How To Land Your First Few Design Clients

One of the questions I get asked a lot is how you get started as a freelance web designer. Many designers will tell you that word of mouth is their best source of new clients, but you need to have some clients to get the word of mouth going. How do you land your first few clients to start the ball rolling?

Basics of Marketing Distilled

Marketing is a complex topic, but you can boil it all down to a few basic ideas. There are a lot of details within those basic ideas, but you have to understand the basics before you can get the details right.

  • Figure out who potential customers are – Where do your services intersect with a specific group of people? That intersection is your market. Always be listening to your market. Pay attention to what they’re saying so you can tailor your offering to their wants and needs.
  • Figure out where your market spends its time – Do they visit the same sites? Read the same magazines? Where can you get your message out so it reaches your market
  • Build a brand in front of your market – Build a presence where potential customers are. Are potential customers using Twitter? Then open an account. Is a forum’s membership made up of you typical client? Then join that forum and be active.
  • Be in front of your market when they’re ready to buy – Find a way to be in the thoughts of potential clients at the moment they’re looking for your services. Search works great for this. Branding is even better.
  • Convince your market to purchase from you instead of your competition – You offer web design services. So do hundreds of thousands of other people. Why should I hire you? You have to answer that question. Why you over the competition? Find a way to differentiate yourself.

river fishing
photo credit: Dylan Luder

Ideas for Landing Clients

  • Be realistic about your goals and needs – You don’t need millions or even thousands of visitors to be successful. You don’t need a lot of money to build a brand. You need to reach a handful of people with a message that resonates with them. Build a brand in front of a small community of people in your market
  • Keep trying different avenues – Clients can come from anywhere. Try to be in as many places as you can and look to get one or two clients from each place. Put more time into those avenues with better results and spend less or no time in the avenues that lead to little or no results.
  • Build a site with a portfolio – Your site is the central hub for everything you do online. Potential clients want to see examples of your work so show them examples. Build a few freebie sites if you have to or build some templates and themes.
  • Treat every client well – It takes less time, effort, and money to get business from an existing client than it does to land a new client. Exceed client expectations and turn as many as you can into loyal clients.
  • Be persistant – You won’t build a client list overnight. It’s going to take some time no matter what you do so hang in there.

How I Landed My First Few Clients

Early on I put myself out there as much as I could and looked to get clients from every source possible. Over time I’ve gained clients through forums, offline networking, online networking, Chamber of Commerce, search engines, blogging, Twitter, friends and family, and Craig’s List. Some of those avenues led to exactly one client, but it’s still one client.

Small Business Forum

What worked best for me, especially in the beginning was forums. Small business forums were my target market. By participating and contributing as often as I could I was able to build a brand in front of a community that was likely to need my services.

My goal was to always add value to the forum and the members. I never asked people to hire me. I simply showed them what they would get if they did hire me.

In addition to small business forums I joined and participated in webmaster and seo forums in order to build relationships with people who would become part of my social network. These people recommended me and linked to my site.

I added a blog to my site to show my expertise and grow my site and consistently worked on making improvements to the site wherever and whenever I could.

It took a few months, but it did work. First an email arrived with a project. Then the phone rang with another project. The projects trickled in at first, but over time they started to come in more often.

The key for me was trying as many different things as I could and working each for one or two clients. Avenues like forums that led to more clients received more of my time and those that led nowhere received less or none of my time. I succeeded by building a brand in front of small communities made up of my target prospects.

Summary

Your first few clients will be the hardest to get. Always be working to improve your craft and your business. Listen to what people are saying in order to find the intersection between your skills and their wants. Tailor your services to meet the needs of the market.

Understand the basic ideas behind marketing. Identify likely places where potential clients might be, build a presence and brand yourself in as many of those places as possible. Divert time and effort from avenues that aren’t working well to those that are.

Be patient. You won’t build a business in a day or a week. Persistence is key. I can’t guarantee you’ll get a client tomorrow by trying any of the above, but I can guarantee you won’t land one if you give up.

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

11 comments

  1. Great post for people trying to get into the art. I have tried some of those same methods, and a few others you didnt mention here.

    I found social networking sites like Twitter to be helpful. I have created a network of people and they know that I have a certain skillset and will come to me when in need.

    • Thanks Bryan. I think the most important thing is to get yourself out there and begin to engage with your market. Forums have worked very well for me, but Twitter is certainly another place you can interact with potential clients and friends.

  2. This is a very good article. I for one is a beginner to all this and I find your article very useful. Thanks for sharing. I will surely try these methods.

  3. Also, never underestimate Twitter as a place to land clients. You get to engage with potemtial clients on a more sociable level where conversation can flow and deals can be made after they have got to know you.

    • Absolutely. I have gained work through Twitter. Like I mentioned in reply to Bryan above, the key is getting yourself out there and interacting with your market. Forums worked well for me when I was getting started and Twitter didn’t exist at the time so it wasn’t part of my personal story, but I do agree it can be a great place to interact.

      You have to try different avenues and see which work best for you.

  4. I’ve run a web design firm for 10 years, and 90% of our clients have found us on Google. It’s not easy to get into a top 10 spot on Google when someone searches for “web design + your location” but one way to get around the problem is to make sure you’re listed on any web directories that target your geographic location. That way you’ll get traffic from the directory, and if the directory gives you a dofollow link to your website then it will help your own website’s rankings in the search engines as well.

    • I think that will definitely help you rank when people are searching for something local. I wouldn’t put all my faith in directories, but directories can still help when it comes to ranking. Not like they could a number of years ago, but they still have their uses.

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