Sleep, code, eat. Repeat.

So you want to become a freelance web designer?

This is your guide on how to develop the skills (mostly soft ones) needed to run a successful freelance business. Please keep in mind that this article is focusing solely on the client relationship cycle, not technical expertise. That will be a later post.  ?

1. What are you offering?

Do you have a specific set of offerings you can easily explain? If you want to be successful at selling yourself you need to get good at explaining what EXACTLY you have to offer. Then, hone in your offering to one sentence that demonstrates what your specific skill set is and why it is valuable.

1.2 The more specific you can be about the value you will add to a company the better.

Here are some examples –

  • “I design and build beautiful and minimal WordPress websites for solopreneurs and bloggers.”
  • “I work with you to craft high-converting eCommerce websites and launch a product”
  • “I will review the UX of your enterprise web app and recommend how you can redesign it to be easier for your customers to use”

If you don’t have a personal website and portfolio, I recommend you make one now. If you’re new at this, it’s a great way to show off what you’re capable of, use your own personal brand as an example of what you can offer clients. This will also boost your legitimacy because let’s face it, who’s going to hire a website designer that doesn’t have a website themselves? The “cobbler without shoes” excuse doesn’t bode well in 2017.

1.3 Know your value

You need to get VERY clear on the value you contribute. As a consultant, it should be your prerogative to identify how hiring you will give your client a 10x Revenue return on what they pay you. Your main goal is to listen to what they are dealing with, what their pain points are, what it’s costing them. Most importantly how you can offer them a solution to fix their problems and add value to their business and boost their bottom line. You want clients to see the value in what you are offering and most importantly that can afford it.

You are likely charging too little. If someone balks at your pricing, they are not the client for you. If they are unwilling to give you a deposit upfront (I will usually take half or a little less depending on the size), they are likely not going to pay you in full if not at all. You don’t want to work with someone who’s freaked out by spending their life savings, you want a professional that rocks at their business and respects the quality you provide in yours (and an entrepreneur because they understand the hustle).

1.4 How it Works
What was Richard Feynman best known for? Simplicity. Be more like him. Make this super upfront, direct, and easy to understand when you are talking about your process. This will not only make it easier to land good clients but could provide great marketing material for yourself as well.

2. What to do with a Potential Client

Most of my business is referral based because happy customers will brag to their friends. I’ve found networking events and speaking engagements are great opportunities for potential work. However, when I was first getting started, I posted on my Facebook about how I was “building websites now” and asked people if they knew anyone in need of one. This was super effective and created a great launchpad for initial work.

Again… figure out how to very simply say what you do, such as “I build websites for local restaurants.” This makes it really easy for people to understand and they will like you for it. Be more like Feynman. Whether you get a referral or meet someone in passing, always be sure to get their information and on their calendar as soon as possible while you’re fresh in their mind.

2.2 Land the Client

I prefer meeting face-to-face with potential clients and recommend it, but appreciate this isn’t always feasible. However, depending on the proposed size of the project, it may be necessary. While on the call, tell them you will send them the proposal the next day and schedule a follow-up call within a week.

2.3 Find a Niche

  • Finding a niche is a good idea because you will quickly gain domain expertise and much more effectively deliver to clients.
  • The more you do a certain kind of project or work with a particular kind of client, you will get faster and better.
  • This will also help you develop a more standardized process, no expectations, and estimate a hell of a lot better.

2.4 Get clear on expectations

This is your opportunity to set up an agreement that will make the rest of working with someone mostly enjoyable (or really terrible and may cause some tears if you don’t). Let them know what your expectations are of the process are ahead of time, such as a ballpark timeline, how you conduct discovery, design approval process, development process, how many change iterations you’re willing to accept..etc.
At this stage, it’s important to define what success looks like and figure out if ongoing work or maintenance makes sense.

  • How much will that cost?
  • Is it per month or on an hourly/ as needed basis?
  • What are some add-ons or upsells you can offer them, such as social media pages, branding guide, logo design. website hosting..etc.

2.5 Be a good communicator

  • You also want to be VERY clear about communication frequency:
  • Do they want to talk every day or is it a longer project where weekly updates ok?
  • Let them know if you prefer to communicate via Slack, email, phone calls..etc.
  • Let them know when are times that are appropriate to contact or not and how long they can expect in between responses.
  • This could be anywhere from 1 hour to 24 hours depending on what you are comfortable with

Craft a relative timeline and work schedule together so they can be fully prepared. This will include by when you need the necessary things from them. For example, I make all of my clients send me “homework” answering a series of important questions, along with a fat deposit and all of their site content before I even get started.

3. Writing a Proposal

You are a Business, Act like It.

I’ve included a sample of a proposal, which should always be written in plain English and be 2-3 pages long. The goal is to make the value of what you will deliver as well as the cost and expectations really clear. If they accept the proposal or send a couple edits you are ok with, then draw into a contract and have you both sign it.

Write up a proposal (from template 2-3 pages) the same night after the call. Promptly send it out the next morning so it will end up at the top of their inbox and you don’t have to worry about it.

Turning around a client can be anywhere from a day to a year, they will move as quickly as they are ready. The timeline will depend on how ready and prepared they are.

Clarity is your best friend. Be clear that this process will move as quickly as they want and will depend on them. Level of effort will also depend upon the number of changes they want to make and how nit-picky they are. Make it clear that you will only allow for an agreed upon number of changes and more will incur an additional cost.

4. FAQ

Who the hell is Feynman?
Oops, maybe it’s a bad reference. Richard Feynman was a theoretical physicist known for his work in quantum mechanics and renowned for coining the idea that simplicity is the most effective way to display mastery. Aka you don’t really understand anything until you can explain it to a 5-year-old… or some clients. Haha.

What if you have never done work in a specific niche before?
Everyone has to start somewhere! I did a lot of different projects at first and finding a specific niche you can cater to will take some time. However, I’ll assert that there some topics you are more interested in others as well as certain types of people you know you work with better than others. That’s a good place to start, but you likely won’t know until you try it out.

Do you attempt to do pro bono work in initially?
No, if you give it away for free, it has no value. I’ve made a couple exceptions such as supporting a friend with a fun, side project or if it’s a cause I genuinely care about. But I personally believe it does you and the client better to charge a fair price. You will be a lot more motivated if you know you are getting paid a good amount. Chances are you’re not charging enough. You need to make a living and your client will respect a high price point as more professional if you can deliver quality work.