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When you decide to become freelance web designer everything changes. From this moment, you are the one responsible for getting clients. You are also responsible for promoting yourself. You are the one who makes decision and has to face the consequences. In other words, you are responsible for keeping your business running. In this two-part article I will share with you five tips to help you make this transition easier. We will discuss how you can create strong brand for yourself as freelance web designer, how to attract new clients and how to get attention.
Tip no.1: Create a strong, clear brand message and USP
The first thing every freelance web designer should do is to think about creating his brand. There are many different opinions on branding. Some people like the idea of creating brand for themselves, some people hate it. Whatever your opinion is, I want you to at least consider branding from one specific angle. Think about your branding strategy as a way to distinguish yourself from others. The fact is that you not the only freelance web designer in the world.
One-third of the world’s population is connected to the Internet and the rest is on the verge of being connected as well. This means that you, as freelance web designer, have to deal with much bigger competition than ever before. Therefore, do you really think you can afford to throw the idea of branding out the window? Do you really think that clients will somehow appear at your door and give you their money? That would be nice. Unfortunately, unless you make a lot of effort and start shamelessly brand and promote yourself, this will stay just a dream.
Time, effort and strategy
The truth is that branding requires a lot of effort and time. Every freelance web designer wanting to establish himself has to come up with solid marketing strategy. There is no place for just trying some idea here and some idea there. You have to create devise concrete plan and execute it one step at the time. You also have to set specific metrics to measure and analyze whether your plan works or not. If something doesn’t work, you have to find something different and test that. Unfortunately, this is usually not part of the skill set of regular freelance web designer.
Fortunately, there are three relatively easy steps you have to take to get unleash your new brand. The first step is getting absolutely clear on what do you want your brand to represent. You have to decide on how you want your brand to be perceived by other people. You need to come up with clear message that will be communicated through your branding strategy and brand itself. The second step is understanding your core values. Everyone has certain personal values. These values determine what kind of work and projects do you want to work on and what types of clients should you pitch.
If you are not exactly sure what your values are, it might be a good idea to take a look at your previous work. Among the previous projects you really enjoyed, is there something many of these projects have in common? Can you see some repeating pattern? Although you may not know about it, chances are that you are already choosing projects with specific parameters. Another way to discover your core values is by asking your family and friends. People who are close to us sometimes know us more than we know ourselves. Give it a try and just ask.
Client projects and your core values
Unless you are starving freelance web designer, there is a relatively high chance that you will not want to accept every project. There will be projects you will not feel comfortable accepting. The reason is that these projects are not in conformity with your values. Many people would probably tell you to take these projects just to make some money. My opinion is that you should ignore these people and listen your instincts and emotions. When some project goes against your core values, don’t take it. There are at least two solid reasons why you shouldn’t accept these projects.
The first reason is that you need to work on project you can proudly present in your portfolio. When some project goes against your core values, you will probably don’t want to present that project on your portfolio. To become a successful freelance web designer, you have to focus on filling your portfolio with pieces you can talk about with passion and enthusiasm. When your potential client ask you about example of your work, he will immediately recognize whether you like that piece or not. You either enthusiasm radiate enthusiasm or not.
The problem is that when your potential client will not see (or hear) that enthusiasm, he may start to think that you are not passionate about your work. He may think that you are freelance web designer because you have to, not because you want to. As a result, your potential client may rather look somewhere else to find another freelance web designer who has hat kind of contagious enthusiasm. Why? Well, would you hire some who is doing his job out of necessity or out of passion? Which one, do you think, will deliver better results? The second, without a doubt.
The deadly paradox of making compromises
The second reason to never accept projects you are not passionate about is that it leads to downward spiral. Meaning, if you present the project on your portfolio or became known for that type of project, you will attract more clients with similar projects. Let’s say that you decide to work on couple of project from banking industry. You don’t like this particular industry because you think it is too conservative. You like to work on bold design projects. You also want to be known as innovative freelance web designer willing to question established conventions.
Imagine you have portfolio with nine beautiful examples of work. Two of these examples feature web design for fashion brands. One example features web design for movie fan site. All these three examples are creative and courageous. Then, there are other six examples featuring web design for banking institutions. Although these web designs are modern, they are exactly what would you expect from industry built on conservatism. Now, if you were looking for freelance web designer, what would you think is specialization of that freelance web designer?
The case of unique selling proposition
By now, you know what your brand stands for and what are your core values. You also know what kind of project will help you the most to get where you want. However, there is still one missing piece of the puzzle. This last piece is called your unique selling proposition, or USP. Your USP is something that will tell potential clients how you can help them. There are two keys to great USP. First your USP has to be short. It shouldn’t be longer than one sentence. I think that six words should be maximum. If you exceed this number, you should think about your USP and adjust it.
The second key to create great USP is focusing on the type of clients you want to attract. You have to understand and keep in mind that great USP is not about you. Instead, it is about what your potential clients will get from working with you. In this sense, USP is basically telling everyone why should he or she wants to hire you. USP tells potential clients what makes you different and or better than others. As a freelance web designer, it makes you stand out from the rest in a market.
When you craft your USP, think about the number one feature you bring to the table that stands out the most. This is what makes you different from your competition. Again, it has to be something that benefits your client. We often tend to forget that our potential clients don’t care about how creative we are or how many programming languages we know. The first and foremost thing they want to know is what will they get in exchange for their money. Unfortunately, there are many examples of people and businesses approaching USP from wrong the wrong direction.
When your USP is actually not real USP
I am creative and innovative freelance web designer. Have you ever heard or read something like this phrase? Anyway, why am I asking you this question? The truth is that many web designers are talking about completely wrong things. We often like to talk about ourselves in the terms of creativity and innovation. This may be good for our ego and confidence, but it’s completely missing the point if we are trying to put something together to craft our USP.
Another example is bragging about how great are we with this or that tool or how many programming languages we know. There is nothing bad with having these phrases on your portfolio. You will at least show some confidence in yourself. However, if you think these phrases will also be great as USP, you should think again. Neither of these phrases is actually USP. As we discussed, great USP tells what benefits will potential clients get from working with us.
How to create strong USP
None of these phrases is example of real USP. Don’t make the same mistake and avoid talking about yourself. Think about who is your potential client and what he might look for. Put yourself in your clients’ shoes. For example, let’s say you want to attract “premium” clients who want quality web design. In that case, your USP should focus on that – delivering high quality web design. Let’s say your perfect client is someone who has small project with small to medium budget and want quick and reliable website. Then, your USP should be about that.
When you try to search for couple of examples of USP, you find a lot of samples you can use for inspiration. However, high amount of examples can easily paralyze you. So, let me give you a handful of tips on what you could use to spice up your USP. First, strong USP has to communicate a compelling value proposition. It has to clearly say what direct benefits will potential client get when he hires you. Second, think about what your competition lacks. Find weaknesses of your competition you can use as your strengths and highlight it.
Third, read reviews written by clients on job boards. Besides looking for small gigs when you need or want to make some more money, job boards can also help you with branding. Open couple of profiles of other web designers and read reviews of their clients. Look for both, positive and also negative reviews. Positive reviews will teach you what you should do and how you should do it to keep your clients happy. Negative reviews will teach what must avoid or improve.
Fourth, think about where you can save your clients’ money or time. You may incorporate into your USP that you are highly efficient freelance web designer and work faster than others. You may also focus on being cheaper than other web designers. Although, this is a pretty bad idea for branding and also for your business. I suggest that you find a way to justify your premium prices than lowering them. Fifth, find out what exactly your clients want. This brings us back on job boards.
Now, instead of looking at profiles, you will look at projects web designers can bid on. There, you can find out what are the “hottest” types of web design project people are currently interested in. Also, taking a look at project briefs will help you understand what are these people looking for. Then, you can use these information to adjust your USP to specific niche or need. In the end, remember that you don’t want to be regular freelancer web designer. You want to be different.
First, make sure you know what your brand should stand for. You have to know what do you want to represent. Second, after you put together the template for your brand, do short brainstorming session to come up with your core values. Before you accept any values, make sure these values are in accordance with your ethic values, philosophy and opinions. You have to make sure your work is congruent with these values. Otherwise, you will lose your enthusiasm and your work will start to suffer. The same applies to potential clients.
I think that you shouldn’t accept clients that are in a business you don’t agree with. You also shouldn’t accept clients with projects you will not be willing to present in your portfolio or talk about. When project is not in accordance with your brand and core values you should reject it. Otherwise, you will feel bad every time you will just think about it. Trust me, the money is not worth it. Third, when you have a clear idea about your brand and values, create strong and short unique selling proposition (USP). Remember that your USP must focus on potential clients.
There are many sources that can help you create and polish your USP. You can learn from clients’ reviews and project briefs on job boards. You can also learn from portfolios of other web designers to find out what works and what you can use as inspiration.
Tip no.2: Write for your clients
Following the previous tip on branding, I have another advice for improving the probability of getting new clients. If you are freelance web designer, chances are that you already have personal website or some kind of portfolio. My question is … How is the content of your portfolio written? By “content” I refer to any text on your website. Therefore, your bio, case studies, hero headlines and even your contact form are all examples of content. And, there are many ways in which you can write this content. You can use various conversational tones, phrases, jargon and so on.
If you try to search for some “best practices” on how you should adjust the content of your website, you will probably find a lot of tips and advice. Some of these information may even contradict each other. So, is there any rule of thumb we can use? My suggestion for easy start is to “simply” write for your clients. Learn about what conversational tone your potential clients are using and if they use any specific jargon. Then, try to implement it into the content of your website.
Test, test, test
When you finish work on the content, reach out to your family, friends and colleagues and ask them to take a look at it and read it. Next, ask them for feedback. You need to know whether the content of your website is easy to understand for other people who are not doing what you do. Keep in mind that what may sound comprehensible to you as freelance web designer might sound like a foreign language to other people. Therefore, you need to get feedback from other people to make sure virtually everyone can read it, understand it and hire you.
You can take this test one step further. If you have at least one former or current client, I would suggest that you ask him to read the content on your website. Then, ask him or her for feedback. I forgot to mention this, but there is one great thing you can do find out if people really understood the main message of your website. What is this magical thing? Ask people to summarize the message of your website in their own words. That’s it. If people can summarize the website’s message and main benefits of working with you in their own words, they probably understood it.
First, remember that you are always talking with someone. If you want other people to understand you and your message, you have to use their language, not yours. Second, learn about the language of your potential clients. Find out whether your potential clients are using any specific jargon or conversational tone. Third, go through every piece of text on your website and adjust it according to the results of your research. You want to speak in the same language your as clients.
Fourth, test the content of your website on your friends, family and colleagues. You have to make sure the text is easy to understand and people get the idea of what you are actually doing. Fifth, to make sure the content is really easy to understand, ask people to summarize the main message of your website in their own words. This is the best way to test your website message and also USP.
Closing thoughts on being successful freelance web designer
This is the end of the first part of this article. Today, we discussed how you and any other freelance web designer can create solid branding strategy for himself. As part of your branding strategy, we talked about your core values, why they are so important and why you shouldn’t accept every project. Next, we discussed what is unique selling proposition. We also took a look at couple ways and tips that will help you create USP that will be unique to you.
In the second tip, we discussed what is content strategy in the scope of your website. Now, you know that you should always tailor the content of your website to the type of clients you want to attract. We also discussed that you should always ask other people for their feedback. Otherwise, you may not be able to find all weak spots in your content and portfolio in general. Since you are freelance web designer, there are things you think are easy to understand. This is caused by your expertise and experience. Look for feedback from people outside your expertise.
In the next part of Successful freelance web designer – 5 tips to get momentum article we will take a look at the last three tips that will help you establish yourself on the market. I hope you enjoyed this part and I look forward to seeing you here again on Friday!
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