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This interview is the eighth in a series I started to share how web designers and developers got their first client.

Luke Farbox

Luke resides in Hervey Bay, Australia and is soon to be married. He has a love for good design, photography and family. Luke was once a freelancer, but has since co-founded Farbox Creative, a Hervey Bay web design studio where he works as Creative Director and Project Manager.

1. How did you get your first client?

After spending my mid-teens playing with design and freshly learning the basics of coding during my holidays, I decided to find my first client. Without realizing it, simply sharing that knowledge with a family friend led him (a trailer builder) to share my details with a serial entrepreneur who was looking for a web designer for his latest business venture, a camper trailer company.

I met with Kevin and listened to what he wanted. As I was totally new to this strange environment and only eighteen years old, the initial meeting was the definitive “What-not-to-do” experience. I didn’t ask any questions, and just listened, finally I assured him that I was sure I would be able to deliver what he wanted for the princely sum of $400.

Kevin is and was a shrewd businessman, he would have known that I was inexperienced but he saw that regardless of that, I was committed to delivering the end result, no matter what it took. I believe it was this attitude that landed me that first job.

2. What did you learn from that first experience?

Diligent work and building relationships with your clients pays off. Although it took a long time, I delivered that site successfully and it led to other work. Over the years I conducted three major rebuilds of his website, and ten websites for his distributors.

Never charge $400 for a job that will take months to complete. If I wasn’t living with my parents there is no way I could live on that kind of money. It also trains your clients to expect you to always work for $400 per website.

Work to your strengths and get help. I almost learned this lesson too late. It is better to focus on your strength and either partner with someone or outsource the elements of the project you are not proficient with, rather than struggle along and stress yourself into gray hair before your time.

3. What advice do you have for folks trying to get their first client?

Build a support network first. So when you are in a bind, you have someone to turn to for help. This can be a paid consultant or a friend in the industry (if you have no local opportunities, you can build friendships online through various communities).

Be confident. Nothing will fill a client with confidence like a confident (but honest) conversation with you. Many new freelancers have sabotaged their own efforts by not displaying confidence. Displaying a lack of confidence is almost like wearing a “Don’t hire me” sign around your neck.

Do not limit your services. Just because your main goal is to build a website, that should not mean that is all you are willing to do for your clients. Are you good with English? For an extra fee, offer to proofread and edit their content. Are they worried about downtime and maintenance? Work out a monthly maintenance plan for them (I wish someone had told me that when I started).

The secret is to keep asking them questions about their business until you start to uncover what they really need, then start filling those needs. Your clients will become loyal to you because you are working in their best interest, and your needs are being met because they will see the true value which you can offer them and in turn, they will be willing to pay what you are worth.

Hey there! Ready to get your own first web development client? I've written a free course to get you started! Sign up today: "Four Weeks To Your First Client".

This interview is the seventh in a series I started to share how web designers and developers got their first client.

Daniel Farbox

Daniel lives in Adelaide Australia with his wife, two children and cat Ziggy. He enjoys everything web from coding and strategy to Internet marketing. Daniel made the shift from contract work and is now the lead strategist and co-director at Farbox Creative, a Hervey Bay web design studio.

1. How did you get your first client?

It all started with the realization that anyone who was truly successful in life seemed to have the same advice to give, “Find something you are passionate about and love doing”. I was on the search for this passion when I picked up a “Sams learn HTML in 24 hours” and started working my way through it. I had run small businesses and spent time trading shares in the past, but neither of these held the interest I was looking for. When I started coding, everything changed. I had found what I was passionate about.

I had only just started to learn web development when, by simply starting conversations about my new hobby, the opportunity came to complete a Christian Business Directory. The Business owners were unhappy with the service they had received from their previous web developer and I took the opportunity to develop the website for them as a learning experience.

2. What did you learn from that first experience?

If you charge $500 for a $6000 website then you will be a popular web designer. Having said that, you will also be poor and hungry. Seriously, even for your first job, I’d suggest not doing this. Even if you really are happy to do the website for a return of $500 for the experience, find an amazing web developer and pay them the other $5500 to mentor you on how to best meet the clients needs. The client will get a good result and good value and you will learn far more, much faster than you would have learning on your own.

From this experience, I also learned that we work in an amazing industry. If you want to learn as you go, the information is out there and a lot of it is freely given. There has been a real culture of give, give, give that made learning about the web quite accessible for anyone with a passion to grow in this area. If you want to fast-track your learning, find the industry leaders who have good communication skills and read their blogs, books and newsletters, listen to their podcasts and then, most importantly, apply what you learn.

3. What advice do you have for folks trying to get their first client?

Be bold. Don’t underestimate the power of this often repeated advice. When you go to close your first sale, and that voice says “You have not done this before, charge less, or warn the client of the possible disaster!” remember that you know more than the person who has asked you for a website. Regardless of how many better web developers there are out there, right at that moment, in that situation, you are the expert. Moreover, if you need help, you know where to go to find it, this alone puts you in a great place to serve them, and you gain that valuable experience you need at the same time.

By charging full rates you can then invest in mentoring. Again, find the best mentors you can in your desired field. Find someone with good communication skills who you ‘click’ with. You will find, even at the mentors high rate, that this can be a great investment and help you grow quickly. If investing is not an option at this point for you, get mentoring, through blogs and forums. Send emails even, it never hurts to ask.

Finally, know your strengths and weaknesses, then find people to work with that compliment your strengths and weaknesses. In the past I have not been one to think quick on my feet in a sales situation, and with time to think in a sales email I would often give far too much information, thus giving a potential client decision paralysis. As much as I tried to grow this skill it was not until I teamed up with people who were great in this area that things started to really move forward. The same thing can happen for you.

Hey there! Ready to get your own first web development client? I've written a free course to get you started! Sign up today: "Four Weeks To Your First Client".

This interview is the sixth in a series I started to share how web designers and developers got their first client.


David Goldstein resides close to Toronto, Ontario with his spouse, dog, and cat. He specializes in web application security and led the IBM Canada ethical hacking team for a few years before becoming an independent consultant. He now provides website marketing services for real estate agents and continues to provide consulting services for web app security.

1. How did you get your first client?

Getting my first client was unintentional. I was in the early research phase with my website marketing business and wanted to understand small business owner’s “pain points” to learn how I could most help them.

I decided to interview my former real estate agent just because he had previously expressed frustration over technology. Although we weren’t close, he had benefited from my business previously as a client of his so I think this was a goodwill gesture.

We met at a coffee shop and I asked him a series of questions about how he markets himself online. You could see he was really getting into it. About 30 minutes into things, the tide turned. He started asking me a ton of questions about how he could better present himself online to get more leads.

Much of it focused on his current website, which was a cookie-cutter realtor template that had a ton of duplicate content found on his competitor’s sites. I gave him some practical suggestions on what actions he should take and then we ended the interview.

I actually left feeling a bit bad since it seemed my line of questioning steered the conversation into a soft sell for my services. But I hoped if anything he was going to take my suggestions and make some improvements.

Months went by, and then one day I decided to join an online business network called Referral Key. When I signed up, it automatically sent an email to all my contacts who were on the same network. I can’t recall what that email said exactly, but I wasn’t too happy with it since it made it look like I had sent it myself.

Well, turned out my realtor was one of the recipients of this email and this unintentional touchpoint sparked his interest in reaching back out to me. He responded with an email suggesting that I give him a call since he wanted to talk about his website.

So a few days later we spoke by phone. He explained that he knew his website needed work, so I told him my vision for the new site. He liked what he heard and asked for a proposal. Keep in mind all of this was new to me so I was really second-guessing myself through all of this. So I whipped up a proposal and waited.

A few days went by and I hadn’t heard from him. I started to wonder if I had priced myself too high. I had planned on reaching back out to him after a week but I really started to think he wasn’t going to go for it.

After about a week though, I got an email with his acceptance and he said he’d have a cheque ready for me to pick up!

2. What did you learn from that first experience?

Two things. I’m a teacher at heart, not a salesperson. For me it’s moments like this where I get to educate people that I come to life.

This is what I believe generates me business and this experience helped prove that.

Second, touching base with someone doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I used to think it would get on people’s nerves if you followed up with them. In my case it was purely accidental, but I need to be doing more of this.

Again, I think there’s a fine line between being “salesy” and just being authentic with people by asking how things are going with their lives. People are busy these days. Sometimes just remembering you is enough for them to go, “Hey by the way, I’ve been meaning to do something about my website!”

3. What advice do you have for folks trying to get their first client?

Start with your connections and in a non-salesman way, introduce your new business. Let them know what you’re doing now and if they know of someone now or in the future that could benefit from your service, you would be grateful if they could pass on your details.

I would also reach out to non-profit organizations that could really use your help. If they have a poor website, they likely could really benefit from your service. Not only will it score you some karma points, but you’ll build up your portfolio and confidence. People visiting that site would also see your link in the footer which could earn you business. Plus I’m sure the charity would be happy to recommend your services to others.

Hey there! Ready to get your own first web development client? I've written a free course to get you started! Sign up today: "Four Weeks To Your First Client".

This interview is the fifth in a series I started to share how web designers and developers got their first client.


Clay Doss hails from Sioux Falls, South Dakota and currently lives with his wife and daughter in Jasper, Indiana. Today, the bulk of his freelance work comes from coding web projects for other web developers. His journey into the world of freelancing began in a much different place, though. In this interview, he tells the story of his first client with the lessons he learned along the way.

1. How did you get your first client?

I forget where, but one day I randomly read that many professional photo retouchers charged hundreds of dollars an hour for their services. That blew my mind. I was a young, creative computer geek and already had been dabbling in Adobe Photoshop for a few years. Digitally manipulating photographs was always fun, so the idea of charging hundreds of dollars for it sure sounded like a swell business prospect to me!

Well, to get anywhere in the art field, you need a portfolio of your work. I had none. So to build up my intial portfolio I weasled my way into a modeling community online. Inside I found countless models struggling to break into the biz. I found that some had only a handful of painfully amateur and lackluster photos. So I deliberately searched for the most gorgeous models with the worst photography I could find. I offered to freely transform their photos in exchange for using the before and after shots in my portfolio. The models were all too thrilled to get their photos fixed up and I was getting closer to a legit portfolio.

Next, I searched for the very best photographers that were clearly new to the business. The ones that were obviously doing their own sloppy retouching, had no reputation yet, but had photos with great promise. I approached these talented photographers suggesting that collaboration between us newbies could be beneficial to both of us. This led to some great relationships with a couple of upcoming star photographers. My retouching took their photos from great to AMAZING! And their beautiful images added great power to my portfolio. Our individual businesses grew very rapidly through this collaboration. Without powerful allies, the road to success would have been much slower for each of us.

During the couse of all this I also entered several retouching contests. Surprisingly, I managed to win every contest I entered, and though I received no prizes, I received much recognition.

With my portfolio ready, I began searching for paid retouching requests. However, it didn’t take long at all before the word started spreading all on its own. People soon began contacting me inquiring of my process and rates. Yikes! Crunch time had finally come and it was incredibly nerve-wracking! I had no real process yet and had no clue what to charge. I did as much digging and research as I could to uncover the competition’s rates, but retouchers are strangely secretive creatures. I decided to set my rates a little higher than what I imagined other retouchers were charging to see what would happen.

An example of Clay's work retouching a photograph ("before" on the right, "after" on the left)

An example of Clay’s work (“before” on the right, “after” on the left)

Photographers balked at my high rates. I feared I had screwed up my chances. Yet, for some reason, eventually they always decided to give my service a shot. Those minor price squabbles made me even more terrified of disappointing, especially with art being so subjective to personal opinion and so much money on the line. But my philosophy has always been to deliver the best product I possibly could and, no matter the time or cost to me, just always end with a happy client. Despite my fear, every single client was downright giddy with excitement over their transformed photos. Even to this day I believe all of my clients have been excited repeat customers.

2. What did you learn from that first experience?

For me, I first had to assemble a portfolio of work. Starting at ground zero with no experience made it necessary for me to do some free work initially, but it was also neceassary to limit this free work to a short time and quickly grow beyond that. As a newbie with little experience and low confidence, it can be terrifying charging money for the first time. Forcing myself to be bold and fake confidence was the biggest thing I had to learn through all of this. Fortunately, my work quickly proved itself and I eventually grew to have great confidence as an expert in my field.

I also learned that clients can very easily develop the attitude of “I’m paying you to work for me now let me boss you around and waste your time.” In fact, I learned that lesson just through my initial non-paid work! So from the very first paying client, despite my fear, I made the intentional effort to always subtly convey the impression that I was a very busy man who could live without their work and that it was a “privilege” to talk and work with me. There were numerous ways of doing this, like always being incredibly short and succinct, never fighting to get their work, never attempting to convince them to hire me, and just being very matter of fact with absolutely zero “fluffy” nice stuff. Mind you, I was always 100% honest and truthful in all things. This communication tactic simply set the groundwork for how a client should communicate with me. My clients all developed a very healthy fear of me. It ensured that I was unquestionably the one in charge. It kept things moving quickly and efficiently. Clients likewise kept their communication succinct and, being afraid to bother me, only contacted me when absolutely necessary. In short, being in control saved time, made everything easier, and I was never pushed around.

3. What advice do you have for folks trying to get their first client?

Be bold. Be always learning. Be honest with yourself and your clients. And eagerly accept helpful criticisms. The retouching world is a highly competitive field, but I managed to bypass the myriad of competitors quickly by being an eager self-learner open to helpful suggestions.

My motto has always been, “Under-promise. Over-deliver.” Living and working that way has never failed me once and is perhaps the single greatest factor in my line of successes. Whatever your line of business, apply that motto and I’m confident you will be rewarded.

Hey there! Ready to get your own first web development client? I've written a free course to get you started! Sign up today: "Four Weeks To Your First Client".

This interview is the fourth in a series I started to share how web designers and developers got their first client.


Chris Frick is a native of Jasper, Indiana. I met Chris a few years ago while I lived in Jasper. He was attending the local community college at the time and interested in pursuing a career in web development. Chris worked hard at it and I watched him go quickly through multiple iterations on his own website and keep going. Just recently, he met one of his career goals and started a full-time position as a web developer for a local manufacturing company.

1. How did you get your first client?

My first client simply and conveniently fell into my lap. While still in college, my English professor, who is also a writer and public speaker, stopped me in the hallway one day and asked if I would be interested in building her a Web site. Sure enough, I jumped on the opportunity for some real experience outside of the classroom.

At that time, I had already taken all of my Web development classes, and was involved in an internship with a local Web design and development team. I had mastered HTML and CSS, and dabbled with Javascript, PHP, and WordPress. I was prepared and more than ready to take on my first project, and I couldn’t have had a better first client. She knew that I had some artistic ability, and that I did well in my design/development classes, so she pretty much gave me compete freedom over the design. That’s something that doesn’t happen very often.

2. What did you learn from that first experience?

I learned so many things from my first client experience than any others, I think.  At that point, I began to realize that most clients know exactly what they want, but they usually don’t know what they need.  I also learned just how many hats a Web designer/developer wears on a daily basis. Although I’ve read it a hundred times in a multitude of design and development books, I just didn’t quite get it until that first client experience.  The most important thing I learned from that experience is that I absolutely love Web design and the process of creating something from nothing.  Loving the work you do is a big part of success.

3. What advice do you have for folks trying to get their first client?

Go into it like you’ve been doing for years.  In a lot of cases, your first client won’t know that their’s is your first project, so be confident (but not too-confident).  Also, treat your clients like kings.  The most powerful advertisement is word of mouth, so the better you treat your clients you obtain, the more likely you will continue getting clients and grow your business.

Hey there! Ready to get your own first web development client? I've written a free course to get you started! Sign up today: "Four Weeks To Your First Client".