I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: countless freelancers make six-figures without a portfolio. I know several myself that have little more than a website that says “coming soon.” It’s not like they have a huge network or other worldly skills either. They just do things slightly different than the average freelancer.
This page is going to guide you through what I’ve observed these high-level freelancers do to get clients. If you’re low on time, I recommend you sign up for my free referral newsletter. It not only comes with access to exclusive referrals, but a full email course on the the topic of getting clients. Let’s get started.
How I deleted my portfolio and made $30k 6 weeks later
In 2012 I got fired. That day I decided to go on my own and freelance. My work life became about one thing: getting clients.
And that’s when I realized my portfolio was a huge time-suck. Most of my “competition” had similar work. Similar quality. Similar types of projects.
How could clients even tell me apart? What if I got rid of my portfolio altogether?
This forced me to put my focus on my communication skills.
But what if a potential client wanted to see my work and asked me for a sample?
“I could send them a pdf… I guess?”
This change in strategy, I later found out, was the true deciding factor in client-success. It lead me to craft an offer specifically designed for people I wanted to help.
So, when I sat down with clients, I avoided showing my work or talking in broad terms other freelancers used to describe their experience. Instead of saying “I do user experience design,” I talked about how my designs created more engagement with customers and increased conversions.
Having laser focus on what my goal was, allowed me to stop letting my ego and my portfolio dictate how I was communicating and instead let the results control my actions.
I would ask myself if what I was doing was winning me clients. The answer binary.
It meant my energy and time was spent on the most important thing to my business: making money.
… It also allowed me to see what other areas were a total waste of time. Things that weren’t directly helping me generate revenue were killed… this included; twitter, facebook, blogging, dribbble, reading emails and more.
I stopped letting the success of my business depend on outside forces like others contacting me.
Because of this, I was able to track where my efforts were getting the biggest return.
Before too long I knew approximately how many leads I had to email in order to land a client.
I even created a folder in my inbox for tracking all of this. Whenever a lead would email me back – even just to let me know they were going with another designer – I would put them in a special folder.
A pool of leads to follow up with in the future.
That folder quickly became my most valued source for new work. I’d simply wait a while and then ask them how their project turned out.
A relationships-first approach. No portfolio required.
It just took being helpful.
In the end, constantly updating my portfolio, tweeting, and posting dribbble shots, with no strategy in place may have felt like work, but it was just huge distraction.
To be a successful freelancer I needed to focus on one thing, getting more clients.
Do you know exactly how many emails you need to send to land a new client? How confident would you be if you did?
Better yet, how much money would you make if you could find that number of clients any time you wanted? That’s exactly what I’d like to dive into next.
My 5 Favorite Places to Find Ready-to-Buy Design Clients
In the last section, we talked about how to take control of getting new clients by doing outbound. Doing this takes a change in strategy.
But doing what comes next takes a change in mindset.
Your Old mindset: Scarcity
Your New mindset: Abundance
You may not have realized this but you’ve probably lived in scarcity mindset for most of your career. Example: have you ever told yourself dry spells are just a part of business?
Where the heck did that come from?
Unfortunately the answer is most likely other professionals. The fact is most consulting advice is stuck in scarcity mindset.
Every forum you go to (including favorites like designer news and hacker news) you’ll be told that dry spells are just a part of business.
You’ll be told that you can’t go get great clients, they HAVE to come to you or else they’ll be low-quality.
You’ll be told that emailing people is pointless and spammy and that ALL YOU CAN DO is update your portfolio endlessly.
So all you can do is sit and wait.
Let’s pump the brakes on this for a second.
My day-job for the past 3½ years has been going out and finding great clients. I’m able do it consistently by simply looking for projects anyone can find online.
This tiny daily action has resulted in over a million dollars in client work landed.
Had I listened to freelancers online who say it’s impossible – this never would’ve happened. So maybe they’re wrong? Maybe this is proof that you and I have the ability to control our income and our future.
What do you have to lose by believing in your own power?
Now, sure you might not be able to find every client this way… but you don’t have to – most UX and frontend design firms just need to fill the gaps in their schedule.
THAT you can do.
Best of all, it’s not really that hard.
I do it, and I’m just one guy. In fact, you can get 80% of the results yourself by just visiting 5 websites every day.
Here are the Top 5 Freelance Design Websites I recommend you start with in 2018:
There are plenty of others we will also talk about one day but for now you can find enough great clients to fill the gaps in your schedule by using just these 5 sites.
I know. I do it every day. It’s worth it. The peace of mind it will bring you, knowing that you are always just a few conversations away from a new client, is ?.
Don’t believe the critics that say you have to live with feast or famine in your business. The truth is you can build a solid business filled with abundance if you build on a foundation of results.
If you’re curious how you can hit the ground running and use these websites efficiently, don’t worry.
That’s what we’ll dive into next. Let’s start with the top place for finding clients: AngelList.
Jobs for Creative People: My Endless Client Generator RSS plugin with all the best Job Boards
So far in this series we’ve talked about changing your lead-gen strategy, shifting your mindset, and using AngelList to get startup clients.
Next, I’m going to show you how to take it to the next level and find thousands of high-value gigs. Best of all it’s going to happen in one place, so you can do it in a few minutes each morning.
Sound too good to be true?
I get it. But make no mistake, we’re about to put a large stake in the heart of the feast or famine fear. Forever.
Me too. But before we jump, let me give you some street cred: for the past 4 years my day job has been looking at hundreds of websites, job boards, and search engines to find quality project-based gigs.
My customers (UX / frontend design firms) have made millions of dollars from the gigs I’ve found. So I’m uniquely positioned to answer a common question you’ve probably asked:
What’s the best job board for client work?
The answer is simple: the best job board for project work is ALL the job boards.
See the truth is great projects get posted in different places every day. So no matter what, one site won’t be a complete picture.
It’s up to you to figure out where to spend your time. Luckily, I have a head-start for you.
The download below will help you skip YEARS of trial and error setting up a system that creates a recurring stream of clients. Smart.
The truth is it’s a numbers game. It takes about 30 interesting projects to find and land ONE high-paying gig. (I’ve done the math.)
You can find that yourself BUT you can’t track every job board by hand. You’re way too busy for that. You’ll get frustrated by how long it takes and give up. I’ve seen it happen.
Instead you will want to use an RSS reader.
It is awesome. It puts every job site in one place and has a ton of other features that will make your life easier. I’ve tried half a dozen RSS readers over the years and nothing else comes close.
I can’t tell you how much time I’ve saved because of this app. So I strongly recommend Feedbin for this process. I give it an A+.
Download my endless client generator
Most job boards have an RSS link that you can use to monitor jobs posted on their site.
For an even greater head-start, I’m going to give you my exact list of hundreds of sites that I monitor and have found great projects on.
I call it my Endless Client Generator. You can load it into your own Feedbin account after downloading it here.
To upload it into Feedbin, you’ll want to go to: Import & Export and select it.
Once you have all of these job sites loaded into Feedbin, the magic can begin.
You can start searching hundreds of websites for clients in need of your specialty. Here’s what it looks like:
The great thing about this is that all of the people you come across will need someone like you. This means that instead of hitting up someone cold, you’re talking to warm prospects already in the buying phase.
To start, use key words like ‘freelancing’, ‘contract work’, ‘remote’, and ‘anywhere’ in your search. This will help you find clients who are already comfortable with project-based work.
Note: you can also pitch full-time opportunities too. I wouldn’t be discouraged by job post requirements. There’s been countless times where I’ve emailed someone looking for full-time and won a project.
Pro-tip: command click is a huge timesaver
As you get started you’ll quickly notice there’s hundreds of opportunities.
I recommend you utilize ⌘ command + click to open up each one in a new tab.
This will save you time by batching the looking of interesting sounding projects into one swoop.
A good rule of thumb is for about 100 unwashed leads, you’ll click on 10-20 that look interesting.
Next, flip through each tab individually and close any that appear to be low-quality or uninteresting by hitting ⌘ command + w.
Generally, you’ll be looking for jobs with the following characteristics:
- Using words like: freelancer, consultant, agency, or project.
- Mentioning a specific project or type of contract
- Looking to work with someone remotely or in your area
- They mention a high budget, ideally $10k+
The way you find this varies from site to site. So it’s a good idea to learn where individual sites keep this information.
Some sites might have a budget in the left sidebar and others might it under the project title. Some sites refer to it as a budget, others as compensation.
Experiment for a few days and get to know these sites.
Next, we’re going to talk about how to automate this information gathering so that Feedbin does even more of the hard work for you.
How to automate your checking these graphic design job board
In the last lesson we introduced you to Feedbin. I’m a bit of a Feedbin fanboy at this point and I’m about to share why.
Feedbin has some amazing features that can take care of a lot of the work in finding high-value clients.
Like the starred article feed:
The starred article feed (you can find it under settings) let’s you setup lead-sifting that talks to other apps.
For example, you can star any jobs you’re interested in and have this feed go create a to-do in Basecamp.
That’s handy so you don’t forget to followup.
It’s also helpful if you’re working with a team because you can assign tasks to this like finding email addresses, adding prospects to outreach sequences, and more.
But wait, does that mean you have to add projects to this starred feed by hand?
Nope. The magic sauce gets even better.
You can create actions in Feedbin (under settings > actions) that star projects automatically.
The control here is limitless:
- You can star any post that contains a keyword.
- You can star a post from a specific website.
- You can even add rules for groups of websites.
- You can mix and match filters together.
This lets you bake in human discernment to what projects get starred. For example, you can tell Feedbin to star jobs from Dribbble when they use the word “anywhere”.
Because Dribbble uses the word “anywhere” to specify a remote project and others don’t, this lets you account for that with dribbble-specific rules.
That’s amazing. It lets you outsource lead-by-lead decision-making without losing quality or sorting through thousands yourself. This way you’ll know every job that gets put into your star feed is perfect for you – and you don’t have to lift a finger.
As a busy frontend design firm owner who charges a lot of money for your time, this means thousands of dollars.
Hopefully this illustrates how awesome rules in Feedbin can be.
Here are some of the rules I have setup:
Try to create a few rules yourself that will star projects you’re interested in. Remember, focus on finding projects that need a problem solved.
Sidenote: You can even use FetchRSS to add feeds of sites you never considered. I use it for sites like Google, Facebook, and Twitter. That way as many opportunities as is possible come through this one place.
Soon you’ll have a constant flow of prospects coming through your starred feed every day.
As I briefly mentioned above, you can even use this custom feed (in combination with a tool like Zapier) to send you an email, add a Basecamp to-do, or talk to pretty much any other app.
This system makes sure you don’t burnout. It works while you sleep and continues to pay dividends long after you’ve set it up.
Next, Let’s walk through a few examples of how to keep track of all these (and more) opportunities.
How to put it all together
So after implementing my last lesson, you’ve now gotten your Feedbin account setup and are starting to see dozens of leads daily. Congrats.
You now have a system for finding, qualifying, and prioritizing great projects that’s more advanced than 99% of design firms.
This daily flow of leads is enough to fill the gaps in most pipelines. Next I want to show you the cherry on top.
Infrequent and ad-hoc opportunity sourcing
Below is going to be a list of quick-hitting pro-tips to make your entire system sing with profitability.
We’re going to break up the grind of automation through reminders for niche and ad-hoc opportunities.
With job boards covered, you have a big portion of the web’s UX design opportunities coming to you.
However, there’s a few more places that are worth your time – outside of the job board spectrum.
Once a month, Hacker News has a freelance hiring frenzy known as the monthly “Seeking Freelancer” thread. This is where startups from Ycombinator and other places come to look for contract-based help.
It’s usually a really high-quality source of opportunities because people on hacker news are typically focused on solving interesting problems and have realistic budgets and expectations (as is possible).
Most of these posts will simply ask you to email them so there’s very little barrier to entry. A friendly, well-worded email can mean thousands of dollars in project work.
On the other hand, this isn’t a good candidate for Feedbin because there’s no RSS feed to track these threads.
What I recommend instead is setting up a monthly reminder (Basecamp’s automatic questions feature is good for this) that will remind you to check at the start of each month.
This will let you stay on top of these great opportunities without having to remember by yourself.
It’s a strategy I recommend for a few other sites too. Let’s quickly walk through a few more reminders that are worth setting up:
- Check Facebook for design RFPs once a week
- Check Google for design RFPs once a week
- Check Lever and Workable for posts with the word freelance once a week
- Check Slack communities for referrals daily
- Check Subreddits that post work once a month
- Setup Google alerts for project keywords
Hopefully you’re beginning to see how a combination of email alerts, automatically curated RSS feeds, and one-off reminders can come together to create an infinitely powerful source of work that will supercharge your design firm’s outbound lead-generation.
There’s one last thing I’ve left out. The email line that’s client repellent on all of these websites.
Ready to see what that is?
One of my favorite pieces of advice from the king of client work, David Ogilvy, is: “you should approach [finding clients] with light-hearted gusto”. I like this quote because it’s so obvious, yet seems alien. Most people fear selling and find it stressful. But why? It’s because we wait to do it until our back is against the wall. Most freelancers, for example, wait until they’re in a dry spell to look for more work.
After a few of these cycles, we associate sales with the most stressful moments in our life. And that’s not the only problem. Most freelancers sell without a clear purpose, which also feels horrible. It means you don’t know what to say or what your clients want. These two factors come together to make sales seem like a dirty word. Let’s change that. Let’s make selling your service fun. Here’s how:
- Try looking for clients when you’re flush with work.
Contrary to popular belief, dry spells aren’t just a part of freelancing. They happen as a result of not aggressively looking for work when you ALREADY HAVE work. Looking for work when your schedule is full will not only make you less stressed about winning a job, you’ll also negotiate from a position of power. Tell clients as quickly as possible that you’re booking weeks or months out. First off because it’s true, but secondly because it tells them you’re in demand.
- Tell prospects what you don’t do.
Antique dealers draw your attention to flaws in their furniture because they know it will gain your trust. You should do the same. Tell clients what you don’t do before you go into what you do. This will make you more credible when you tell them about your strongest points.
- Make clients say you’re going to make them a lot of money.
You may not have realized this but your your work will make clients more money than they pay you. It’s an investment. One of your goals in the courting process should be to get clients to admit this openly. If they can’t talk about how your service will pay off they’re not ready to pay you money.
- Make the call quickly.
Fear and anxiety sets in when you take too long to make a decision. So set yourself up to make the right decisions quickly. Ask clients the questions you need to know beforehand. Don’t live and die by each client you go after. Not everyone is right for you and no matter what you do you’ll never land every client. Use these facts to lessen the pressure and qualify clients quickly.
- Write your way to the close.
If you’re forcing yourself to close every client on a call, you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. Instead focus on making your writing so good that it puts you in the best position possible. This means your emails, your website, and your proposals should impress the client so much that they’re ready to hire you before they get on a call. That way clients will be ready to jump into action when you make a compelling offer.
- Expose the money.
Don’t hide behind a cloudy sales process. Instead expose each step a client goes through to pay you money. Your sales funnel should be orchestrated and finely tuned. Think deeply about how your money gets to you every single day. Put it in front of you often.
- Provide a contact form that’s asks all the right questions.
This makes it easier for clients to reach out. It will also make you look more professional because it shows you have a firm grasp of the process. This puts clients at ease because it paints you as a trustworthy professional.
- Listen more than you talk in your meetings.
It’s not up to you “win a client over.” Instead let the client do most of the talking. This should be welcome advice for introverts. Just listen. Be picky. Record the call and review it later. Try to dig deep before making recommendations.
- Don’t rush it.
Make sure you have a solid understanding of what the client’s problem is before you try to solve it. This is the biggest mistake I see inexperienced freelancers make. Don’t try to sell your service in the first meeting or email. It’s impossible to do that anyway. You need to build up a relationship and a understanding of the problem at hand.
- Cut your proposals down to one page.
Not only will they take less time, they’ll make your proposals more likely to get accepted. So give it to them straight and remember: your proposal shouldn’t try to sell your service it should be a formality — simply putting ink to paper about what is expected.
- Skip the super long email and present your solutions with a video.
When you send a proposal over email, you typically won’t hear back for a few days. Emails take a long time to digest and they probably don’t get read fully anyway. Instead record a quick video that will explain things more naturally.
- Use pre-suasion when you give your price.
Try this next time you present your price to a client. Right before you reveal your amount, say “well, as you may know I’m not going to be able to charge you a million dollars for this.” This will release some pressure and the client will probably laugh. Below the surface, however, your number will seem a lot smaller in comparison. Studies show it works.
- Enforce a no-negativity rule.
It’s easy to talk crap about clients, but resist this. Don’t give yourself a hard time or feel down about your abilities as a salesman either. In fact you should seek out the negativity in your sales process and destroy it. Force yourself to become 100% positive about your sales and you’ll be amazed by how much work you land — and surprisingly, how much enjoyment you get from finding it.
While it seems like the hardest part about getting web design clients fast would be actually doing it. That’s NOT the case. The hardest part is often finding simple but effective ideas for how to get web design clients fast. In fact, after reviewing thousands of portfolios these are the two most common problems designers face:
- “My website isn’t getting me clients!”
- “I don’t know what to do to find my next client.”
So to help below I’m going to share with you 5 simple quick start tips for finding your next client this week. You haven’t heard these before. As promised, below are 5 ideas that will help you find your next big design contract this week:
1. Email all your past clients this check-in email.
What? I never said that your big contract had to come from a stranger… You know those clients you’ve worked with in the past that you wish would reach out to you when they have work? Yea, you can actually email them too.
Chances are they’re super busy and have tons of stuff you can help them with. So email them the following:
Hey [Bob]! Happy Wednesday. How’s everything at [Business]? Anything I can do to help?
Bob will probably love you for it because Bob likes you.
2. Join a Slack group with an active #jobs channel:
People don’t really ask for referrals on Twitter anymore. Instead they go to a private place with people they know and trust. Today, this watering hole is known as Slack. Just don’t go there and be all weird by posting a link to your portfolio immediately or asking everyone to hire you.
We’ve all seen someone who does this and it’s a losing strategy. Instead go and observe. Look for Slack’s that have referral sharing channels built in. My personal favorites are: Folyo’s own Referral Community, Justin Jackson’s MegaMaker community, Paul Jarvis’ Creative Class Slack and Rand’s Leadership Slack Group.
3. Send month-old job postings this email:
Everyone wants to be the first response to a job post but very few companies hire immediately after posting on a job board for this very reason – they’re inundated with responses. The magic, sorta like with stinky cheese, is in waiting a bit. That way when you hit up the potential client, you stand out.
So instead of being one of many in their inbox, be the one and only. Wait a month then send them this email:
Hey [Bob], I saw you were looking for a remote UI designer to redesign you app. Are you the right person to talk to about this?
One of my earliest newsletter customers, Eric Davis, made thousands of dollars by waiting on the job posts I was sending him and sending this exact email. He runs a product business now, so the strategy is all yours. 🙂
4. Send someone you respect a referral:
As you go about implementing idea #3, you’ll come across projects and jobs that are perfect for someone you know. Send ’em to them. Because of reciprocity, if you do this, I can almost guarantee that your friends will send you a referral back in the future. But putting that aside, doing things like this has a way of attracting work back to you. When you do something awesome for someone else without them asking things tend to go amazing.
5. Read and follow the steps in this awesome article my friend Paul wrote:
Over the years I’ve realized that there are very few great resources on getting clients. So when I find one, I hold on to it. ✊ Originally this email was going to be my TOP 10 favorite articles on the subject – but honestly only one article was worth sending you. In fact, it blows everything else out of the water. Go here and check it out.
I’m not usually so adamant about you reading something (especially when I didn’t write it) but in this case the article is so fire I’m fine with it. Plus, Paul Jarvis is awesome so there’s that.
If you land a big contract this week (or even this month!) from any of these ideas… please cut a check for 30% to Rob Will… huh? Not gonna happen?
Okay, well at least send me an email and tell me it helped because honestly I’d love to virtually celebrate with you.
Oh and get ready because there’s more ideas, and tips because they’re on their way.
Here’s a question I get a lot from Folyo members and it’s a good one.
I run a small studio. Should I present myself to clients as a freelancer or as a studio?
The short answer is: it’s usually better to present yourself as a freelancer.
80% of the projects on Folyo are looking for an individual.
Quick disclaimer: that DOESN’T mean they aren’t open to working with a studio if that’s an option, but it does mean they have a picture in mind of what they need and, usually, it’s an individual.
The longer answer, more nuanced, answer is: it depends on the company.
For example, one exception to this rule is: RFPs. You can safely assume that any RFP I send is looking for a design agency, unless otherwise noted.
Some projects are going to specifically say they’re looking for a team while others an individual.
In those cases I don’t think there’s anything wrong with tailoring your message to what they’re looking for. For example, if you’re a studio but a client says they’re looking for a freelancer, I might just apply anyway.
Then I would have the conversation about whether this is a true requirement when it came up naturally. As opposed to leading with it in my first email.
Ultimately, they want a problem solved and if you can solve that problem for them – why would you emphasize something about yourself that isn’t irrelevant to their problem? It just hurts your chances and if you’re the best for the project, it hurts the client too.
I would never hide the fact that you’re design studio or a freelancer, but also wouldn’t lead with something that puts up a roadblock between you for no reason.
So it’s important to remember that most clients are usually looking for a problem to be solved, and some don’t even care whether you’re a studio or a freelancer at all. If you’re within their budget and can do the work, they’re interested.
That’s why personally, I try to speak in the first person as often as I can because it feels natural to me and I think it feels more personal to the person I am speaking to. So I use “I” instead of “we” in my emails regardless of my team size.
In the end, a client cares less about how you see yourself, and more about how they are seen, how they are presenting themselves, and how they are coming off. Focus your communication around this – and you will do fine on Folyo, whether you’re a freelancer or studio.
This was written for members of my design referral newsletter. With this email they also receive an MP3 featuring Paul Jarvis, Kurt Elster, Nick Disabato and more, explain how they write client-focused emails. Sign up here.
Remote UX jobs are a relatively new type of design work.
That’s why we started Folyo. We wanted to help UX designers find the work they were meant to more easily.
We hand-screen jobs for our members which lets them see all UX jobs in one place, instead of across several job boards.
Recent Remote UX Jobs, Contracts, & RFPs
You can register for a free account here and get alerts about all Remote UX Jobs in one place.
If you’re an independent UX designer, hearing about more opportunities means you have a better chance of landing more work.
Some stats about Remote UX Jobs:
First, if you’re a designer you might be curious: how many remote UX jobs are there, even?
Let’s look at how many remote UX contracts were posted on major design job boards in the last 4 years:
(Note: these numbers are only for the contract work, and do not include full-time opportunities. Therefore, to get a rough estimate of F/T remote UX job volume, 10x these numbers.)
Now that you know exactly how many opportunities are out there, we can jump to the best part: winning them!
So put on your AirPods baby, because we’re about to start cooking…
Case Study: Kevin Chang, a UX Designer Who Landed a Great Remote UX Job Recently:
This interview is a great primer for anyone looking to find and land a remote UX contract job, because it talks about the most important thing in the entire process:
My guest on the call is Kevin Chang a designer who’s been wanting to start a remote freelance UX business for years.
But he wasn’t confident in the market.
Kevin’s unique approach resulted in a dream remote UX job – but it wasn’t anything special.
When I presented Kevin’s interview to the hiring agency, he immediately caught their eye.
Here’s the actual video that I sent:
The person in charge of hiring for this remote UX job was Theresa Neil who is the founder at Guidea and author of multiple O’Reilly books.
She instantly spotted several aspects of Kevin’s work that made him a great candidate. (More on that in the next few weeks.)
Not too much later he was hired and working for Guidea.
As a result he’s finally able to start the freelance UX business he’s always wanted, and is now able to spend more time at home with his family.
Here’s how Kevin describes the change in his life:
My Folyo subscription has been a god-send. When I first started, I had been working as a designer for some time, but only had a few off-hand freelance contracts.
Because of the opportunities I found on Folyo, I found the means and confidence to try freelancing full-time. Since then, I’ve been able to land two other contracts – one with a consumer-facing startup called BenchSentry trying to launch their first mobile app and another with Harvard Medical School.
For the first time in my career, I feel like I’m doing the right type of work. I cannot thank you enough! I’ve been hesitant on subscribing to Folyo because it made freelancing all-too real and meant that I had to commit to freelancing for the long term. But I’m finally ready to dive deeper!
So let’s break down the approach that allowed him to achieve this.
There were a few key differences to how he approached interviewing and presenting his work that a majority of UX designers would benefit from adopting…
How to apply this approach to landing a Remote UX Contract:
- Focus on matching job requirements with your past experience.
Design is changing rapidly, so figuring out what the client requirements mean and how their company defines UX design, first is key. Once you do, then tailor your application to match those definitions.
- Make sure your case studies present a clear user and problem statement.
Instead of giving 15 different case studies and hoping that one might stick, give one or two stories that are clear about what you have to offer. Distill the value that you bring to the team into a small digestible package.
- Approach getting hired as a mini-design problem.
Think about things like you would if you were designing for users. Ask yourself: what does the owner of the project or company need? What are their hesitations to hiring me? Then pull “features” of your experience to address and solve these problems.
- Let the hiring company’s goals guide your application.
Instead of trying to come up with reasons from scratch, use a client’s own words in your interview and cold emails to drive the narrative forward.
- Think of presenting work as the first step, not the last.
Any presentation you give the client should be a small percentage of your sales process. Instead, focus on spending most of your time on having a conversation about the role and how you’re a match. Do this by asking questions and learning the most you can about the role.
- Build confidence by asking questions.
The biggest thing you can do early on in the hiring process is clarify what they’re looking for before making assumptions. What needs do they have? Why are they looking for a UX designer? Keep coming back to these answers and hammering them home.
- Call attention to the boundaries of your work to make your strengths even stronger.
It’s important that you’re realistic about what you bring to the table. Ask yourself what ISN’T in your strong-suit and don’t be afraid to share this with the client. That will make your strengths even more believable.
Remote UX jobs are actually very common and getting even more prevalent.
A Folyo subscription will keep you on top of every remote UX job and contract opportunity out there.
Winning one all comes down to having a client-first approach to the process.
Often times, design and UX skills are just a small part of the reason a company will hire you.
Bonus Video – See What theEmail Applications Looked Like For This UX Job…
If you want to see how you can stand out the next time there’s a remote UX job you want to apply for, here’s a video I recorded which shows every email we received.
It breaks down things like what to write in your application, how to choose what to highlight, and more.
To get these opportunities sent straight to you, sign up for Folyo.
And be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get more interviews like this one.
Case Study: How UX agency Guidea hired a contract designer
This is an interview with the owner of a great UX agency out of Austin, Texas. Her name is Theresa Neil, and I’ve helped her find several contract UX designers through Folyo.
In this episode we talk how Guidea approaches hiring a UX designer and give you tips for applying, such as:
- Why they came to Folyo to hire a designer
- The questions they ask during the interview process
- The qualities they value in a UX designer’s work
- The signals that ultimately determine who they work with
How to get a monthly retainer
Monthly retainer agreements are the gold standard of freelance client work.
Why? Because they take care of one of the biggest pain in the butts of freelancing: the feast of famine cycle.
And there’s a common situation that is a perfect opportunity to offer a monthly retainer agreement… few freelancers take advantage of.
What is it you ask?
It’s when a client asks you something like:
“Can you update thing X on my website?”
Yup – that’s right.
It may not look like it, but this client is begging you to offer them a monthly retainer agreement.
That’s why I wrote the email below to use in situations like this…
Here’s a monthly retainer agreement email template you can use to offer a retainer:
“For small maintenance updates like that it would probably be best to do some sort of small retainer.
For example, some of my clients pay $X00 every month to have me on call for up to 4 hours. This way they have my time reserved just for them, no matter what.
Otherwise, I can still do the update (at my normal $X00 hourly rate) — but you would just need to wait in my queue if I have other clients.
For companies of your size I usually recommend option 1 because I can sometimes be booked weeks or months in advanced, and in that case, updates wouldn’t be as quick to get done.
The small retainer is discounted so it’s a better deal, but more importantly it ensures you get everything done quickly.
Why this email template results in monthly retainer agreements…
When you send this off it radiates professionalism.
You’ve not only answered their question, you’ve taken the initiative and provide two options for them.
It doesn’t stop there.
This email also positions you as the in-demand freelancer you are, while also exhibiting a desire to remain flexible to your client’s needs.
It’s great to have a handful of clients paying you thousands of dollars every month in retainer agreements because you can count on that revenue coming in.
In fact, recurring revenue like this is a great way to kill the feast or famine cycle in your business.
Like I mentioned above, one of the key mistakes freelancers make is failing to recognize these opportunities completely.
When they arise we’re unfamiliar with them so we miss our chance.
Instead of looking for a new client this week what if you focused on making more money from your current clients?
Specifically what if you tried to create a recurring revenue stream that you could depend on even during dry spells?
Since you would be focusing on clients you already trust, this would also mean happier outcomes. But how?
Value comes in a lot of forms. It’s easy to think that you create and define value for your clients. That’s false. The truth is that your client defines what is valuable.
It’s your job to identify how you can deliver that value. Sometimes we miss out on these opportunities. Sometimes we don’t even recognize them as value delivery opportunities.
For example, when a client asks what it will cost to make a change to their website sometime in the future, what they’re really asking is for you to provide value in a new way.
They want to feel they can trust you and feel confident you won’t disappear the minute you hand off their project or get left out to dry.
When we don’t pick up on these desires and address them directly, our clients suffer. That’s why you have to read between the lines of what a client is asking you.
A sign you’ve failed to do this is when a question appears annoying. You’re a professional, of course you’re not going to leave your clients hanging! Of course you want repeat business! Of course you’re going to take care of them.
But a client doesn’t know these things intrinsically. We have to spell it out. This creates a perfect opportunity to up sell a retainer agreement because you can position the retainer as a premium way of ensuring you’re available to them if they need help.
More common client questions and situations begging you to offer a retainer agreement
What happens when I need help down the road?
Will you disappear on me?
What if I need to make changes?
How will I be able to update the site after the project?
What if I need to make changes in the future?
How do I make sure you won’t leave me out to dry?
What happens after you hand-off the project?
Who should I email if I have questions or need a change?
What if I want to make sure I get on your schedule?
How can I guarantee you’ll be available?
Who’s going to take care of the website?
Can I email you if I have questions or need an update?
Is it ok if I send some questions over next week?
What if I need small updates going forward?
Can I hire you next month on a small project?
What if I need to update something on my website?
Any time a client asks one of these questions it’s an opportunity to use the email template above and offer a retainer agreement.
Automation that doesn’t feel automated
You probably spend more time on sales than you think. Most of it is boring and repetitive, but you keep doing it because it makes you money. Answering a prospect’s question that you’ve answered a hundred times before is actually important because it might lead to a sale.
But it’s a chore.
After a while, that can negatively affect your sales too. So looking for places to automate is smart. Sales is the lifeblood of your freelance business. So below I’m going to walk-through a few ideas for how to automate parts of your sales funnel in a way that doesn’t feel automated.
I use ConvertKit for email marketing, but any tool will do. Ready? Let’s get to the part where you save a bunch of time!
How to use click-triggers to provide an automated white-glove experience
I’ve do this and it’s a great way to provide specific information to customers based on the situation they’re in. Yet in a scalable and natural way.
To start, create an email sequence that gets sent to the client when they’d most need questions answered. For example, when they fill out your lead form on your website.
In a situation like this, you might ask them:
What are you most curious about my services?
Below, instead of asking them to reply to the email – give them several options to choose from. Here’s what mine looked like (for a design newsletter I was sending):
Better yet, I can follow up with them based on their answer. It’s sort of like a choose-your-own-adventure book.
When they click on a link I send them helpful information that’s relevant to them. (You can do this by triggering a one-off email or customizing content with a merge template based on tags.)
The lead just gets a super-fast solution to their problem or concern:
This is where your experience pays off. Not only have you anticipated concerns and objections, you’ve made it easy to overcome them by providing the right information at the right time.
Another good thing about this setup is it leaves the door open for human contact. By simply replying to the email, a prospect is able to message you instantly.
You’ll have a huge response rate because it feels real. It’s exactly what you would say to a real prospect in that situation, except it’s scalable. It’s authentic.
How to use a simple spreadsheet to automate cold emails
One of my most successful customers recently shared this tactic with me for winning work from the leads I send him.
He uses this outbound email automation strategy to generate 80% of his income each year. It works like this: he starts out by compiling lead information into a spreadsheet:
Next, he uses an email automation tool to reads this spreadsheet and sends email for him. The structure of every email is the same (and he tests it to make sure it’s effective) but the content inside the structure is totally custom.
Without having to spend a bunch of time on each individual, he sends an extremely personal email like this:
The results are personal emails that take a fraction of the time to send. Even better, email apps like Quickmail track replies and allow you to put follow-ups on autopilot too. You never miss a follow-up on the clients you contact.
That’s is a huge advantage. Remember, clients are busy. It’s on you to keep track of the conversations that could result in thousands of dollars in paid work. Don’t drop the ball.
How to use surveys to qualify your ideal clients
If you want to do even more advanced stuff — like putting prospects into buckets based on different criteria — you can enlist survey software to help you out.
I recommend Typeform. It will let you automatically analyze your potential buyers and put them in the right category for giving you the best chance at winning them.
Once you’ve gotten a client to fill out your survey, you can send each type of prospect a different sequence. Highly-qualified prospects (a good budget, right scope of work, etc.) might get a different pitch than less qualified prospects (low budget, unrealistic timeline, etc.).
This operation can always be running in the background for you. It look something like this:
A survey tool like Typeform, along with calendar software like Calendly means you can create a system that does 80% of the work for you.
If you’re constantly scheduling calls and qualifying prospects — this means a big savings.
But remember, using fancy software isn’t the point.
The point is to create a great experience for your clients and to win more of them. Put yourself in your client’s shoes and ask how you can make things better for them. Then do that. To get more leads that you can try this stuff with, check out Folyo.
Can you run your agency like a product and offer low prices to your clients while still being profitable?
Knapsack Creative does. I talked to Ben Manley about the nuts and bolts of running a web design agency like a product.
He shares how he provides quick turnarounds, low prices, and live collaboration while other agencies can’t.
Key takeaways from the interview:
- Knapsack Creative, goes against the grain and has a business model designed to ditch common advice, like: always charge more.
- Ben’s team is tiny: 3 people. Yet they offer low pricing, and a fast, fixed turnaround.
- Knapsack implements a tight structure around their engagements, including: one day turnarounds, time-boxing, and a weekly innovation system.
- Ben used product design to rethink his company/service’s structure.
- Knapsack is designed around Ben’s personality, and structured to let him do what he loves: no email, meetings, or design prep.
- Knapsack helps clients be more decisive with preparation and to make sure they nail it on their delivery day’s live collaborative design session.
- They keep costs low with questionnaires, making sure project’s don’t lag beyond their timeline, and get great feedback from clients.
- They make sure client’s love their outcome and are able to draw the line clearly on quality.
“We try to keep it as clean as possible by reducing the amount of unknowns. If we can create a system or a process it’s so much easier than creating a custom one-off service every time.”
How to subscribeTo get new episodes click one of the buttons below or get a link sent to your phone by clicking here. I publish new episodes every Saturday with interviews about how to be more effective at remote, independent work.
I’ve written a lot about how to write emails that win you clients the past couple of years.
Even though all my advice has been soaked in experience (and tested by my customers), late last year I started to feel like a phony. I was giving advice I wasn’t using myself. I wasn’t walking the walk.
Because I’m not taking on freelance work anymore, I assumed I coudn’t contact the clients I was sending my customers. That meant I wasn’t personally feeling the turmoil of cold email outreach that my customers did.
So I decided to change that.
I decided to contact every freelance project lead I was sending to my customers
I knew there was a way I could use my cold email super powers. I just wasn’t sure how. I wanted to feel the pain my customers felt and prove getting a response back regularly was totally possible.
I decided on trying to sell clients a premium job post on my job board Folyo. If I could get clients to buy a job post from me and allow myself to feel the trial and tribulation my customers felt, I thought that would make it a huge win all around.
Then I didn’t get many responses… ?
Despite my pre-eminence in cold email writing — I too had trouble getting a response at first. I know I sound cocky — but I’ve literally spent years studying a very specific topic: cold email outreach.
I should have been getting better results than this. So I decided to go through my past advice on the subject and apply it.
Where was I not putting myself in the client’s shoes?
How could I make it easier for clients to reply?
How could I provide something of value to them for free?
The problem was my offer wasn’t providing value at all.
Pitching clients who had just posted a job post — on buying another job post — it turns out is extremely dumb.
I had made a huge mistake: I wasn’t taking into account the person I was contacting at all. I was completely tone-deaf when it came to where they were in at this moment in their life.
In fact, they were decidedly passed the “buying a job post” stage. They didn’t need another job post. They now needed to find the right person for their project.
This was a common mistake I had seen among freelancers I worked with in the past: pitching clients on things they didn’t care about and not seeing results. Yet I had fallen into the same trap. So I decided to switch up my offer.
I made a switch in my email to instead provide value
What does someone who just bought a job post need? To find the right person for the project.
That’s where my offer began to formulate. I had a list of 100 of the top-freelancers in the world in Folyo. I could help clients connect with one of them.
So what if I simply offered to do that for free? Would I hear back?
It would create more value for my customers in Folyo because they would get leads that they could benefit from in new ways:
Getting more info on a project not available anywhere else.
Being introduced 1-on-1, so that it felt really personal and increased their chances of winning the project.
Not having to do anything besides replying to my introduction email to get value from the service. These warm lead intros meant Workshop members could just sit back and get value.
I sent out the new email and in days I had an inbox full of responses
Clients immediately responded to my new value-focused email. Instead of trying to sell them something, I was simply offering to put them in contact with someone who was perfect for their project — no strings attached.
When you hit on a email strategy that works like this one, you will know. Overnight I had a handful of great projects I was in charge of referring to Folyo members.
It continued for the next few weeks…
Next, I had to automate this process for myself
Soon sending this email out one-by-one became a burden. Originally, I had tried automating the process using Quickmail, but I found that to be overkill. Instead, I coded an outreach email to be sent my self inside my existing rails app. This took me a couple days because I am a newb, but continued to get results.
Note: This is also something I discovered is more important than I originally thought. Had I not done this project, I would still be wary of creating more spam in the world — but after it I’ve come to realize that I trust my customers. Doing outreach by hand is fatiguing. I now hope to assist automation for my customers more.
I’ve now sent out 60+ referrals just this year alone
It’s become part of my daily process. Each morning I wake up to 2–3 clients in my inbox waiting for me to refer them someone great for their project.
Folyo members get these regular introductions on top of the cold leads I send them daily. My next step is to see how many of these types of leads have converted, and how it’s affecting things like churn, customer revenue, and more.
And if you want to start doing this yourself, you can.
In fact, I’ve put together a short course on how to find clients, even if you don’t have a portfolio or strong network. It’s the same system I use daily
Read it for free
While you’re there, also check out my free client generator plugin download!
Folyo is my free newsletter that sends 8,700 freelancers and counting the best client opportunities every day. We help you make more money whether you had time to do marketing this week or not.
Read this next
The Elements of a Great Portfolio
How to create a powerful portfolio that actually helps you get clients if you're a freelance graphic, UI/UX, or web designer.
The Email Line That’s Client Repellent
A simple tip for figuring out the exact perfect way to end emails. Guaranteed great response rate.
The Freelance Proposal Toolkit
The best templates and tools, for creating a winning freelance proposal in half the time.
The Follow Up Email
A complete guide to sending an awesome follow up email to a client or proposal that isn't annoying.
Includes a real email template that I used to land a $30,000 freelance job as a new designer.