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How to find new leads with higher budgets

Ashley Gainer's Layout avatar

There comes a time in every freelancer’s life when they sit down and ask this question:

Where can I find better leads?

This is not necessarily a reflection of the freelancer’s current and past clients, but rather it’s a sign of their growth. (That’s not to say there haven’t been plenty of web designers who’ve been paid too little by clients who weren’t exactly ideal.)

When you’re ready to start raising your rates and being compensated more robustly for your time, it means you’re doing something right. You’ve got some experience under your belt, you’re aware of what your colleagues and competitors are charging, and you’re ready to scale your prices. This is a good thing!

But it begs the question: how.

man holding four twenty dollar bills in hand

How do you find clients that will pay you higher rates? You know they’re out there, but where? And how do you connect with them?

Let’s look at some options.

Take it personal

Potential web design leads are all around you in your personal life. Every business needs a website, and many individuals have good reasons to require a website, too.

Do you have friends who run successful businesses? They might be thinking about a great new design. Think about the local shops you like to visit—the bakery, the restaurant, the health specialist, the auto repair shop—and check out their current web presence.

If you have a personal connection to any of these business owners, there’s a natural “in” to talk about their website. It could be as simple as “I was checking out your website, and I was wondering if you’re happy with it.” From there, you just need to listen to what they say and then, if they seem interested, offer to talk about what you could do for them.

Look locally for your niche

Sometimes personal connections will turn up leads that are decent but not very lucrative. That doesn’t mean you need to write off your immediate surroundings—just take a more focused look around.

Think about your ideal client. Odds are pretty good that some of your ideal clients live nearby. Do a quick internet search or thumb through a yellow book—if you can find one—to uncover local businesses that fall within your target market.

Instead of going in cold, what you need to do is find a way to connect with these businesses on some sort of personal level. Networking events are probably the easiest way to do this, even though networking events make some of us want to run screaming for the hills. Try hanging out at the associations and meetings where your ideal client might attend. It’s also worth taking a look on social media (including LinkedIn) to see if you have any connections with your target companies.

Generally speaking, this is a solid strategy for getting off the ground and building your business up the first few rungs of the ladder, but if you’re already humming along, there are some other things you can do.

man with others pointing at papers in front of laptop

Perhaps the best one? “Cold” outreach. While it makes some people jittery, cold outreach can be a great way to build a client base. The key here is to warm up your cold outreach as much as possible. Don’t just show up in someone’s inbox asking them if they need a new website. Instead, look for a valid reason to get in touch, and go from there.

You could try mentioning something about how their site has good content but it doesn’t work well on your tablet, and how you’d love to help them be able to reach a much bigger share of their market by having a mobile-responsive site. You could suggest a few ways that their site could benefit from some conversion optimization or even page load time. Anything you could help them improve becomes a valid reason to get in touch.

Just be careful not to be insulting while you do it! Write it from the perspective of wanting to support their business, not telling them what they’re doing wrong.

Work your referrals

One of the best ways to bring in new clients who are pre-vetted (in a sense) is to ask for referrals from the people who already know and like you. Past (and current) clients are a fantastic starting point for this. You might even want to consider building an incentive program to help keep the referrals coming your way. 

The secret to getting referral business—one of them, anyway—is to do a stellar job with your current clients. And you’ve got to keep delivering to each new client who comes in the door, too. By being impressive and 100% worth your rate, you’ll build a fan base of sorts that would love nothing more than to keep sending you more work.

Referrals are another compelling reason specializing and picking a niche can really help you. If you become known in your circles as the web designer who specializes in restaurant websites or real estate websites or personal trainer websites or any other type of site, you make it that much easier for someone to pass your name along when they hear a potential customer within your niche mention their need for a new site.

Change nothing but your rates

Sometimes the only thing you need to do differently if you want to start having bigger paydays is simply to raise your rates. It could very well be that you’ve already got a client base that has bigger pockets and you just didn’t realize you’re operating at the lower end of the budget instead of the higher end.

man and woman in professional attire shaking hands over table

Next time you submit a proposal, bump your rate up 50–100% and see what happens. You may be surprised! And if you receive some pushback, remember there’s always room to negotiate—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

Don’t be afraid to say no

When you’re reaching for clients with bigger pockets, it’s easy to fall into the trap of fear and scarcity. When it’s been a little while since you’ve landed a great new project, it’s easy to worry that it’ll be another while before a good one comes along. You might be inclined to take on low-paying clients “just this once” to keep the lights on.

If you’re really struggling, it might be worth doing some of that work just to keep the cash flow coming in. But know that you’re doing it at your own risk—every hour you spend working for a low-paying client is an hour you lose in the hunt for a higher-paying one.

You have to be the one to make the judgment call—and when you do, make sure that the prime factor in the decision isn’t fear. Fear doesn’t make good business decisions.

Are you ready to find new leads? What strategy will you use first?

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