How to Get Freelance Web Design Clients Starting from Scratch

Stay updated


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.

Don’t want to read over 3,000 words on how to find your first freelance web design clients? Listen to the podcast OR watch the YouTube Video.

The first time I tried getting potential freelance web design clients was not pretty.

I had just finished the very first site I had ever done. It was for a friend of mine who is a fitness coach.

My strategy was pretty simple:

  1. Google fitness coaches/gyms located within a 30-mile radius of me
  2. See if their site needed help. After all, I didn’t want to pitch them a better site if the one they had was better than what I could give them ?
  3. Give them a phone call and sell them my services

Wanna know how many clients I got from my efforts?

Zero…nothing, not one.

Instead, I got some very agitated trainers and gym owners that looked at me as the equivalent of a call center salesman willing to say anything to coerce them to pull out their credit card.

I wasn’t by the way.

Finding Freelance Web Design Clients is Hard at First

Unfortunately, I know a lot of freelancers with similar experiences when they first begin trying to find freelance web design clients.

They start out with such optimism and gusto. They’re willing to bang down doors if they have to.

But, 20 rejections later and it starts to sting a little bit.

You start to wonder if you’re made for freelancing or if you’re good enough to actually get paid for the work you do.

If you’re in that place let me reassure you, friend, you’re not alone. AND, let me follow it up with an emphatic YOU CAN DO THIS.

Getting those first few freelance web design clients is not easy.

But, there are some things you can do to start out on the right foot, not clueless like I was.

Here is what I learned from those first painful attempts that will make you a pro at finding freelance web design clients even if you’re new to the game.

How to Get Freelance Web Design Clients When You’re Starting from Scratch

1. Get the Word Out

Some of the best advice about finding a job was something a mentor of mine told me in high school.

When you’re looking for work you don’t just put your resume out there and hope something happens. You tell everyone you know that you’re looking for a job and ask them if they’ve heard of any opportunities.

The same is true for freelancing.

And, I’m not just talking about changing your job title on Facebook.

I’m talking about calling people up and letting them know you’re looking for freelance web design clients. Or shooting them a text message asking them if they know anyone that might need your help.

Right now, you might be thinking that doing this will annoy everyone you know and leave you friendless.

But, that’s just not true.

Flip the script. How would you feel if you knew someone that was looking for work? You’d probably be more than happy to help them if you could.

NOW, if you keep annoying the same people over and over again, yes, it’s only a matter of time before people stop responding to you altogether.

So, mention it once and move on.

If they remember, great. If they don’t, that’s fine too.

Don’t get angry if they aren’t able to help you out. They have lives too and might have a ton going on. Or they genuinely might not know any potential freelance web design clients to give you.

So, don’t get offended if it doesn’t work out BUT don’t let that keep you from telling people you’re looking for freelance web design clients.

2. Start with People You Know

It never hurts to ask the people closest to you if they need a website. This is what I tell everyone just getting started.

In fact, the first 5 freelance web design clients I got were all from people I’d known for a while. In some cases all my life.

Everyone and their mom needs a website. In my case, everyone and their mom’s friend needed one.

You won’t have to think too hard before you come up with a few folks that might be willing to give you a shot.

So, make a list.

Start with the people you know that own a business. It could be a brick-and-mortar store or online service.

Does your friend’s mom have a cleaning business?

Do you know someone that’s a realtor?

What about your church or kid’s school?

Most people know they need to update their website but it is at the bottom of the priority list below things that have a more urgent need.

You’ll be surprised how many times you hear, “You know I was just thinking the other day it was time to refresh the ole site.”

3. Brainstorm Relational Connections to Potential Clients

You’re familiar with the game 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon? You play it on road trips with your friends.

The concept is simple. Think of any actor. Now try to connect them to Kevin Bacon in less than 6 relational steps.

For instance, let’s try to connect Chris Hemsworth with Kevin.

Chris starred in “The Huntsman” with Charlize Theron who starred in “Trapped” which co-starred…you guessed it, Kevin Bacon.

Fun right?

Here’s the thing though, before Kevin Bacon stepped into the picture, this was a legitimate academic theory that has been pretty heavily researched.

The idea first started in the late 1920s.

Imagine how much MORE connected we are now that you have access to pretty much, anyone, through a computer and a wifi connection.

So, for a fun experiment, think of a business close to you that might need a website. Now, think of someone you might know that might be connected to that business.

Does someone you know work there?

Or maybe you know someone whose kid is on the same little league team.

If anything it’s fun to try. BUT, you might just end up finding a freelance web design client.

4. Expand Your Sphere

There comes a point in every freelance web designer’s career where you run out of people you know or are connected to that need a website.

At that point you have to find a way to expand your sphere of influence.

The term sphere of influence is mostly used when it comes to international relationships. It’s used to communicate how one country might have a certain degree of influence on, say, a country that shares a border.

You have influence too.

But, that influence is limited. Especially if this is a brand new thing for you.

So, what do you do?

Get out there and start building new relationships.

I went the route of building relationships on the freelancer platform, Upwork. And, that drastically stepped things up for me.

But, you can also do it the old fashioned way: actually meeting people in real life.

In most cities, there are plenty of opportunities to find meetups or get togethers focused on connecting other business people.

If there aren’t any opporutnities like that where you are, which I highly doubt there aren’t, then start your own!

Invite other business owners to get together for lunch or grab a cup of coffee.

Do it one on one or in a group setting. BUT, just start doing something.

The key to this is you can’t look at this as an opportunity to sell yourself. You are looking to create meaningful relationships. Ones where you’ll give more than you’ll ever get.

BUT, trust me, it will come back around to help you in the long run.

5. Take Some Leftovers

Speaking of your sphere of influence, you should also be trying to make relationships with other freelance web designers. Especially those that have been at it longer than you have.

This is beneficial in a lot of different ways.

First, it gives you an opportunity to learn from someone that has been where you are and come out of the other side.

But, it could also mean that they give you projects they don’t have time for OR don’t meet their budget standards.

Hear me out.

Do not email a freelance web designer and immediately say, “Do you have any work for me?”

That is incredibly off-putting. All it says is you have no actual interest in the person. You’re just looking to see how much you can get out of the relationship.

Build the relationship first just like meeting other business leaders.

They will begin to naturally reffer the clients they don’t want to you.

AND, after you’ve connected with them a few times, feel free to ask for the refferals.

It’s not always wrong to ask. BUT, you should think about it like a dating relationship.

If you ask someone to marry you on the first date, you will likely not get the chance to go on a second date with that person.

6. Cold Leads vs. Warm Leads

There are a few terms that are helpful to know when trying to find freelance web design clients: cold leads & warm leads.

Cold leads are potential clients that haven’t expressed any interest in you as a web designer OR any interest in wanting to have a website built or updated AT ALL.

Cold leads generally take a lot of nurturing before they are willing to give you the time of day. In other words, they’re a hard sell.

Warm leads, on the other hand, are actively looking for help with their website or have expressed interest to you!

When you’re first getting started it’s important to get a win up on the board. If you don’t find freelance web design clients soon it’s easy to get discouraged or give up altogether.

That’s why it’s always better to do what you can to find warm leads.

Finding warm leads isn’t as difficult as you might think. There are 1000s of people every day that are posting jobs for freelance web designers.

Laurence Bradford of Learn to Code with Me. Found her first freelance web design clients on Craiglist. I’ve continued to find many through Upwork.

So, give one of those platforms a shot. You’ll soon find that you prefer one over the other and it’ll be a consistent place for you to find warm leads.

7. Don’t Sound Like a Newbie

A huge part of getting freelance web design clients when you’re first starting out is having a good pitch.

You have to know the right questions to ask and the right things to say in order to make you the perfect candidate in the eyes of the client.

The problem is this isn’t something you can do WITHOUT practice. In fact, a good pitch takes a long time to perfect.

Think about it. You can’t just say the same thing to every potential client. You have to customize your pitch to each potential customer, learning their pain points and the ultimate goals of their project.

Couple that with the fact that the conversation could take twists and turns that you’ve never experienced before. It could be a nightmare.

So, practice.

With who? You say.

Recruit a friend to be your fake potential customer. Ask them to come up with a scenario of a client looking to have a website built and ask them to raise objections and ask clarifying questions.

In the grand scheme of things, there’s nothing like the real thing. But, having a little bit of practice under your belt will eliminate some of the fear you’ll experience when it’s the real thing.

And, there isn’t anything in the world that will keep you from being able to think on your feet like being afraid will.

So, do some practicing. Get some feedback and don’t sound like a newbie.

8. Give Away the Good Stuff

When you’re approaching a potential client for the first time, your question should never be, “What can I get from them?”

Instead, you have to think of “What can I give them?”

Say for instance you see a site that needs a lot of help. Make a list of things they can do to fix it up. Show them ways to make a few simple changes that could really change the game for them.

Give away the good stuff.

You might be thinking, “But, if I tell them everything I’d do on their website and then show them how they won’t want to hire me.”

You’d be wrong.

Potential freelance web design clients don’t get turned off by you showing them charity and putting all your cards on the table. It actually does the opposite.

It shows them you can be trusted and that you know what you’re talking about.

Even if they could take all of your recommendations and implement them, they probably don’t want to.

Why? because their time is better spent making money for their company in different ways.

So, approach every potential freelance web design client with your hands open and a willingness to give them value before you ask for it in return.

9. Think Long Term

Sometimes, it takes a long time for a client to become completely convinced they should hire you.

It can get frustrating but believe me, it’s worth it.

Some of these clients might end up staying with you for the rest of your career as a freelancer. So, what took a while to accomplish will have a big payoff again and again.

So, you’ve got to make sure that you’re not just thinking about the immediate but also about the long-term process.

It’s sometimes easier to take a quick job that’s actually really bad for you just because it’s there. But, oftentimes, those quick jobs become nightmares that make you wonder why you’re freelancing as a web designer in the first place.

So, be leary when you feel the need to lower your standards just to get a job. It’s sometimes better to think long-term.

Think about the types of clients you want…your ideal customer so to speak. Now, go find them and nurture them until a cold lead becomes a warm lead and then when a warm lead becomes a client.

It takes longer, but it’s worth it in the long run.

10. Be Persistent

When I was first starting out I would often try to find websites of other freelance web designers. I wanted to see what they did and how they did it.

Maybe even connect and develop a relationship.

The problem was that many of the sites I tried going to had all been abandoned. They either had a big “Out of Business” sign on the hero image or they just didn’t pull up at all. Straight to a 503 message.

A lot of freelance web designers give up to soon.

Finding freelance web design clients takes persistence. It takes doing small things every day that no one sees.

But, if you stick with it long enough, you will figure it out.

Persistence isn’t just good for the big picture perspective. It’s also important when you’re interacting with clients.

Just because you get ghosted from your first attempt doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try later on.

Just because you get told no once, today doesn’t mean the answer won’t change 5 months down the road.

According to Hubspot 80% of sales require 5 follow up phone calls.

So, plain and simple, you can’t expect to get a freelance web design client on the first interaction.

It takes follow-ups, some that have nothing to do with closing the deal.

One thing is for sure, you can’t quit at the first sign of resistance. There is a time to give up. But, it’s almost always much later than you think it is.

Your Journey to Finding Freelance Web Design Clients

Your journey to finding freelance web design clients will be as unique as you are. I love hearing the stories of people I’ve helped to coach along the way.

Want to know the main thing that each of them had in common? They didn’t stop when it would have been easy to.

I don’t know where you’re at on your journey as a freelance web designer but I know if you stick to it, you’ll make it through.

Especially if you do things like letting everyone know what you’re doing and seeing if they can connect you to someone that might need your help. OR finding ways to connect with warm leads and practicing your pitch before you get them on the phone.

Use your mistakes as learning lessons. They are just data that can inform you what things you should change and what things you should keep when you’re trying to find freelance web design projects.

And, whatever you do, don’t give up to early. Hang in there.

Finding freelance web design clients starting from scratch || a man in a field looking for something


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.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join 1,000s of other web designers, web developers, UX designers, product designers and freelancers and get a weekly email that will help you grow.

Invest 5 minutes a week & Improve your freelancer/web designer skills

Come learn the same steps I use to land projects for $6k+ on Upwork. You'll walk away knowing:

• How to stand out from other freelancers
• A cover letter template that wins
• Profile MUST HAVES that most freelancers miss

3 Simple Steps to Land High Paying Projects on Upwork

This free, 4 video course will give you all the tools you need to start freelancing as a web designer and earning extra money.

• How to get started from scratch
• How to find your first clients
• How to charge higher rates

Become a web designer and land high-paying clients