“Here you go,” the business owner said as she handed me a check for $500. As I took the check from her, it’s hard to put into words the excitement I felt as I saw my name in the “PAY TO THE ORDER OF:” line and that beautiful “$500” amount smiling back at me.
After we shook hands and I made my way back to my car, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment as I had just sold my very first client on a web design project.
What made this moment even more fulfilling was that I had only just started building websites 3 months ago.
As I drove back home from this meeting, a litany of thoughts began to plague my mind:
“What if she thinks the site sucks?”
“You’re a fraud, you barely know how to build websites!”
“How are you going to have the time to build her a new site?”
Thankfully, I overcame these thoughts and within a few weeks I built the site, collected the remaining money owed to me, and continued working with the client to this very day.
Since mid-2014, I have made 5 figures (xx,xxx) building and maintaining websites for clients.
The work I did was completely part-time and only with a handful of people, so had I spent more time marketing my services I know I could have made even more.
I didn’t quit my day job, worked a few hours each week on my client’s websites, and still made a lot of money.
So whether you want to build your own digital marketing agency, make side money as a freelancer, or learn skills that can get you a career in digital marketing here are some tips that I’ve used to become a successful freelance web designer.
Start Building Websites
Before you even think about marketing yourself as a web designer, you have to actually get out there and build a website yourself.
I know, it sounds pretty obvious, but plenty of people these days love to talk big games on things like entrepreneurship, digital marketing, etc. when they literally have nothing to show for it.
Don’t worry, though, because gone are the days of having to master coding, HTML, and CSS thanks to software like WordPress.
What You Need to Build Your First Website
- Domain Name (yourwebsite.com) – This can be bought through a domain registrar like Namecheap for as low as $10 per year.
- Hosting Server – This is a server where your website’s files are kept. I recommend using Siteground as their pricing is affordable and their site is easy to use.
- WordPress Software – This can be installed for free on your hosting server with literally one click.
That’s seriously it!
Try building a simple website about anything, whether it be your own personal blog or a fan site about your favorite show.
Spend time each day learning how WordPress works, play around with new themes and plugins, and, of course, Google anything and everything you can think of related to web design.
Trust me, it’s better to jump in and learn as you go rather than waiting to take action until you “know enough”.
Had I done that, then I wouldn’t have had the skills to build a website for my first client 3 months after I started learning web design!
By that point, my first client’s website was the fifth website I ever built rather than the first, so I had a better grip on what I was doing.
Also, that client may have found someone else willing to build them a site instead of me, and I could have lost out on that opportunity completely!
Thankfully I didn’t, and you won’t either if you just start.
Tell Your Friends
Once you start building websites, let people know about it.
No, I’m not saying you should be like Bob Vance of Vance Refrigeration, but I am saying you should make others aware of your new found skills.
The reason why I tell people to do this is simple:
I found my first client through a friend after a chance conversation with him at a wedding.
I told him I was building websites and he told me a local ballroom company that he spent time at needed a new one.
So, I got the owner’s contact information and have been working with them ever since!
I’ve redesigned their website twice, have done SEO work for them, and even found another client thanks to a referral by them.
Let’s just say that chance conversation was what propelled me to not only make several thousands of dollars independently but also gave me the skills to get a job in the digital marketing field.
Who knows? Maybe there’s a chance conversation waiting for you someday after you let people know what you’re doing!
Get Your Logistics in Order
Ideally, you want to do this before you have a meeting scheduled with your first prospective client, but it’s OK if you end up having to scramble the day before like I did (just don’t expect much sleep that night!).
You’ll want to create a proposal that includes your scope of work, pricing, and how long it will take you to complete their website.
There are tons of proposal templates available on the internet, so just find one you like and add all the necessary information – it doesn’t have to look perfect.
It’s also recommended you either show them your portfolio or a mockup of what you have in mind for their new website.
Again, this doesn’t have to be perfect – just come up with something and do your best to sell them on it.
You will learn a ton just by meeting with this first prospect even if they don’t end up going with you, so don’t be discouraged if things don’t go the way you want right away.
Tips When Meeting With Prospects
- When meeting with your prospect, have your proposal printed off and ready for them to sign.
- Make sure the proposal not only looks good aesthetically but is easy to understand.
- Try to limit your proposal to only a few pages (maximum of 5 in my opinion).
- Be as descriptive as possible, but at the same time try to only include the necessary information (explain the importance of responsive design but don’t rattle on about a specific WordPress theme you like).
- Look your prospect in the eyes, and make sure you act very engaged and interested in their business.
- Sit up straight and speak confidently.
The biggest mistake I made when I first got started working with clients was I priced myself way too low for the amount of work I did.
Price yourself accordingly, for example:
I set my price at $1000 for the first website I built and had my client pay me $500 upfront and $500 when I finished.
Personally, I find this pricing to be sufficient for your first client.
Make sure that you explicitly state in your proposal the work that you will be doing, and advise them that if you end up having to go outside the initial scope of work that it will cost extra.
Of course, you want to be understanding and ensure that your client is satisfied, but getting this out of the way upfront will save you hours of working late into the night for free (trust me, I would know!).
Look For Local Opportunities
I’m gonna be honest with you:
You’re probably never going to build a website for Coca-Cola.
You might, however, be able to build a website for that local restaurant you drive by on your way to the bank every Thursday morning.
Make a list of all the small businesses within driving distance of your house, Google them, and see what their websites look like.
If they’re outdated, hard to navigate or rank low in the search engines then you’ve probably got an opportunity on your hands.
Reach out to these business owners via email or just walk into their establishments and introduce yourself.
Leave them your contact information and try to set up a follow meeting with them to discuss your scope of work and pricing.
Remember: the worst thing they can say is no.
Learn As You Go
If you can’t tell, I’m purposely not being as descriptive with things as I could be because I want you to get out there and learn things yourself by taking action.
I didn’t learn how to build websites, write proposals, or work with clients through reading a handful of articles.
I learned by doing.
If you feel like you don’t want to get started working as a freelance web designer until you “know enough” then I suggest you stop reading this and just start messing around in WordPress.
I’m serious, quit reading this right now and start building a website.
Keep going, and if you hit a roadblock Google will be your best friend.
The only thing holding you back from cashing a $500 check written to you by that local restaurant is yourself, so get to work, learn as you go, and stop complaining.
You can read a million different articles on things like web design, SEO, etc., but until you actually open the WordPress backend and start exploring it yourself you’ll have nothing to show for your knowledge except a big head.
These 5 steps are what ultimately took me from working at a grocery store to working at a digital marketing agency with double the income and even a nice side hustle that makes me thousands of dollars each year.
Get to work, and I promise you if you don’t quit you’ll do well.