A simple 6-step process to land portfolio clients

So far, you’ve learned how a website can help business, you’ve learned what kind of skills a web designer needs to have to be successful, and that trust is the key factor in sales. You’ve brainstormed dozens of businesses that might already trust you, and you have email templates that will help you reach out to them.

But without having a solid process upfront, you’ll soon become inconsistent with your efforts, getting stuck with no clear idea of what needs to be improved.

We want to break the process down into separate steps. This way, you will start seeing what’s working and what’s not. You don’t want to try and do everything at once, then hit a wall and start wondering what’s not working. You want a series of steps that will let you gauge what you need to fix in your approach.

Let’s get right into it!

Here’s a process to landing portfolio clients, broken into six steps.

Step #1 – Make contact.

The first thing we want to do is to reach out to the business owner and make initial contact.

We don’t want to try to sell, pitch or tell a price straight away. We want to reach out and get a response so that we know they’re open to listening to what we have to say. 

The first thing to do is to reach out and make contact.

If you’re sending an email, send a brief and concise message (I covered this in the last video – check it out here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EoSKw-wMZK8&t=1s). 

It goes the same way with making a phone call or dropping in in person: 

  • Hello, this is Rob. My brother and I have been buying tyres at your place for years now (use your main trust point). I thought I’d reach out and see if you would be interested in working together. I spotted a good opportunity that I think would help you and your business but wasn’t sure how to contact you.
  • Good Morning Mr Smith, how is it going? I live nearby and have been walking past your store hundreds of time. I’m also a big fan of motorcycles. I have an idea on how I might help your business and thought I’d step in and talk to you directly.

You don’t want to overwhelm or scare the other person away with a lengthy message. When reaching out be brief and concise, but rely on the trust points you’ve brainstormed. 

Make sure first that you grabbed their attention and they’re responding. Then you can move to the next stage. 

Step #2 – A simple sales pitch.

Keep it as short and concise, and as obvious for them as possible. You want them to see there’s value in this for them, how it’s going to help their business and why they should give it their time and focus. It’s not about money most of the time, because at this stage you’re not going to be charging much. It’s about them committing to this. 

Why should they do it? What’s in it for them? Why should they spend their energy on it?

  • Do you think your business would benefit from a new website? I can help you get more clients, show them clearly the value you provide and make it easier for them to contact you and buy from you. I’d be willing to help you with that for as cheap as $X. I’m offering this because I want to grow my web design business that I’ve just started. It would be a win-win for both of us. How does it sound?
  • I don’t know yet if this is a good fit, but businesses like yours often benefit from a great website: they get more sales, reach new customers and raise their prices. If that’s something you’d like to see in your business, I’d be glad to help you with that. I’m willing to do it for free – I’ve just started my web design business and want to offer value to businesses like yours in exchange for an opportunity to grow. Does that sound like something you might be interested in doing?

When phrased like this, it’s going to be super easy for them to understand and to start moving ahead to the next stage of this process.

Your goal for this stage is to set up a meeting or schedule a longer call. It will be hard for business owners to decide on the spot, and you also want to build some rapport. If they show interest, then propose a call on a specific date and time:

  • Okay, you seem interested, and before we give it a go, I’d love to learn more about your particular situation. Let’s have a short 15 to 20 minutes chat later this week. I can call you. Does Wednesday at 10 am work for you?

Step #3 – Finding specific problems.

A website is just a tool, and if you think about it, tools are only as valuable as how effective they are at fixing specific problems.

You want to start asking them about problems they have right now within the business. 

  • Are they struggling to sell?
  • Are they struggling to sell online?
  • Are sales consistent?
  • Do they serve type clients that don’t know about certain things that they do?
  • Do they think it’s hard for their clients to contact them?
  • Do they struggle with a high amount of “low quality” clients?

These sort of things are what we’re looking for: one or two (maybe more) things they’re struggling with or want to improve.

Also, you want to keep it business-related, not website-related. You want to focus on things in the business that you can help with. Why? Because it’s the business that matters to them. Business owners care more about their businesses than they do about their websites. 

You don’t want to be selling a website just because it’s responsive, modern, and fast. You want the site to do something for the business. Start with asking them what’s going on in the business right now.

Here are some questions you can use to help you:

  • What are your top goals for the business this year?
  • How do you get new clients?
  • What could work better in terms of sales?
  • What kind of clients you’d like to attract, by are not currently attracting?
  • What’s stopping you from getting them now?
  • Why is this important to you?

You’re looking for answers like:

  • Well, this quarter has been pretty rough so far, there’s a new competitor and…
  • We usually get clients through word of mouth, but in the summer people go on holiday and sales decrease.
  • We get many emails, but people keep asking us about things we don’t usually do.
  • We introduced this new product, but can only sell that to existing customers. New customers don’t know about it; they come for all the other stuff.
  • We want to focus on X and Y – these bring the most profit. We don’t want more clients for A, B and C.

Sometimes you’ll need to dig deeper, and sometimes you’ll learn that there’s not much you can help this particular business with. And that’s okay, don’t force it and move on.

Probing for problems is a skill in itself. You need to practice it to get better at it. But for now, if you find one big issue or a few smaller problems, you’re well on the way to closing this portfolio project. 

Step #4 – creating a solution to the problems.

Now you take all the issues that you uncovered during the last stage, and you start showing how a website could help to solve them (or at least improve it).

  • I’ve heard you said that in the summer people go on holiday, and the referrals stop coming. A good website will help you advertise to new customers who are still in town looking for your services.
  • If your clients are choosing your competitor over you, we can use the website to show the value you provide to the clients in all the different ways. We’ll also show how you’re better than the competitor.
  • A custom sales page on your website would educate your clients about the benefits of X and Y so that more of them would come to you and buy. This way, your revenue will grow even more.

You’re linking the problems that they have to the website and showing how it can help to solve these issues. It’s a straightforward and effective sales pitch. It shows that a website can pretty much help most businesses.

I’m sure in the first place you’re looking for businesses with a bad website. Thus, it’s not going to be hard to provide tons of value at this stage. Take the problems that you just helped uncover and start talking about how you would love to help solve them through this portfolio website.

Step #5 – Making a plan.

You’ve been having this conversation with a business owner, and they’ve shown you all these different problems. Then you’ve talked about the value that you can deliver building them a website.

Now, it’s time to make a plan. Make it as easy as possible for the business owner to go ahead and to agree to work with you. You want to make sure that they don’t just agree that the website is a good idea. You want to address everything else as well. Explain how you’re going to approach this project, what exactly you’re going to do, what the next steps are, how long it will take or what the few things that you will need from them are. 

Then make it look as easy as possible to proceed.

Keep in mind, you want to do as much work as possible yourself, so there’s not much of a burden on the business owner.

You don’t want them to be having to do all these different things, you calling them every day, emailing, requesting different information every day. You want to keep it as easy as possible. 

The more value you can deliver with the portfolio website and the more manageable your plan, the easier it is for a business owner to agree to work with you.

  • Great! I’m so happy to be working with you on this project. Now I’m going to send you a couple of questions over email. Once I get answers from you, I’ll start working on it straight away, which will take me between 1 and 3 weeks, and then…

Make this whole deal super easy and valuable, and lots of business owners are going to agree to move ahead. 

Step #6 – removing the risk.

Everything has been going good up until now. You’ve shown you understand all these different problems that they have. You’ve demonstrated how the website can fix these problems. You’ve made an easy plan for them to follow. They’re pretty much ready to go. 

The only thing holding them back is a perceived risk.

You want to make sure they expressed all their objections, and you addressed them. Ask them if there’s anything that could be holding them back and address these issues. You want to make sure that they see no risk in working with you, that they feel 100% safe about this project. 

The main thing a business owner is going to be worried about is you burning up lots of their time or focus – you not being professional or not being able to deliver on what you promised.

Show them you understand they’re busy. Tell them you want to make it easy for them, and you value their time. Explain that you care and that they have nothing to lose. 

  • I understand you’re a busy business owner, so I’ll make sure that I only ask you about the essential things and your input is down to the minimum.
  • I want to make it as easy for you as possible, so if you don’t have any photos, I might come along and take them by myself.
  • If there’s any problem with technical stuff like hosting or making a backup of the current website, I’ll sort that out for you.
  • Is there something else that might be worrying you about the project? How can I help you with that?

If you can show there’s no risk of losing their time, focus, or energy, they’re pretty much going to agree to the deal.


What you need to do is:

  1. Make contact – introduce yourself: use whatever method you feel comfortable using to make the initial contact, be it cold calling, cold emailing or visiting in person.
  2. Give your simple sales pitch and ask for a meeting/call.
  3. Look for problems. Ask them what’s going on in the business or what’s holding them back from getting more sales. 
  4. Present the website as a solution. Show how it’s going to help in all the different ways. 
  5. Talk about the overall plan of how this whole project would go if they agree. 
  6. Remove any risk or anything that might be holding them back.

If you can do that, it’s going to be easy to land a portfolio project. At this stage, it doesn’t have to be a complicated deal. You don’t have to be using these advanced selling techniques that we are going to cover later. It’s a straightforward deal. Keep it nice and easy, and you should have no problem with closing these deals. See you next time!

Read other articles in the 1K Challenge series now:

  1. How a website can help a business?
  2. Core skills a web designer needs to know now.
  3. Why do most web designers struggle to make sales?
  4. How to improve your web design sales 1000% by earning trust.
  5. How to find the perfect web design client.
  6. When should I work for free as a web designer
  7. Confused people don’t buy – how to control a sale in 3 steps.
  8. How to prepare for a sales meeting? (With a template and my notes.)

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