A guy I met while at college pinged me on Facebook and asked:
I was looking at starting a small graphic design/ website design company and was wondering if you had any pointers or tips on the best way to start, and how to develop a client base. I was thinking about starting by bidding for freelance jobs but it looks pretty intimidating.
It is a great question and one that I feel I can give some good insight into.
I started doing consulting when I was a sophomore in college. I got to know an alum that was speaking on campus and he learned of my budding interest in SEO/Web Dev. He connected me to a Pilates Studio in Pittsburgh (dang that was a great SEO link hehe); they were just starting a new studio and needed a website. They took a chance on me and hired me to build them a brand new site. I was determined to succeed with this trust placed in my unproven abilities.
Fast forward a few months and word had gotten around to my friends, family, professors, fellow students, alumni I connected with…that I was doing SEO consulting and web development. It’s amazing once word gets out how many people start coming to you interested in having you do a project for them.
How to Get Started
So here is what I recommend to get started freelancing.
Don’t be afraid to jump into a project that is a little outside your comfort zone. I have taken on projects knowing I will have to learn new stuff in order to succeed. Sometimes the best growth and the most learning comes from putting yourself into a corner. It may be a bit sadistic, but sometimes you should purposely put yourself into challenging situations. Don’t go crazy with that idea but sometimes you need to push yourself.
I would say the best way to get clients is to approach family/friends first. They hopefully already trust you as a person (if not a designer/developer)
Secondly, non-profits are a great way to build experience, albeit for very little (if any) money. While at college there were a few non-profits for whom I built their websites. This didn’t pay anything but it gave me three very important things:
- A portfolio item
- Experience working for a client
- Confidence – by far the most important of the 3
The third way to get clients early on is to watch for small businesses that need help. Approach the owner and tell him you are a starting out in the graphic design/web dev field and would he be willing to allow you to build him a site, design a logo, etc. With this last option you have the best chance of getting paid. You could even give the owner a guarantee that if he isn’t happy with it he doesn’t have to pay you. A bit risky but if you are confident of your skills then this could be a good strategy.
I need to write a follow-up post on why business owners should take a chance on budding professionals. It really can be a great thing for both parties!
So anyone want to hire my young friend just starting out? I have high hopes for whatever it is he ends up doing.