The Ultimate Guide to Finding Web Design Clients
At some point, every freelancer or agency has asked themselves:
Where do I find web design clients? How do I keep my sales funnel full? What can I do to get more qualified leads?
Because the truth of the matter is, as passionate as you are about what you’re doing. Of course, financial stability is nice — it reinforces your great work, and justifies your decision to be your own boss (or a boss to many).
However, to achieve real financial stability, you have to have clients regularly.
I would like to share with you these six different tactics outlined below, which you can use to find web design clients for your business.
#1_ Find Web Design clients through Proposals
#2_ Find Web Design clients through Job Boards
#3_ Find Web Design clients through Cold Pitching
#4_ Find Web Design clients through Events
#5_ Find Web Design clients through Referrals
#6_ Find Web Design clients through Inbound Marketing
#1_ Find Web Design clients through Proposals
There are two types of people in this world: those who enjoy writing proposals, and those who don’t.
Regardless of how you feel towards them, proposals are a critical component for finding your new web design clients and can be an effective selling tool — especially if you have a great conversation with a prospect and you’re looking to seal the deal.
You can also use proposals to pitch new business to cold leads, too. Businesses often issue Request for Proposals (RFP) online, meaning your business can bid on larger projects, get bigger contracts, and earn more visibility.
You just need to know where to look for them.
Good proposal writing is equally as important as finding good RFP opportunities.
Below you can find two of the most popular websites you can use to find, and respond to, RFP:
Let’s start with this freebie.
The RFP Database (RFPDB) gives users the ability to browse RFPs from a variety of industries, with no monthly subscription fee — and has a pretty robust web development section.
You can even save searches and set up your email alerts, making RFPDB a great option for businesses looking to start bidding on RFPs or looking for an inexpensive way to find more RFP opportunities.
If you’re looking for contracts specific to the government and public sector, FindRFP is a service that allows both US and Canadian agencies to post their RFPs online.
FINDRFP offers a free trial if your business is interested in trying it, with a low monthly price tag if you choose to continue with the service. For $19.95/month for up to four states, or $29.95/month for US and Canada-wide searching, there are plenty of web design and development opportunities to be found here.
BONUS: More Government and Public RFPs
This isn’t a single website, but if you’re looking for more government and public service contracts, and don’t want to pay a subscription fee, visit their respective website and find the procurement section.
You should be able to find a variety of RFPs that your business can bid on. You can also use the same methodology for associations and membership organizations, like the American Automobile Association (AAA).
#2_ Find Web Design clients through Job Boards
Though responding to RFPs can result in great contracts and new project opportunities, they’re time intensive. And for most businesses, time is of the essence — especially if you’re looking for multiple new clients to grow your monthly revenue.
You might prefer to use a third-party “marketplace” instead.
These platforms list potential client projects and allow freelancers to bid on them. Alternatively, web designers and developers can post their hourly rate and be approached by clients for specific project types.
If you’re really eager, you can do a little bit of A and a little bit of B — scope client projects, while clients scope you.
Sound like an approach you’d like to try? Have a look at the following platforms, you’re bound to find one (or many) you like.
Upwork, formerly known as Odesk / eLance, is one of the more popular marketplace platforms. Unlike similar websites, Upwork only allows web designers and developers to bid on client projects — not post their own services. Which is fine, really, because there is an abundance of projects listed here, especially in the field of web design and development.
And, if you’re in good standing (or considered premium talent), Upwork may even start handpicking you for client projects.
20 per cent for the first $500 billed with a client.
10 per cent for lifetime billings with a client between $500.01 and $10,000.
5 per cent for lifetime billings with a client that exceed $10,000.
If the numbers scare you, keep in mind that Upwork is a great place to find new, and even recurring clients for your business.
Similarly to Upwork, Freelancer is a job market that allows web designers and developers to browse relevant work, and bid on projects they’d like to pursue.
However, Freelancer works a bit differently than traditional marketplaces by allowing potential clients to choose between two different job types: projects and contests.
Projects allow web designers and developers to place competitive bids on a certain job, whereas contests allow web designers and developers to submit work with a payment amount, and the potential client only accepts (and pays for) the work they like.
Regardless of which job type you consider going after, Freelancer is free for, well, freelancers. You can easily sign-up with your Facebook account, or you can opt to create an account using your business email.
PeoplePerHour allows web designers and developers to post jobs that they’d like to do — and dictate how much per hour they’d charge to do it. Alternatively, projects can also be posted at a fixed rate — allowing freelancers to dictate exactly how many hours a project requires ahead of time.
This job board website differentiates itself from others as it allows freelancers to attract clients based on their expertise — instead of freelancers bidding on client projects. Though this can happen too, potential clients are invited to post their projects and allow freelancing experts to bid on them.
Like Freelancer, PeoplePerHour is free for freelancers to create a profile and post jobs. However, the following commission fees apply a 15 per cent fee for the first $280 billed in a month, and a 3.5 per cent fee on all other work billed.
Find new clients and develop your web design and development skills with Guru — which houses over 1 million active job postings for web, software, and IT services.
This website allows potential clients to search through Guru’s database of freelancers and businesses, sorting them by speciality. Alternatively, potential clients can post jobs and have freelancers and agencies bid on their project.
Guru has various levels of membership — Basic, Basic+, Professional, Business, and Executive. As the levels increase, they offer decreased project fees, increased bidding capabilities, and premium features.
At the free, Basic membership level, projects incur an 8.95 per cent fee.
Shopify Expert Marketplace
How great would it be to get your work in front of Shopify merchants? The Shopify Expert Marketplace makes it easy to get your business in front of more merchants and take your business to the next level.
Once you become a Shopify Expert, you’ll get your business listed in Shopify’s Expert Marketplace, where you can customize your listing, post client reviews, and samples of your work. This is where we refer merchants looking for third-party help with their stores — with over 600,000 merchants on the platform, wouldn’t you want your name in the marketplace, too?
Not a Shopify Partner? The opportunity to become an expert, earn more, and grow your business is only available to those in our Partner Ecosystem. If you’re not yet part of Shopify’s free Partner Program, join now.
#3_ Find Web Design clients through Cold Pitching
We’ve talked about proposals and online job boards, but what if you have the ability to pitch a potential client in a more direct manner?
No, we’re not talking about cold calling — though you can try that too (if you’d like).
Email and in-person pitching are go-to approaches for businesses that can’t afford to be on the phone all the time. But, like their cold calling counterpart, there is an art to doing both successfully.
Let’s dive into how you can use email and in-person cold pitching to find new web design clients:
The ability to contact prospects over email is both a blessing and a curse — a blessing in that you have direct access to your ideal clientele. There are even websites, like LimeLeads and Found.ly, where you can curate a targeted list of prospects to reach out to (for a cost).
But email can also be a curse in that your carefully selected prospects may consider your outreach spam.
It happens. It’s no one’s fault (unless your emails actually look like spam or use clickbait subject lines, then you might be in the wrong).
If you’ve never sent a cold pitch via email, or you’re looking to buff up your current template, here’s an example you can build off of:
Subject: Chat about your website? (I’d love to help out)
Hey (prospects name),
I hope you don’t mind me reaching out — by way of introduction, my name is (your name) and I (job function) at (your business name). Over the last year, we’ve helped (number) companies like (company name), (company name), and (company name) solve their web design pain points by (your solution).
I thought we could help (prospect’s business) do the same!
Upon first glance, there are many things that your website is doing well:(compliment 1)
But there are also things that could be better:
This is where (your business name) comes in. If you’re interested in rebuilding your website, please let me know and I’d be more than happy to help you out! To get you started, I’ve attached a case study for (company name) — a company in a similar position, so you can see the benefits of this type of project.
Thanks for your consideration and please do reach out if you have any questions.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Say you just found someone on LinkedIn, and from what you can gather they are the living incarnation of your perfect client. You have the opportunity to meet them in person, so you’ll need a pitch that really wows them — or they may not give you the time of day. Ouch.
This is where an elevator pitch comes in handy. If you’ve never heard of it, an elevator pitch is a 30-second explanation of who you are, what you do, and why the person you’re pitching should listen. It’s based on the theory that, if you’re in an elevator with someone, you only have 30 seconds to get your point across.
According to MindTools, there are four components of a great elevator pitch:
Introduce yourself and your objectives
Explain what it is you do
Identify what makes you unique (think USP)
Engage your audience with a question
Put together, your elevator pitch might look a little something like this:
Hi, my name is ____. My business uses web design and development to create custom e-commerce websites, and content management systems. This means business owners spend less time tracking orders and inventory in their online store, and more time focusing on crafting great products.
Unlike other companies, we take the time to survey our client’s target audience and user-test our end products. Because of this, our client’s see 20 per cent more sales year-over-year than their competitors.
After the first contact
So, you’ve written your email or practised your elevator pitch, and you’ve reached out to your prospect. Now what?
Well, one of two things will happen.
If you emailed your prospect:
You’ll hear back.
You won’t hear back.
If you pitched your prospect in-person:
You’ll get a positive response with a prompt to follow-up regarding your services.
You’ll get polite conversation, but no real interest (identified through conversational “blow offs”).
If you hear back or get a positive response, great! That’s the warm lead you need, to get more web design and development clients and work. Now you can move towards identifying if they’re a good fit, or at least qualify their potential as a lead.
But, what do you do if you don’t hear back, or get the cold shoulder? How can you be persistent about the benefits of your services, without being annoying to your prospect?
It’s all about timing, personalization, and patience.
So, you sent out your first email, or you just met your prospect in person. Regardless of how you initially pitched the prospect, you should default to email for your follow-up — this gives you a paper trail that you can use for maintaining contact with this person.
So, what’s the appropriate amount of time to wait before your follow-up (considering you haven’t heard back, of course)?
According to TheMuse, the general rule of thumb is to give your prospects one week to respond. If you still haven’t heard back in that time, touch base every couple of weeks — if you know your prospect hasn’t been opening your emails, that is.
Now you may be asking: “how is that even possible? How will I know if my prospect is opening my emails?!”
Well, if you’re going to be cold-pitching via email, you should consider integrating HubSpot Sales — an email tracking tool that will give you desktop notifications when a prospect has opened to your email.
Tada! A new tool for your cold pitching toolkit.
However, if your prospect is opening your emails, and choosing to ignore them, you might want to take a different approach to follow-up — skip down to “patience.”
In your follow-up emails, make sure you’re still personalizing your content — address known pain points, offer customized solutions and resources, and always push for a meeting time to further discuss how your business can help theirs.
Also, if you know your prospect has a digital presence, do a little research — adding a suggestion that relates to one of their hobbies or interests, or connecting on a more personal level, can strengthen the odds of receiving a reply because it shows that you’re attentive, and interested in more than just their money.
Connecting on a more personal level can strengthen the odds of receiving a reply because it shows that you’re attentive, and interested in more than just their money.
If you still haven’t heard back from your prospect, or you know that they’re ignoring your outreach, set a reminder in your calendar to reach out again in six months, and again after a year — the timing just may not be right for them, and your pitching resources could be allocated to warmer leads.
Use this time to continue researching your prospect, and to keep up-to-date with changes in their business — you never know when an opportunity might present itself for you to offer your web design and development services again.
#4_ Find Web Design clients at Events
Want to practice your in-person cold pitches? We have the perfect place.
If you’re looking for new clients, attending events can give your business the visibility it needs to continue growing. Plus, conferences can be a lot of fun — who doesn’t like travelling, meeting new people, and learning new things?
Whether the event is free or paid, nearby or across the country, events are an investment in yourself and your business. Here are three ways that you can maximize these experiences:
_Attend Web Development Conferences
Conferences specific to your industry can help you identify new business networks, potential partnerships, and co-marketing opportunities.
It’s all about making connections, really.
For example, you’ve probably gone to a conference (or a local industry event), met tons of interesting people, and thought, “wow, I should add them all on LinkedIn!”
Follow that instinct. You never know who might lead to a new client. Your new connection might pass along smaller projects if you’re a freelancer, or refer to your expertise for more in-depth client projects (we know — we’ve seen some of these collaborations come out of Unite, Shopify’s partner and developer conference).
If you’re really serious about networking, consider creating a spreadsheet that you can update after each event. Write down who you met, what their speciality is, and why you should keep in touch with them.
That way, if you’re looking for new web design clients, you can refer to your external network for leads.
_Attend client-focused conferences
In addition to industry-specific events, you might want to invest in client-focused conferences — the places you know your ideal clientele will be. If you specialize in e-commerce, this may include events like Shopify’s Retail Tour, Shoptalk, orIRCE.
Regardless, client-focused conferences offer the perfect opportunity to pitch new business directly to potential web design clients.
Client-focused conferences offer the perfect opportunity to pitch new business directly to potential web design clients.
It’s that face-to-face time where you can identify pain points, offer solutions, discuss trends in your client’s industry, and gather important intel to grow your business.
Similarly to industry-specific conferences, consider creating a spreadsheet to update after each event. Write down the contact’s name, their business name, their role in the organization, a pain point that they’re experiencing, their business objectives for the year, and an email you can use to get in touch with them.
Use this data as a powerful outreach tool when you’re looking for new web design projects for your business.
_Become a Public Speaker
The more conferences you speak at, the more clout you’ll have in your industry. It’s simple: public speaking creates brand recognition for your business. So, when it comes time to hire someone for a web design and development project, you’ll be top-of-mind for new clients.
For most, this tactic sounds easier than it actually is.
Public speaking is one of the most common fears in America. Greater than the fear of death, even. According to Statistic Brain, 73 per cent of Americans report having speech anxiety — if you’re one of them, getting started on the conference track can feel daunting.
And even if you’re not afraid of public speaking, figuring out how to pursue a speaking career can be difficult if you’ve never actually spoken at a conference before.
Just remember: you’re great, and your business deserves visibility. Conference speaking is a great way to promote your business, meet new people, and reap promotional opportunities before, and during, the event — so take advantage of it.
If you’re looking for more resources, Catt Small, a web designer and developer (and coincidentally another 🐈) has written a blog series outlining how you can become a public speaker in one year. It has great introductory tips and outlines multiple steps you can follow to become a seasoned public speaker on the conference circuit.
#5_ Find Web Design clients through Referrals
Branching off of external networking, let’s dive into internal networking — using your existing clientele to find new web design clients.
Have you established a referral process for your web design and development business? If you haven’t, it’s about time you considered it — word of mouth is one of the most powerful marketing tools available to your business, and you should be taking advantage of every opportunity you have to get people talking about your work.
Because your work is good, and the world should know it.
And people tend to surround themselves with like-minded individuals, after all. So who better to help you find new business than someone you’ve already established to be a desirable (and compatible) client?
That’s why, when it comes to finding web design clients, it’s important to have a referral strategy in place — to leverage these existing connections in a way that helps grow your business.
The end product might differ from business to business, but a sustainable, and scalable, the referral system keeps the following considerations in mind.
When will you ask your client for a referral? Is there such a thing as a “perfect time”? Well, it all depends on what makes the most sense for your business. There are three schools of thought when it comes to identifying an appropriate time to ask:
Mid-project: Let’s say you’ve provided your client with the working prototype of their new e-commerce website, and they’re beyond excited about it. You’ve strictly followed your work back schedule, and have consistently contacted your client to reassure them that everything is on track. You have a good working relationship thus far, so why not leverage your client’s excitement by asking them to refer business to you?
End of the project: There were some hiccups, but you finally made it. The client is impressed by your work and has already complimented you on one skill or another. If you think the client is completely happy, and you’ve successfully alleviated their web design pain points, you should consider asking them to refer your business to their professional network.
When you start a new project: So you’ve already completed a project with your current client, and you’ve cross-sold them on another. Using what you learned working on the first project, you’ve adapted your workflow to really cater to your client. You understand how they work — what makes them tick. And your client also has a better understanding of working with you. Now would be the perfect time to ask them to refer business, given you’ve already established a trusting, productive working relationship.
You don’t always have to ask at the same point in a project — it all depends on your relationship with your client. Identify the right time, based on when your client is most likely to be satisfied.
How many new clients can your business afford to take on? Monitor your WIPs and upcoming project lists to estimate how many referrals you’ll need to maintain (or grow) your current monthly revenue — this information will ensure that you’re able to keep up with the demand generated by your referral program.
Will you offer some kind of reward for a client referring new business to you? This is an important question to answer, because though you may receive more referrals, the quality of your referrals might suffer (I.E. Your client may refer anyone to get the bonus, instead of carefully considering who might be a good fit for your work).
Referral Rock, a referral marketing software provider, goes over the pros and cons of an incentivized referral program. Have a read and decide which type of program works best for your web design and development business.
To make it easier for your clients to provide high-quality referrals, you can provide them with a basic email template to use in their outreach. That way, you’re sure they’re sharing the proper information that you feel will best position your services (and quality of services).
Here’s an existing template that you can work off of:
I recently hired (your name), a (your title), to (summary of objective of project). They suggested (summary of the project), and I’m very happy with the solution and quality of work they’ve provided — especially in (an area that you’ve received positive feedback on).
When (your name) asked if I knew someone looking for web design and development work, who’s (description of an ideal customer), I thought of you.
If you’re interested in acquiring an estimate, or more information, reach out to (your name, your contact details). I’d definitely recommend working with them!
Note: Mentions of “your” in the above example refer to you and your business, not your client’s.
Remember, if you don’t ask, you’ll never know if your client is willing to give you a referral — so don’t hesitate to reach out to your best clients. Worst comes to worst, you’ll get a response like: “sorry, I don’t know anyone in the market for web design services at the moment.”
In this case, you can ask your client for a testimonial — a form of social proofing you can use on all your sales collateral and owned properties (like your website, or your portfolio). Kai Davis of kaidavis.com offers some actionable advice for getting powerful client testimonials using six simple questions.
_Keep in touch
Regardless of whether you want a referral or testimonial, it’s incredibly important to maintain good working relationships. This includes being timely in responding to your clients, being considerate of their needs, and going above and beyond to ensure they’re happy.
At the end of the day, you never know where new web design clients might come from.
Put into perspective, here’s some low hanging fruit to fill your sales funnel with: always keep in touch with your clients. Who knows? Your point of contact at an organization might leave their role to pursue greener pastures — if you gave them an easy, pleasant working experience, they’re likely to recommend your firm to their new place of business.
#6_ Find Web Design clients through Inbound Marketing
So you’ve tried all of the above outbound efforts: proposals, job boards, cold pitching, events, and asking your existing customers to refer new web design clients to you.
But, wouldn’t it be much easier if these potential clients came directly (and passively) to you?
This is why inbound marketing is important for your business. You’re probably already using inbound marketing tactics, and have a solid foundation to build off of (like a blog) — so, let’s maximize your efforts to reel in those desirable web design clients!
_Start (or continue) blogging
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
If you haven’t started a blog for your business, you should consider devoting some time to identifying your niche and writing about it. Not only will it help secure your position as a thought leader in your industry (backed-up by your killer conference speaking skills, of course), but it will also give you a platform to start building your inbound marketing efforts on.
Still not convinced it’s worth the time, effort, and resources? Here are a few reasons you should maintain a blog on your business’ website:
__Search Engine Optimization
You’ve heard the term “SEO” floating around — heck, you’ve already optimized the rest of your website for it.
You want Google to recognize your business as being the top choice for potential web design clients, looking for similar services.
You want to be #1…or at least, in the first few organic results of a search.
A blog will help you continue building this clout, and allow your business the opportunity to rank on more diverse, closely-related keywords — without resorting to black hat SEO tricks, like keyword stuffing (please, don’t do this).
And while we’re on the topic, here’s a quick tip for blogging excellence: you should be conducting regular keyword research to see how you can expand your audience, and draw new web design clients to your website.
You should be conducting regular keyword research to see how you can expand your audience, and draw new web design clients to your website.
Some of the most popular websites to do this, are Moz and SEMRush. Both do come with a subscription fee — but it’s well worth the investment to simplify the research process. If you’re looking for a free resource, check out Google’s Keyword Planner.
__Defining your niche
Having a blog on your business’ website also allows you to define a niche — that area of expertise that differentiates you from your competitors.
This differentiation could be the industry that you cater to. For example, your business might specialize in web design and development for the fashion industry. So much so, in fact, that you’re an expert on the wants and needs of this particular segment and its audiences.
Or maybe you’re the only Shopify-focused business in your area. If a potential web design client is looking for an e-commerce solution, you’re the go-to for all of their theming app development needs.
Not only will picking a niche to help you be more successful in your SEO efforts, but it will also help dictate the type of clients you attract and the content you choose to publish on your blog. This will make it easier to come up with topics that are relevant to your audience and will help you pre-qualify your prospective web design clients.
Once you have a niche, you’ll start building an audience that responds to that niche.
Going back to our fashion example, if you start producing content that addresses the pain points and opportunities found in web design for the fashion industry, you’re more likely to build an audience of potential fashion clients — all following your blog for more advice.
So, how will you convert this newfound audience?
As you’re working, you might identify common pain points that recur from client to client, project to project. Alternatively, you might get asked some questions more frequently than others, and find yourself offering similar solutions to many different clients.
Write all of this precious information down. Keep it safe.
It’ll come in handy, promise.
This information will help your business create valuable content — guidebooks, templates, and other resources that current clients, and potential clients, can download in exchange for some basic information (and their email address). Content can be long-form, or short-form, as long as it provides value to your prospects and aims to solve a problem.
Below is an example of how Shopify Plus Partners WeMakeWebsites use content downloads to encourage blog sign-ups:
Think of it this way: your blog and publically available content will attract visitors. You’ll then use downloadable content to collect their information, convert them, and nurture them into being a new web design client for your business.
If you’re producing content, be it in the form of resources or blog posts, your business should create an email newsletter — it’s an opt-in experience that passively educates your current and potential clients on your area of expertise.
They’re also really easy to automate.
Using your RSS feed and an email automation client, you can collate blog articles into a daily, weekly, or monthly email newsletter to your list. This will save your business both time and resources, and provide your clients, and potential clients, with valuable content.
It’s a win-win!
And as you build this list, you can include promotional content and more information regarding your services.
You now have all of this great content that you can use to convert your blog’s visitors — but have you considered how you’ll get them there?
SEO aside, you’ll want to consider using social media to extend your blog’s reach.
Not only is it another avenue to continue building your audience, but social media is also a channel that you can use to nurture your community (of clients or like-minded professionals), participate in industry-related discussions, and grow your brand outside of your owned properties (like your portfolio site).
Use free social automation tools like Hootsuite, Buffer, and Tweetdeck to schedule a few social media posts a day — that way you’ll stay top-of-mind for your followers, and consistently expose them to your new content.
_Portfolio and case studies
Content marketing is great, but your portfolio is one of your most valuable marketing assets.
It demonstrates the beautiful web design and development you do on a daily basis and allows potential web design clients to decide if your business is the one they’d like to work with.
It’s also an area that you can optimize to capture valuable information from prospects.
Behind every good portfolio is a good case study.
Okay, that might not be the exact saying, but there is truth to it.
Alongside your portfolio, your website should showcase actionable, data-driven case studies. This is the tangible proof that potential web design clients need to make concrete decisions on whether or not they’ll hire your business. And, if written well (and optimized for search engines), this landing page can be a goldmine of new clients.
Cheers and good luck to all Web lovers with your future projects!