In my consulting business I currently enjoy a 75%+ conversation-to-client ratio, which means that more than 7 out of 10 of the folks that contact me (or that I contact) about work become clients. If you look at the projects where I’ve spent more than an hour on in the sale process, that number is closer to 90%. When I submit a proposal I am usually certain that my offer will be a match for their needs.

How is that so? I follow a four-step process. Let’s look at the steps now.

  1. Qualify your potential client – Before I look deeply into the project and definitely before I make an offer, I qualify the client to make sure that were a match. While budget is a definite factor, requirements, personality, subject matter, and timeline are equally important. I work to make sure, before the relationship grows, that it will be a mutual match.
  2. Establish a personal connection – I care a lot about the clients I serve and the work I do for them and, consequently, establishing and growing a personal connection is a priority for me. At the most basic level, it means caring and taking the time to show you care by paying attention to personal details, by asking questions, and by showing the initiative to share appropriate personal details of your own.
  3. Educate and share value freely – As I get to know the client and their project I offer ideas and recommendations, focusing on giving my very best, without holding back. I look for ways to teach them about concepts and technologies, shedding light on areas that may be new or confusing to them. Oftentimes, the knowledge and recommendations I’ve shared before the sale ends up working its way into the project. I cater the depth and detail of what I share to what I quickly learn of the client’s personality and interests and it makes a difference. Clients have continuously referenced and shown appreciation for the time I’ve taken to educate them and share value.
  4. Ask for the sale – Once I have a clear sense of what the client is trying to accomplish (i.e. their business objectives) I prepare my recommendations and an offer. At the end of the offer (presented via a formal proposal or via email, depending on the size and scope of the project), I ask them if my recommendations are a match for their needs (I expect that they are yet I always leave myself open to the fact that I may have missed something). If so, they give me a “Yes!” and we get started!

And those are the steps! In my free course, Four Weeks To Your First Client, I expand on those steps in even further, so be sure to take a look at that lesson (Lesson #4) if you haven’t already.

Now, with those steps in mind, here are a few additional thoughts:

  1. Don’t rush the process – Building quality relationships takes time. Focus on getting to know your client and their needs before you make an offer. This is important for a lot of reasons. Until you have a clear sense of their needs and what they’re trying to accomplish, how can you make a good offer anyway? A lot of folks are quick to throw out a price and see if sticks – this is a dangerous strategy. Take your time and make sure you’re on target.
  2. Offer options – I rarely offer one price for a project. Instead, I offer a base and “add-ons” as options. This gives the client control over pricing and it also helps to make sure that I’m not making any false assumptions about what they can and can’t afford. I work hard to make sure that each and every combination of options is a match for both them and me.
  3. Narrow the possibilities – When I submit a formal proposal (which is definitely an investment of time), I do so only after carefully narrowing down the possibilities and being as certain as possible of the outcome. My goal is to ensure that the only reason a client does not go with me is that I misunderstood their objectives (a mistake on my part). It won’t be because they couldn’t afford it (I qualified them in the first step).

And that’s a wrap! Did you find that helpful? Do you have any questions? Leave a comment or send me an email and I’ll get back to you!


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

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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.

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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.

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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".

This interview is the third in a new series I’m starting to share how web designers and developers got their first client.

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I met Nick Johnson at a conference for Christian businessmen in September of 2007. Within a month of meeting, we decided to go into business together and started Sabramedia. Years before, Nick had started his own web development business, which had grown from that first client to a thriving, two-man shop. Today, Nick leads development an ecommerce platform and Pigeon, our foray into the newspaper industry.

1. How did you get your first client?

Technically, my first client was my dad’s business. Kind of obvious how I came by that one. It was the summer of ’98 and I was 16 years old. I had no idea how the Web worked. I had poked around on it at school and my parents had just upgraded from a 28K baud modem to a 56K and we were surfing the web screaming fast.

My dad was an artist so he needed a website to show his art catalog. I began developing the site in Netscape Composer. I remember looking at the source code view and figuring out that tags made text “do stuff”. The first time I wrapped text with the <b> tag (made the text bold) was an incredibly exhilarating experience. I knew then that whatever this was, I wanted to do more of it.

Then I started doing all kinds of hideous things like flashing text and marquees, ugh, I get sick thinking about it. I think it was the thing to do in the 90s. Not too long after that I picked up a HTML4 book, by Molly E. Holzschlag, and couldn’t put it down.

With that backstory in mind, a couple personal web projects, and a brush with network engineering in between, I didn’t actually open up for business until January 2002 under the name Harmony Design. By this time I had taken a few courses and learned a lot about the Internet and World Wide Web. I need to pause here and give a lot of credit to Eric and Cara Stalsmith. They gave me some resources and opened my eyes to the web development world like I had never seen it before. You have to understand, nobody around me at the time was into computers or the Internet. I felt like an Island. Then this couple stopped by to sell my dad ad space on their website, and I was super excited to talk with these people. I probably wouldn’t have got into web development, or at least as soon as I did if it wasn’t for Eric and Cara.

I leased my first shared-hosting account and setup HarmonyDesign.biz (yeah, it was a dot biz). My first ‘official’ client was a private shipping company owned by some friends of the family. They didn’t have a website and knew they needed to be on the web. I knew that I wanted a residual income business, so I decided to resale hosting to all my web clients. I outlined a scope and sketched a layout. I showed it to them and sold it to them. I set the price a bit higher, then worked in a discount. I had picked a few sales practices from my dad. They bought it. I was on cloud nine, $500 bucks for a teenager was a lot of money, plus I was being paid to do something I loved. I think I danced around a bit when I got the go ahead. I also had my first monthly paying client at $15.95 per month. It doesn’t seem like a lot now, but at the time it was the beginning of a dream. I think I finished the site in about two weeks.

2. What did you learn from that first experience?

I don’t know if I learned it on the first client, but I began to realize that getting clients was about connections and building relationships. I was able to use my dad’s website and this private shipping website now as references. The next few websites were all based on referral and connections.

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

The best way to build a solid business is through consistent communication and going the extra mile when it’s not needed. People remember that kind of stuff and they talk about you, in a positive way. That talk inherently leads to more business. I didn’t advertise for years. The one time I paid for a print ad was a total waste of money. I’m not saying print advertising is bad, there is a time and place for it. It certainly is not what you spend money on getting your first few clients.


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".