If you have been struggling to find web design clients, check out these 25 valuable tips for finding perfect-fit clients and earning new referrals.
Clients are the backbone of every successful services company because without clients there is no one to serve and when there is no one to serve, there is no business.
Most resources aimed at helping web designers and web developers find clients focus on things like creating your own website, building a stellar portfolio, setting up profiles on Behance and Dribble, and even signing up to be listed on sites like Upwork. But there are three major flaws with this line of thinking:
- It assumes people already know who you are and come to your website
- It assumes people know what Behance and Dribble are (Hint: they don’t.)
- It assumes people know that sites like Upwork exist and that they actually want to work with a stranger they find through that site.
Have you ever heard that phrase: When you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME? When it comes to finding web design clients, you can’t assume anything. You can’t build a beautiful website, create a gorgeous portfolio, and set up social profiles and expect anyone to automatically find you. You have to do the work needed to be found, to be discovered, and to make others aware that you exist and that you can help them.
In this post, I’m covering 25 ways to find web design clients — beyond a portfolio — that have ensured my design agency, Bourn Creative, is booked solid and with a full pipeline of prospects ready to work with us because I want that for you too!
1. Know your ideal client
There is one trick to being booked solid with a full pipeline of new web design clients waiting in the wings, and it isn’t undercharging or working too cheap.
It’s knowing exactly who your ideal client is. By having a deep understanding of your perfect client — who you want to work with the most — you can create a detailed client persona or client avatar. This client persona is then used to guide all of your content creation, marketing messages, and sales conversations so that all materials representing your business speak directly to the wants, needs, and desires of your ideal client.
When you clearly communicate who you serve the best, who you want as a client, and how you can help them, it becomes much easier for others to:
- Recognize themselves as a good fit for your services
- Refer other people they know who would be a good fit
Remember, selecting a niche and narrowing your focus doesn’t mean that you will only ever work with your ideal client and turn others away. Your ideal client persona is simply the perfect subset of who you serve in your web design business.
For example: Let’s say your ideal client is a female entrepreneur starting her own business. In this case, all of your marketing would be aimed at attracting that specific client, but some men will resonate with the message too. Will you turn them away? No! It’s okay to continue to work with clients who fit a portion of your ideal client profile.
2. Identify your prospect red flags
Just as important as identifying your ideal web design client is identifying your bad clients — the clients you don’t work well with and the projects you don’t enjoy doing. Identify the client traits and project characteristics that would make a prospect or project not a good fit and create a “red flags list” that you use to help vet prospects.
A “red flags list” is a positive tool that allows you to identify ill-fit prospects and projects early on and turn them down and/or refer them elsewhere. This keeps your schedule open for ideal clients and projects you enjoy and gives the prospect the opportunity to be the ideal client for another web designer.
3. Understand your ideal client’s buying journey
To create content, blog posts, lead magnets, case studies, and other materials that will attract your ideal clients, you first need to understand their buyer journey. The typical client buyer journey for a web designer is:
- Awareness of a problem or challenge
- Consideration of possible options and solutions
- Evaluation of the best choices
- Decision and hiring of a web designer
Once you know the buyer journey, you must create content that delivers the information prospects need at each stage of the journey and pair the content with powerful calls to action. The idea is to deliver the right message and the right call to action to the right person at the right time so they take the next logical step toward making a buying decision.
4. Focus on the single next step
The most effective landing pages, sales pages, and calls to action focus on one thing: the next logical step. You wouldn’t ask someone to marry you on the first date, but instead, ask them on a second date. So be careful not to make too big of an ask with your call to action too early on in your relationship with leads and prospects. Instead, focus on the best next step.
- In the awareness stage, the next step may be to visit your website, read another blog post, and another, and download tips sheet.
- In the consideration stage, the next step may be to read a blog post, opt-in for a webinar, or download an ebook to learn more about possible solutions.
- In the evaluation stage, the next step may be to review case studies and testimonials, review your portfolio, check out frequently asked questions, and learn more about your services.
- In the decision stage, the next step may be to contact you or complete your new project inquiry form.
5. Solve your ideal client’s problems
A deep understanding of your ideal client means that you know their pain points, problems, and challenges — what they worry about and what keeps them up at night. You also know what they dream of, desire, and want the most. The gap between the problem they currently have and the results they desire most is what they need.
Your web design packages must deliver what your ideal clients need, but be packaged in messaging about their current problem and the big results they desire. In other words, sell what they want and deliver what they need.
Charles Revlon famously said, “I don’t sell makeup, I sell hope.” Revlon understood that while his ideal customers were purchasing makeup, they were investing in feeling beautiful and being seen as beautiful. Freelancers often get so caught up in what they want to sell and think they are selling, that they forget to align their offers with what their clients want most — and when that happens, sales become a struggle.
6. Build a brand around the one thing
If you want to attract web design clients like crazy, you need to become an expert at one thing because savvy clients seek out experts.
- You can specialize in a type of project like membership sites, e-commerce stores, learning management systems, lead generation websites, mobile apps, product websites, or sales pages.
- Or, you can specialize in a type of client or industry like professional services, brick and mortar retail stores, restaurants, freelancers, real estate, law firms, medical companies, dentists, or associations.
Now having a specialty doesn’t mean you can’t be good at a lot of things or offer a variety of services. It means that you lead with your specialty and focus on your specialty in your marketing efforts, then follow up with your other services as add-ons or upsells.
7. Go where your ideal clients are
Just because you start a business, create a website, and print a business card, it doesn’t mean that loads of web design clients will suddenly come flocking to your door. No one can hire you, buy from you, or pay you in any way if they don’t know that you exist. Once you decide to start freelancing, it is your job make sure your target market knows that you exist, and the easiest way to do that is to go where they are.
Get out from behind your computer and start networking. Look for networking groups, industry events, trade organizations, and conferences, that your ideal clients attend—events focused on their industry and their businesses. If you want to be a subcontractor for public relations firms, go to public relations networking events and join the local and national public relations associations. I guarantee you’ll be one of, if not the only web designer in the room.
8. Overdeliver for your best clients
Consider this: For the average web designer, 80% of business comes from 20% of clients.
Don’t spread yourself too thin by trying to over-deliver for every single client all the time. Now, if you have the team, go for it and you’ll be greatly rewarded. But if you’re a freelancer, serve every client well no matter what, but focus on delivering the highest, most extraordinary customer service and client experience to the 20% that gives you the most business. By over-delivering for your best clients, you’ll retain their business, gain more business, and earn more referrals.
9. Follow up on everything right away
Failing to follow up with leads sabotages your success. Every year, millions of dollars are lost by web designers around the world simply because they are too busy to follow up with leads. If you want to make more money, fix your follow up and see an immediate increase in your bottom line.
- When attending networking events, conferences, camps, seminars, meeting with prospects and clients, or even speaking with someone on the phone, it is imperative that you follow up right away.
- The faster you follow up, the easier and more natural it will be and your swift action will impress those you are follow up with and show them that you’re serious, you follow through on your promises, and you can be trusted.
- Waiting weeks or even months to follow up makes people think that you don’t care and that they aren’t important.
If finding time to follow up after an event is an issue, consider preparing your follow up in advance:
- Prewrite an email you can customize for each person you need to follow up with
- Buy notecards, envelopes, and stamps in advance
- Prewrite a thank you note or nice to meet you note that can be customized
- Traveling to an event? Consider writing your follow up in the hotel each night or on the plane ride home
10. Create a system for follow up
Following up doesn’t have to be hard, tedious, or unenjoyable. Identify the different types of follow up you need to do and create systems to manage the follow up for you.
- Prewrite follow up messages and can schedule your follow up
- Leverage email automation to follow up with subscribers, leads, customers, and clients
- Use scheduling tools to make appointments
- Set up behavioral triggers in your CRM system to assign tasks to specific team members based on client or prospect actions
There is software available today to automate follow up by phone, text, email, fax, and even social media, so there is no excuse for follow up failure.
11. Share your ideal client profile
The most successful web designers I know, including myself, earn at least half of their business from referrals. If you want to receive qualified referrals, your referral sources need to know exactly who you want them to refer to you. Once you know who your ideal client is and have a client persona created, share it with your clients and referral partners and make it easy for them to recognize someone who would be a great fit.
12. Ask for referrals
You can’t assume that your friends, clients, colleagues, and social networks know that you want or need referrals — you need to let them know! You need to ask for referrals.
I know it may be uncomfortable, but the truth is that your happy clients not only want to help you and give you referrals they want to help their friends and contacts get a stunning website too!
The best time to ask for a referral is right after a client has complimented your work. When a client tells you they love their website, they’re happy they hired you, or provide any other praise, take a moment to first thank them, then casually mention that you do have openings for new clients and ask if they know anyone who may be a great fit. This approach works great by email as well.
13. Cater to your referral sources
My most lucrative clients — and frankly my favorite clients — have resulted from someone else’s referral. To build an active referral network with engaged partners who are excited about sending you new business:
- Keep in regular contact with your referral sources. Communicate with them about your launches, sales, services, and availability.
- Make sure they are the first to know about changes in your business and new special referral opportunities.
- Provide pre-written emails, marketing blurbs, social media posts, and blog posts, as well as various sizes of graphics and advertisements they can use on their websites and in their email newsletters.
- Make them feel appreciated and valued. Thank referral partners with a special gift at the holidays or look up their birthdays on Facebook and send them a birthday gift.
- When they refer a new client, send them a thank you card, and if the referral signs a big contract, send a thank you gift. If you’re just starting out and you don’t have the budget to send gifts, that’s okay! A simple, heartfelt, handwritten thank you note goes a long way!
14. Make referrals a priority
Referrals put reputations at risk. When someone refers a friend, peer, or client to you, they put their reputation and the trust that has been built with their contact on the line for you.
Never send a direct referral to your cold inquiry form. Instead, make every direct referral a priority. Take time to speak with them on the phone, be as helpful as possible, and if they aren’t a good fit, provide a referral or do your best to point them in the right direction.
Always strive to make your referral partners look good and feel like recommending you want a smart decision.
15. Implement one marketing tactic at a time
The fastest way to overwhelm, struggle, frustration, and exhaustion is to bite off more than you can chew and implement too many marketing tactics at one time.
When you take too big of a bite, your mouth can’t close all the way, you’re trying to cover your mouth, pieces of food are falling out, and everyone is looking at you. It’s embarrassing and the whole time you just wish you took a smaller bite.
Marketing works the same way. Evaluate all of the marketing tactics that you think would work for your web design business, prioritize them by the impact on your business (time, money, effort, difficulty), and then implement one at a time. Don’t add a second tactic until you have systems in place to manage the first one. This way you don’t have to be embarrassed about doing too much and doing it poorly.
16. Don’t give up after one try
When consulting with clients about their brand marketing strategy or website marketing strategy, I sometimes get the response, “I tried that already and it didn’t work.” But when I dig deeper, I find out that they only tried a tactic one time, and because it didn’t create tons of subscribers or leads, they gave up.
You can’t try anything only one time and know whether it works or not. One time isn’t going to give you enough information to know if it’s the tactic that didn’t work or your headline, message, call to action, image, or even the design. The point is, you don’t know if a strategy works or not until you’ve tested it and its variables over time.
17. Show up consistently in a valuable way
With blogs, podcasts, videos, social media, email, meetings, advertising, and every other distraction imaginable competing for attention, everyone is bombarded with marketing messages, slogans, jingles, tag lines, and calls to action every day. This abundance of information makes it difficult to stay top of mind with your audience, prospects, and clients.
If you want to be remembered, respected, and referred, you need to show up clearly, constantly, and consistently, and you need to deliver value, provide help, and connect with others in a meaningful way.
- Publish new content regularly on your blog
- Write guest posts and articles for other blogs and websites
- Leverage video
- Post valuable information to social media
- Engage with your audience across all relevant channels
- Participate in online groups
- Join in-person networking groups
Eighty percent of life is simply showing up. Never underestimate the power of simply being seen.
18. Improve your skills
When you let go of the things you’re only okay at, and focus on getting even better at the things you are brilliant at, you’ll build an undeniable reputation that will attract clients like crazy. Plus, clients will respect the fact that you’re not resting on your laurels, but instead constantly working to improve. Knowing that you’re continuing to learn, staying on top of industry best practices, and moving forward with technology will build trust with your clients and help retain them over time.
19. Engage with your target market on social media
Lurkers don’t get clients through social media. If you want to position yourself as an expert and be respected, remembered, and referred, other people have to know who you are and what you’re great at. That doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen with just a few posts to Facebook or Twitter every once in a while. In fact, inconsistent, sporadic posting can dilute your credibility and trustworthiness.
Social media marketing and audience engagement is a long-term marketing tactic. Pick the social networks that are the best fit for your business and your ideal clients and get active. Post regularly, answer questions, share helpful information, comment on others’ posts, and been seen. If you’re jumping into a conversation or responding to a post, ask yourself, will this add value? If the answer is yes, go for it!
20. Create a compelling lead magnet
A lead magnet, also called an opt-in offer or an irresistible free offer, is a resource you are giving away to ethically bribe an ideal prospect to provide you their email address and join your email marketing list. This way you can continue to market to them over time.
A successful lead magnet:
- Delivers so much value that you second-guess giving it away for free
- Addresses a specific problem or challenge your ideal prospect is facing
- Helps the prospect partially solve the problem
- Moves the prospect closer to a buying decision
A lead magnet that meets your prospects right where they are in the buying journey ensures build your list with the right people, sets the stage or the next offer and logical step, and positions you as the best person to hire when they are ready.
21. Nail your elevator pitch
There is nothing worse than being at a networking event, asking someone what they do, and getting stuck in a recap of their entire life history. It’s also a bit awkward when someone explains what they do and when they’re done you still have no idea what they actually get paid to do.
One of the most useful tools in your marketing toolbox is a short, crystal clear, compelling elevator pitch. When you own your elevator pitch and can deliver it naturally with confidence, you show up as a leader, appear polished and professional, and make others want to connect with you.
Here’s a quick formula to help: I help [CLIENT PERSONA] who are struggling with [PROBLEM] achieve [RESULT] so they can [BENEFIT OF RESULT].
22. Speak at events
From your local networking group luncheon to a national multi-day conference, speaking is a great way to expand your brand visibility, share your knowledge, and position yourself as an expert and industry leader. While not every speaking opportunity will result in attendees rushing up afterward to ask about working with you, each time you speak, you become better and better talking about what you do and sharing what you know, which will in-turn help you speak more confidently with prospects and clients. Speaking is also a fantastic way to build your email list, as inviting attendees to download a free gift that builds upon your presentation is a much more natural next step than immediately suggesting they hire you.
Remember, it’s not always about who is in the room during your talk, but who those in the room may know. Even the smallest speaking opportunities can yield amazing opportunities, incredible clients, and new leads.
23. Be a guest on podcasts and webinars
Podcasts and webinars are the virtual equivalents of speaking at a live event. Being a guest on a podcast or delivering a webinar for a strategic partner puts you in front of a completely different audience — and when the audience aligns with your ideal client persona, it can be the perfect opportunity for a win-win-win:
- The podcaster or strategic partner wins because you show up prepared, you provide valuable information relevant to their audience, and you make them look good.
- You win because you gain exposure to a whole new tribe of people who match your ideal client persona and didn’t know who you were before.
- The audience wins because they learned something new, gained helpful information, and now have another resource to learn from.
Before you go soliciting podcast guest spots, first do your homework. Learn about the podcaster, listen to a few of their episodes so you understand their format, learn about the topics they cover, who their audience is, and how you may be able to add value.
24. Blog like crazy and optimize everything
There are hundreds of people searching Google for exactly what you do every day. If you want to show up in those search results so they can find you, you can either pay for ads or you can create content and optimize it for search engines. Blogging and leveraging organic search engine optimization (SEO) is the fastest way to build brand equity online and increase your search engine rankings. You can create blog posts by writing, recording video, or speaking your post and providing audio and a transcript.
If you’re just not sure if you want to commit to blogging, consider this:
- Every time a new blog post is published, a new searchable URL is added to your website.
- Publishing a new blog post just once each week for a year, will add 52 new indexable, searchable URLs to your website. This creates 52 new ways people can find you online or 52 new opportunities to show up in the search engine results when someone is looking for what you do.
- Publishing twice a week, adds 104 new indexable, searchable URLs to your website, which is the same as adding 104 new opportunities for a potential client or customer to find you online.
- Publishing three times each week, adds 156 new indexable, searchable URLs to your website, which is the same as adding 156 new opportunities for a potential client or customer to find you online.
In addition to blogging on your own website, identify popular websites that serve the same target market that you do and accept guest posts. Being a guest blogger for another site gives you exposure to a whole new audience and helps the site owner publish fresh new content.
25. There is no overnight success
I know that you are anxious to build your web design business, become booked solid, and enjoy a pipeline full of leads ready to work with you but please understand that it will take time. It may seem like some people have it easy and become instantly successful, but there is no such thing as an overnight success. If you peek behind the scenes, most overnight successes are 10 years or more in the making — you just didn’t know about them before. You didn’t know them when they were hustling at local networking events and working with beta clients for free. You didn’t know them when they were struggling to make money and pulling all-nighters to meet their deadlines.
If you want to reach your goals, you need to be focused, committed, and relentless, and you can’t ever give up, no matter what. Give yourself grace, give it time, and find qualified web design clients, and the success will come.