Here at Atarim, we have one primary goal. To help web design freelancers and agency owners succeed and scale their business.
Our effort to do so is two-fold. We primarily do this with our software that simplifies & organizes client communication for web designers. But, we also do so with blog posts just like this one.
As you might’ve guessed in this post, we’ll be answering one of the most commonly asked questions:
How do I find web design clients?
This is a long post but, rest assured, by the end of it – you’ll have absolutely everything you need to prospect & land qualified leads for your agency or freelance web design business.
There is an inherent difference between finding leads & clients. A lead is a potentially qualified prospect where no transaction has taken place yet, so let’s start with the first part of the process – getting leads.
What We Won’t Be Covering In This Post is cold calling.
Not because it’s a strategy that you can’t have success with, you most certainly can and there are people that do but we prefer and recommend generating a system that results in a consistent stream of inbound leads because it’s a long-term solution rather than an interim solution that’s only temporary.
1. The Basics
When I say basics, I mean things like:
- A website
- Social profiles
- And the ability to deliver work + a simple process
Some argue you don’t need a website at all and should focus all of your time on finding clients, and others argue you need to spend weeks on end perfecting your website, brand, and social presence without landing clients.
You’ll be glad to hear that there is a better way. And it’s a mixture of the two. Not many people know this but I actually ran my agency for over a year without having a website or brand in place.
Was this ideal? Nope.
Would I do it again? Nope.
So, let’s learn from my mistakes.
If I had a website from the very beginning, I could have used the momentum I had initially to build a brand while I was focused on delivering exceptional client work to plan for growth. The reason I didn’t was simply a lack of time to focus on getting a site up, but that honestly isn’t a valid excuse, especially if you run a web design agency.
Tip: Don’t be a perfectionist but also note that if you are a web designer some leads & prospects will be confused when they see your website and it might hurt your business.
As a web design agency, your goal should be to have an excellent website that impresses anyone that visits it, but that’s a long-term goal so aiming for that now isn’t going to help you land clients quickly. And what scares me most is when I see a logo before any sort of business plan, these things are nice to have, but what you need is a simple (but still impressive) website that is good enough for you to use to promote your business, capture leads and let people learn more about you.
So to begin with you’d simply have pages to fulfill the three purposes above:
Services pages are overrated and you don’t need one when just starting out because you won’t know exactly which services you want to provide so the last thing you want to do is alienate someone by making them think you can’t do something because it isn’t listed on your services page.
Once you land some clients and deliver great work, a portfolio is a great way to build trust with leads and make the sales process 10x easier and faster.
Your social profiles
Again, this is something you don’t want to spend a lot of time on and should only carve out about 30 minutes to an hour of a day. – at the start. Once you have a client-base, building these platforms will become a more significant yet extremely valuable time investment.
Set up the basic social profiles so that leads which do some due diligence will know that you exist and are in fact a real business. In 2020, I’d recommend focusing on Facebook & LinkedIn. Facebook is still a big network for businesses and so is LinkedIn. In addition to Facebook & LinkedIn, using Twitter to engage with people in the industry and build a personal brand is a great use of your time as it will allow you to establish yourself as an authority – again a great way to shorten the sales cycle and build trust with clients.
Process & Work Quality
If you’re just starting out, then no matter what, there will be a level of scrambling to figure out how to do things. So while there’s nothing you can do to eliminate this entirely, it’s important that you minimize it wherever you can.
I’ve heard a lot of stories from clients about working with web developers and designers.
Some are as crazy as people just disappearing without notice when a project hasn’t been finished. For clients that have paid an unfinished site is an obvious problem but even for clients that haven’t paid, you don’t want to leave them hanging. They’ve already invested their time to get you what you need to start working on the project so if you don’t complete it, they’re going to have to start that all over again which is a great way to leave a seriously bad impression.
When looking for clients, this is often going to be the primary roadblock. If you haven’t yet demonstrated your ability & authority in the industry, it’s going to be difficult to find a client that will actually trust and want to work with you.
A solid process ensures that you and/or your team complete every detail that is required to finish a job properly. Missing things, even the small stuff, leaves a feeling of a half-finished job and will ensure you never get referrals.
Whether you’re doing your first design project or run a 10-person agency, your primary objective for growth should be to impress every client by doing an exceptional job every single time.
There are two parts to this. One is the finished product. This is a given. It inevitably has to be good for them to be adequately satisfied. The second is your process, which is where you can really start to impress them, earn repeat business, and justify referrals.
The reason this is so important is that the barrier to entry to starting a web design business is so low thanks to tools like Elementor and Beaver Builder that make it relatively simple. Anyone and everyone can throw a site together with WordPress. Not everyone can design and develop a site that helps businesses & be enjoyable to work with.
So how can you make your process stand out?
We’re obviously biased, but an incredible number of agencies are freelancers are using Atarim to impress clients and simplify their web design client feedback & communication workflow. Start your no-risk, free 7-day trial today.
And while we’re on the topic of process & work quality, it’s also important that you never stop learning about WordPress so you can stay ahead of the curve.
With all that out of the way, let’s jump into getting leads.
Impress (go above and beyond)
As mentioned above, this one really goes without saying, but a surprising number of businesses struggle to do this.
With referrals, more than with any other strategy, you need to actually earn them. Get the project done on time, take time to understand their business & use software like Atarim to impress them with your process.
Collect feedback and improve
Both during and even once you’ve finished a project, you should show that you care about their experience. Do this by communicating with them, schedule a hand-off call with all clients where they can bring up any potential issues, thank you and give you some feedback.
Surveys are great and all. But, they’re impersonal. The only way you’ll actually get the whole truth about how people felt about their experience and your process is if you take the time to get on the phone with them and hear them out.
As you do this, over time you will be able to identify significant issues with your process and mitigate them so that you come closer to earning referrals.
Pro Tip: Ask if you can record your offboarding/review calls so that you can review negative feedback. And, if you get great feedback, ask them for written consent to use snippets of the call in your marketing material & transcribe a snippet of it that you can use a written testimonial as well.
Actually Ask For Referrals
Last but not least, improving your process is great and all, but what do you do when they tell you how great you are on your hand-off call? You follow-up with a thank you email and let them know that referrals would be appreciated.
Pro Tip: If a client does refer you to someone they know and it wouldn’t be pushing it, ask them to make the email introduction. This will carry far more weight than if you just reach out to them and say that John Doe said they were looking for someone do redesign their website.
Cold emails have a terrible reputation, am I right?
We all know that the odds of you emailing the founder of a million-dollar company, let alone any company and getting a response are almost 0.
As someone who, despite being relatively new to the industry has managed to get conversations going with prolific people time and time again, I’m going to go through the tips and tricks you need to succeed. Jokes aside, there are no tips, tricks, or gimmicks anywhere in this post.
What we will do, however, is break down how I’ve gone from getting little to no replies (likely your current state) to getting replies from people I (you) look up to consistently. This isn’t something that you can copy & paste and replace in five minutes with some repetitive template. If that’s the amount of effort you’re willing to put into your business, then you might have a bigger problem than just finding clients. 😄
The Anatomy Of A Great Outreach Email
Every cold email needs three fundamental components to even have a chance of being successful:
- A relational anchor
- A win for them
- A clear ask
The Relational Anchor
The relational anchor is your connection to the person you’re emailing so you don’t come off as just some random person who stumbled across their website a few minutes ago and just wants something from them. In some cases, the relational anchor can be something as simple as being a member of their audience or email list subscriber.
Win For Them
When you’re just starting out, it’s going to be difficult to find people where you really have something of incredible value to offer them. You likely don’t already have a huge audience and can’t really offer much in return.
Rest assured, everyone running an online business is always focusing on one thing. Providing value to their audience.
Your initial email needs to demonstrate that you recognize something that you can do for their audience and have actual expertise to be able to speak on that topic without coming off as some complete stranger.
A Clear Ask
Let’s face it, I used to make this mistake as well. Emailing a stranger when the purpose of the email is unclear and just includes asking them how things are going comes off as ingenuine because they know there’s going to be an ask at some point anyway. Plus, the type of people you’re emailing get hundreds if not thousands of emails per day so you need to do something to stand out.
How does that sound? or Would you be interested in collaborating together? is not a clear ask that gives someone enough information to even justify a response which is why emails I receive like this remain unanswered.
A clear ask would be Are you interested in having me teach your audience about the intersection of design & SEO? because that demonstrates the value to them and they know what would be expected of them. Using some generic term like “partnership” or “collaboration” is so open-ended, it could involve literally anything.
Sidenote: The easier it is to respond to your pitch, the more responses you’ll get. Sounds obvious when I put it that way, right? 😅
Now that we’ve covered email outreach, you’ll be glad to hear that the skill is transferrable. Outreach is useful in a number of ways, the first is (as we covered above) to actually land clients.
The second, which is equally important & and works hand-in-hand, involves partnerships. Connect with and build a relationship with other businesses that already successfully serve your target market in a different way.
These need to be non-competing (obviously), so, for web design agencies, this can include SEO & marketing agencies. As in this case, a referral would be extremely natural as it’s very common for us to have clients that require a website redesign. This is just one example of a parallel industry, there are tons of others.
Some people offer a percentage for partner referrals, though in my experience once you develop a good relationship with each other (as long as it is somewhat mutually exclusive), the commission doesn’t matter. Most are more than happy to refer people my way because they know that the people will be grateful and thank them/trust them more in return – all in all, it really is a win-win situation.
Assessing and evaluating whether potential partners would be a good fit needs to be done on a case-by-case basis, but let’s start with some sources to find the potential partners to begin with.
The closest of existing connections can include sources, such as:
- Friends and families who have businesses
- Blogs or email lists that you yourself have subscribed to
- Podcasts that you listen to
- Courses of other products you’ve purchased
- Services that you use
- People you’ve interacted with in communities
Other questions you should ask yourself to help kickstart the process of finding potential partners include:
- Who already works with or serves my ideal clients?
- What can I offer them?
- Where do they spend their time?
- Where do my ideal customers spend their time?
Connecting with and meeting with partners works in much the same way as networking and email outreach which was covered in the previous section.
5. Communities & Networking
A lot of people do networking wrong.
Going to these events has nothing to do with handing out as many business cards as possible. That’s the first thing people tend to get wrong.
The second most common mistake is people attend the wrong events altogether. Simply because they have no process or method to choose which events to attend. Most people attend events that are purely a pool of competitors. There is still inherent value in such events because you can learn what others are doing well and get answers to questions from people who’ve been where you are at some point, but you’re not really helping your business by attending events like those.
Put it this way. As an SEO & marketing agency owner, it doesn’t make much sense for me to attend BrightonSEO to find clients. It’s definitely still a great experience and I recommend going to events like this because you can network with like-minded people in the industry which is obviously useful.
However, there is much more logic in attending the WordPress Meetup in London because this is an industry in which I have a number of clients. It’s where my clients’ customers are and it’s where the decision-makers at potential clients companies are…
A great place to start if you’re looking for events to attend is searching through the events in the business category on Meetup.com. Try to find one which occurs on a consistent schedule as those are the ones where the organizers really know what they’re doing…
Chamber of Commerce
While I haven’t, others have also had great success by attending the local chamber of commerce events. As with Meetups, you’ll very quickly know which are worth attending again and which aren’t worth going back to.
Especially during COVID-19, in-person events are out of the question. But even when there isn’t a global pandemic affecting businesses, Facebook groups are a great place to hang out with people in your industry as well as potential customers.
Your Turn – Go Find Clients
The strategies and processes outlined in this post have proven time and time again to be an effective way to grow beyond six figures. There are no secrets and nobody can do it for you. Just focus on delivering great work, building your network, and earning referrals.
Last but not least, double-down on what works. Once one channel or strategy starts working, don’t stop doing it altogether. Make the most of it and slowly diversify so that your efforts eventually snowball…
What has been the single most effective strategy for your business?
Let me know in the comments below so we can keep this post up-to-date with everyone’s collective experience. 💬