’t know if its the area I’m in or just me, maybe some of us just aren’t cut out to network! I feel like I’ve tried every trick in the book and nothing has paid off. I’ve sent postcards to past clients, I’ve emailed LOTS of businesses in the area with horrible websites, I’m all over social media, I update my website and blog. Unfortunately my last client was quoted $600 and I ended up only getting $300 out… Read more »
Tim Brown
Guest
I hope you are able to get it ‘poppin’ as the kids would say.. soon Shaylee. Do you have another gig that sustains you? I have to say, one thing that made me fly or die was getting out of my gig and going for it. Essentially I made a full time job out of finding clients, working on my website, and spreading the word on social media. If I didn’t make money I would starve. :} Have at least one client to pay for your next month or two of expenses of course in this scenario. But necessity is… Read more »
Shaylee
Guest

Thanks for the reply! I actually outsource to two companies. In the beginning I was making great money, then one of the companies kind of fell of the face of the earth. But it brings a few hundred bucks a month, so at least its something.

I’ve found a lot of amazing resources on various blogs that have inspired me to work even harder on my business. This year I have been focusing on it a lot more and slowly I am getting more business, I’ll keep at it!

Tim Brown
Guest

So do you outsource web design work, do you outsource web development, or are the the resource people can outsource web design work to?

Shaylee
Guest

Sorry, I meant I’m the resource! It’s mostly maintenance work, updating text, images, adding new content, etc.

Tim Brown
Guest

Ahhh… I see! Any pain points you have right now, in working on these websites that you wish there was a solution to? Or wondering if there is one?

ljnissen
Guest

Really helpful advice. I particularly appreciated the part where you should clearly state your profession on your social media sites.

Tim Brown
Guest

Thank you. Yessir, it shows commitment. Commitment is half the battle sometimes. People also really like and respect someone who has chosen to work for themselves for any period of time, as it is not always easy. Small business owners may like to work with you just for that fact alone, I’ve found.

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