How to Get Web Design Clients Fast
By Rob Williams
Have you noticed some people kill it without a portfolio?
I regularly meet design firms doing millions of dollars in client work with a website that just says “coming soon.”
That’s the power of spending time on things that really matter.
You get away with skipping hours and hours of wasted time, working on a portfolio that won’t create a dime of revenue.
How I deleted my portfolio and made $30k in 6 weeks
When I got fired in 2012, I decided to take my design business full-time. On that day, my professional life became about one thing: getting clients.
And that’s when I realized it. My portfolio was a huge time-suck.
After all, most of my “competition” had similar work. Similar quality. Similar types of projects. So how could clients even tell me apart?
What would happen if I got rid of my portfolio?
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?
About Rob Williams...
I run Folyo which helps freelance designers find the work they were meant to do. I also host Freelance a podcast about how to be more effective at independent work featuring remote companies like Disney, Basecamp, YNAB, ConvertKit and more.