How to Become a Freelance Web Designer
Wondering how to become a freelance web designer? Our guide offers practical tips to get you started.
This post isn't going to teach you how to design websites. We're going to assume that you've already got those skills. Maybe you studied web design in college, maybe you've been building your own affiliate or e-commerce sites, or maybe you've been working for a web development company and are just looking to become your own boss.
However you acquired the ability to build a website, we'll show you how to become a freelance web designer.
Who Needs Freelance Web Design Services?
If you know how to build a website, you've got marketable skills that can earn you money–either as a side hustle or a full-time business. There are an estimated 30.2 million small businesses in the U.S. However, some 46 percent of them don't have websites. So there is no end to opportunities out there for you to seize. But first you need to know how to become a freelance web designer if you are going to put your skills to work for you.
So who exactly are you going to sell your services to?
All sorts of people. While you might imagine that you'll always be working directly with small business owners, there is actually a much wider audience once you start to think about it. Here is a quick rundown of some of the different types of clients that you can aim to target.
Online Retailers. While we often think of “small businesses” as brick-and-mortar service providers like plumbers and roofers, there are countless online stores being launched every day. And don't forget all of the traditional retailers who are trying to break into e-commerce.
SEOs. Whether a large agency or a lone entrepreneur, SEOs regularly outsource work to freelance marketplaces like Legiit. While some only offer search engine optimization services to their clients, many SEOs also build websites and would love to find a skilled designer that they could hand the work off to.
Affiliate Marketers. In addition to managing client websites, many SEO experts also build their own portfolio of affiliate sites to earn commission off of sales from Amazon, Clickbank, or similar businesses. While they often like to do their own web design when they are just getting started, a go-to freelance web designer would help them scale much more easily.
Individuals. Plenty of individuals may want their own simple website. Teachers often need portfolios to demonstrate their work, and it's more common than you might think for a family to create a website for sharing photos or leaving an online legacy.
Build a Portfolio
If you really want to know how to become a freelance web designer, you've got to start with a strong portfolio.
Think of it this way. No one commissions a piece of artwork without first admiring the artist's previous work. If small business owners are going to trust you with their brand, or if an SEO agency is going to entrust the reputation they've built with clients to you–then you've got to prove to them up front that you can produce good work.
It's okay if your portfolio consists of sample sites that aren't really used for anything, but they should look like real websites. Ideally, though, you'll have built some of your own fully functional sites to show off.
As you build your initial portfolio, you are going to want to design the types of websites that your clients need. To this end, you should take a moment and decide which type of clients you really want to target. Try to have something in your portfolio that can demonstrate the skills that they need. Here are some of the types of sites, content, and skills that you may want to consider showing off:
Landing Pages. A lot of web design clients are looking for someone who can create the sales or landing page for a product or service.
Small Business Websites. Pest control, dumpster rental, auto repair–local industries like these often become the bread-and-butter of freelance web designers. Make sure that you demonstrate your ability to capture leads and encourage calls.
Blogs. Many different websites that you design will include blogs, so make sure that your portfolio shows how you design both individual posts as well as category or round up pages.
Online Stores. If you are hoping to acquire e-commerce clients, your portfolio should include an online store that offers a smooth, secure checkout process. Clients will often have questions about shipping cost and tax calculation, so be sure to demonstrate those as well.
News Sites. A news or magazine style site is basically like a megablog, and it requires special design considerations to ensure a smooth user experience.
Portfolios. Photographers, educators, programmers, and other professionals often require their own online portfolios to land clients or employment. Each industry demands different styles, so you may consider specializing in one or two niches as you are getting started.
Mobile-friendly. This should go without saying, but make sure that every site in your portfolio is mobile responsive. This isn't just an upsell anymore, it is a basic requirement of good web design.
Once you've got some evidence that you can actually produce quality work, the next step in how to become a freelance web designer is to actually start acquiring clients. While we've written previously about how to find freelance work, we'll talk here about specific strategies for web designers.
If you are hoping to work directly with small businesses, a great place to start is with local companies that you already frequent. Maybe you notice that your dentist's website looks like it hasn't been updated since the 90s, or that the auto shop down the street doesn't have any sort of online presence.
In addition to businesses you frequent, you can also ask friends and family to recommend your services to their favorite local service providers. Or, if you've got the guts, just go door to door and introduce yourself to businesses that need your services.
Another place to find clients is online forums and groups. If you want to take over the roofing industry, for example, you could join Facebook groups and discussion boards where roofing business owners discuss their trade.
Rather than pitching yourself (and probably violating the group rules), just offer advice when people start asking questions about their online presence. Once you become known as an expert in web design, people will naturally start looking to you for your services.
Create a Profile on Freelancing Platforms
Selling yourself directly to small businesses might be hard at first, especially if your entire portfolio consists of your own websites. But a freelance marketplace like Legiit is a great place to earn your first few clients when you are still learning how to become a freelance web designer.
Here, you can get found by SEOs who are looking to outsource work. The good news is that if you can find a client who really likes your work, they'll probably come back to you again and again whenever they need a new website built.
Never Stop Learning
Of course, learning how to become a freelance web designer isn't as simple as this short post might make it seem. But if you put in the hard work, produce quality sites for your clients, and never stop learning about your craft, you will find success as an entrepreneur.
If you are serious about starting your own freelance web design business, be sure to check out these posts for even more guidance on the road to entrepreneurship: