Today I want to talk about a question that I received from Megan, who’s just starting out with her web design business. She asked me how to start getting new clients. She has one good client, but wants to replace the income from her agency job, and isn’t sure where to start.
I’m going to talk about what I would do today if I were just starting out. And fortunately, the advice I have for you doesn’t hinge on posting on social media, trolling job boards, making a Fiverr account, or responding to RFP requests in some big government database. My advice just requires a bit of time and talking to people like human beings.
Before we dive in, I want to invite you to visit secretweapon.club, which is a community with lots of people working toward the same goals, and resources to help you out on your journey. Come check it out—I think you’ll love it.
So when I got this question, I was thrilled. When I first started out in my business, after having my first child, I literally did everything wrong. Knowing what I know now would have saved me tons of time and prevented a lot of frustration as I was trying to get those first clients on my project list and build relationships with them.
There’s only one thing you need to know to get more clients.
It’s all about reaching out and building strong relationships with people who already know you. Now, if you look online for advice for building your business, you’ll see a lot of stuff about social media, funnels, and passive income. If you’re an introvert, like me, these things might seem really appealing, because then you don’t have to do the scary thing that we know we need to do: outreach.
For years, I chased those passive techniques because I was scared of doing direct outreach. I didn’t want to be salesy. I didn’t have the business mindset about outreach and sales, because I was so scared of those things. But if you want clients, the best way to get them is to rip off that bandaid. If you get a bit uncomfortable right from the start, you won’t get to that place of feeling stuck and stagnant when clients aren’t coming through your door consistently.
So let’s talk about outreach. What do you actually need to do? I’ll break it down for you so that it becomes a series of actionable steps instead of a big scary thing.
First, you need to make sure that whenever anyone comes across you, they know you’re open for business. This means adjusting all your social media profiles to include your business info. If you have a website, include links to it everywhere. Don’t leave any doubt about what you do. You might feel like you’re being pushy, spammy, or salesy, but put that out of your mind, because right now you need to build a sustainable business.
Don’t get overly creative here. Clear is better than clever. Don’t talk about being a magical unicorn design fairy. Simply state that you are a web designer who does freelance projects for small businesses looking to increase their lead gen, or you’re a graphic designer who helps product-based businesses sell their products with eye-catching ad campaigns. Whatever your niche is, make it clear.
I come across so many people whose profiles give me no idea about what they’re doing or even if they’re a professional at all. I don’t even know if I want to work with them. Some people may argue with me and say that their Facebook profile is just for personal stuff, and I get it, I really do. The idea of keeping your personal and business life separate is understandable. But right now, if you’re serious about growing your businesses and getting new clients, you have to be committed and willing to blur those lines for now. If you need to, start a second account for your personal hobbies if you don’t feel comfortable sharing that with potential clients. You may need to make some small sacrifices in order to get your business moving, but it’s worth it if building a sustainable, profitable business is your goal.
As you’re setting up your profiles, make sure that it’s really easy for anyone to follow up with you. Include links for a call, a request form, your website—make sure that it’s easy for people to get in touch and get more information. Don’t make them hunt for ways to work with you.
If you want more in-depth advice about setting up your profiles and cultivating clients, come visit secretweapon.club, where you can get a free audiobook version of my book, which covers these topics and so much more. There are tons of resources available and a community of people all with the same goals and questions, so come join us!
Once your profiles are primed and anyone who sees them will know exactly what you do and that you’re open for business, it’s time for the uncomfortable part. I’m pretty positive that if I had done this when I was first starting out, my business would have been successful far sooner.
This is what I did when I turned my business around three years ago, and I can tell you for certain that it works when you’re committed and you jump in wholeheartedly.
Grab your notebook, a piece of paper, open a spreadsheet, whatever tool works for you. Make a list of everyone you know with a business, who works in your industry, or you’ve had some sort of professional relationship with at some point in your career.
This can be absolutely anybody. Don’t hold back. This is a brain dump of all the names you can think of: other designers you’ve worked with, old bosses at past agency jobs, friends or acquaintances who own their own businesses, anyone who could possibly hire you or refer you to someone who could hire you.
Once you have that list, go through and rank them from 1 to 10 based on how likely they are to respond. 1 means it’s a remote chance, and 10 means that they love you and of course they’ll send you work.
Then once you’ve sorted your list, starting with the 10s, gather their contact info and reach out directly to each of them. A direct email is great, but a professional platform like LinkedIn is good as well. Facebook and Instagram aren’t the best option because you’ll be competing with memes and baby photos, but go for it if it’s all you have.
Commit to reaching out to at least three people every day. That’s pretty easy to do, it doesn’t take long, and it builds up your momentum. Write a short, personalized message that reminds them of how they know you and the history you have. Don’t ramble on or be too pandering.
Just let them know that you’re reaching out to connect and ask if they have any projects or work they need done or know of anyone else who would be a good fit for what you’re doing. Include a link to your website and portfolio, thank them for their time, and sign off.
Don’t overthink it too much. You don’t need to find the perfect template that will get everyone to say yes: that doesn’t exist.
When I started doing this, I just said “Hey, I’m offering web design and graphic design for small businesses who want to get that part of their marketing off their plates. Some of the services I offer are eCommerce, website creation, lead generation for websites, visual branding and logo creation, print design and packaging design and I’d love to work with you on any projects you may have coming up or if you aren’t looking for anything for yourself, I would absolutely love a recommendation or referral to anyone you know in your network you feel would be interested.”
Each email I wrote probably took about five minutes or so. I would reuse a few pieces, personalize it a bit, and send it off. I did get a lot of nothing at first, but it paid off in the end, because I did start getting more responses and referrals. In a matter of a few months, I was completely booked. All it took was getting over my anxiety and getting comfortable with being a little uncomfortable.
Some of you are probably thinking “I don’t have a network, I don’t know anyone who fits that description. I’m just starting out so I don’t have contacts yet.” The reality is that you do know people, and those people know people.
This technique isn’t limited to past professional relationships. Friends, family, anyone you interact with regularly, may have a use for your services that you weren’t aware of, or know someone who does.
Make sure that everyone knows what you do so that they can recommend you. Self-promotion can be hard, but it’s essential. We tend to want to hide and just do the work for clients that magically show up so that we don’t have to be a salesperson.
Eventually, you’ll have built up your client base enough that you don’t have to do as much outreach all the time. But at first, it’s necessary to get going. You may not see results right away, but with time, the clients will come.
If I had to start over tomorrow, this is exactly what I would do. I’d make sure all my profiles made it easy for everyone to see what I did and how to get in touch with me. Everything would be clear, with links to schedule a call or fill out a form, along with my website and portfolio.
Then I’d make a list of everyone who could possibly hire me or refer me to people who could. I’d collect contact info and start reaching out directly and personally.
From there, it’s just a matter of persistence. Don’t get discouraged when it takes a bit of time to see results. If you follow this process, you’ll likely start getting new clients within a couple of weeks, and you’ll be well on your way to getting a full roster of clients for your web design business.
I want to say thanks again to Megan for sending me this question. This is such an important topic, and I am so glad to have the opportunity to talk about it.
If you have anything you’d like me to talk about, please reach out on Facebook, Instagram, or at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to answer you either directly or in an upcoming post or podcast episode.
If you want to learn more about building a profitable web design business, be sure to visit secretweapon.club, so you can get access to a ton of freebies and join a community of secret weapons just like you.
Until next time, thanks for reading!