5 Ways to Get Your First Web Design Client

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What are two things basically every person in the world wants more of?

Money and flexibility.

It’s painfully obvious. But not until peering over my recent survey results (which you can still take, by the way) did it become loud and clear. Everyone wants these two things.

money and flexibility plz

Well, I am happy to say that I am listening.

And as a result have a guest post by Ray DelVecchio on getting your first client as a web designer / developer.

Ray created his own small web design business a few years ago after studying electrical engineering in college and grad school.

My initial response to that was, “Why? Engineers are the most sought-after professionals.

Well, there were several reasons, of course. But two of the major ones were money and flexibility. (I’ll state the obvious: making websites pays well. Owning your own business means increased flexibility. BOOM.)

However before enjoying extra money from website projects and increased flexibility in your schedule — you have to land your first client.

This is where Ray is taking over. Let’s go!


To be a successful freelancer or create a business from scratch, you must be committed.

Committed to your craft, committed to your clients, and most importantly committed to yourself.

If you truly believe you have a valuable skill to offer that would benefit another business owner or agency, don’t be afraid to let them know.

Here are 5 specific ways to land your first client as a web designer or developer.

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Tip 1: Get Attention

One of my favorite guys to learn from on getting leads and making sales is Grant Cardone. He’s energetic and has that “in your face” personality. It’s easy to see why he is great at selling.

However, you don’t need to imitate him in your first meeting to make a sale. (I’m much more low-key than that dude.)

The fact he drives home is you need to grab someone’s attention first. The marketplace is more crowded than ever. And it’s essential that you stand out in some way.

If you are basing your service on imitating another business, you’ve lost the battle.

Instead, pick a niche that you are interested in and master it. Maybe you are passionate about living an organic lifestyle, so you can seek out those that share the same values as you.

That alone will set you apart from 80% of the pack and make a more memorable first impression.

Here’s a big hint – the easiest way to differentiate yourself is to put personality into your work.

Big brands try to do it and it works (think Flo from Progressive). This is also a great tactic for small businesses.

Tweet Tip 1

Tip 2: Use Your Personal Network

The easiest and often most overlooked way to acquire your first client is through family and friends.

It’s not the sexy method, yet it works for one simple reason – people do business with other people they know, like and trust. Regardless of changing technology and new marketing strategies, this underlying truth will remain.

Another great aspect is the lower level of competition. For instance, I’m not familiar with many family members or friends who have the experience I do building websites.

Focus on what you can do today.

Most of us have at least 100-200 friends on Facebook, so that’s an ideal place to start.

But don’t send out a generic “blast” or status update. Select the people who either work for themselves, might need a website, or have a large network that you could tap into.

Depending on how close you are, contact them as “personally” as you can. Obviously for family and close friends you can either call or send a text message.

For acquaintances and people who you have met through school or other professional endeavors, send a quick email, explaining that you are looking to offer your services. If they don’t need help, see if they can refer you to a connection of theirs that does.

It would be shocking if you don’t get at least a handful of leads from your own personal network.

In my case, the first person that I ever did hourly work for was my cousin-in-law. I didn’t seek him out. Instead, I would casually talk with him about what I was learning with websites at family parties, and then ask him questions about his business.

At the time I didn’t think of it. But these were essentially sales conversations.

He is a one-man operation and outsourced his website to Italy in the years prior. He eventually decided he wanted help with someone local and started sending work my way.

Even if it’s family, money is money!

Plus it’s easier to get testimonials from people that you have a relationship with. This way you can add social proof to your portfolio website. Which is a great way to show that you can deliver.

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Tip 3: Go the Extra Mile (and be Memorable)

As mentioned in tip number one, your advantage is the personal touch. So whenever possible, take the extra step to set yourself apart.

Some examples of this may include:

  • Build a Demo Website First: Most people have the general pitch of, “I can build you a website”. If you flip it by saying, “I put together a mockup of what your site will look like with your logo, take a look”, folks are much more likely to respond positively.
  • Show Your Face: Besides your personal network, the next easiest method to finding a client is talking in person with a decision-maker. Take a stroll down main street and drop in a few places to introduce yourself. They will remember you, especially if you are a customer.
  • Be Human: Once your email address (or contact form) is out there on your website, you become immune to seeing bad cold emails for SEO, web development services, graphics and everything else. Why not send a handwritten letter to 20 businesses that you specifically target? That should be more effective than emailing 1,000 with a generic template.
  • Do Your Homework: The more you can make it about them, the better. Check out their current website, see how long they’ve been in business, find out if they are active on social media, etc. Then compliment them or offer practical advice based on your research before jumping into any sales pitch.
  • Follow Up: We’re all busy. And we all forget things. If they show interest in working with you but you don’t hear from them, it never hurts to touch base after a couple days. Send a quick 1-2 line email or give them a call to understand what is holding them back from making a decision.

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Tip 4: Sell Results, Not Features

When you first learn various website design techniques, you have a tendency to want to talk about what you can do.

But it’s always best to avoid technical jargon. And focus on the outcomes the client will see from your work.

For example, discuss how a website is going to improve their brand online and drive more local traffic which will lead to new clients.

Don’t go on and on about how fast you can make the site load or the cool slider image gallery you built.

You and I both know it’s awesome and it needs to load fast, however we are selling results, not features.

And the truth is, most clients don’t care about what’s going on behind the scenes. (The JS libraries, the icons choices, and so forth.) They want to achieve their number one business goal — which can vary from business to business. But typically it relates to gaining new leads, retaining current customers and/or selling more products/services.

This is why it’s important to specialize as you gain more experience. When you begin to understand one industry and their specific goals, you will start to talk their language and become an “insider”.

Then when you get tangible results for your first couple clients, you and your skill-set will become much more relevant and powerful when you approach the next client.

The key takeaway here is that when “selling”, emphasize the results you’re clients are hoping to achieve (like more customers). Not features of the site or web app.

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Tip 5: Show Your Passion

When I started, I was confident in my ability to work with web-based code because of my engineering background. But I was a complete novice with design and business.

Truth be told: most of us aren’t blessed with being great at sales. However, I found that the best way to overcome this is by being passionate about what you do.

That enthusiasm will shine through even if you don’t have a sales script figured out.

I’ve had several clients say they feel like I know as much about their business as them. And frankly, I do.

But it’s not by accident. It’s because I am naturally curious.

One of the best decisions I made was working from my cousin’s office in the beginning. Without divulging too much of the business details, he offers a service where the average job pays approximately $5,000 – $10,000.

I learned a great deal by being able to watch him handle business, notably phone conversations with clients.

One thing I noticed was that he always gave a scripted intro that lead into a series of questions.

But, for the bulk of the conversation, he was quiet and taking notes. And at the end, he would use the notes to tailor a final pitch and get the prospective client to take the next action.

What he was doing is simple: he showed he cared about his potential clients by getting to know them and their specific situation.

And this is key to long-term relationship building and sales – show your passion by being genuinely interested in the people you work with.

And soon enough, you’ll be the only person/business they think about for website development or online marketing.

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Now: Put These 5 Tips Into Action

In the end, to become a successful freelancer or small business owner you need to put yourself out there.

The nice thing about being a web designer/developer is that you can test your skills on a personal website for next to nothing before you have paying clients. Or even for free if you use Github pages or similar services.

When you’re first starting out, it’s okay to work on a couple free or underpaid projects. However when doing so try to make sure that the project could lead to something more — whether it’s more business or referrals.

On a local level, the majority of websites I come across leave a lot to be desired. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen good ones. Overall, though, there is so much room for improvement.

Some local business owners may be out of touch with reality and have no interest in updating their online properties. One the other hand, there are plenty of others that want to establish themselves on the web. They just don’t trust someone with their business… yet.

And the sooner you get started, the sooner you become that guy or girl they trust.

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Thanks Ray for sharing these awesome tips on landing your first client.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this post and if you’d like to see more like it in the future. Tell me in the comment section below or on Twitter.

About Ray DelVecchio

Ray DelVecchio is a small business owner from NJ that gave up on engineering to pursue his passion of building websites. More recently he created websiteprofitcourse.com to teach others how to get started with their own freelancing or web design business using WordPress. You can also find Ray on Facebook.