Hello. Some of you may have seen me around the forums asking questions and helping out with other problems. Recently, I’ve been planning to get into freelance web design, and have recently posted a web design portfolio here (with apologies to Chris Coyier, who’s own portfolio inspired mine). My question for you guys is, what is the best approach to take when starting a freelance web design service? How should I go about attracting potential clients, and marketing my company on an extremely limited budget? Any suggestions would be appreciated!
Hey Joe. This is the part that every designer (or programmer) striking out on their own hates. There are lots of ways to get your name out, but I would opt for something that doesn’t cost you anything except some time and sweat.
Here are some ideas that have worked for me and some collegues:
– Get involved with your local business scene. Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, Consultant Groups, anything that will get you in front of business owners you can network with… after customer referrals, this is our number one source of leads.
– If you already have current customers, ask them for referrals.
– Find a niche. It may sound counter-intuitive, but narrowing your target audience means you can become the best in a particular category… Given a choice, for example, a bank would be more likely to find someone who does bank web sites vs. the generalist.
– Create relationships with complimentary businesses that can refer you business (and you them). We use a local company to do any managed hosting we need for our clients. I asked them if they ever needed any design work and gave them our card — more referrals!
– Network with other designers/freelancers. There is always a point where someone has more work than they can take on, or you might get to collaborate on a project when they need some extra help.
– Make up a crapload of business cards and hand them out to everyone you meet. You’re a designer, so be creative with it and they won’t throw it away.
– If you aren’t exhausted yet, then turn to the net. Write a blog (ask Chris C how this help ;) ). Hit up the "gig" sites and submit proposals (I’ve never had success at this, tho).
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I definitely agree with the Niche suggestion. Its even better to find a niche that you already know about and have credentials in. That’s the situation I’m in… about to do an inexpensive marketing blast of a small packet consisting of a letter, a little neat portfolio 5×7 thing, and my business card. I’ll be sending these out to 100 or so businesses all in the same niche, which I already am in myself.(not web design obviously) So, if you were a restaurant owner and you wanted a website, would you choose between the designer who makes websites and knows nothing particular about restaurants, or would you hire the guy who is a part owner, or used to own a restaurant? If they were of equal design skill, I think the answer is obvious. =)
I’m no pro at this, nor hold any marketing education(luckily my sister helps with this), but I try to think from the client’s point of view… who they would want to hire, what they would want to see, how they would want to feel during the experience of the whole thing. I know thats slightly a tangent, but I think it holds true with how you present yourself… another analogy, I’ve bought 3 cars in my lifetime so far… I never give the pushy salesman the time of day. And that is another tangent. I’ll stop now. =)