Lesson #3 – 15 Strategies For Getting Your First Web Development Client


Alright, you’ve had a week to get a website up and running. Now, it’s time to get some new business! As you go through the list of strategies, take notes and write out any specific ideas you have based on your own circumstances. At the end of the list, I’ll offer my own suggestions for what you do to get started.

Here are the 15 strategies I recommend for getting your first client andfor getting a stream of new clients.

1. Introduce Yourself

Now that you’re offering web development services the first thing you need to do is change the way you introduce yourself. If you’re working full-time and do web development on the side you might say, “I work at [business name] and I do web development on the side.” As you practice this over time you will see light flash over a person’s face, “Oh wow, I’ve gotta talk with you!” Sometimes it’ll turn into a conversation about a website, other times it might turn into tech support questions (web development = computer smart in folks minds). The key is that you’re opening the door for a conversation that wouldn’t otherwise have happened.

Here are a few things you can do to help encourage introductions:

  • Update your email signature – Update your email signature to let folks know what you do.
  • Update forum signatures – If you participate in Internet forums, update your signature to reference your services.
  • Wear a t-shirt – Find a good web design/development related t-shirt and wear it to social gatherings.

2. Get Printed

Write a guest column for your local newspaper or look for an opportunity to get interviewed. Focus on providing value. Figure out something that would benefit your readers and put your best into sharing it. The first article I wrote for my local paper back in 2004 (which led to my second client) was about protecting yourself from viruses delivered via email. I didn’t even think that I might get work from that article. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Know Your Paper – If you’re not already a regular reader, go read the last few issues of the paper. Learn as much as you can about the readership. Look for guest columns that others have contributed and look at what they wrote and how they wrote it.
  • Make The Call – If your paper publishes guidelines for starting a guest column, follow them. Otherwise, call and ask who to talk to about a guest column. If they transfer you right to the person and you get a live voice, briefly explain your interest in writing a column, share your topic, and ask if you can email them an outline of what you have in mind. Respect their time. Keep it short and to the point.
  • Send An Email – Share an outline of what you have in mind via email. Be sure that your writing is excellent. Ask them if they think the outline is a match and, if so, ask if they have any ideas or suggestions for improvement. Then, continue communication, responding promptly and working till the piece is completed and scheduled for publication.

3. Start Guest Blogging

I’m a big fan of guest blogging. The idea is to look for a blog with an established audience and then put your very best into writing for their audience, a win for the publisher because of the value you’re able to provide and a win for you because of the exposure you gain.

If you have a strong local blog in your area that is a great place to start. If not, branch out and begin looking for opportunities to write for blogs in your area of interest. Blogs in the web development industry are probably not a match – while they’re great for experience your clients are probably not reading them.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Know The Blog – If you’re not already a regular reader, take 30-60 minutes to read through the blog’s most recent posts and a list of the most popular entries, if available. Look for guest posts to find out if they’ve already published guest authors. If so, look carefully for any guidelines they may have already published. If you can’t find any guest posts currently published, that’s ok! You can always be the first.
  • Make Contact – Write a short email expressing your interest in being a guest author for the blog. Share an idea for a contribution, including a working title and a short description. Ask them if they think it’s a match for their audience and, if so, let them know that once you hear from them you’ll get back to them with a draft. (If you’re really confident, go ahead and write the draft!).
  • Publicize – Once your guest post goes live, join the publisher in helping to get the word out. Share it on your social networks and invite people you know to read it and leave comments. Respond to comments as folks leave them (you don’t have to respond to all, just show a strong, caring presence). Do all you can to help make the post a success.

4. Donate A Site

Look for a worthy cause, preferably local, that is in need of a website and offer to build it at no cost. This can be an excellent strategy at any stage of your business and especially when you’re just getting started. You gain the experience and benefit of getting a client that you can add to your portfolio. Your client gains the value of a website to increase the credibility of their organization and help them advance towards their goals.

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind:

  • Choose An Organization – Get to know the local causes in your area. Find one that you can connect with, offer to volunteer to get to know the inner workings of the organization.
  • Make The Connection – Once you’re satisfied that this is an organization that you want to support, use the connections you’ve already established by getting to know them and offer to build them a website.
  • Go In With A Plan – Start with a clear plan for what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it. This protects your time and also lets the organization know that they are getting something of value. Decide whether you’re going to cover all costs (hosting, cost of the WordPress theme, etc) or if you’re going to give your time and let them cover the extra costs.
  • Do Great Work – Treat them as if they were your highest paying client and do excellent work. Go above and beyond and give great service.
  • Ask For Endorsements/Referrals – When the work is nearly complete, ask them for an endorsement of your work to put on your website. Then, ask for referrals and for their help in getting the word out.

5. Bartering

Trading products or services has become something of a lost art to most of us and it’s still a great way to do business. After having some work done at a local dentist I noticed that they had a great website, but they weren’t showing up for local search results. I asked them if they’d be willing to trade dental work for “Search Engine Optimization” and they agreed! They continued to give excellent service and I was able to help them increase their rankings on local search results.

Here are a few recommendations:

  • Establish Your Value – In the web development industry, monetary value is in your favor. Set a price on your work and offer to trade value around that price, looking for ways to skew it in their favor. For instance, if you charge $2500 for a website, and a local dentist charges $2000 for a family package, trade for that, especially when you’re just getting started. You get the value of a new client and dental work for your family and they get a great website at a good price.
  • Offer Options – When you propose bartering, leave a cash option on the table. The cash helps to cement the value of what you’re providing. Include flexibility – perhaps you barter for half the service and pay cash the rest.

6. Ask For Referrals

Start with your family and friends and ask if they know of anyone (themselves included) that is looking for help with a website. Referrals are the best source of new business and while folks who send referrals unprompted are great, they are also rare. There are plenty of people who know someone who needs your services – you just have to ask them!

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind:

  • Be Polite – These are your friends and family and we want to keep it that way. Respect their time and thank them, whether or not they are able to send anyone your way.
  • Keep It Simple – Don’t ask a lot of questions or make it a complex process. Just ask if they know of anyone who needs help with a website and, if so, ask them to introduce you or just share their contact information.
  • Follow-up – Once the connection has been made, regardless of the outcome, follow-up with the person who made the referral and thank them! Express your appreciation and ask them to keep you in mind if they know of anyone else. Once the work is complete, send them a follow-up again to show the work with your thanks.

7. Look For Mutual Benefit

As a web developer, look for ways to create a relationship with an already established business that offers benefit to you and to them. The benefit can take many forms, whether a direct value-added service to their customers (which reflects positively on them), or a benefit to their revenue stream via commissions from referrals.

Here are some examples:

  • Local Internet Service Provider – Offer them your name as a source of referrals for locals who inquire about web development. You benefit from the new business and they benefit by being able to make the recommendation.
  • Print Shop – Working with your local print shop can be a great way to get new business. One idea is to offer them a percentage of all your local sales in exchange for referrals and a space to work, 1-2 days a week (the benefit is the exposure to new clients).
  • Local Newspaper – Connect with the advertising department in your local newspaper and offer to work with them on a referral basis to build websites for their customers.

For more ideas, take a look at this article on Entrepreneur about referrals.

8. Attend Local Events

Look for local events, whether or not they’re related to technology. Attend, listen, and participate. Support the focus of the event as much as possible. Each event offers you an opportunity to meet new people and learn new things. As you meet fellow attendees and presenters, introduce yourself as a web developer.

As you attend local events, here are a few recommendations:

  • Have Business Cards – Invest in some simple, high quality business cards. Connect with your local printing shop or buy online. I get mine from Moo.com.
  • Follow-up – After the event, follow-up with each person you met. Give any relevant feedback and, if nothing else, express that it was nice to meet them. Let them know that you are available if they, or anyone they knows, needs web development services.

9. Speak At Local Events

Look for opportunities to connect with and speak at local events. Start with your area Chamber of Commerce. Attend their events to learn more about the organization and, as you make connections, look for opportunities to suggest a topic for a future event. If they don’t ask you first, ask them if there are any openings in the future for a guest speaker (the answer is usually yes!). Check your local library and schools for other upcoming events and, if you’re not able to speak the first time around, attend and make yourself available for the next event.

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind:

  • Make It Easy – When you approach a potential event, have your idea for a presentation ready. Give them the title and a short description and ask them if they think it’s a match. Make the decision process as easy for them as possible.
  • Be Prepared – Go the extra distance and make sure that you are thoroughly prepared for the event. Know your material and focus on providing as much value as possible. In my experience, I focus on keeping the sales language to an absolute minimum (if I talk about my services at all). Instead, focus on speaking to the needs of your audience. Imagine the types of questions they might ask and prepare your answers as thoroughly as you can.
  • Invite Follow-up – At the end of your presentation, invite folks to follow-up if they have questions. If the host doesn’t offer a survey, include your own and ask them for feedback on the helpfulness of the presentation.
  • Thank Your Hosts – Follow-up after the event and thank your hosts for the opportunity to speak. Ask them for any feedback they have, from themselves or from the audience, and let them know you’re always looking for ways to improve and fine-tune your presentations.
  • Ask For Referrals – After a successful presentation, ask for referrals for more speaking engagements. Ask for a written endorsement that you can use on your website (you can now adding a “Speaking” page!) If a host makes a recommendation, ask if they could make a personal introduction via email and then follow-up promptly.

10. Host A Local Event

After you’ve attended and spoken at several events, look for an opportunity to host a local event of your own. Be warned in advance, it can be a lot of hard work. It is worth the effort, though, both in terms of generating new business and providing credibility.

Here are some ideas for events:

  • Social Media 101 – Teach folks the how and why of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Yelp. If your audience is small businesses (usually the ideal crowd), show them how they can use social media to connect with their current and potential customers. If you haven’t already, be sure to read Platform by Michael Hyatt.
  • How To Build Your Own Website – Teach folks how to build websites on WordPress. It might seem counterintuitive, at first. The folks who are really serious about building their own sites will either turn into customers or they weren’t a good match for a customer to begin with. An event like this is a great source of credibility for you both for folks who attended (who refer you to others) and for those who didn’t and hear about it later.
  • Email Marketing 101 – Teach folks the importance of an email list and how to start and grow their own email list for their business or organization. A website is a natural component of email marketing and you can make yourself available to help them get started or improve their existing site. Be sure you’ve read the Email Marketing Essentials on CopyBlogger.

Here are some recommendations to keep in mind:

  • Start Small – Be OK with just a handful of attendees. If this is your first event, the easier it is for you, the better.
  • Focus On Value – Put your efforts into making the experience as valuable as possible for your attendees. Their time is precious and, whether the event is paid or free, focus on giving them clear value that they can walk away with.
  • Keep Costs Low – Look for a free venue for your first event and focus on keeping costs to a minimum. Ask a local food service company to provide water or light refreshments (maybe you can barter with them!).
  • Get The Word Out – Share details about the event via your local chamber of commerce and ask them to help pass the word along. Do the same at local libraries. Connect with the local newspaper and ask them to run a short mention of it in the paper (avoid paying for advertising). Ask any and all local connections you have to pass the word along.
  • Follow-up – Immediately after the event is wrapped up, follow-up personally with each attendee and ask for feedback. Ask what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what they would like to see more of at the next event.
  • Ask For Endorsements – During the feedback process, ask attendees to provide a short 2-3 sentence endorsement that you can use. Use these to help get folks to your next event.

11. OfferTech Tutoring

A great way to get client experience is by tutoring. Offer to do no or low-cost tutoring (it can be high cost as well, depending on who you market it to) on different aspects of technology. Help folks setup a social media profile, or even fix some minor problems on their computer. They benefit from tapping into your knowledgebase and you benefit by making another connection.

Here are a few recommendations:

  • Establish Clear Boundaries – If you’re working for free, set a limit on what you’ll do and how long you’ll take to do it. Make sure that it’s clear at the onset. If you are concerned about being able to enforce a boundary, setup a pre-determined appointment after a tutoring session to ensure that you’re out on time.
  • Over Deliver – Focus on providing a great experience. Put your heart into it, whether you’re tutoring a successful local business owner or someone who asked for help at the local nursing home. You never know where an experience may lead.
  • Ask For Endorsements – After a session, follow-up and ask for a written endorsement of their experience working with you.

12. Hit The Classifieds

Check Craigslist (Services > Creative) or your local newspaper for folks asking for website help. Or, post an ad to offer your website development services.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • One Among Many – If you live in a densely populated area your response to a listing will probably end up among a bunch of others. Keep that in mind and focus on getting an initial response. Work on a careful blend between keeping your message short and simple and yet still providing value in your response.
  • Follow Instructions – If a listing includes specific instructions, follow them. You’d be surprised at how many people simply don’t follow instructions.
  • Follow-up Twice – If they don’t get right back to you, follow-up the first time a day or two later, then once more a week later. If there is no response after that, let it go.

13. Cold Calling

Cold calling is a new strategy for me and I’m just beginning to explore it in detail.  The basic idea on how to actually make cold calling work is to approach calling from the prospective of value. You only have a few seconds on the phone – How can you provide value to individual on the other end? Don’t focus on pitching your product or services, that will usually just be a “No” or, at best, an “I’ll take your number”. If you’re interested in tackling this strategy, go get a copy of “Cold Calling Early Customers” by Robert Graham.

14. Cold Emailing

Another great “cold” strategy is to use email to approach potential clients. This can be a great match for the person who feels particularly phone shy or who is in an environment where getting uninterrupted quiet time is difficult. I’ll expand on this strategy further in the future. Meanwhile, take a look at this guest post on cold emailing, from a copywriter’s perspective.

15. Build A Local Directory

This is one of my favorite ideas. Start a locally focused website, either in general for a smaller region or focused on a specific type of business for a larger region. Whether you adopt a paid or free model, building a directory opens doors and helps you connect with local businesses/organizations in a way that you couldn’t otherwise and opens the doors for you to provide service.

Here are models to consider:

  • Premium – Charge a yearly listing fee to be on the directory. Keep it appropriate for your market. A general directory might go for $100/year where a more focused directory in a larger market might start at $600/year.
  • Free + Upgrades – Offer a free listing with the possibility of upgrading. This becomes particularly useful when you are able to list competitors. Get one listed, then contact the other and ask if they’d like to upgrade to list above their competitor. If they decline, make the offer to their competitor instead.
  • Lead Generation – Don’t charge anything for the listings and, instead, offer to work on a performance basis, charging a cost-per-lead based on the value of a customer to the business. (This is my favorite method)

Here are some strategies for growing the directory:

  • First Five – Offer a free year to the first five listings in exchange for their commitment to provide feedback and their help to spread the word.
  • Referrals – With each new sign-up, ask them if they know of anyone else who would like to be listed in the directory. Follow-up promptly, leveraging the connection. Here’s an example of what you can say: “Hey Mike! My name is Jonathan and I manage the [Directory Name]. I added John over at [Business Name] and he said I should add you as well. Can I ask you some questions about your business?” Vary the strategy based on your model, whether premium, free, or lead based.

And here are some ideas for turning directory listings into clients:

  • Offer A Website – When you’re asking questions about their business to populate the directory, ask if they have a website. If they don’t, offer one! Ask them if they’d like to meet to talk about a website at no charge. Look for ways that a website can provide value to their current customers as well as attract new customers.
  • Invite To Local Events – Use your local directory as a starting point for inviting folks to local events that you host (see ideas above) and use that to start conversations about building websites.

The Next Three Weeks

With all the ideas above your mind should be spinning! The premise of this course is to help you get your first client in four weeks and, as you probably noticed, some of the ideas take more time than others. At this point, we’re now a week in. You should have your website up and running and ready for the next steps.

Here’s how I suggest you begin the next two weeks:

  • Ask For Website Reviews – Reach out to your friends, family, and local acquaintences and let them know that you just launched a website for your web development business. Ask them to review the site and give you feedback. Keep it simple. Leave it open-ended or include a list of no more than open 3-5 questions (avoid all yes/no questions). You might start with, “What did you like best? What did you like least? What suggestions do you have for improvement?”.
  • Implement Advice – Implement all reasonable advice as quickly as possible. If a specific suggestion they make isn’t a match, try to implement the principle behind the suggestion. If they suggested you add a certain color and that’s just not your color, perhaps you can add more color and then follow-up with something like: “You’re right, it needs more color! Neon pink isn’t the right color for me, but I was able to work in more blue! Take a look and let me know what you think”.
  • Follow-up – People like to know their opinions are valued. As you implement advice, follow-up and ask for more suggestions! Now that you’ve shown you’re willingness to improve, folks may open up and share even more. Thank them for their time along the way.
  • Ask For Referrals – As folks give you feedback and you respond with updates, ask them for referrals. By giving feedback they have begun to invest in you and as you respond positively and implement their suggestions they have a vested interest in seeing you succeed.
  • Follow-up – WIth each idea or suggestion for that you’re given, follow-up promptly, both on the suggestion itself and with the individual who made the suggestion, thanking them for the lead.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Attitude Is Everything – Even though you’re just getting started, I want you to have the attitude of a professional. Be confident in what you’ve learned so far, even if it seems like a small thing to you. Cut out any hint or tone of desperation (especially if you do feel desperate) and focus on what you can do for them not what they can do for you.
  • Persistence Is Key – Over the years, I’ve learned to be persistent. If you don’t get a response from a first email, you can follow-up again a few days later. Be polite and persistent (Make sure you are not trying to apply guilt in your language, this will push them away). You have something of value to offer and, sooner or later, you’re going to get through.
  • Dont be afraid to change, but don’t do it too early – If something isn’t working, don’t keep doing it just because its easy. Challenge yourself to get outside your comfort zone. The reverse can also be true, don’t give up too quickly on a more difficult strategy before you know if it is going to work for you or not.


And that wraps up lesson #3! In the next lesson, we’ll review the four steps to your first sale and go through each of the steps in detail. I’ll also share a short outline of the process that I use for closing potential clients.

Got questions? Send me an email! Write to luke@creatingclients.io.I’m here to help you!

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