“How do you get clients?”
I get asked that a lot. Usually from other web designers who are considering but afraid to make the plunge into self-employment. Signing clients and keeping a steady flow of business may seem like the it’s the hardest part about freelancing.
Client acquisition is not as hard as it seems. It’s important. It’s crucial to your success. But it’s not something to deter you in your quest to professional freedom. It’s actually a lot easier than you think.
Want to know the answer?
Potential clients might say (or imply) that they’re looking for the best portfolio out there. Or they’re only willing to pay a certain price. Or they want someone who specializes in flash-based websites.
What they’re really looking for, whether they know it themselves or not, is reliability. They want to know you’re up to the task, that you communicate clearly, and that their project is in good hands. They will hire you because you convey that you’re reliable right from day 1. They will stick with you because you prove a track record of delivering A+ results on time, every time.
Where to find clients?
The best answer is to let clients find you. Referrals. It’s the name of the game in web design (and almost any other freelance field). These days, just about all of my clients come to me through referrals. Here’s how it happens:
Word of Mouth
Most referrals come to me without much work on my part at all (other than being known as a reliable web designer). My current and past clients can confidently pass my name along to their colleagues who say they’re in search for a web designer. My former co-workers and fellow contractors refer work to me because we’ve had a good working relationship. Even my former boss from my old 9-5 consistently refers clients to me because I left on good terms, and I have delivered for him and each of those referrals.
I recently began sending out a monthly email newsletter to keep in touch with my network. It’s not for drumming up business with hot promotional offers. It’s not for showing off my portfolio of work. The purpose of my newsletter is to:
- Demonstrate my expertise through written articles and tips.
- Stay in touch with (but not annoy) my network so that I remain at the front of their mind if/when someone they know is looking for a web designer.
- Inform them of new developments and new services / capabilities I offer to my clients.
- Demonstrate that I go the extra mile with personal effort and attention.
Web Design Credit
This is something I do less often now than I used to. For my smaller clients, I put a small link at the bottom of their site that says “Web Design by CasJam Media“. Of course, this is only done with the consent of the client. I’ve had new business come in through people visiting my website via these links. They’re impressed with my client’s site or their business and decide to check me out.
But in the end, it’s not the quality of my client’s website or even my own website that sells them. It’s when they come in contact with me and see that I give it to them strait and demonstrate my reliability.
Just starting out
Obviously, you can’t expect to have a steady stream of referral business when you’re just starting out. I recommend finding work on job boards to build up a portfolio. Check out a guest post I wrote at FreelanceSwitch, 10 simple steps to landing more gigs. In it, I gave specific tips for effectively working the job boards plus other ideas.
However, if you rely solely on job boards and craigslist (not recommended) you’ll end up dealing with mostly bottom feeders – those looking for the cheapest web design solution possible. You need to leverage your first few jobs to develop a strong network of referral business. The sooner that happens, the more successful your freelance business will be.
Hope this helps. Got any tips to add?