How to Get Your First Clients as a Young Web Developer

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:

  1. A portfolio item
  2. Experience working for a client
  3. 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.

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2 Responses to “How to Get Your First Clients as a Young Web Developer”

  1. Kazunori Seki February 1, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    Good suggestion for those who looking for better opportunities over odesk or freelancer. I saw many of small business owners have good relation with young talented entrepreneurs like that.

  2. Jo Riviello May 24, 2014 at 9:39 am #

    Nice post. The best advice I can give that worked for me and helped us become a million dollar company in 5 short years:
    1. Keep your day job initially so that you can fund the operation.
    2. Work out of your home initially, in order to save on all expenses.
    3. Your first projects should come from family and friends.
    4. Non-profits are a great helper too. Our first non-profit was the Ronald McDonald House.
    5. Make sure your own website looks professional.
    6. Find a family member or friend who is i need of a site and create a RFP for them. Then, send it out to all your competitors. This will give you a clear view of what they charge.
    7. When you see what your competitors charge and how their proposals look, polish yours to look better than theirs and (most importantly) offer your services for a better price than theirs. I was surprised to find every one of our competitors to be charging almost double our rates.

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