The ultimate guide to freelance web design for beginners

Stephanie Corrigan
Are you looking to delve into the competitive world of freelance web design? You're in the right place. This comprehensive guide contains a proven, step-by-step process for attracting high quality clients and earning consistent income as a freelance web designer.

How to get started as a freelance web designer

1. Select a niche

As a new freelance web designer, it'll take time to build up a reputation for your work. One way to speed up the process is to specialize in a particular industry or niche. Focusing on a niche will position you as an expert right away, even if you don't have a lot of experience under your belt yet. You can also check our FREE Intro to FREELANCING Workshop.

Why is selecting a niche crucial for success?

Put yourself in the shoes of a client for a moment. Let's say you're a restaurant owner who wants to create a website that takes online orders. You receive proposals from two web designers with comparable design skills. One web designer is a generalist and has worked with clients like hair salons, lawyers, and dentists. His work is solid and he has great testimonials. The other web designer specializes in the restaurant niche. She has fewer projects in her portfolio, but the copy on her website speaks directly to you, a restaurant owner. She understands your problem and has a clear process to help you solve it. Who are you more likely to hire--the generalist who does good work but probably doesn't know much about your industry? Or the specialist who works exclusively with restaurant owners like yourself?

Most clients prefer to work with a specialist. As this example illustrates, having a niche for your freelance web design business work is crucial when you're starting out because it makes you look like an expert in a particular area. In other words, clients are more likely to trust in your ability to solve their problem, and trust is essential in the sales process.

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How to select a niche for freelance web design

There are a few different ways to niche down as a freelance web designer. The most common way to niche is by industry (restaurants, law, construction, coaching, fintech, education, the list goes on). Other ways to niche for web design are by platform (i.e. WordPress, Webflow, etc.), process (i.e. one-day intensive), and style (i.e. bold and playful vs. modern and minimalist). If you're just starting out, I recommend choosing an industry niche for ease. Your niche can always evolve over time, so don't worry about feeling too tied down.

The following three factors, in no particular order, can help you decide which industry to niche in:

  • Interest: Choose a niche that you're actually interested in, otherwise you may burn out quickly.
  • Experience: Ideally, you'll choose a niche that you've worked in before so that you can share relevant case studies in your portfolio. Experience also helps you decide whether you actually enjoy a particular niche.
  • Connections: Have connections in a particular industry? This could be a huge plus for you and make finding work that much easier.

Below are some real-life examples of effective web design niches:

ProSites works with dental and medical practices.
ProSites works with dental and medical practices.

Morgan Rapp specializes in creating ecommerce websites on Shopify.
Morgan Rapp specializes in creating ecommerce websites on Shopify.

Flux Academy founder Ran Segall has built a name for himself in the early-stage tech startup industry.
Flux Academy founder Ran Segall has built a name for himself in the early-stage tech startup industry.

2. Define your unique value proposition

Now that you have a niche to focus on, the next step is to define your unique value proposition (UVP). This step is crucial because a strong UVP will help you stand out in the sea of competition for freelance web design in your chosen niche.

How to craft a compelling unique value proposition

In order to create a compelling UVP, you need to understand what your clients actually care about. The best way to find this out is by actually speaking to them. If you've worked with clients in the past, reach out to them and ask if they'd be willing to share what they enjoyed most about working with you. Give them a few options to choose from in order to make it easier and take up less of their time.

Once you've done some research on your client's pain points and your unique strengths, try to summarize it in one sentence. Use the following formula:

[The character] + [The problem] + [The unique plan] + [The success]

3. Create a portfolio website

Armed with your UVP, it's time to create a strong portfolio website so that you can start attracting clients in your niche. As a freelance web designer, your website needs to look impressive. But just as importantly, it should clearly showcase your niche and UVP.

How to create an effective portfolio website for freelance web design

When a potential client lands on your website, what you do and whether you can help them should be immediately apparent. Otherwise, he may click away and you'll have missed your opportunity. The best way to do this is to include a variation of your UVP in large, eye-catching text in your hero section.

Below are a few examples of freelance web design and creative agency websites that effectively highlight their UVP above the fold.

Meagan's message is clear and uniquely conveyed

This agency clearly knows their target client

Other elements to include on your portfolio website are a quality photo of yourself, client testimonials and/or logos, and of course, your best work.

4. Develop a pricing strategy

There are many ways to price your services as a freelance web designer. With that in mind, there's no one-size-fits-all pricing strategy that works for everyone. How to price yourself depends on many factors, such as your experience level, technical abilities (do you design and develop websites?), process, and niche.

Tip: This resource shows the average prices for web design in different locations.

Common pricing strategies for beginners

If you're not sure how to price your web design services, start with one of the following strategies:

  • Penetration pricing: When you don't have much (or any) experience, penetration pricing is a good way to get your foot in the door. To implement this strategy, price yourself lower than the average competitor in your niche.
  • Cost-based pricing: This pricing strategy is based on what it costs you to complete a project, plus a small profit percentage. To determine the cost, multiply your hourly rate by the number of hours you estimate the project will take.
  • Promotional pricing: Promotional pricing is another way to get your foot in the door when you're not ready to charge premium or value-based rates. This strategy works because it creates the illusion that your clients are getting a good deal from you. In reality, you should set the promotional price to what you actually want to make. Although effective for beginners, promotional pricing isn't a great long-term strategy.

5. Find your first client

We've now reached the step in the process that you've been waiting for--finding your first client and raking in the dough. Until you've developed a well-oiled marketing machine (see step 9), you'll need to do some outreach in order to find your first clients. This step feels uncomfortable for a lot of people, but there are ways to do it without feeling like a sleazy salesman.

Tap into your existing network

The best place to find clients when you're just starting out is through your personal network. Your friend's mom's brother could be looking for a freelance web designer for all you know. And because there's a personal connection, a client in your network is an easier sell. Spread the word about your freelance services to everyone you know, including your dentist and former colleagues, and especially to anyone who has connections in your chosen niche.

How to do cold outreach from a place of service

Once you've exhausted your personal network, your next option is to do cold outreach. Although no one enjoys pitching to strangers, this method has an upside since you can target clients in your niche who you actually want to work with. The key with cold pitches is to approach them from a place of service. Offer the recipient a bit of free, actionable value before you go in with your pitch. For example, you could conduct a quick homepage re-design for them and explain how the changes you made will help their business. The bottom line to remember is that strangers don't care about you and how great your work is (sorry!)--but they do care about solving their business problems.

6. Create a proposal and contract

You've done the hard work of setting up your freelance web design business and finding your first client. Congrats! But don't rest easy just yet. Before you start doing any work for your client, you'll need to send her a proposal for approval and sign an official contract.

How to write proposals that get approved

Some web designers will try to tell you that you need a beautiful, elaborate, 20-page proposal to wow your potential clients and stand out from your competitors. But the truth is, effective proposals are about substance, not appearance. Create a simple proposal template with the following elements:

  • Overview: State the objectives of the project in plain language
  • Process: Outline the steps you'll take to complete the project
  • Deliverables: Make sure the scope of work is clear
  • Timeline: Share how long the project will take from start to finish
  • Investment: Provide a cost estimate for the project

Why you must have a contract for freelance web design

Never do freelance work without a contract, even if it's unpaid work. A solid contract offers protection in case something goes awry (such as unpaid invoices) and helps to establish important boundaries between you and your client. You don't need to hire an expensive lawyer to create a bulletproof contract, but it's worth investing in a vetted template; check out The Contract Shop for lawyer-approved legal templates.

7. Negotiate and close the sale

If your client accepts your proposal and signs the contract without any push back, you've either done a great job of showcasing your value, or you're underpricing yourself. Either way it's a win--you can always raise your prices for the next project. However, winning over a client isn't always so easy. Most clients have objections, and you'll need to put on your salesman hat and negotiate in order to close the sale.

A few key sales principles

The way to win at sales is to treat your potential clients as real people. In other words, don't go into a sales meeting with the mindset of, "I need to close this sale so I can pay my bills." Here are a few key principles that'll help you succeed at sales:

  • Ask questions to uncover the real problem that led the client to get on a sales call with a web designer. You won't transform a client's business by focusing only on surface-level problems.
  • Show that you're on their side through sympathy and honesty. If you're not a great fit, don't try to force the sale just because you need the money. Instead, be honest and offer an alternative solution, such as a referral or helpful resource.
  • Explain your process. After you've listened to the client and diagnosed their problem, confirm that you can help them and explain how with an overview of your process.

Experiencing some pushback on pricing? Watch Ran's video below to learn how to negotiate as a beginner web designer.

8. Develop a project management system

You've closed the sale and are ready to dive into your first freelance web design project. But before you do, there's one last crucial step to take. In order to work efficiently and create a stellar client experience, you need to have a project management system in place. A good system helps you stay organized, track your progress, and collect feedback.

Top project management systems for freelance web design

There are many different project management software systems out there to choose from. Ran Segall uses and recommends Trello. I personally prefer Asana, which is similar. Other good options include Basecamp and ClickUp. These systems all have similar features, so it doesn't really matter which one you use when you're just starting out. Just use whatever works for you.

9. Build your marketing machine

It likely took a lot of time and outreach to land your first client. Is that something you could see yourself doing long term? Probably not. Once you've exhausted your current network, the only way to bring in clients consistently is through marketing.

Top marketing channels for freelance web design

As a freelance web designer, you have a plethora of marketing channels to choose from. Rather than trying to be everywhere at once, start with one marketing channel, get really good at it, and then think about branching out to reach a wider audience. Below are some of the top marketing channels for freelance web designers:

  • Referrals: If you're a people person and enjoy networking events, this is for you. Even in today's digital age, word of mouth, or referral, marketing is alive and well and a great way to find clients if you have the energy for it.
  • Content marketing: Creating content centered around your niche is a great way to establish your expertise and attract warm leads. Whether you prefer to write blog posts, film YouTube videos, or record podcasts, content marketing is a long-term strategy that can attract new clients consistently for years to come. Tip: Share your content on Pinterest to take it even further.
  • Instagram: With its enormous user base, Instagram offers a lot of potential for connecting with your ideal clients. You'll need to keep up with trends, create consistent content, and understand hashtags in order to succeed on Instagram.

Are you ready to build a successful freelance business, once and for all?

Ran Segall's course, The 6-Figure Freelancer, dives into all of the above steps and much more in detail in order to help you become the best freelance web designer you can be. The course teaches everything you need to know in order to attract more ideal clients, close more sales, and reach your income goals doing what you love.

Click here to learn more about the course and how it can help you grow a thriving freelance web design business.

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