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.
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.
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:
Below are some real-life examples of effective web design niches:
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.
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]
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you're not sure how to price your web design services, start with one of the following strategies:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
Experiencing some pushback on pricing? Watch Ran's video below to learn how to negotiate as a beginner web designer.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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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