Whether you’re new to freelancing as a web designer or web developer, or you’ve been doing this for a minute, you know that one of the toughest parts isn’t doing the job you love. It’s finding the clients to work with you and pay your rates.
We’ve talked a lot in this podcast about how to take care of clients, but I bet a few of you have been asking back – “Yea, that’s great, but where do I find people to begin with?”
Especially if you’re on the more introverted side (surprise that many of us who like to work from home on our computers all day are introverted), going out and meeting people probably isn’t your cup of tea.
When I first started my full-service agency, we had a few people we already knew that needed help. Getting a sale here or there was “easy” through our meager contacts. It was getting that ball rolling and finding people outside of our own circles that was really difficult.
I went 100% solo back in 2020, and while I had clients at the time that came with me, finding new ones was overwhelming. The world was shut down, so how could I possibly meet people?
In today’s episode, I’m going to take you through a few options in how to network and find clients, even in a COVID-affected world. Let me be frank – some of these methods take time for them to turn into business for you. However, if you do a few of these, you’ll build a few revenue streams to gain clients.
And in case you’re wondering if it works, I’ve made more money in the last eighteen months as Captain Coder than I ever have in any other position or agency (even the full service agency I co-owned).
Let’s dive in.
People really like working with people they know. In fact, we really like working with people that we know, like, and trust. When you get mad because you have better skills than a competitor but they always seem to get the jobs you want? Well, the saying “it’s all about who you know” applies. People that get to know you are going to do more for your business then you could ever imagine. That’s why in-person networking can be so vital to the longevity of your business, especially in your local community.
Ok, before you get angry with me and say “But I’m an introvert!” or “But it’s COVID!” some of these in-person options I’m about to take you offer virtual options right now. And yes, walking into a Chamber of Commerce luncheon might be super intimidating if you don’t like big crowds. You certainly don’t have to do all of these, but letting people get to know you and your face does help your business.
I admit reluctantly, believe me.
Local Chamber of Commerce
Depending on where you live, there’s probably a local Chamber of Commerce that you can join. Memberships are optional (you don’t have to join if you’re a business), but chances are your Chamber can help you connect with other local business owners.
My local Chamber, pre-COVID, provided educational breakfasts, luncheons, smaller lead groups, dinner events, and even a “speed dating” form of networking event. You should be able to check your local Chamber’s website to see what kinds of events they offer, but chances are there are ample opportunities.
The first couple of times you walk into that big room are going to be tough if you’re like me and you don’t thrive in that crowd of strangers environment. Make it easier and take a friend with you the first couple of times! On your second, third, fourth, etc time, go find the people you’ve already met and catch up. This isn’t Pokemon where you’ve gotta catch them all. Forming a few good friendships instead of getting as many business cards as you can is the way to build the relationships that bring you business.
Have you ever heard of BNI? It, and other referral groups like it, are built as an organized referral network. You attend a weekly meeting where one of the business owners in the group presents their business, you talk about how your business helps your clients, and your fellow members are supposed to send you referrals.
I’ll be honest. Web design and development is a harder one for BNI members to “get” because you’re dealing with bigger ticket sales. The more successful people in the group tend to be service providers like plumbers, chiropractors, and electricians where passing referrals to them is super easy.
However, what BNI or a group like it does is help you get used to networking in-person. You learn how to build those relationships and it becomes a lot more comfortable for you simply because you’re able to get “used to” meeting new people in a smaller, more controlled environment.
Even though the year I spent in BNI we didn’t get a ton of referrals, I still have those former group members send me business even five years later and a few of them are still clients.
If you don’t love working from home, you may already be working in a co-working space. Many of these spaces offer events and other mixers that help you to get to know the people working in your space. But what they can do is to introduce you to other business owners that might need your help.
Think about it – most coworking spaces are filled with small business owners or remote workers who either don’t like to work from home or don’t have the space to do so. Depending on your target market, that’s the perfect niche to get to know and help with their businesses. Even better is you likely see each other several times a week.
Take your headphones off and strike up a conversation in the kitchen. Get to know a few of the people in your space and attend those events. They can do a lot to help grow your business because chances are they know exactly how you feel and are eager to help.
Local Entrepreneur Events
Last on the in-person networking list – local entrepreneurial events! Think of events like 1 Million Cups, Start Up Grind, or an entrepreneur showcase. Chances are, your local Chamber, coworking spaces, or even a local group of organizers put together some kind of event that showcases new, local businesses.
These events are great because not only can you meet the new entrepreneurs who might need your services, but they also tend to be smaller groups of roughly the same people each time. This will help you to get to know someone in person week after week or month after month and can be far less intimidating than a big luncheon.
Get Out of Your Box
Can you see a common thread here? To get clients for your web design business, chances are you need to get out of your box just a bit. I can tell you with 100% honesty that I’ve never been comfortable at any of these types of events, but they do get easier over time (especially as you get to know people).
Because of in-person networking in my community, I’ve not only sold multiple websites (some to people years after I’ve met them), but I’ve gained long-term, recurring revenue clients and I even got the opportunity to teach Digital Marketing at Wichita State. I’ve also made some incredible friends!
Chances are, you’re far more excited about the idea of virtual networking. Not only is it easier for introverts, it’s also a lot more COVID friendly.
Virtual networking still involves you creating conversations and getting to know people, just online instead of in-person.
Don’t think of any of these as a way to post and push your business either. It’s more about building up the know/like/trust factor to get those people you’ve met to come back to you when they need you, too.
Want to know probably my biggest revenue earner in 2021? Facebook Groups.
I’m not even kidding!
I joined a few Facebook groups where my peers and my target market spend their time. Not only are there typically #jobopp posts that you can apply directly to (which are great), but it’s a great way to build up relationships with your target audience virtually.
Don’t jump into a group and immediately start selling your services. Most have rules against that anyway, but it’s an immediate turn off. Instead, get involved in the conversations! Lend your expertise when other members ask questions, offer free advice, or simply engage. The members will get used to seeing your name so that when someone is looking for a web designer or a developer, you’ve already got some trust going.
Keep an eye on the posts asking for paid-help, too. By responding to just a handful of those, I’ve gained one great recurring client and one giant recurring client. And all I did was engage and respond when someone said they were looking for help.
Social Media Engagement
In that same token of engaging in online groups, you can do a lot through your generic social media engagement, too. Jump in the comments of your target audience’s posts on Instagram, TikTok, or reply to their Tweets. When you connect with them without an agenda, you’ll build up a rapport and become the person they think of when they need help later on.
Same as with Facebook groups, you’ll want to provide some kind of value in your engagement because it shows your expertise. Social media engagement can be a slower burn than responding to #jobopp posts in Facebook groups, but it will build up a longer-term revenue stream and devoted social media followers, too.
If you need to get some quick cash in your business, the best place to start is probably a job board like Upwork. I’m honestly not a huge fan of Upwork and other boards like it because it can feel like a race to the bottom, but there’s a few things you can do to mitigate that.
First, make sure you’re filtering the jobs you see and looking at only the jobs where they want someone local or in your country. Chances are when someone posts that they want a developer from the US, they know they’re going to pay more money for that and be less tight with the purse strings.
You also want to filter out those who want to offer just next to nothing in return for a lot of work. Read the descriptions and make sure it feels like it will be not only a good match for you and the business, but for the direction you want to move in as well.
It is totally possible to build up great revenue on online job boards, you just can’t fight on price. You have to fight on value or you’ll be stuck with the worst kinds of clients.
And before you ask – yes, I did actually get a client through Upwork. They didn’t bat an eye at my prices and they were so happy with my work that they’ve become a referral source for me as well.
If you’re spending any time in online Facebook groups or Discord communities, ask fellow members to create a virtual mastermind!
Masterminds are a group of people that meet on a regular basis (usually once a month or once a quarter) to provide each other advice and support. Some I’ve been involved with have been intense (like 2 full days’ worth intense). You bring a problem to the group, and the others who are also business owners can help you navigate those issues.
While they’re not intended to be a referral source by any means, the more someone in those groups gets to know you, the likelier they are to think of you and your business in the future when they need a website. After all, you already deeply know their business and what they’re trying to achieve.
The key to this, of course, is to not create a mastermind group that is full of business owners in the same industry. You’d want to create a group that makes sense but also includes your target audience – like other online business owners or solopreneurs. The various industries honestly help you get a better perspective in your Masterminds, too, because you’re not all thinking the same way.
Your Own Marketing
Getting to know people on a more personal basis and building relationships with them is simply the best way to get and keep clients. But there’s a component to all of this that is just as important as you going out there and building those relationships – your own marketing.
Let me paint a picture. You meet a couple potential clients at a local Chamber breakfast. You give them your card and they’re interested, but they’re not sure yet. After that event, they go to your website, your social media, maybe even sign up for your newsletter to get to know you better.
If you’re not doing any marketing for yourself or your website is a mess, you’re going to lose that contact. They enjoyed meeting you in person, but there’s nothing to reinforce who they met or to get to know and understand your business better.
You need to keep up that momentum and provide multiple points of contacts for your prospects to get to know you better. That doesn’t mean that you need to be on every social media platform either, but it does mean that you need to be consistent with your marketing. Consistent in how often you post and consistent in what you post. What you’re telling people in person or in virtual networking needs to match up to how you’re marketing your business.
Finding Website Clients
Some of the methods we talked about will take longer to bring you in revenue and may require a bit of investment at once. That’s why you don’t just pick one place to find clients. There are only so many local businesses or so many #jobopp posts in Facebook groups.
Instead, put your focus on one or two in-person options and one or two virtual options. Select a couple that bring more immediate money (like Facebook Groups and Job Boards) and a couple that will build up over time.
When you focus on creating a few revenue generators of varying reward lengths, you’re doing a lot to create long-term, consistent revenue in your business.
And make sure you come back next week because we’ll be talking about turning these leads into actual, closed sales!