How to get web design clients without a portfolio

Getting clients in web design can be hard

Many times prospects want a lot of detail about your skills, you experience, how you would go about creating their site and just about any other topic you can think of. Being able to give references from past clients, display your ability to design and implement the features and functionality you promise, and just generally being able to prove that your websites look good are all critical to your success. For all of that, you really need a portfolio of past work and past clients.


For those just starting out in web design, this creates a catch-22 situation. You need a portfolio in order to get clients, and you need clients in order to build your portfolio.


So what can beginner web designers do to prove their skills?

Here we'll be going over some simple steps you can take to convince your prospective clients to hire you even if you do not have a portfolio of past work to show. Some of these tips may not exactly be sexy, and you don't make a ton of money off of them, but they will get you clients which is the ultimate goal here. Your first few clients will not pay much since you are still developing your skills and they are really taking a gamble in hiring you. Once you have made a site or two for real clients, it will become much easier to land new clients since you have already proven your abilities to some extent.


A quick note before we begin: never ever agree to do a free website unless it is for a non-profit or a close friend or family member. Doing websites for free will devalue your work. Additionally if your first client tells all his or her friends that you did the site for free, word will get around that you do free work. You don't want to seem desperate, and you don't want to work for free forever. The same goes for spec work - never ever do it. Even if you are just starting out, you are a professional, you are running a business, and you deserve to be compensated for your time.

7 ways to get hired without a portfolio:


1: Be personable, sell the relationship

The number one thing that will attract clients to you is your personality. If you are easy to work with, fun to talk to and genuinely excited about helping their business then they are more likely to hire you. Since you are just starting out, really focus on creating friendships with your clients. By showing them that you genuinely want to help them and that you are an honest and likeable person, they will be less apprehensive about hiring you to build their website.

This method works best with local businesses that you have some rapport with, or that you can at least build up a relationship with fairly easily.


2: Create demo sites

This is one of those un-sexy methods I mentioned earlier. Whether you like it or not, creating demo sites does work in landing you web design clients. Demo sites effectively showcase your abilities in both design and functionality. Even though the sites will be for fake companies, it still shows that you can see a project through to completion, you are self-motivated and you can create attractive sites.

Many web designers feel that demo sites may make them look desperate - this is not true. Demo sites make you look like a beginner, yes, but that is exactly what you are at this point and there's nothing wrong with that. Demo sites that are done well will impress prospective clients and give them some reassurance that you can deliver on the services you are offering.

The important thing to keep in mind with demo sites is to be very careful what you include. Don't go all out on the site, adding every bell, whistle and widget you can think of. Instead create a very detailed description and profile of a fake business that you will create the demo site for. Research what types of design concepts work well in that industry and allow that to influence what you do or do not include on the site. More often than not, it is better to just keep things simple and clean.

Demo sites are also an excellent way to break into a niche, if you want to work with a specific group of people of with people who work in a specific industry.


3: Contact people through Reddit

Reddit is one of my all-time favorite websites, both for entertainment and for business purposes.

Reddit contains a multitude of communities, called subreddits, that are dedicated to specific topics. If you want to work in a specific niche like dentist websites, just head over to https://www.reddit.com/r/Dentistry/ and join the conversation wherever you can. Once you have a bit of a reputation built up, look for users who are obviously dentists and contact them inquiring if they need a website.

A cleaner way to go about this is to use a hiring subreddit (https://www.reddit.com/r/forhire/ is my favorite) and post your services along with some information about yourself. Be sure to follow the rules and answer any questions people have. I get a large portion of my SEO work through Reddit, and every client I have found on Reddit has been spectacular to work with.


4: Offer a discount to local businesses you know personally

If you know of some local businesses that you visit frequently that do not have a website, reach out to the owner and see if they're interested. Offer a discount to them, explaining what a service like yours would normally cost vs. what you are charging while you are building up your client base.

Having local business owners who know and love your web design services is a huge asset. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to get new clients, and local businesses are the place where word of mouth starts.


5: Create mocked up sites and pitch them directly to business owners

If you don't have any businesses that you know well enough to directly offer a discount to, try creating a mockup version of their site and pitch it to the business owner. Create the homepage, and maybe one other page. Fill it with dummy content, and use stock photos if necessary. Just create an attractive mockup that you can pitch to the owner, drop in their content, add the remaining pages and get paid for. The site should be simple so as to not take up too much of your time, but polished enough to show the business owner that you can create a website that will benefit his or her business.

Instead of simply describing your services or promising things, in this case you are directly showing them that you can deliver. This can really reassure the business owner and it shows them a real product instead of a series of drawings or wireframes.


6: Pitch a reduced price and give your work a guarantee

In some cases you may just have to walk to businesses or call them on the phone and offer your services directly.

In this case you should pitch them a reduced price, comparing your lower prices to comparable web designers or design agencies in your area. It may also help to provide a guarantee that if they do not love their website, you will revise it until they do. You could also offer a refund or something of that nature, but given the large sums of money associated with buying a website this can sometimes cause problems, especially if you end up spending the money and then they ask for a refund.


7: Create personal resume sites for yourself and a couple of close friends

If you have a few friends or family members willing to help you out, you can create personal sites for them and for yourself.

Personal sites typically include things like a bio, notable work etc. In this case you can essentially create an online resume. Adding a blog, photo galleries and the like would also be appropriate, just make sure that the design looks professional and clean.

Again, you would probably end up doing this for free or for a very low fee. However personal sites like this give you great experience in tailoring copy and design to a personality or personal brand, and this kind of experience carries over very well to business web design, landing page design or even creating personal sites for public figures.


Getting clients for web design can be hard, and it's certainly not easy if you don't have a portfolio. But with these 7 tactics for getting web design clients without a portfolio you will be able to get your first client fast and build up your portfolio of work very quickly.


Now it's your turn! What method of getting clients did you use starting out? If you're a beginner, which method do you want to try first?