Someone posted this article in a Facebook group today: How to Get Web Design Clients

While I loathe the idea of driving more traffic in their direction, I felt that my response may be a good way to get back into blogging, give spec-work another shove over the cliff that it occasionally manages to scale, and hopefully educate some inexperienced designers/developers along the way.

As I skimmed the above article, one talking point, in particular, caught Anger’s eye.

That heading was:

“Free Work”

I’ll wait while you go grab a refreshing bottle of water, or maybe a cold compress….

Feeling better? Good. Let’s continue.

My response to that specific talking point (edited and expanded upon) is as follows:

Free Work: Never, for any reason, ever. If you’re doing free work, you devalue yourself in the client’s eyes and you devalue the entire industry.

Working up a complete analysis and presenting it to a potential client shows that:

a: You have time on your hands as opposed to work, and more importantly,
b: your time does not have monetary value.

The potential client may also be insulted by the fact that you’ve chosen to point out the negative aspects of their website. They may be proud of that website. What if they recently launched? They’ve paid someone a lot of money (or built it themselves). They have gone through the process and are happy with the final result. There is an above-average chance that they’re going to react negatively to you devoting hours of your time picking their site apart.

Why spend all of your valuable time analyzing, wireframing and taking screenshots for a client that may or may not care? Why not put that time to better use?

We’ll take the example presented in the article:

  • Record a video review of their website and suggestions
  • Screenshots of improvements or issues
  • Wireframe what you think their website should look like and explain why

In order to accomplish the above, you will need to know, at a minimum, the client’s specific goals for their website and their plan for accomplishing those goals. You will also need a considerable amount of time to record and edit video, take screenshots, and mock up your potential improvements.

This is a significant amount of investment on your part for an unqualified lead. It is work being performed for someone who may or may not ever look at it, or care about what you have to say if they do.

A Better Use of Your Time

You could instead compile and format a document such as a small e-book*. This e-book would contain a list of items that could potentially prevent a website from achieving the goals that have been set for it.

Now, deliver that document to the clients whose websites you would have analyzed if you had followed the article’s advice. Send it with a short pitch and an offer for a discounted website assessment.

If you have a few leads who you feel may be particularly ready for your input, print a few copies of your book and send them directly. Make them look great. They should look like they deserve attention.

If you’re feeling especially aggressive: Make a follow-up call to these select clients. Ask them if they have seen your book and if they have any specific pain points that you may be able to address.

The people that follow through the process are now qualified leads. You know that they have pain points, and you know that they’re interested in hearing how you can help them.

At this point:

  • You have established yourself as an expert,
  • you have put yourself within line of sight,
  • you have made an offer,
  • you can use that offer indefinitely because it is not client-specific.

Take it one step further

Take your e-book, do a short blog post about the book, and offer the book for free in exchange for an email address that you can add to a sales funnel. Promote that blog post in appropriate channels. Once the book has been downloaded, send a follow-up offer for your discounted website assessment.

Your time has now been spent, not shooting in the dark, but establishing yourself and an actionable marketing plan for your business.

A Dissenting Opinion

A friend of mine, who concentrates efforts more on marketing than creative, informs me that free work is an incredibly useful sales tool for him.

He says, “I offer free website audits to gain clients… Mine is a quick review of their marketing funnel”.

He goes on to say, “Many believe and have found free work to be incredibly effective, whereas many expert veterans see it as a detriment to the industry. Personally, I believe what matters most is what works for each individual.”

He makes valid points that are applicable to his situation, and I’m sure many others’.

I believe there is a key distinction between what he is doing and what the article (and my response) suggest. He is offering free work to pre-qualified leads. These leads are not cold, they­ have reached out and shown interest. Therefore, catering to them with a specific, pre-prepared analysis package makes sense.

It is not free work on a cold, client-specific lead, it is a piece of a larger funnel that has a tangible value for him and his clientele.

Spend Your Time Wisely

I believe that my overarching point here is to make sure that you’re spending your time wisely and that you assign the proper value to the time you spend on any type of work.

My friend has taken the time to drill-down into the needs of his ideal client and has spent some time putting together a package that is different than, but not unlike, the package that I suggest. It’s a wise allotment of his valuable time.

Know your worth. Charge appropriately.

*An e-book which I actually wrote two years ago, I should really update and publish it. The cobbler has no shoes… Or something like that.