Part of the challenge of being a freelance designer is making sure the right people find out about your talents. But it’s especially difficult when you’re just starting out. The market is flooded with designers and it can be hard to rise above all of the noise.
The hard reality is that it does take some work to get in front of potential clients or partners. But there are some things you can do to give yourself the best chance to be seen. Let’s explore some ways freelance web designers can position themselves for success.
Have an Easily Accessible and Updated Portfolio
Maybe it sounds obvious, but it is amazing to see how many designers don’t have a portfolio site readily available. Or they have one but it hasn’t been updated in several years. Either way, it’s the most basic form of free advertising – and it’s not being taken advantage of.
Starting with the basics, every designer needs to have their own site. Depending on what type of services you offer, the site should consist of at least a few pages. So often, we see quick one-pagers that have a very little information. Brevity isn’t always a bad thing, but it doesn’t really help to build the trust necessary to book clients.
In fact, nothing on your site has to be overly long or text-heavy. Even your portfolio page itself doesn’t necessarily have to be over-the-top. The main idea is to introduce yourself and show off your very best work. Beyond that, you’ll want to provide a clear indication of how people can get in touch.
As for having an outdated portfolio, that can sometimes be worse than having nothing at all. Design trends change over time and you don’t want to be caught with a portfolio that looks completely dated. That’s not to say you can’t have a few older projects included, but they should be there because they represent something important in your story. Perhaps it was a very large client or there was a fancy bit of technology behind the site.
Keeping things updated shouldn’t be too hard. One way to encourage yourself to stay current is to build out your portfolio in a way that’s easy to update. If the process is too difficult, you’re more likely to stay stagnant.
One thing you may have noticed is that I haven’t mentioned the many online portfolio hubs like Dribbble or Behance. They’re great communities, but I don’t know how relevant they really are when looking for new clients. For one, your work is listed in the same place as some incredibly talented designers – which can be good or bad, depending on how you stack up. Second, there are just so many designers that it’s going to be nearly impossible to stand out.
In short, you can certainly use these services – just don’t expect miracles from them.
Share Your Expertise
Whether you’re targeting individual businesses or agencies that will provide steady work, it’s important to show that you are an expert in your field. Here are a couple of easy ways to get the word out:
The simplest way to show that you’ve got the goods is through your blog. The good news is that you don’t have to be an expert writer in order to share what you know. Just writing short, simple posts about topics your target audience cares about will do the trick. If you’re targeting small business, then write about the things you can do to help make their website a success. If you’re looking for a long-term relationship with an agency, focus on the technical and design aspects of your work.
Of course, you’ll want to share your writing through social media channels. If your site was built on WordPress, you can even automate the process of sharing your new posts. Your content doesn’t necessarily have to go viral in order to be of great help. The random person who finds your site may be the one who really needs to hear what you have to say.
While web design is a global industry, you’ll often find great opportunities right in your own backyard. A local meetup is a great place to meet people who share an interest in web design or related topics. But it’s not just professionals who attend these events. From my own experience, I’ve met several business owners who want to learn about how things work or what makes for a great site.
These events are usually pretty informal and are really about getting together to share knowledge. Once you’ve been to a few meetings, you might consider volunteering to make a presentation yourself. Again, it’s a low-pressure atmosphere. Just be yourself and share what you know.
Build Your Reputation
This one has absolutely no shortcuts. But it is perhaps the best way to get your name out there. A great reputation will get you everywhere in this business.
The key to building one is really about doing great work and providing clients with a great overall experience. Beyond building beautiful, functional websites, it’s often the little details that make a big difference.
Really, it’s all about the basics of customer service. Responding to requests in a timely manner, for example, affirms that you care about the needs of your clients. Even a simple reply stating that you’ll get back to them shortly projects a positive image.
Being honest and realistic about pricing and deadlines are also traits that clients value. Nobody wants to be told that their project costs much more than the original estimate, nor do they want to wait for days/weeks/months past a promised deadline.
There have been talented designers who have failed because they weren’t responsive to their clients’ needs. Don’t be one of them. Clients who value you and your work will gladly tell others about how great you are. This is how you build your reputation, one project at a time. It’s a process that may take some time, but can really pay off in the long run.
Show Them Who You Are
Here’s a little secret: The “right person” is the one looking at your portfolio, reading your tweets or latest blog post at this very moment. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll become a top client – they may never become a client at all. But they’re the right person in that moment because they’re looking at what you have to offer.
Your goal is to let them know who you are and how you can help them. Accomplish that and you will find the success you’re after.