Maybe you’re fresh out of design school and you’re looking for your very first clients or maybe you’ve been in the business for a few months and are looking to expand. Unless you’ve also got a degree in business or marketing, garnering clients can be a little more difficult than one might think. But you’re in luck because in this post we’ll discuss exactly what potential clients look for in a designer and provide a few tips for what you can do to get those coveted contracts more often.
What a Client Wants
Clients aren’t always going to be able to articulate to you exactly what it is they want or need. Part of your job as a designer is to take the information provided to you, offer insights, and provide suggestions for making a client’s web presence the best it can be. Although everyone’s needs are different, generally speaking, there are a few universal things that clients look for when hiring a web designer.
Everything begins with your portfolio. Upon visiting your website, clients will most often go right to your portfolio to examine the work you’ve done and determine – usually within just a few clicks of their mouse – whether you are the right designer for them or not. While browsing your portfolio, clients will look for answers to several important questions:
- “Has this designer completed work similar to what I need?”
- “Is this designer’s aesthetic appealing to me?”
- “How recently were these portfolio pieces completed?”
- “Are these portfolio pieces still in use by the designer’s previous clients?”
In thinking about these questions, potential clients are really trying to determine what you can do, if you do it well, and if your work has some demonstrable longevity. They aren’t simply looking at whether what you’ve done looks good (although that’s certainly important!), they are also judging your past work to decide if you can meet their current and future needs. When putting your portfolio together, keep these tips in mind:
- Keep it simple: No need for complex slideshows, parallax effects, or complicated navigational structures. Keep your portfolio clean and simple so your work is front and center.
- Edit, edit, edit: Only include your best work. Potential clients don’t have the time to sift through dozens of portfolios, so sift through every project you’ve ever created. Only include your very best work!
- Add and subtract: Keep your portfolio fresh and up-to-date. Remove pieces that are old or that no longer represent your best stuff.
Potential clients are looking for someone with solutions. Designers just starting out in the business can sometimes get lost in creating a gorgeous new website that includes fancy features, beautiful type, and copy that exudes their passion for design. But don’t be sucked into thinking that just having a cool website and being passionate about what you do will make clients come to you in droves.
To convey your ability to problem solve, don’t just rely on a list of “things I can do” on your website’s About Me page. Also include a short statement with each portfolio piece regarding how each project met some sort of need or resolved an issue. Clients want to know specifically how you can help them generate leads, increase sales, improve their search page rankings, or meet some other need by virtue of the services you offer. Consider these good and not-so-good examples of highlighting your solutions:
Not-So-Good: “I developed this site utilizing responsive design techniques and implemented a full-screen jQuery slideshow to display the client’s photography.”
Good: “This responsively designed site met the client’s need for modern functionality and an improved user experience across devices. The full-screen slideshow highlights the client’s photography, while allowing users to conveniently place items in the shopping cart without exiting the slideshow.”
Where the former explanation gives no useful details, the latter states exactly what was accomplished. Including a short explanation like this for each of your portfolio samples will allow you to highlight how you were able to satisfy the needs of each client. Not all designers are great copywriters, but that’s okay. If you need a few pointers for writing good copy, check out this post from the nice people over at Copyblogger.
This relates closely to providing solutions in that clients want to be able to see that the solutions you come up with are expertly developed. Because you will be responsible for the online face of their business, potential clients want to be reassured that you have a proven track record of designing websites that are functional and expertly designed. If you’ve just entered the fray of the working world, this can be a difficult task because your portfolio might be a little thin.
To convey your skillset, choose work samples in your portfolio that represent different types of websites and functionalities to show that you’ve got a wide variety of experience. Include that engagement website with the online RSVP form you created for your cousin to show off your ability to optimize conversion rates. Show off the site you voluntarily built for a local charity that helped them meet their revenue goals. The key is to not just showcase what you can do design-wise, but also to highlight the achievements of each project you’ve completed. An easy way to do this is provide a link to the live site you’ve designed. That way potential clients can see your work in action.
The same goes for designers that have been at it for a while. Business owners will want to see specific examples of what you’ve done to improve the online presence of other businesses. With a little experience under your belt, you have more freedom to pick and choose the samples you include in your portfolio. And, hopefully, you have a wider variety of work samples that demonstrate the expanded abilities you’ve gained through a few months on the job. But your task remains the same as a newbie designer – prove your worth in order to get more business.
While it might be difficult for you to place a price on your knowledge and skills, clients will definitely do so. People may not be looking for the cheapest designer out there, but they are certainly looking for the best value. Clients want a designer that will produce a good product, be responsive to their needs, and offer unique services, and who do so without breaking the bank.
Setting prices for your services can be a bit of a reality check. Newbie designers often think they can charge $100 per hour straight out of college. Unfortunately, that’s just not a reality. The key is to make your hourly (or fixed rate proposal) low enough to grab the attention of clients, but not so low that they wonder about the quality of work they’ll get in return.
The average web designer charges $59 per hour and $2,000 per project. As a new or newish designer, people will look for your rates to be significantly lower than that, perhaps in the $20-$30 per hour range and $700-$1,000 range for fixed-price projects.
Potential clients want to know that the person they’re considering for hire has done a quality job for people in the past. Including customer testimonials on your website will provide that insight. Testimonials should highlight the very things clients look for – your prices, the quality of service, your expertise, and the like – and should also include the name of the individual or company. Some clients will want to contact your previous customers, so be sure to have their contact information (and their permission to give it out, of course).
Potential clients know that the testimonials you put on your website will be handpicked by you and will be from clients that give you the best reviews. To get a more balanced view, people may turn to sites like Yelp, which allow everyday customers to rate and post reviews of local businesses that give a broader and more realistic picture of how good a business really is. While you can’t control what people say about your services on third-party sites, you can ensure that they say good things by providing them with the best possible experience. Be sure to ask clients to review you in order to build your reputation as a killer designer!
When people look for a web designer, they want someone with the artistic abilities to create a beautiful website, but they also require someone with the technical skills and knowledge to implement a site that might include e-commerce, a blog, an image slideshow, SEO, or social media integration. For some designers, this technical knowledge may not come naturally – perhaps you can create awesome wireframes and work magic with typography, but get lost when it comes to coding HTML or incorporating a Twitter feed on a website. Using a website builder like IM Creator can help take the mystery out of the technical aspects of design while allowing you to market yourself as not just a designer, but as a website creator. Doing so lets you offer expanded services to lure potential clients, while being able to rely on the expertise of others for the behind-the-scenes stuff that can be complicated and confusing.
Where People Look For Web Designers
People looking for web design services don’t generally pull out the phone book. Instead, they rely on online communities to find the right person for their project. Behance, Sortfolio, and Dribbble are all great designer-driven platforms that allow designers to show off their past and present projects. All three services include an easy-to-use interface that allows potential clients to peruse each designer’s work. Elance is another popular platform that serves more as a staffing resource. Clients can post a job with specific criteria, sort through applicants, hire someone for their job, communicate with freelancers, and take care of payments all without ever having to leave the site. Joining any or all of these sites can connect you with clients seeking someone with your talents and services.
Remember, these are just a few tips for brand new or fairly new web designers. There are dozens more pieces of advice that can help you meet the criteria people use when selecting a web designer. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to receive more great information, and if you’ve got some insights to help other designers better understand how clients choose a designer, be sure to tell us about it by leaving a comment below!
12 Dupont Circle by Elvert Barnes via Flickr Creative Commons
HTML Code by Marjan Krebelj via Flickr Creative Commons
Money by 401(k) 2012 via Flickr Creative Commons