What is the best way for web designers who are looking for freelance web design work to find their next gig? It’s a competitive market out there, so here are our top tips for finding work as a web designer.
Finding freelance web design work is not always so easy, especially at the beginning, but really at any stage. There’s a lot to take on, a lot to learn, and a lot to do. Above all, finding clients can be tricky. And there’s so much to deal with both before and after finding clients, too.
But finding gigs and building relationships with clients doesn’t always need to be such a daunting undertaking. Let’s see how we can break down the process to make it as easy as pie.
How to Find Freelance Design Work in 5 Steps
#1 Build Your Website
The way we see it, it’s a non-negotiable rule of thumb: Every web designer, whether freelancer, part-time or full-time employee, needs their own website.
It may sound daunting to create your own website from scratch, but it can really be a lot simpler than it sounds. And it’s super important for several reasons, which is one thing we’re going to address in this post.
Whenever a prospective client takes an interest in your work, it’s likely to assume that the first (or one of the first) thing they’ll want to see is your website. And you definitely want to provide what they’re asking for.
The last thing you want to happen is for a prospective client to search for you on Google, struggle to find your website, and then choose a different web designer instead. The best way to avoid this type of scenario is to invest a lot of time and effort into designing your website.
Once your website design and SEO are in good shape, the prospective clients searching for you will be impressed with what they see.
Now for some practical tips, planning to create your first website can be quite simple.
First, we recommend getting your feet wet in the world of WordPress, which means getting a domain name, finding a site host, etc. You can learn all about how to set up a WordPress site with this video tutorial and post.
Then, once you’ve set up this infrastructure, you’ll move onto the next step: Setting up the website itself. Once you do these, you’ll finally be able to start the design process, both visually and functionally. The optimal (and easiest) way to do this is by downloading plugins, such as Elementor Page Builder and Yoast, for designing your site, optimizing SEO, and so on.
You may find it helpful to see our series of video tutorials that shows you exactly how to download the Elementor plugin and start using it to design each page and post on your site.
After you finish this, your website should be up and ready to roll, and you can finally start doing what you need to do to attract your new clients.
#2 Gather Your Website Design Paperwork
Draft a Website Proposal
A website proposal is a written agreement between the service provider (in this case, you, the web designer) and the client. It’s similar to a business contract, which we will address later in this post. But, it’s different than a contract in that it addresses your mutual expectations with the client about what work you will provide them, how much it will cost, etc.
In practice, how do you know what to put into your web proposal, especially at the very beginning of your freelancer experience?
Before you start drafting the actual proposal, a lot of research is required of you, the web designer.
This will include the following steps:
- An in-depth interview with the client
- Listen to the client’s needs
- Evaluate your abilities and expertise
- Evaluate your resources and materials
- Evaluate your availability
In our recent blog post, How to Write Great Design Proposals, we delve into greater detail of all these steps involved in the research needed for your proposal.
In fact, we have several resources that will help you and make the process even easier:
A recent episode of our Monday Masterclass: How to Write a Website Design Proposal
In this masterclass episode, you can learn everything you need to know about what goes into a website work proposal: thorough research, how to compose the proposal, pricing, and so on.
Next off, we’ve also created a free downloadable sample proposal, which you can download by clicking below:
- Write up a Sample Contract
Next up, you’ll start the real business side of things: writing up a sample contract. Every service you provide must have a written contract backing it up. This will only work in your favor. The key benefits, as we see it, in making sure you have a written contract before taking on any web design project are as follows:
- It saves you time
- It saves you money
- It saves you aggravation
When you’re first starting out as a freelance web designer, the task of writing up a contract can seem daunting, to say the least. But it doesn’t need to be that way.
We recommend taking the following steps when writing up your contract:
- Have a clearly defined statement of work
This is a crucial section of your contract because, as the saying goes, the client (customer) is always right. If you don’t know what the client is expecting from you, it’s very possible that he won’t be satisfied with your work once you’ve completed it. A statement of work also enables you to understand and clearly define the scope of the project what the time frame for completing it (well) will be.
- Streamline the review and approval process
One thing you definitely want to avoid is sending the client a substantial amount of work that you’ve done, and then not hearing from them for ages. Once your contract specifies the number of days the client has to review designs and get back to you, you can avoid delays and miscommunications that result in projects that fall through the cracks.
- Protect yourself in the case of project termination
There are many circumstances that could cause a project to be terminated. This could be in the hands of the client (his decision to terminate) or by an unexpected event that isn’t in their control. In either case, including a clause in your contract which protects you from losing your income in the event of project termination is a must-have.
- Protect yourself from copyright infringement
In the relationship between a web designer and their client, one example of copyright infringement could take place is if a client pulled a photo or visual of yours off of a Google image search and included in the assets to go on his new website.
If this happens, you will want the legal grounds to protect your digital property? And make sure you maintain the ownership you’re entitled to.
- Consult with an attorney and designate a legal jurisdiction near you and address it in the contract
In the worst case scenario, there are situations where a web designer and their client have a conflict or disagreement, and end up in a situation where one party sues the other.
If you are the party being sued and haven’t designated a legal jurisdiction in your contract, you may end up having to travel to the client’s (the party filing a lawsuit) legal jurisdiction of choice. This is certainly not a situation that you want to find yourself in.
For these reasons, you’ll also want to consult with an attorney before finalizing your contract. It’s always good to have an expert make sure that you’re protecting all of your rights and aren’t risking being in trouble later on.
#3 Create Your Brand Identity
Why It’s Important to Build Your Personal Brand
Personal branding is a key ingredient for any freelancer who wants to excel at their craft. Why so? For starters, creating a personal brand is about forming an identity as a freelancer. It’s how you stand out among the crowd, among the competition. And as most of us know, the competition is fierce.
The way we see it, your branding as a freelancer is:
- How you present yourself to your ideal audience
- The image you put forth
- The thing that makes you unique and sets you apart from your competitors
- The value in what you offer as a web designer
- A visual representation of all the items listed here
When prospective clients are searching for a web designer to build the website of the dreams, they’re going to want to look for a designer whose style and personality matches the type of website the client is looking for.
So, finally, what exactly is a brand identity for a freelancer? What should it include?
If your design work and personal style is well represented by bright colors, bold fonts, etc., your website might be very appealing to, for example, an independent fruit drink company looking to market their products with a vibrant, fruity theme. They’ll probably be more drawn to your brand style than to a designer whose website uses an elegant, traditional black and white color scheme with a logo written in calligraphy.
Both brand styles are great in their own right, but each of them represent a different type of design personality. You may know that you’d be a better fit for designing a website that displays brightly colored fruit products, rather than a ballet school agency showcasing their timetable and recital photographs.
If this is the case, choose the branding style that fits your personality and design samples, so you can really connect to what your future clients will need.
Why You Should Identify Your Niche
Focusing on your niche audience can make it considerably easier to find clients as well as help them find you.
So how can you figure out what your niche should be?
First of all, what interests you? Are you a seasoned online shopper with a lot of experience in E-commerce? Are you a yoga-enthusiast who likes designing websites related to sports and exercise?
Aiming to find website design projects that are related to subjects and industries that you’re familiar with can be a game changer for two reasons (among others):
- You may already have contacts or communities in your areas of interest that can refer you to clients
- Your design projects will almost always be stronger if they’re connected to a topic that you’re interested in and/or passionate about
This is also a good thing to keep in mind when creating your web design portfolio. Choose projects, even sample projects, that are connected to things you have knowledge and experience in. The results are bound to be stronger, and you’ll enjoy the process more, too.
We’ll get to the value of community-building and leveraging social media to for fine freelance web design work later on in the post, but while on the topic of ‘finding your niche’, it’s important that we understand just how vital communities can be to finding your niche, and not only crucial to networking, but to finding freelance work altogether.
Tapping into communities built around a niche you’ve identified, such as E-commerce, for example, can teach you a lot about the types of clients you’re targeting.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re really interested in building websites related to fashion and E-commerce. You then decide to join a Facebook group built for owners of retail clothing store owners who use the group to share tips and experience about the industry.
If you’re exposed to the topics they’re discussing and the challenges they’re commiserating about together, you may have a better understanding of E-commerce website trends, what types of personalities work in the industry, what kind of store owners are struggling and what kind are more successful, and so on.
Getting first hand exposure will give you a strong advantage for understanding the type of clients you’re looking to meet and build relationships for.
#4 Leverage Social Media Communities
Social Media Platforms
The more you spend time building your presence as a web designer on social media, the more your freelance career will thank you. Web designers spend tons of time communicating, sharing expertise and work samples, and most importantly posting projects they’re looking to hire for and recommending fellow designers. In the online world we live in, one of the best ways to meet the people you want to work for is to communicate with them and connect with their peers.
Facebook is especially resourceful for web designers and freelancers in general because of the groups that people create, whether they’re region-based, topic-based, or just general web design groups. They’re open to people anywhere in the world, often people you would never come across if it weren’t for a social network such as Facebook.
You’d be surprised at how many recommendations and referrals web designers get on Facebook, where word of mouth spreads like wildfire. You can follow influencers, meet people in the niche you’re looking to tap into, and more. Even if at the beginning you’re just an observer reading discussions that people are having, you can learn so much about what’s going on in the industry, what the web design market is like, and how you can dive into it.
The traditional use-case for LinkedIn is recruiters and managers posting jobs that they’re looking to fill. But this doesn’t mean that freelance designers have nothing to gain on LinkedIn.
First of all, it’s a great way to get your name out there, as you can connect with tons of professionals, even if they’re not necessarily looking to hire freelancers in the near future.
You can market yourself as a professional web designer, post links to your projects, post articles (either ones that you’ve written or ones that you’ve read and find inspiring), and create a following.
Reading articles and content shared by others in your network is also really helpful, so you can find out what people are talking about, get familiar with web design trends, and even create sample projects based on what you see is popular. The opportunities are endless.
LinkedIn Groups are also great. Similar to Facebook groups, you can join and be exposed to very niche discussions that other professionals are having. Knowledge is power.
At Elementor, we’re big fans of Instagram inspo. From hashtags to influencers, there is so much exposure that you can learn from, and that you can gain once you build up a following. It’s also just a fun way to see what’s going on out there.
You can show off your work, share real photos and visuals that let people get to know you both personally and a professional, and of course, see what topics are buzzing and what you can learn from the experts.
Dribbble is “The Community for Designers.” It’s an ecosystem where web designers can do several wonderful things:
- Showcase their work
- See other designers’ projects for inspiration
- Search the Dribbble job board for full-time job openings
- Get hired for freelance design projects
- So much more
Because the essence of what Dribbble was created for is to be a place where designers exchange their best work, either for community-building, competitions, learning from influencers, blogging and so on, their content addresses the exact needs of what web designers need to grow their career.
Behance is another community built exclusively for designers (owned by Adobe), geared at letting them showcase their best work. Behance is a great place to put your projects in the spotlight. You can upload every visual element you’ve created, and gain credibility and prestige as a true web design professional.
It’s even a great platform to use as a portfolio that lets you upload your projects and then refer potential clients to them. If you’re just starting out as a web designer, posting your work on Behance is a great way to get your feet wet and start building your online design presence.
Even if you still don’t have enough material to create a full-fledged website with a substantial number of projects.You can post your design work to Behance as you finish them, and once you have the resources (time and completed projects), you can devote time to your personal website and portfolio.
But even once your website and portfolio are up and running, we suggest continuing to post your design work to Behance in parallel. It’s a great place to meet people and let other Behance users know what you’re all about as a designer.
#5 Start Searching for Gigs
Getting to Know Freelance Marketplaces
The creation of web designer marketplaces such as Elementor Experts, Upwork, Fiverr etc. have changed the professional landscape for web design freelancers. So much so that 73% of freelancers look and find jobs on freelance marketplaces. Over the past few years, these marketplaces have become a staple for businesses looking to hire freelancers, and a go-to option for independent professionals looking for web design projects.
Freelancer marketplaces, in fact have introduced a new era to borderfree business collaboration, as freelancers can do work for clients on opposite sides of the globe, no matter the timezone or location.
Understanding the Client’s Perspective
Clients looking to hire love using freelance marketplaces because it makes the logistical side of the recruiting process significantly easier. This is also true for finding the ‘best man for the job’. Marketplaces often have high acceptance criteria where their profile and portfolio have to be accepted by website authorities or admins, so clients can be assured that they can rely on the designer’s credentials and capabilities. Saving time on the hiring process is a huge incentive for business owners.
This censorship actually works in both the client’s and the professionals favor, since the client knows he’ll be working with someone trustworthy, and the professional has gained a level of credibility for their future gigs.
On a global scale, 30% of Fortune 500 companies hire through Upwork. This indicates just how mainstream it has become for web designers to consider freelance marketplaces (Upwork, and many others) as a go-to option for growing their expertise and career.
Elementor Experts is our newly launched discovery network for web creators. It’s a platform for designers, marketers and developers to showcase their work and get hired for projects. And the signup process is super simple and easy.
Once you create a profile, you fill in some quick details about yourself, select the languages you can work in, check off the services you provide, and add projects to your portfolio. Once you cover these bases, you’ll become available for web design freelance gigs.
Until clients start contacting you on the platform, we recommend using the time to add more and more sample projects to your portfolio. The more work samples you have, the better. Prospective clients always want to see what kind of work you can do and how experienced you are in the field.
The sign up process for Upwork requires more work and effort (and you have to apply and be accepted by the platform), but the client base and number of job listings are so vast that it’s definitely worth the effort, even if you have to resubmit your Upwork application (as many do).
Sites like Upwork are especially useful for web designers who are at the beginning of their freelance career, and looking up to build up their portfolio as well as their client base. You can start with small, lower-paying gigs, and keep working until you start taking on advanced projects that provide a substantial source of income.
Yes, It does take work to break into the Upwork community, but we see it as an investment to be made.
Similar to Elementor Experts, you have to input what skills you have when applying to Upwork. However, what’s different is that the recommended number of skills to check off when applying to Upwork is a maximum of two. The idea is that you want to position yourself as a specialist in your expertise, and candidates that check off too many skills may arouse suspicion that not all of their skills are really qualified for.
Fiverr works a little differently to your average freelance marketplace — in terms of their terminology for how you present yourself to people looking to hire.
You start out by becoming what they call a ‘Seller’, and posting gigs that you can be hired for from scratch. Unlike more traditional marketplaces where your profile informs visitors of your the services you provide, on Fiverr you create actual gigs as if they’re a product that you’re selling.
You’ll then become visible on their marketplace, and potential clients view your profile to see if your gig is what they need, and then they’ll propose an offer for how much they’d like to pay you for what you’re ‘selling’.
Getting hired for projects on Fiverr requires some out of the box thinking as you’re presenting yourself based on who you are and what you do, rather than showing that you meet the exact criteria that a client is looking for.
What’s great about Fiverr’s hiring technique is that you can take your web design profile to the next level. You have a clean slate to identify yourself in a unique light. Rather than answering questions of what boxes you fit into, you create your own identity.
Instead of selecting “I am a Web Designer and my skills include WordPress, HTML and CSS, you can present a more unique identity for yourself. An example of this could look something like “I’m a seasoned web designer. I specialize in responsive design, so I’ve invested a lot of projects in HTML and CSS, to make seamless, mobile-friendly websites.”
This can be a fantastic way to stand out among other web designers.
Good Luck With Your First Gig!
Now that you know exactly what you need to do in order to land freelance web design work, it’s time to get started. The competition can be fierce for web designers, but there are so many resources and tools that make it much easier for you to gain the credibility you need and meet the right people.
Keep in mind that slow and steady wins the race, so it’s sensible to take on simpler projects (that are also easier to get hired for) at the beginning and gradually widen your work scope to more advanced projects with higher demands.
Every design gig you land counts towards the next one, so we like to think of it in terms of the big picture. But this also doesn’t mean that you should take any and every freelance job you’re offered.
Choose your clients wisely, and invest yourself in those that appreciate the value of web design, and that you can envision long term relationships with.
Let us know what kind of projects you find, and show us what you come up with!