Whether searching for new strategies to propel your web design business forward or planning a marketing strategy for your new business, this guide will cover six tried and tested ways to get web design clients, plus the three key things you need before getting started.
Why am I qualified to write this?
Nearly a decade of sales and marketing experience precluded my current role as Co-Founder and VP of Marketing at Motion.io. During that time, I worked internally and externally with a wide range of businesses – solopreneurs launching a product or service for the first time, mid-sized businesses with 5 – 10 people, organizations of 50+, and even a publicly traded company.
Most relevant to this guide, I helped scale Brighter Vision – a website design and marketing solution for mental health therapists – from a few hundred customers when I joined as employee #3 in 2015 to nearly 5000 before acquisition in 2020.
Experience aside, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers, and I continue to learn and adapt to a continually changing sales and marketing landscape. So, while this guide won’t cover every possible way you might get web design clients, it will be comprehensive of the strategies I’ve seen that are most effective time and time again.
Table of contents:Tips before you begin:
– Find your niche
– Create an elevator pitch
– Establish yourself as a specialist
Strategy #1: Targeted email outreach
– How to build a targeted outreach list
– How to write your first targeted emails
– 3 email templates for your first outreach campaign
– How to launch your first campaign
Strategy #2: Network in online communities
– Tips for engaging in online groups and communities
Strategy #3: Create, launch, and automate a client referral program
– How to get the most out of your client referral program
Strategy #4: Build your audience on social media
-Tips for marketing on TikTok
– Tips for marketing on Facebook
– Tips for marketing Instagram & Pinterest
Strategy #5: Develop Partnerships
– How to make new partnerships most effective
Strategy #6: Digital Advertising
– The importance of setting a budget
– Important metrics to track
– Why it can be worthwhile to hire dedicated help
Before you begin
The six strategies covered in this guide work with any web design business – generalist or specialist, well-established or just starting – but are much more effective if you have a few things in place before implementing them. These things are:
– A properly defined niche
– A straightforward service offering targeted to your niche.
– Examples of previous clients you’ve worked with in that niche.
If you don’t have these things in place just yet, don’t worry; I’ll provide actionable advice to help complete each piece before moving on. If you already have 3 things I mentioned above, consider jumping ahead.
Find your niche
Let’s face it: As a web designer, your clients can choose from any design business, anywhere in the world. Defining your niche helps you create effective sales and marketing strategies that will allow you to stand out from the pack.
It’s important to note that how you define your niche might look different from how another web design business does. There is no set formula for what characteristics (ex., demographics, industry, company size, services offered) define it. In addition to characteristics, one web design business’s niche might be specific, and another more general.
If you’re in the early stages of growing your business, it can be helpful to have a broader niche to start, then narrow it down as you learn more about your clients. For example, your initial niche could be web design services for Private Medical Practices, then later narrow it down to focus solely on Orthodontists.
Create a clear explanation for your services (elevator pitch)
If you can’t quickly and clearly define the services you offer, it’s more challenging to develop effective strategies that will help you get web design clients. Before launching a new marketing or sales initiative, you must define your services to speak directly to your niche.
If you haven’t done so, I recommend creating an “elevator pitch” that describes your services in two short sentences.
Borrowing from the previous example of a web design business focused on Orthodontists, the first sentence of your elevator pitch would read:
“Done-for-you web design to help Orthodontist Offices attract more customers online.”
In the second sentence, provide additional details on your services and other things that might make you stand out from competitors, such as Logo Design, copywriting, ongoing support, or SEO.
Altogether, the elevator pitch for the Orthodontist Web Design example would read something like this:
“Sam’s Web Solutions provides done-for-you web design for Orthodontist Offices to attract more patients online. In addition to web design, we offer logo design, copywriting, and SEO – providing an affordable one-stop-shop alternative to other expensive agencies and DIY platforms.”
While the copy on your website or individual marketing initiatives may deviate from this elevator pitch, it will help you create future content and launch new marketing initiatives faster.
Establish yourself as a specialist in your niche with 2-3 clients to back it up
Service offerings targeted to your niche are beneficial for creating effective sales and marketing strategies. Still, it often isn’t enough – you need to prove that you are a specialist within your niche and have the expertise to back it up.
To illustrate why: imagine your car stops running out of the blue one day. You try jumping it, you try changing the battery – but when neither of these things works, you decide to seek out professional help. While you might go to a repair shop that services any car, chances are better you will look for a shop that specializes in your car’s brand.
This specialist philosophy is why in the previous section, I recommended working with at least 2 – 3 clients that match that niche before deciding on a niche. When you have examples of client work within your niche you can point back to, it gives you the ability to demonstrate expertise through things like:
– A portfolio of real-life client work
– Testimonials about positive experiences clients had working with you
– Utilizing industry-specific terminology on client calls
– Sharing client success metrics that will resonate with your niche (e.g., Increase in traffic, Conversions, Time saved by hiring you vs. DIY)
The best part is that these examples of expertise within your niche are all reusable across marketing initiatives. So, for example, if you showcase a client website or testimonial on your website, you can also use it in marketing emails or other digital advertising.
6 Strategies to get web design clients
Immediate strategies to get web design clientsRequiring no budget or additional software and nothing but a little setup and consistency, the first three strategies we’ll cover in this guide below are all ones you can launch right now to get web design clients in as little as a week.
#1 – Targeted email outreach
Cold outreach or cold calling is a strategy that has been around for as long as anyone can remember for one reason: it works.
That said, I’m not suggesting you put on an earpiece and start calling a list of random strangers telemarketer style. Instead, I’m recommending you develop a strategy for targeted outreach, which is different from traditional cold outreach.
Targeted outreach is a more personalized and thoughtful approach to cold outreach. Instead of contacting people randomly only to hear, “How did you get my contact information!?”, targeted outreach means you are only contacting your ideal clients.
An effective targeted outreach strategy means you’ll know more about each person you’re contacting, resulting in more responses and, most importantly, more clients.
Not sure how or where to begin? Don’t sweat it: This 3 step process will describe how to launch your first targeted email outreach campaign.
Build your list:
To make targeted email outreach work, building a list of email addresses and business URLs alone isn’t going to cut it – you need to show the person reading the email that you know what you’re talking about. For web design businesses, this translates to having notes on things you could improve or fix on each prospect’s website. These notes may consist of items like whether or not the website looks good on mobile, has proper SEO, is designed to generate sales inquiries, or represents the brand well.
Whether you build a list on your own or get help, make sure you have a system for determining what factors make a business worth adding to your list. Examples might include websites that have not been updated in 10+ years or are not mobile responsive.
Create your emails:
Writing emails that result in people who have never heard of you replying with anything other than “not interested” is a skill, and the first emails you write will never be your most effective. But don’t let the fear of rejection or the pursuit of perfection deter you; you may be surprised how your first cold emails are received favorably.
Below is my tried and tested formula for 3 emails to create that will lay the foundation for your first effective outreach campaign. In addition to explaining the general idea of each email, I’ll provide a sample of each email, customized to reflect my previous example of a web design business with a niche in orthodontist offices.
3 Emails to include in your first targeted email outreach campaign:
Each email template below uses liquid fields to personalize certain information. In other words, anything in brackets represents information that would get pulled from my list into the email.
The Intro Email:
An email introducing yourself and your business, explaining how you’ve helped a similar business, and asking if they are interested. You can also include a calendar link here, but I find it’s best to save that for emails 2 and 3.
Subject: Increasing Web Traffic To [BUSINESS URL]
Hi [PROSPECT NAME],
My name is Sam Chlebowski. My business, Sam’s Web Solutions, specializes in website design for Orthodontist Offices. Our recently completed redesign of a similar business’s website, Happy Teeth Ortho, has resulted in a 25% increase in new client inquiries, so I wanted to reach out to ask:
The Call Out Email:
A more personalized email pointing out specific things on their website you can help with if they don’t respond. The second email is where I like to start including my calendar link.
Subject: How [BUSINESS NAME]’s Website Could Be Costing You New Patients
Hi [PROSPECT NAME],
Did you know that if your website loads slowly, doesn’t look good on mobile devices, or isn’t properly communicating with search engines, potential patients looking for an Orthodontist in their area may be finding your competitor instead?
It’s true. If your website has any of the above issues or is missing key ingredients like well-written content and high-quality imagery, Search engines like Google and Bing won’t consistently show it in results – even if your business is nearer in location than a competitor.
Here are a few things I noticed on [BUSINESS NAME]’s website that I recommend fixing to help ensure you always appear first:
My business, Sam’s Web Solutions, specializes in working with Orthodontist Offices and can fix these issues while taking your web presence to the next level. I’d love to give you an overview of how we can help and answer any questions you have.
Do you have availability next week for a 15-minute chat?
If so, let me know some times that work for you, or [CLICK HERE – CALENDAR LINK] to schedule a time directly.
The Last Chance Email:
A final email you send if they don’t respond to the other two, referencing your previous messages and asking if the person reading received them.
Subject: In Case You Missed It -Improvements to [BUSINESS URL]
Hi [CLIENT FIRST NAME],
I sent you an email a few days ago with a list of improvements to make [BUSINESS NAME]’s appear over your competitors – did you receive it?
In case you missed it, I’d love to share how my business, Sam’s Web Solutions can take care of [IMPROVEMENT 1], [IMPROVEMENT 2], [IMPROVEMENT 3] and help ensure you never miss out on a potential patient again.
Are you available for a 15-minute call within the next two weeks?
If so, let me know a time that works best, or [CLICK HERE – CALENDAR LINK] to schedule a time directly.
And that’s it! Using these three templates as a jumping-off point will help you get your first cold outreach campaign up and running in no time.
P.S. – If you want additional inspiration for creating your first targeted outreach emails, check out this blog from SaaStr on the topic.
Begin Reaching Out:
After you’ve built your list and mapped out your process, it’s time to start sending! Before you begin, however, make sure you have a way to track and categorize responses. For example: interested, not interested, and didn’t respond. The last thing you want to do is accidentally message someone who has already scheduled a call with you or responded that they are interested.
If you plan on consistently doing email outreach, investing in a tool that will track responses, automate the process, and utilize a sending domain to avoid potential spam issues is worthwhile. Many leading CRMs (Customer Relationships Management Software) can do this, along with specialized cold outreach tools like Apollo and Lemlist.
Targeted Email Outreach Bonus tip: Mix It Up!
While it’s best practice to contact a single person or at a business no more than 3-4 times, a great way to get more responses is mixing up the medium, you contact them through. Things like sending a direct message through LinkedIn or calling the business numbers can help you break through the noise.
#2 Network in online communities
Because many businesses will first try the DIY approach before hiring a professional, participating in groups where businesses are looking for help/advice on web design projects can provide the perfect opportunity to get in front of hundreds of your ideal clients all at once.
Facebook Groups and Reddit communities are great options for connecting with other business owners, while industry-specific sites like Dribbble or Behance are well suited for getting referrals from other designers.
Once you’ve found an online group that matches your niche, start networking! Be sure to follow these tips:
– Post thoughtful comments on posts that are relevant to the group’s mission statement or values
– Don’t post links, at least not right away—share your thoughts instead (use quotes from other people’s work if necessary)
– Ask questions about topics that relate directly back to what interests this particular audience most (i.e., don’t ask, “How do I get more clients?” unless it has something specific that might work in this context).
#3 Create, launch, and automate a client referral program
Client referrals are one of the most effective ways to grow your marketing agency or design business. But you can’t expect referrals to come in magically – you need to ask your clients for them and make the process easy.
If you’re serious about getting more referrals, you should have an incentive like a discount on future services or a commission you pay clients when they send new business your way.
Two places we recommend asking clients for referrals are 1.) directly after they sign their contract to work with you and 2.) after their project is complete. These two points are when your client is most excited to share your services with others.
To make the referral process as easy as possible, create a form that automatically gets sent to clients where they can enter the information of their friend, colleague, or family member to refer. Depending on the tool , you can set up this form to automatically send a personalized email that comes directly from your client to the person they are referring to – a much more natural referral handoff than you reaching out at random!
Long-term strategies to get web design clients
While the next three strategies we’ll cover in this guide may result in 1 or 2 clients right away, we’re calling them long-term strategies because they take time to effectively ‘kick in’ or require additional budget. Pairing these three long-term strategies with the three short-term strategies listed previously is a perfect way to create a full-cycle sales funnel that consistently generates new clients and propels your business’s growth.
#4 Build your audience on social media
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is an effective social media marketing strategy. We’re covering social media marketing first on our list of long-term strategies to get web design clients for a reason:
While it takes the most time and effort out of anything on this list, the growth potential for new clients is seemingly limitless. Included below are a few ideas for crafting an effective social strategy across platforms:
No other social platform gives you the power to search something specific as “[Insert Industry] Owner” and quickly pull up content specific to your niche you can use to draw inspiration from on your own. After understanding what content to create, try posting at least 3 – 4 times per week as you get going. A consistent posting schedule leads to TikTok’s algorithm associating your account with that specific niche, creating a snowball effect that leads to more consistent engagement and reliable growth. Plus, starting with TikTok allows you to create a single piece of content you can reuse across multiple platforms – Instagram & Facebook Reels, Pinterest, and YouTube Shorts.
Bonus tip: Repurpose.io allows you to automate the process of repurposing your TikTok content across all the platforms I listed above.
While the web design businesses we’ve spoken to have experienced mixed results getting clients from their content directly, they all agreed that what made Facebook powerful for getting web designing clients is joining and participating in Facebook Groups. Because of this, potential customers discovering your business from Facebook Groups must see an active page for your business. At a minimum, we recommend creating a Facebook Page for your business and posting at least twice a week there.
Bonus Tip: Finding appropriate groups to participate in is as easy as entering the profession/title of your ideal client into Facebook’s search bar, then scrolling through the list to find groups specifically focused on business growth/marketing. At Brighter Vision, I used this same approach to great success, joining groups specifically for new therapists launching their businesses to more general practice-building and marketing tips.
In addition to being able to repurpose video content from TikTok on these platforms, because Instagram & Pinterest focus on high-definition images, they are uniquely suited as a place to showcase your web design work with previous clients.
#5 Develop partnerships
In B2B, the word partnership generally implies a relationship with another business where you work together to grow awareness or send clients to each other. This might be a simple co-marketing relationship, a paid agreement where another business promotes your services in their content, or a commission-based relationship where you pay another business for each client sent.
Specifics aside, partnerships can be instrumental in helping your business, and its services reach a new audience – especially when the business you partner with works within your niche. Here are three tips for establishing meaningful and mutually beneficial partnerships:
Partnership tip #1
When approaching a potential partner for the first time, lead into the conversation by telling them what you do for them vs. what you can do together. This might seem a bit backward, but starting on this note kicks the conversation off in a more positive way.
Partnership tip #2
For your first partnership initiative, handle as much upfront work as possible. Once your partner sees this commitment, requesting things you might need from them, like having them promote your business in their newsletter or having you featured on their site, is much easier.
Partnership tip #3
Launching a podcast has additional benefits outside of brand awareness and can be a great way to build relationships with potential partners. If you have a podcast, you can reach out to people whom you may also want to explore a business partnership. Featuring them as a guest and recording the episode together allows you to start a conversation with little initial ask and provides the opportunity to determine whether or not there’s synergy for circling back later.
#6 Digital Advertising
There’s no doubt that digital advertising through platforms like Google, Meta (including both Instagram and Facebook), and YouTube works. If it didn’t work, it would be tough to explain the 520 billion dollars spent on digital advertising by businesses in 2021.
But just because digital advertising can workdoesn’t mean it will work for every type of business.In fact, out of more than 100 web design business owners I’ve spoken with in the last year, only a handful ran paid advertisements. And, no one I spoke with relied solely on paid digital advertising as their primary for new client acquisition.
That said, if you are interested in experimenting with digital advertising, here are my tips:
Set A Budget
Before launching digital ad campaigns, it’s essential for you to not only understand your budget but also understand that any amount spent from your budget might not necessarily bring in new clients right away. Most digital advertising takes a few iterations (changing artwork, headlines, landing pages) to get it right. Additionally, depending on the ad platform, it can take time for the algorithm to learn about your audience and effectively show your ads. At a minimum, anticipate needing to spend at least $100/week to see meaningful results.
Closely monitor your CPL & CAC
Data is king in digital advertising. Even if you hire someone to manage your ad accounts, as a business owner, you should constantly evaluate your CPL (cost per lead) and CAC (cost of acquisition). Understanding CPL and CAC will help you make informed decisions about what works and doesn’t while preventing you from spending too much.
Need help understanding how to calculate these two metrics? CPL is your total ad spend divided by the number of new client inquiries, and CAC is your ad spend divided by the number of new clients who have officially paid & signed a contract.
Hire dedicated help when you need it
Digital advertising requires a great deal of setup and even more experimentation. If you’re unfamiliar with digital advertising or don’t have the bandwidth to give it your full attention, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. The last thing you want is to spend your entire budget because you were targeting the wrong segment or bidding on keywords that don’t align with your niche.
When it comes to growing a web design business, there is no golden ticket that will result in overnight success. That said, having the right strategy in place, and staying consistent with your execution of that strategy, is one of the most surefire ways to achieve success.
I hope you found the strategies covered in this guide clear, practical, and actionable. And, whether you’re a scrappy solopreneur or a veteran agency with multiple departments and big-name clients, you’re left excited to start implementing one of these strategies or reinvigorated to keep pushing and experimenting with new approaches.