High Value Web Design Leads Anyone Can Generate for Free

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Hi, I'm Chris and I'm super glad you're here. 7 years ago I taught my self-web design and freelancing. Now, I do my best to teach others what I've learned so they don't have to struggle as much as I did.

Every week, I write an article and release a podcast episode. Sign up if you want to get notified when that happens.

As a web designer, your need to generate and land web design leads feels like a scene taken straight out of “Groundhog Day.”

You know? The movie with Bill Murray where he somehow gets stuck in this never-ending loop. He’s forced to repeat the same day over and over again until he gets it just right.

It’s hilarious. You should watch. OR RE-WATCH!

All web design leads bring a burst of excitement at the beginning. You quickly forget all the pain and anxiety you experienced just before the lead landed in your inbox or shook your hand or DM’ed you or whatever.

Then as you make your way through the project this nagging realization keeps pestering you: pretty soon you’re going to have to find, vet and land another web design lead.

Then you find another lead and all that anxiety goes away as if it was never there. It’s like your own little version of web designer amnesia.

But, then a few weeks go by and the project starts wrapping up and you find yourself in the same exact scenario you were in before.

So, how do you end the cycle and avoid reliving the same nightmare turned to dream come true turned back to nightmare scenario?

That’s the very question I intend to answer in this here article. AND, I’ll show you how to do it without having to pay for someone else to find those leads for you AND without having to do paid ads.

But, first let’s make sure we’re all on the same page.

What is a Web Design Lead?

Web design leads are potential clients who engage with you in some way. It could be by signing up for your email newsletter, reaching out to you via email, or setting up a phone call.

These folks might need your help now or sometime in the future. Sometimes the very distant future.

Your job is to take a cold lead (people who aren’t going to hire you any time soon if at all) and turn them into warm leads (people that are pretty much ready to hire you) then into paying customers (no explanation needed, right?)

a chart that shows a client going from a cold to web design lead to warm web design leads

But, how do you nurture a client from a cold lead to a warm lead?

You continue to communicate with them in some way until they’re ready.

It doesn’t have to be invasive. Like you don’t have to call, text and email every week until they sign a contract or hand you a restraining order.

You just need to check in every once in a while and see how they’re doing.

A few ways you might do that are with:

  • newsletters
  • some type of freebie that will help their business like an audit
  • a gift even!

Think about it like you would being a good friend who’s going through something tough. You just want to let them know you’re there if they need you.

You don’t want to try and swoop in and save the day. They might not need that.

They say a client needs something like 7 touch points before they turn into a warm lead.

A graph that says clients need 7 "touch points" before signing up:
1. Website
2. Newsletter
3. Lead Magnet
4. Project Proposal
5. Word of Mouth
6. Phone Call
7. ?

An illustration to show what to do to help with web design leads once you get them

So, keep that in mind as you’re working on ways to generate web design leads. You don’t want to bombard them like a happy puppy dog excited to see their owner who pees all over the floor.

Okay, that illustration got out of hand but I think you get the picture.

Now that you know what to do with them when you get them the question becomes, “How do I generate web design leads in the first place?”

The answer is fortunately very simple BUT unfortunately not super easy.

Spend Time Every Week Investing in Web Design Leads

Think of it like farming. You don’t want to eat all the crops you harvest. You need to set aside a portion of everything you bring in to make sure you’ve got enough for the next time you need to sow.

Okay, maybe that’s not as good of analogy as I thought it would be but follow me here.

You’ve got to spend time every single week work on planting seeds for future potential clients. Your web design leads will quickly dry up if you don’t.

This seems like a no brainer at first glance.

BUT, setting aside time to market your business gets really tough when you get busy. That’s the last thing you want to think about when you HAVE paying clients who have tough deadlines.

But, you’ll perpetually be sucked in to the feast or famine cycle if you don’t.

So, you’ve got to make sure that you’re devoting at least a couple hours a week doing the type of things that bring new potential clients your way.

So, how do you do it?

Factor Time to Nuture Web Design Leads Into Your Projects

It’s tempting, but you can’t squeeze all the margin out of your projects just to get it done quicker.

Okay, maybe we should rewind a little bit.

Are you estimating timelines for your projects? If you aren’t…it’s time to start.

Knowing how much time a project is going to take you can be the source of having to turn away a lot of money.

You might need to unnecessarily turn away potential clients because you don’t know when you’ll be finished with the project you’re working on right now.

And, estimating and then tracking the time each project takes will let you know how profitable that project is.

Then you can use that information to either charge more project or know which projects to avoid.

But, you’ll have a better idea of how much time you need to reserve for developing new web design leads when you know how much time your projects typically take.

How it Works Practically

Let’s say a project takes you about 80 hours to finish or two straight work weeks. You need to factor in at least 30% extra time market your web design business and generate leads.

That’s 24 hours or 3 full work days. You don’t have to do it in 3 full days. You could split it up amongst the time you’re working on the project.

BUT, you have to do it if you want to avoid the ups and downs between clients no matter how it works best for you.

Start with Your Website

The best place to start with generating web design leads is your website. Most web designer’s websites I visit are tough to navigate and not set up for conversion at all.

We’re not talking about SEO or organic traffic yet. Yes, that’s another way to drum up web design leads. We’ll save that for a little bit later.

What we’re talking about is optimizing your website in such a way that when someone visits it reaching out to you becomes a no-brainer.

Your website is basically your calling card. It’s a representation of how well you’ll do on your client’s sites. AND if it feels half put together or outdated, it’s time to to give it a little TLC.

Think About Your Website From a Potential Client’s Perspective

The first step in updating your website is to think about it from your future client’s perspective. It’s what a guest on my podcast, Sarah Doody, calls UXing your own portfolio.

…What type of questions do they have?
…What are their concerns?
…What would they love to see from a web designer?

How do you know the answers to these questions? You ask past clients.

CXL has a great series of questions for getting that kind of information.

  1. What doubts and hesitations did you have before signing up?
  2. What’s the one thing that nearly stopped you from buying from us?
  3. Which questions did you have, but couldn’t find answers to on the website?

Simple, straight and to the point. But, it’s effective. Those three questions will uncover the weak points in your website that you didn’t know where there.

Then you can make updates and answer them.

You may think, “Yeah, but can’t I just answer those questions on a phone call?”

Well, yes. But, how many people don’t even sign up for a phone call because they couldn’t find answers on your website?

You want to make sure you cover absolutely everything so your chances of getting a lead become higher and higher.

Have a Really Clear Call to Action

Another thing I see websites really struggle with is having a really clear next step or call to action.

Let’s say you’ve done a good job of answering all those burning questions potential web design leads might have. Now what?

What do they do next? Do they fill out a form? Sign up for a call?

It needs to be really simple and clear whatever it is.

I’ve seen so many websites have call to actions that say something like “let’s do this” or “I’m ready”

What are we doing and what are we ready for?

Keep you buttons super clear like “Sign up for a phone call.” And make sure there’s some clarifying text around it about what’s going to happen when they do.

Get to the Client’s Underlying Motivations

Your website should address why someone REALLY wants to hire you. And, it’s likely more complicated than just, “they need a new website.”

It’s like the old adage says, “no one buys a hammer because they want a hammer.” They want to use the hammer to accomplish something.

Maybe they want to build something because it makes them feel like they’ve got more control in their life. Maybe they want to hang pictures so they can feel reminded that there are people in their lives that love them.

It’s never just to have a hammer.

Same is true for a website. Maybe they need a new website because they’re ready to level up their business. Or maybe, they want to hire out the responsibility because they don’t have the time to do it themselves.

Figure out what those motivations are and call them out on your website.

Most websites talk about practical stuff like how many pages you get or what types of features you’re capable of providing. And, those things are important BUT don’t leave out the heart level stuff because that’s why people ultimately make a purchase.

I love how C.C. Chapman puts it: “Start with the soul and end with the sale. Not the other way around.”

Address Anxieties

The next thing you want to do is address any anxieties that potential clients might have.

All web design leads that visit your site have one question in their mind even if they can’t verbalize it.

That question: “What’s the catch?” Put another way: “What are you not telling me?”

So, rather than ignore those questions we need to make sure that we’re answering them before the client has them.

You do that with direct statements. BUT, more importantly you do it with social proof.

Double points if you have a written testimony that directly address an anxiety.

Something like “I was a bit hesitant when I hired (name of you web design business) because of how much it cost. BUT, I’ve more than doubled my investment in just 2 months.”

Bam! We addressed an anxiety and we used the words of past clients to do it.

Win/win.

Update Your Portfolio

You new this was coming, right?

One thing I KNOW web designers are horrible at is updating their portfolio.

Be honest. You’ve probably got websites in your portfolio from years ago right?

Don’t worry. We all do. But, if you want to see an uptick in web design leads you’re going to have to update those bad boys.

AND, spend some time talking about the project. Don’t just post images in some fancy mockups.

What were the challenges? How did you overcome them? What were the results?

Those are all questions that a future web design client would LOVE to know about.

Networking for Web Design Leads

Once you’ve made some updates to you website it’s time to go out and actually dig up some web design leads.

One of the best ways to do that is through networking.

You might think this one is for the extrovert only. After all, you’re going to have to put yourself out there and meet folks you’ve never met before.

But, I’ve seen plenty of introverts do this really well.

You don’t have to be the life of the party to be good at networking. You just have to be a genuine, caring person AND you’ve got to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone.

There are a few things you want to keep in mind from the get go with networking.

Look to Add Value First and Foremost

The worst thing you could do when trying to network for web design leads is to come out guns blazing just trying to close a deal.

People can tell almost instantly if you see them like some trophy to be collected. Instead, your approach should be to see what you can do for other people.

Someone having a problem with the SSL certificate on their site?

Offer some advice or, better yet, fix it for free. That’s the kind of thing that won’t take you any time at all BUT could be a huge help to someone.

Then you’ll be the first person they think of the next time they’re thinking about updating their site.

Think of this as a long term investment. You might not get any clients instantly from a networking event. But, it will pay off in dividends later if you stay present and stay helpful.

Where to Network for Web Design Leads

Alright, so you’re ready to add value first with the hopes that it drums up some web design leads. BUT, where do you do all the networking?

You’ve got some options.

The best way to do this is to have a niche that you focus your business on. A niche is a specific set of people that you tend to serve more often than not.

I’ve seen people have a niche for podcasters OR for influencers OR EVEN photographers.

Essentially, what you’re saying is, “I do best at serving this type of client.”

I’ve seen people be really successful niching in either an industry OR a real specific skill set.

For instance, I have a friend KNOWN for being the go to person with WooCommerce. Any time someone has a WooCommerce need we all think, “They should talk to Ingrid.”

Either way, when you niche down it helps you know where to find people to network with.

You can start looking for conferences the people in your niche attend OR the meetups they might go to.

Sure, there are plenty of places that will work just fine without getting into a specific niche. Just google “Chamber of Commerce” in your area and there will be a list of events that you could go to and meet other people.

But, you’ll be much more successful AND be able to charge much more if you niche down.

Online Communities

Another great place to network is in online communities.

Being a part of a facebook group or even a paid circle community can be super helpful when it comes to networking.

Even communities that you’re a part of for your own business.

A friend of mine I had on the podcast talked about how he joined a mastermind to build his own business. But, people in the mastermind eventually found out he was a web designer. So, they started coming to him for all their website needs.

Eventually, you won’t have to do so much networking because you’ll have built up enough of a network that you’ll have plenty of web design leads to sustain your business. BUT, you’ll probably have to double down at the very beginning.

Content Marketing for Web Design Leads

Another great source of web design leads is content marketing. “What is content marketing you?” may ask.

It’s creating content around a topic of interest for your potential clients that will cause them to trust you AND view you as an authority in the space.

Then, you’ll be on the top of their list when they’re ready to hire someone to help them with a problem you solve.

So, as a web designer you could blog about the importance of having an appealing website. Like how 75% of customers judge the credibility of a company based on its website.

Then give them 10 tips to have a more appealing website.

Or let’s say you serve a lot of clients in the hair stylist space. You could give them ten software options for scheduling appointments to their salon.

You’re just trying to be a helpful friend in the industry.

An Objection to Content Marketing

At this point, I always get the question, “But, why would they pay me if I’m teaching them the stuff I would just do for them?”

I get that line of thought. But, I’ve just never ever seen a potential client not hire someone because they were too helpful before they paid them.

The people that would not pay you because of the information you helped them out with would likely never hire you in the first place.

Most of the time what ends up happening is the client figures out just how much work it’s going to take, AND/OR the fact that it takes a certain level of skill to accomplish it that they’d rather just pay someone else to do it.

AND, if that still isn’t enough to convince you, you don’t have to tell them EVERYTHING. You could dance around the solution without ever fully divulging and it would still be really helpful.

There are tons of great web design companies that are getting TONS of high quality web design leads from content marketing. So, trust me, you won’t lose clients because of it.

How Does Content Marketing Really Work?

Okay, if you’re convinced that content marketing isn’t such a bad idea, the question becomes, “How does content marketing really work?”

First you have to pick a channel AND there are plenty to fit anyone’s style. For example:

  1. Blogging
  2. Podcasting
  3. YouTube/Videos
  4. Social Media

And, all the variations between those. Let’s talk about each of these and why they might or might not be a good fit for you.

Blogging to Generate Web Design Leads

Blogging is a great form of content marketing IF YOU LIKE WRITING. I happen to love writing. So, it’s my preferred method.

With that you’ll need to have a fairly decent understanding of SEO. Now, you don’t need to be an SEO expert. You just need to have a general idea of the types of things people are searching for in regards to your topic AND you’ll need to be able to write a good article.

I think people focus too much on the technical aspects of SEO and neglect just making good content. I’m of the belief that if your articles are good, Google will pick up on it and will start to prioritize your stuff.

BUT, having a bit of knowledge never hurt anyone.

At the very least, you’ll need to get comfortable with some tools like Google Search Console OR Answer the Public.

Search console will tell you how well your site is doing and what things you might be able to do to improve your rankings. Answer the Public will give you some ideas on what content to create for people looking for businesses like yours.

Podcasting to Generate Web Design Leads

Another option for content marketing is Podcasting. Podcasting is for the folks that might feel more comfortable recording a conversation rather than writing it out.

In fact, my friend Krystal Proffitt would much rather talk than write. So, she started podcasting and now helps others do the same.

The only downside to podcasting is it’s gonna take a little more work on the front half to buy and set up equipment.

There’s also not as great organic reach as other channels. Organic reach is simply the possibility of someone finding you based on a simple search.

Sure they could search in a podcast app BUT that’s not as effective as a search engine like Google or even YouTube.

Still, I love podcasting and I’ve seen be a great source of generating leads.

YouTube or Videos to Generate Web Design Leads

Still another great option is creating videos to generate web design leads.

Some say YouTube is the second biggest search engine out there. And, I tend to agree.

I search for nearly everything I’m trying to learn how to do on YouTube. And, so do your potential clients.

Obviously, there’s a bit more to creating good videos than to writing a blog or even podcasting. BUT, it can be a really effective way to find new customers.

YouTube also has the added benefit of having a better organic reach than podcasting as well.

So, if you’re the kind of person that loves being on camera this for you. Okay, maybe loves is a strong verb. Maybe you’re fine with it 😂 Still a great option.

Social Media to Generate Web Design Leads

Finally, there’s social media. I put this one last on purpose.

Social Media is the most volatile channel to choose when it comes to content marketing. You never know how the algorithm is going to change or in some cases whether the platform will be around for the next few years.

I tend to think of Social Media like a secondary platform for my main effort in content marketing. It’s something I use to promote other content like a blog post or YouTube video. But, I’m hardly ever investing a ton of time if any in it.

You might be different though!

I’ve known plenty of people who get almost ALL of their web design leads through Instagram.

So, if you’ve got a knack for it, this is the right channel for you.

How to Be Efficient with Content Marketing for Web Design Leads

Okay, that may sound like a lot BUT there’s something you can do with content marketing that’s really cool.

Like, “How am I going to blog, podcast, create YouTube videos AND post to social media ALL WHILE doing client projects?”

Good news. You can create one piece of content and turn it into other forms of content.

So, let’s say you create a YouTube video. Take the audio from that video and turn it into a podcast. Take the transcript from that video and turn it into a blog post. Take snippets of that video and turn it into social media posts.

BAM! One content now lives in a bunch of different place with minimal effort.

Sure it takes a little extra work BUT it’ll make one single piece of effort have a lot more life.

Using Past Clients to Generate New Web Design Leads

Don’t forget about staying in touch with former clients in order to stir up new web design leads.

It’s really tempting to lose touch completely with all of your old clients. BUT, old clients can be a great source of new business.

There’s the obvious one: referrals.

I know some web design business that are sustained entirely from referrals. They have more work than they know what to do with AND it just keeps coming.

They served a handful of clients really well at the beginning and their reputation got out there.

You could leave it to chance OR you could ask clients to refer you to friends and even offer them an incentive if they do.

There might also be an opportunity to help old clients with new projects.

I have one client that hired me at nearly the very beginning of my career as a freelance web designer. And, like clockwork, they’ve needed help with 1 or 2 projects every year since then.

All because I keep I did a good job to begin with AND I keep in touch.

So, reach out to former clients just to check in and see how business is doing. Again, you want to come at it like you do networking. Be helpful first. Then if they need something that requires more in-depth help, that’s when you set up a paid project.

Don’t Depend Entirely On One Big Client

As a word of caution: I’ve known many web designers to get one really big client and get consumed in all the work they need to do for them.

Those big fish feel like a big win AND they can be.

But, you have to realize that, most of the time, they won’t have business for you forever.

There will come a day when things slow down OR when they find another solution that works better for them.

So, don’t feel like you can’t say yes just because someone has a lot of work for you.

But, be sure you don’t neglect doing the things you need to do to continue to generate web design leads while you’re helping them.

Final Thoughts on Generating Web Design Leads

So, there you have it. There are so many ways to generate web design leads. Now, it’s really just a matter of picking one and going for it.

As you test things out you’ll start to notice that you gravitate more towards one method over another. That’s great.

Not everyone is built the same way. How I love to do things will be completely different from YOUR preferences.

The point is you’ve got to do the work to make sure you’re setting aside time every single week to drum up new business.

It might be tough at first. But, I promise it’ll be worth it in the long run. So, keep plugging away until you figure out how to make it work for you and your web design business.

people standing in line to represent web design leads waiting for you to work on their projects

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Hi, I'm Chris and I'm super glad you're here. 7 years ago I taught my self-web design and freelancing. Now, I do my best to teach others what I've learned so they don't have to struggle as much as I did.

Every week, I write an article and release a podcast episode. Sign up if you want to get notified when that happens.

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