If you put the time in you will eventually find that you have to do less and less marketing to find new clients and this is a position that you are aiming for. As you expand your list of completed projects you’ll get more and more referrals from good quality clients. Until then, there’s much to be done!
Fortunately you’ve got lots of options to convey your value and connect with potential clients. We’ve included a few of these ideas below and hope they help you on your quest to establish yourself as a freelance website designer (of course you could apply many of these principles regardless of what industry you’re in).
1. The basic checks
Before you start any type of marketing campaign you need to do a quick check of where you are and what you need to polish. You’ll want to determine whether all parts of your online presence are consistent, accurate and professional.
If you are a website designer and your website is broken, unprofessional or just designed terribly you’re failing at the first step of selling yourself. Make sure you post on social media, blog every so often and keep your profiles up to date so that clients can see that you’re active.
2. Network (Booooo)
Yep, we heard you sigh but this one is quite simple and works for any industry.
Rule 1. Don’t attend web design conferences or WordPress meetups and expect to sell yourself and get clients, as you are preaching to your competition. Find better places to meet where you can meet your target market.
Rule 2. Never turn down the opportunity to meet somebody. If one of your contacts suggests you meet with a copy writer but you do your own copy, meet with them anyway. If somebody else asks whether you’d like to be introduced to a friend that raises kittens, meet with them too. The freelancer and small business community is surprisingly supportive and generous and you’ll find that you’ll always leave this meeting having gained or learned something. You’ll probably also notice that opportunities for clients and projects show up at the most unexpected times just through the process of going out and meeting with lots of different people.
3. Partner with non-competing businesses
A good way of building up a network of referrals is to find businesses that serve similar customers to you but do not compete and offer the same services. For website design there are quite a few industries that overlap. We’ll start you off with IT support companies, PR companies and software companies. These relationships are great as these companies lose nothing by referring to you, and if needed you can negotiate these on a commission basis. Equally if you come across any clients that require online backups or email management you can refer back to them. You can use the email template below and amend using your details:
If you do not hear anything back, send a follow up email a few weeks later:
Don’t send more than this as you don’t want your offer to be confused with spam or nagging. We recommend starting with companies that are local to you and slowly contact organisations that are further afield as time goes on.
4. Partner with established agencies that are your direct competition
So this point could be included in the one above but we’ve counted it as a separate idea as it is one that is often overlooked. After you’ve met with a few possible partners you might hear often that they have established agencies that they have an existing partnership with but nobody for the smaller budget projects. The bigger agencies that have been around for a while can afford to be more selective of their clients meaning that they frequently turn away clients that do not have the budget required for their services.
Here’s where you step in. You’re a freelancer so your overheads are low and even though you can put the same amount of attention and quality into a project it is likely that you can deliver on a smaller budget. Use the same tactics as above and send a few emails to agencies explaining that you’d appreciate the opportunity to work in partnership on smaller budget projects and when they have limited availability. Negotiate a commission rate and everybody wins!
5. Bidding sites
You’ll hear mixed reviews and sites like elance.com and freelancer.com. Some freelancers have been able to make a very comfortable living through these platforms and we’re happy for them. Everybody else is forced into a race to the bottom in terms of pricing.
Despite this, we’d still advise that you stay abreast of the kind of jobs being posted every so often. It doesn’t take long to make a proposal and if you’re just starting out you might be comfortable working for less than you’d normally like to. Great at the beginning, but remember that you’re worth far more than what you can charge through these sites!
6. Content marketing
We preach about this all the time and if you’re a website developer with some knowledge of SEO you’ll know that you cannot avoid blogging (and wider content marketing). Try to post every week if possible, about anything relating to your niche. Even better write content that solves your target audience’s problems and it won’t take long for you to start working relationships with these individuals. Finally, enjoy the boost your website gets in search rankings. Of course the process of writing keyword optimised content is a large subject, and something that you should research further outside of this post.
Take it back to the old school! Design an engaging leaflet and start pounding the streets. You’ll know where you target market are located, whether this is established national chains or small independent businesses. Take this opportunity to deliver your leaflet and have the chance to sell your services directly. It’s good to emphasise your locality and meet people face to face (as per point 1!). Even if you get no clients from this route, at least you’ve got outside and got some exercise…
Another possible idea is to engage the services of a telemarketing service. We’d suggest asking around for an independent telemarketer that will offer their services on a pay per lead basis. You’ll probably also have to pay for a database and a setup fee but other than this there is very little financial risk. The telemarketer only gets paid when they secure you a lead and if you have done an accurate job at describing your services to the telemarketer these leads are likely to be good quality. Yes, this will cost a significant percentage of your project fee (especially if you are unable to secure a few projects), but you will be expanding your network and the increasing the possibility of attracting further projects through word of mouth.
9. Soft selling website redesigns
Soft selling website redesigns can be a fantastic way of acquiring clients but one that requires upfront work. While you’re researching companies to partner with you’ll come across many that have ancient, broken websites. Look out for sites that have broken functionality, are not mobile responsive, don’t have an SSL certificate or an outdated design.
Make note of the company’s contact details and send a quick email explaining how you could improve their website. You could offer this service for free in exchange for them thinking of you if they come across anyone that would benefit from your services. Even if they turn down the offer, you may have created a lasting working relationship that could yield benefits in the future. You can use this template if you like:
You can go one further with this one and complete a redesign of a terrible website before forwarding a link to the company and offering it for a free. You’ll have to explain yourself well as doing this isn’t common and leaves some businesses quite confused!
10. Other ideas
This guide is certainly not exhaustive and we’ll definitely have missed some other opportunities for you to get more clients as a website designer. If you’re looking for other ideas you might want to explore the possibilities of pay-per-click advertising through Facebook or Google, social media, improving your SEO, building a subscriber list or attending business networking meetings.
If you have any questions about this or would like to discuss anything further, we’d love to hear from you!
Liam is a website designer and digital marketer based in Leeds, West Yorkshire. He spent a decade working within the charity sector before moving into the marketing space a number of years ago. Liam always strives to do something slightly different with every project and always designs to deliver results, not just pretty websites.