How to find and land website clients

The only way to get paid work is to show your past work. And the only way to really learn something is to do something. Executing on what you’re reading gives you experience, which is why you need to do real-world projects throughout this course.

The first website I built was for my father. He didn’t pay me. The only thing he paid for was the cost of building the website, which was around ~$125.

I recommend not charging for your first website because not only will this be a hard sell, but it is also risky because you may not be good at developing WordPress websites yet. I sure as hell wasn’t.

Of course, if you purchased the VIP course, then you don’t have to worry because I’ll be checking all of your work before you deliver it back to the client.

If you do decide to charge, unless you’re well-versed in WordPress and web design already, I’d charge no more than between $200-$500.

Another pricing tactic you could try is telling them that they can pay you want they want once they see the result or offer to only have them pay you once they’re completely satisfied with the website.

And, if you’re charging, you best deliver a quality website by or before deadline. You have to be reliable in the real world. It’s so important.

Tip: Don’t be picky at first.

Take whatever gigs you can get at first. These are just stepping stones.

You don’t want to take on the bigger gigs yet because you only get one chance to make a first impression.

You’re much better off gaining hands-on experience driving real results for real businesses (or yourself) — even if they are small businesses or startups.

Tip: Have a personality — your own unique personality — and be reliable.

“You get work however you get work, but people *keep getting* freelance work — and more and more of today’s world is freelance — because their work is good and because they’re easy to get along with and because they deliver the work on time. You don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good, and you deliver it on time. People will forgive the lateness of your work, if it’s good, and they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as everyone else if you’re on time, and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.”

Because your work is likely to not be phenomenal at first, you must, must, must be reliable, responsive and extremely likable. These soft skills are your get-out-of-jail-free cards. Use them. Cultivate them.

Find a project to work on.

With those tips in mind, here are a few ideas for your first website project.

Build a website for family, friends or co-workers.

Reach out to your entire network — starting with family and friends and expanding to Facebook, LinkedIn, email acquaintances, etc.

It’s a hell of a lot easier to talk someone you already know into letting you create a website for them than it is to talk some random stranger into it.

Ask your parents who they know. Ask your teachers who they know. Ask your friends if their parents have a small business. Just ask — A LOT.

If no opportunities arise from option one, you’re going to have to do some highly selective cold outreach, which leads us to option two.

Make any website you want. (My favorite option)

This is my favorite option because it gives you the most creative freedom.

You could invest in purchasing website resources yourself, which is a minimal upfront investment, then create whatever type of website you want.

For instance, if I wanted to create a website for a cupcake business, I’d

  • Look up all the cupcake businesses without websites
  • Check which businesses have available, affordable, exact-match domain names for the business. Buy that domain name.
  • Make the website.
  • Try to sell the website to the owner after I made it.

You could also sell your website on Flippa.

Flippa is a marketplace where people sell domain names and live websites.

(There’s more marketplaces like Flippa. I’ll link to them in the resources below.)

I’ve never personally sold a website on Flippa, but I’m intrigued by it.

If you market this website well, you could charge even more for it. The more traction it has (visits, conversions, subscribers, etc), the more money you’ll get.

You might think: Well, this can’t go in my portfolio, right? I need a “real” client…

And I’ll say: Wrong. Read this article.

Oh, and I’ll also say: The point of having a portfolio is to make money, right?
Well, you’ll make some nice money by selling a website you build and drive traffic to — which doesn’t require a portfolio although a story like that would make a badass portfolio piece.

Make a website pro-bono.

Most charities have bad websites. Find a charity or cause that’s near and dear to your heart, and reach out to them.

Here’s an example.

I love animals, and the local animal shelters have TERRIBLE websites. If I had little to no experience and I wanted to build one of them a beautiful website, here’s how I’d approach it.

Step 1: I’d search Google for something like: “local animal shelters [zip code].” I’d go to the “more places” button at the top of the SERP, and look for the ones without a website because those ones need the love the most and it’s easier than a redesign usually.

I notice a few of these don’t have websites, which means it may just be an easy sell.

Step 2: Then I Google each of the shelters’ names that don’t have websites to see if they actually do have a website and it’s just not listed. Or if they’re still open, for instance.

So this one I know is closed, so I’m skipping it.

The next one actually does have a website.

And now, this one looks like it actually doesn’t have a website. I look through the search results, and I’m able to find the phone number of the shelter. Now, if I was serious about this, I’d obviously call or, if I found an email, I’d email.

I’d say something along the lines of this:

Hi there!

My name is Lauren Holliday, and I’ve been dying to help abandoned pets in some way.

I’m emailing you because I want to give back by helping The Economy Shelter get more foot traffic and more dogs adopted faster.

I’d love to build you an easy-to-manage website for absolutely zero cost.

If you’re available, I could swing by your office so you could ask me any questions and I can learn a bit more about your organization.

Either way, good or bad, look forward to hearing from you.

Lauren =)

Find a startup that needs a website.

New startups without budgets pop up literally everyday if you check places like Product Hunt (Ship), Beta List and Angel List. Check out which startups have a bad (or no) website, and then reach out to them.

You should be able to find their email address by using something like Email Hunter. Or you should be able to find their Twitter account and tweet them to follow you so you can send them a DM.

You can also DM anyone on Instagram.

Make a website for a local SMB.

Search for local businesses that don’t have a website or have a poorly designed website that you think you could drastically improve.

(I personally don’t enjoy redesigning sites as much as I enjoy designing new websites. I just think it’s easier to start from scratch. Also, it may be harder to sell a redesign to small businesses because there is not necessarily any way to really “prove” the website is bad.)

To find local businesses, we’re going to do something similar to what we did when we searched for non-profits.

Gather a bunch of SMB prospects.

First, choose a specific type of small business you want to create a website for (i.e. dry cleaners, bakeries, nail salons, etc.).

Once you decide, Google the following queries:

  • “Dry cleaners near me”
  • “local dry cleaners”
  • “dry cleaners [insert city name nearest you]”

When you Google “[insert small business type] near me,” Google will show you its local business results first. The best part is: It quickly shows you which businesses have websites and which don’t.

To get a longer list of businesses, simply click “More places” (highlighted in screenshot above).

I’d prioritize businesses that don’t have a website, but have good reviews because this likely means that they care about their reputation and/or are a good business (because you don’t want to make a website for a bad company).

Next, I’d start googling again.

This time though, I’d google the specific business names (based on the criteria I just mentioned above) to double check they don’t have a website.

You could also search Facebook for local businesses with a Facebook Page that don’t have a website listed.

Reach out.

How you contact them will depend on what information you can find online. There are a few ways you could reach out to store owners.

  • Via email.
  • By phone.
  • Walk into their store.

Start with email because you can track it and gauge their interest in your offering based on how many times they opened the email and clicked (if you included links).

In order to track your email, you’ll need to download an email tracking extension.

You can google “Free email tracker,” and loads of options will pop up.

There are a lot of email tracker recommendations on Product Hunt too.

I use HubSpot, which is a paid tool, and I’ve used Yesware as well as Boomerang before. All are good and viable options.

So pick one, and install before emailing.

I’ve written a definitive guide to how to write damn good emails that you should probably read before crafting your message.

If I was reaching out to local dry cleaners, I would say something like this:

Hi [Name]!

My name’s Lauren Holliday. I graduated from Gibbons with Nique, but we have not talked in awhile otherwise I would have emailed her. I’ve also been a customer for a while and send friends your way all the time.

I’ve been dying to design a dry cleaning website and noticed you don’t have one.

I’d love to make you a website that increases the number of new customers and shows up above your competitors on the first page of Google.

Because I’m just getting started in web design, I’m willing to do this for you free of charge.

The only thing I ask is: If you’re happy with the end result, please give me a stellar testimonial. Of course, I’d also appreciate any word of mouth referrals.

Can we setup a call next Tuesday (or whenever works for you), if you’re interested?

Look forward to hearing from you!

Lauren =)

Once you hit send, watch your email tracking notifications to see engagement rates.

Give them a few days to respond, and then follow up. Obviously, follow up with the people who opened your email the most first because they clearly are the most interested.

If they don’t get back to you, either email again or call.

If you email, reply to the same email chain you originally sent (starting a new chain is confusing because people may forget the details of your previous email).

If they don’t respond to that email, give it another few days, and then walk into the store — preferably at a slow time when the owner is there. You may have to make a few trips for this to happen.

Be persistent until you get a yes. It’s a numbers game, so don’t let a few unreturned responses get you down. Someone will say yes, if you send enough emails.

NEXT: Get the resources from this section.