…aka marketing your web design business.
Most web designers starting have no idea how to get new web design clients.
(as surprising as it sounds when you look around and see people marketing successful web design businesses.)
Launching your web design agency often goes without having to find new clients (at least for me, it did)
- Build your first WordPress website for free for a community organization, church, school, or small business.
- A few people see that website and ask about your design service and if you’ll build one for their small businesses. You have your first client.
- That first person refers you to someone, or you post on your social networks that you built a website, and now you have 2 websites in your portfolio and maybe a few leads for your services.
- The next thing you know, client 3 and client 4 are showing up, and you’re a web designer through referrals.
It was a bit of a thrill at first and a bit of a mystery at that moment. I had money coming into my business, and my skills, services, and portfolio were growing, but I started getting worried. Since I didn’t know where clients were coming from (other than hard work and great referrals) and how I would find web design clients if that stream dried up.
I didn’t know about building landing pages for specific target markets, or content marketing, or how to help people in my professional network realize that if they need a website, I was the guy to call for design services.
What happens when you have a hard time finding web design clients?
This was a challenge for me personally, and I would love to say that I’ve completely conquered the challenge of finding new clients – that I have so many clients coming in that I increase my prices exponentially and still have a lineup.
It’s not quite that way, but it’s also no longer something that scares me. I do have a bit of a unique challenge since we travel full-time. I don’t often attend networking events in the city where I started my business as I did at first. I also don’t have the opportunity to cold-call face-to-face like I did a few times when starting since we’re often in a country as a visitor where I’m not allowed to solicit work.
I’ve learned a few things along the way since starting my web design agency in 2011 and started RVing full-time in 2018 that allows me to build a consistent free-flow (or reservoir) of new clients.
We’ll start with some quick ways that may generate clients this month, and then we’ll talk about sustainable ways to build a system of bringing in new clients.
How to Get Web Design Clients Fast
While quick ways can work, they also come with a fair amount of uncertainty and inconsistency. You might try a few of these ways and pick up a client or two in the next few days, or you may not see anything for the whole month.
While these quick ways can work for almost any web designer, don’t settle for consistently hitting panic mode of “Where is my next web design client coming from?”
Grow as a freelance web designer towards a sustainable system that brings in new potential clients so you can focus on growing and scaling your business rather than just spending your days searching for new clients.
Here’s the TL;DR for people wired like me:
- Ask your existing clients for referrals – give them an incentive
- Aquire a competitor that’s in your industry but no longer building new sites
- Freelance web design job boards
- Post a free ad on Facebook Marketplace, Craiglist (or Kijiji in Canada) offering web design services
- Attend networking events
- Sponsor a Facebook group for a month and get on a live video call
- Post a recent portfolio item on your social networks
- Pick up the phone and cold call
Ask For Referrals From Your Existing Clients
Incentives work. Even something as simple as “one free month of website service” when a client refers someone else to you, or a “$25 Gift Card” to a favorite coffee shop goes a long way to encourage your current clients to think of someone who may be a fit for your web design services.
If you’re focused on a specific industry as a web designer, your current clients probably know others in that industry – people they’ve met at a business event or online chats or from working with common suppliers. Your current clients are always your best referral source.
Include a “Designed By” link in the footer of every website you build
On a related note, put “Design by…” with a link to your website in the footer of EVERY website you build. Don’t shy away from including it. It’s pretty standard in the industry, and if someone likes a website in their same industry, they’ll often scroll to the bottom and click the “Designed By” link. That person is still getting to you through your work, and they liked it enough to find out who designed it.
Leave that link out, and you’re missing out on that referral.
In the time I’ve been designing websites (since 2011), I’ve had 1 client ask me to remove that link. I’m happy to do that if the client requests it. Otherwise, put it in by default, and most clients won’t mind or notice.
As you grow to become the industry experts, many clients will find that little “Designed by” link to be a badge of honor, like a logo on a hat or an expensive purse, as they’re happy to let others know that they’re dealing with your expertise.
Check Out The Web Designer Competitors In Your Industry
This may seem like an odd way to find new clients. (…and in case you’re getting suspicious, I don’t mean go to their portfolio and treat that as a potential client list.)
Many web designers have run into the same challenge that you’re facing: How do I find new web design clients without begging for referrals?
While you’re finding ways to overcome that challenge, others often give up and look for other sources of income, leaving their clients with unreturned emails or simply not calling people back when a quote request comes in.
Sometimes see signs that this designer is not taking business, from a website that’s many years old to something as obvious as a banner on the home page saying, “We’re not taking new clients at this time.” This is the perfect opportunity to ask them if they’re interested in getting out of the business altogether and if there is an option to buy their client list, email list, and social media channels.
Often, this comes with an eager ‘YES!’ since someone who has taken a full-time job might be more annoyed by clients asking for updates to their site than the value of the monthly service that comes from that client. This acquisition is great for you (with instant growth in business) and great for the clients.
The previous web designer may also be willing to give up their domain if it’s ranking higher in industry searches than yours, and maybe they have a backlog of quote requests that you could follow up on.
The transition is often simple: Have the current designer send out an email to their current client list letting them know that the business has been sold, but their services will continue as usual under the new brand, then introduce yourself as their new web designer, and outline what other services you offer.
Not only is this a great opportunity to increase your monthly revenue by bringing on new clients, but it’s also an opportunity to upsell by saying, “Here’s something I offer that different from the last person, and you might benefit from these services.”
Check Job Boards or Freelance Marketplaces For Potential Clients
Not a sustainable way to build your brand, but in a pinch, you can often find hourly projects to get you by or meet your budget for the month on these sites. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of these sites for a few reasons:
- No matter who you are, you’re competing with someone willing to work for less.
- You often spend a pile of time investing in pitching or bidding for projects that don’t come through.
- The biggest factor is often not experience or expertise but the quoted price.
- The Trust level is low. People often want to see many pieces of work that are perfectly in line with what they’re trying to accomplish. Since anyone can create a profile and say whatever they’d like about their skills, you have to find a way to prove yourself, which is often time-consuming.
The Benefits for Web Designers of Job Board or Freelance Marketplaces:
- If you use sites like this often, you can build up a reputation and a rating that allows you to get jobs quicker.
- If you learn the system well, you can create swipe copy (copy and paste) job proposals that speed up your time invested into the proposal.
- Job boards are open 24/7, and people worldwide are looking for help, so if web design is an evening or weekend side hustle, you can make the proposal process fit in your schedule.
- People looking for help will often make quick decisions, and you can often get paid the same day if selected.
- Work is often simple and well-defined. You’re not typically getting into a 3-month project, but more often, something that can take an afternoon or a few days.
A few that I’ve heard people finding success with sites like Upwork ( Upwork.com) or Fiverr.com – Again, not making any specific recommendation that this approach is a good idea, but these are popular sites worth exploring to get some cash in your pocket this month.
Post a “For Sale” ad on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or Kijiji
You’re probably not going to find customers who will pay a premium for your expertise, but if you’re looking to build your portfolio, or bring in a new monthly service client, then this could work.
Offer clear deliverables, timeframe, and (yes, I know…) a set cost.
Something like “Looking to add local businesses to my website portfolio this month. FREE 5 Page website: Home, Products, Services, About Us, Contact Us. $0 upfront. $XXX.XX/month for maintenance. 3-week from start to finish. Click here to order.”
Build a landing page on your website specifically for that offer, and use the link in the ad, so the person clicking can get the exact details of what you’re offering and make a decision as quickly as possible.
Find Networking Events
Often event organizers provide an opportunity for new members to introduce themselves and their businesses. Same as the “For Sale” idea above, introduce yourself and let people know you’re wanting to grow your experience and skills, so you’re offering Free 5-page websites for $0, with a monthly service fee to keep the website maintained and updated.
Listen as everyone else introduces themselves, then go to different business owners in the room that could use your services. Start a conversation with them, and be social. Learn about their business, ask them how they got started, find out who their customers are and what they like most about the projects they get to work on. Don’t try and sell; open the door to a conversation and let them take it from there.
If you’re unsure where to find upcoming events, contact your chamber of commerce, small business center, optimist club, or local churches with a business breakfast. Look for conventions, conferences, and almost any event where people gather around a common interest.
Turn your kid’s little league, soccer tournaments, and hockey games into opportunities by asking other parents what they do for work. Eventually, they’ll ask you what you do. You’re at those events anyway with your kids, so make the most of your time.
Sponsor a Facebook Group or YouTube Channel And Get On A Live Video Call
If you serve a specific audience, there’s probably a Facebook group or YouTube channel for that industry. Let the admins know that you freelance, and ask if you can sponsor a promoted post and do a live Q&A interview about websites in that industry. Either the group admin can interview you while taking live questions, or you can go live on your own with a mini-webinar followed by taking questions.
Through the webinar, offer a coupon code with a deadline for viewers to get started with you so that viewers will have some incentive to act now, and you’ll be able to track how your sponsorship investment did in returns.
Post A Recent Portfolio Item On Your Social Network
Your work is your best proof that you know what you’re doing, and a testimonial is even better. If you haven’t been consistent with creating regular content, then you probably won’t get much exposure with a single post about a recent example of your work, but with any luck, the client you did the work for will share the post with their audience and you might find someone there.
Since every client has unique needs, don’t post anything about pricing or timeline, so you’re not setting unrealistic expectations for someone who wants to take the next step and start a project with you.
When All Else Fails: Pick Up That Phone And Start Dialing
How committed are you to see your business grow? Too many people think that resorting to calling potential clients is an act of desperation. It’s not. Desperation is determined by how you act or what you say once you get the potential client on the phone.
Begging on a phone call is desperation. Making the phone call itself is not.
If you specialize in a specific niche, pick up an industry magazine and start checking out the websites of people who are spending money on magazine advertising. If you see an opportunity, then give them a call and start the conversation.
The best opportunities are when the client probably knows they need to redesign their website. It’s the perfect opportunity to call.
Telltale signs that a client probably knows they need to redesign their website:
- There’s a “Coming Soon” or “Under Construction” page when you visit their website.
- It’s not a mobile responsive design or difficult to read on your phone
- The “Last Updated” or “Copyright” date at the bottom of the home page is more than 5 years ago
- They have outdated information on their site (like discontinued products or services, show a brand that doesn’t exist any longer, or an old location)
You might think this is rare, but do some poking around, and you’ll find plenty of businesses who haven’t gotten around to updating their website.
Do a little homework first. Hop on Linkedin and see if you can figure out who in their office will likely be the person to talk with about a website redesign. Send an email ahead that lets them know you’ll be calling, and add in some personal info about who you are and your expertise with their niche.
Nobody likes a cold call from someone they don’t know trying to sell something. Still, if they know, you’re planning to call, and who you are ahead of time (maybe they even clicked the link in the email to check your portfolio), then you’re lightyears ahead of the other “We’d like to redesign your website” calls that they probably get every week.
Sustainable Ways To Build A System To Get Web Design Clients (aka Marketing)
While you may have to pay the bills this month with a quick new client find, a better strategy (and one that has allowed us to travel full-time) is to build marketing systems that will bring in new clients, so you can focus on designing and getting your new clients website live, rather than spending time finding clients AND getting their site live.
Here’s the TL;DR on building sustainable ways to get new web design clients with Marketing:
- Build your agency to serve a specific industry
- Create a free opt-in that will provide value to your clients and grow your email list
- Build a consistent social media strategy (Need ideas? Here are 1001 Social Media Post Ideas for Businesses)
- Design your business based on residual income from selling websites as a service
Build the brand of your web design agency to serve a specific industry – DON’T SKIP THIS STEP!
It’s way too tempting to keep scrolling and look for the ‘silver bullet’ that’s going to get you a new client this afternoon (trust me, that’s probably not coming), but if you want to start creating an engine of new customers so that you’re not regularly running into this problem, build a brand that allows you to serve a specific target market in a specific industry.
From here, being the “go-to” website designer for X niche, you can create blog posts, social media content, post on your channels that you’ve recently launched a website for a business in your industry, go to conferences and networking meetings for your niche, jump in the Facebook groups, LinkedIn conversations, or Twitter threads and offer free value to that audience, so they get to know who you are and what you do.
Please understand that I’m not talking about jumping in and saying, “Your website isn’t great, so start by redesigning your website. I can help with that!” That’s not going to get you clients, but rather a bad reputation of being pushy. If you wouldn’t do it at a networking event, don’t do it online.
Instead, if someone asks a question, find their answer from a source within your industry and post a link to a blog post or YouTube video, offer opinions that add to the conversation, and start to build friendships with people who own businesses that you’re trying to serve.
Now, when you have a lull in clients, reach out to some of the most common people you interact with on these social media platforms and see if you can make a connection to build them a new website.
Think “Web Design Niche Specialist” not “Cousin-In-Highschool Available Generalist.”
If you’ve built your brand around “I can help everyone, everywhere, all the time,” this downtime between clients might be a good break to reconsider that strategy.
Rebrand (or build from scratch) your web design portfolio that speaks directly to your client in your niche. Emphasize keywords and phrases that are common or specific to that industry and will speak to the business owners you’re trying to reach.
Make them think, “This web design agency understands my business, so they’ll be the best choice to design a site for us!”
Build An Opt-In That Will Provide Value To Your Clients
Since you’re rebranding to serve a specific industry, create an opt-in to provide value to the business decision-maker.
You could create Facebook or Instagram content that they can repurpose, an ebook with helpful ideas, a checklist that helps them with a specific process or put together some research, then provide and analyze the results in a PDF.
What is the value of an Email Opt-In?
An opt-In refers to clients giving you their email address in exchange for that freebie. From there, create a follow-up sequence that leads them through your blog content, ideas that you think could improve the industry, videos from YouTube, and eventually (once they know and like you) show them how working with your web design agency could benefit their business.
Sure, some people will unsubscribe, or emails will land in junk mail, but for people who track with you through the process, they’ll know who you are and what you do. When you hit a low spot in your business, you can send out an email offering a first-month-free coupon or a referral bonus if they refer friends to your business, or ask them, “How can I help you get more new business from your website?”
If that client is in the market for a new website, and you’ve shown that you’re the person to help with that, they’ll already know and like you (or they wouldn’t have stuck around).
Creating An Opt-In Is A Long-Term Play
While you may create an opt-in today, someone will download it, then contact you to start working together, it’s much more likely that you’ll build a list over a long time, and some of those regular readers will become clients, either by receiving your automated follow-up emails from opting into your ebook or by receiving your regular email newsletter after they’ve joined your list.
My audience is web designers or people who hope to start their own web design business. (hey, that’s you!) One of the opt-ins I created is 1001 Social Media Post Ideas For Businesses to help your freelance web design agency have a strategy to be consistent.. (You can opt-in here!)
Another benefit of an opt-in (like 1001 Social Media Post Ideas For Your Business) is that the automated followups run on auto-pilot, so whether someone opts in on the weekend, or in the spring, or 3 weeks from now, that system is in place to lead them towards doing business with you.
Use your opt-in to build your email newsletter where you’ll continue to provide value to people in your niche, not just a one-time “Want to buy now that I gave you something free?” follow-up email.
Build a Consistent Social Media Strategy
I’m under no illusion that the audience that I serve (in my case, web designers – hey, that’s you!) regularly visits my website to see what’s new. It just isn’t likely to happen. If you’re looking for something, then you’ll find me from the search engine magic at Google, but frankly, most of us aren’t spending our lives just Googling things to see what pops up.
Instead, we’re browsing social networks (Twitter feeds, Facebook groups, or Instagram stories) to see what pops up, so this is the place where I can actively get myself in front of people who know me and people who don’t yet.
A social media strategy is built around 2 major things: Content + Format. Understanding both is key.
I’ve dug in much deeper in this post: 5 ways to use Social Media to get more clients so I won’t rehash all of those ideas, but I will say that consistency is key; Consistency in your content, style, personality, frequency, and what you’re trying to communicate.
When people see you showing up on social media consistently, they’re more likely to get to know you and trust you when it’s time for you to help them redesign their website, and leave a link back to your site now and then, either for an opt-in landing page, a blog post or a link to your portfolio for business owners to checkout.
Get More Clients by Building a Residual Income Web Design Business
I know, this sounds like a bit of a stretch, and also, Adam is getting up on his “recurring income websites” soapbox, but stick with me for a moment.
Are you more likely to suggest a restaurant to a friend that you’ve eaten at once, or that you’ve eaten at many times and always had great service? Is your favorite movie one that you had only seen once a few years ago, or one that you can recite every line? How often do you turn up the radio when you hear your favorite song and air drum because you’ve heard it 1000 times? (just me?)
The thing about having your web development clients on a monthly service contract to keep their website updated is that you’ll have many interactions with that client over a long period of time, responding to emails, updating their website when they need a change, and answering questions like why traffic was up last month, but down this month.
Ask For Referrals From These Business Owners
Consistency in your business relationship with your web design clients over time will build trust and loyalty. This is exactly what is needed for your current clients to become your long-term advocates, and even more so as you build an industry-specific brand since people in your niche probably have peers that would be great referrals. You can always gently guide them towards word of mouth by asking for referrals.
Of course, the added benefit of recurring monthly income is that you won’t be so desperate when you have a month that doesn’t come with a single new client, but I suppose that’s a blog post for another time.