How to Get Web Design Clients without a Portfolio

Wanna know how to get web design clients when you don’t have a portfolio?

The biggest challenge I see with people who are starting freelance web design businesses is that they think they have to build a portfolio to show potential clients before anyone will hire them.

And this stems from a belief that having a portfolio is the only way to prove that you know how to build a website.

That’s why I’m sharing my best advice for how to get web design clients when you don’t have a portfolio — and some mindset shifts to make in order to stop working for free!

I see so many people get stuck spending a ton of time building websites for friends and family for free (or super cheap) to “get experience” and to “build their portfolio” instead of spending that time marketing and positioning themselves to get well-paying clients.

And instead of making a sustainable, full-time income from their web design business from day one,  they end up working for free to create a portfolio full of websites they’re not proud of and that don’t align with the kinds of clients they really want to be working with – and they’re no closer to booking a client because they haven’t done anything to market themselves!

The fact that you’re capable of building a website for someone other than yourself does nothing to tell potential clients what the experience of working with you is going to be like.

I see this all the time with people who apply for the Web Designer Academy. Their website is gorgeous, they have a portfolio of beautiful designs… but they aren’t making any money. The back-end of their web design business is a hot mess. They don’t know how to book paying clients. They don’t know how to manage projects. They can’t get things done on time. They can’t follow through.

A client cannot tell by looking at the websites that you’ve built for other clients, or that you’ve even built for you, whether or not you are the right person for the job. They might be able to say, “I like that aesthetic…” But it really does not help them determine whether or not you are going to be the person that they should trust with thousands and thousands and thousands of their dollars, or that they should trust with their business.

And you cannot look at other web designers’ websites and assume that just because they have a portfolio that they are booking paying clients and making money and therefore you need a portfolio in order to book clients and make money!

Building websites for free or cheap to build your portfolio is one of the most damaging things I see web designers do to their businesses. It’s a sure sign that you have a busted money mindset and belief system about your value as a web designer – and it puts you at risk of burning out before you even really get started!

So how do you get web design clients who are willing to pay you what you need to make to create a full-time income as a web designer when you don’t have a portfolio?

It’s easier than you might think!

#1 – Tell people you’re a web designer! 

It’s the easiest way to get clients, and I know it sounds so silly and easy, but when people ask you what you do for a living and you say “I’m a web designer”, or “I build websites for” whoever you build websites for – tell them!!

You have no idea how many business owners there are out there who need someone really good to help them!

When you tell people that you’re a web designer they usually say something like “You are? Please help me! My last guy ditched me.” Or “I know someone that’s been looking for a web designer!” Telling people what you do instead of hoping they find you online, see your portfolio and hire you is truly the easiest way to get clients.

And I know right now you’re thinking, “Yeah, but what about when those people ask me to see my portfolio?

We tell our Web Designer Academy students exactly what to say in any client situation, and we have a script for them in that exact situation too, but what I tell new web designers is to make sure you know who your dream clients are and then build your website for that dream client.

#2 – Make your own website look like what you want to build for your web design clients. 

Make it be the best design that you are super proud of and that has the functionality your ideal client would also need that you can point to as here’s an example of something that you could build for them. Model your own website after what you would build for a client.

Don’t go work for someone else for free when you could build your own demo site for your dream client.

Because it’s not about the design! Remember, a website isn’t just a pretty design, it’s a solution to a problem for your ideal client, and it’s your opportunity to show them how the websites you build solve their business problems.

The bottom line is this: You can call yourself a web designer before you get paid to build a site for a client. 

You do not need a portfolio of a certain number of sites to show clients in order to prove that you’re legit or that you have the credibility to work with them.

#3 – Take potential web design clients behind the scenes of your process. 

Helping clients understand your process helps you build credibility without working for free. The fact that you actually have a process helps you build credibility with potential clients because they can see exactly what’s going to happen after they give you their money and what they’re going to get in return.

The reason you want to build a portfolio in the first place is to prove that you’re credible, and there are so many other ways that you can create credibility aside from a portfolio!

Inside of our program, we teach web designers how to create a whole end-to-end process that establishes credibility and trust from the first interaction.

We teach you how to have conversations with potential web design clients in a way that helps clients understand that you actually can build them a website that’s going to help them grow their business, and yes, you actually will follow through, and yes, you are the right person for the client, they can trust you with thousands of dollars.

And seeing a picture of a website that you built for someone three years ago only shows an example of something you designed – it doesn’t show all of the other things that people need to know in order to make the decision to work with you at that level.

So to get web design clients without a portfolio, YOU must believe that you are absolutely worthy of taking on a client without having a portfolio!

If you don’t believe that you are worthy of having clients because you don’t have a portfolio, please sign up to watch my free Pricing Mindset Workshop! 

After watching you’ll:

  • Know exactly how much you need to charge to make a full-time living as a web designer.
  • Understand how to apply the Rule of 10 to figure out the true value of a website to your clients.
  • Have an upgraded belief system around all the reasons you think you can’t charge that much, you know… things like “I need more experience… I’m self-taught… my clients can’t afford to pay more…”
  • Be aware of the 3 most common places web design businesses break down and leak time and money (and what to do to prevent or fix it).

Sign up here.

It’s a totally free training where we talk about all of the mindset stuff that keeps you undercharging, overdelivering, not doing outreach, not booking clients, working for free, working for way too little, and fix that…

….because you don’t even know how valuable you are. You don’t even know how many clients out there need you to be charging sustainably so that you can serve them at the level that they deserve to be served.

So go sign up for that free training now!

I am so passionate about you understanding all of the ways that you are holding yourself back in your web design business…

…and believing that you need to have a portfolio in order to call yourself a web designer and get a paying client is exactly what is holding you back from getting a paying client!

My opinion about portfolios can sometimes really get under other people’s skin…

They’ll say things to me like, “How could you possibly say that you’re legit if you don’t have a portfolio?

Here’s my response to that objection:

The outcome that I’m producing for my clients comes in the form of a website, but there is so much more that we do as web designers to lead our clients through the process of designing and building their website that cannot even be captured in an image of a site that I designed.

All a portfolio really is is social proof that other people have hired you, and there are other ways to create credibility aside from social proof!

And yes, eventually, as you start to work with your dream clients, you’ll put that work on your site, the things that you really love, that you’re really proud of, so that you can point your clients to that.

But you don’t need that to get started.

There are so many other ways to connect with people, to let them know how you can help them, to build that relationship and build that trust other than to have a portfolio on your website.

And just having a portfolio on your website doesn’t mean people are gonna find you and look at it and book consultations with you.

So if you feel stuck because you don’t have a portfolio and want to learn more about the mindset required to market yourself without a portfolio, please sign up for my free pricing mindset workshop now!

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Hi, I'm Shannon!

I’ve been coaching + mentoring web designers for 6+ years… it’s time to forget everything you think you know about selling web design projects.

Apply now to get access to our free 5P FRAMEWORK training for selling premium web design projects + increasing your revenue where I’ll break down our unique strategies for making more money as a web designer that no one else is teaching.

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