In today’s post, I’m excited to share strategies and tips that have significantly boosted my freelance career. These insights are tailored for web developers but are equally beneficial for freelancers across various fields. So, whether you’re coding websites or do any other freelancing work, stick around for some universal freelance wisdom.

Building a Solid Foundation:

We’ll start by discussing how to establish a solid foundation for your freelance work. This involves setting up long-term strategies that enhance all other aspects of your business. Think of this as assembling your toolkit before diving into the actual building process. In the next post, we’ll explore more immediate, short-term tactics for actively securing client engagements.

It’s crucial to blend long-term planning with short-term actions, much like maintaining a balanced diet to stay healthy. I’ve experimented with numerous client acquisition techniques, and in these posts, I’ll detail those that have proven to work, not only for me but for many other freelancers as well.

Whether you’re new to freelancing or seeking to expand your client base, this guide is packed with actionable advice to help you succeed. I personally still work on integrating these strategies as good as possible and educate myself more and more, so I look forward to sharing this journey with you!

Building a Strong Portfolio

Okay, let’s dive deep into the cornerstone of kickstarting your freelance journey — the portfolio, aka your references, that means projects that you have done so far and can showcase. Your portfolio is what convinces potential clients that you are the real deal, because it shows them the work you do and the value that you offer. The question now is, how do you build one, especially from scratch, when you haven’t done any projects before.

The Catch-22 of Freelancing

The catch-22 of freelancing is: You need a portfolio to get work, and you need work to build a portfolio. But don’t worry, because there are ways around this.

Your Professional Website

As a web developer, having your own professional website isn’t just recommended; it’s essential. It’s the first proof of your skills. Think about it: Would you buy a website from someone who doesn’t have a website, or maybe even worse, who has a shitty website? I bet you would not. As a web developer, make sure you have a practical, well-designed and professional website that reflects your personality as well as professional approach. This is one of your first impressions on any potential client, so make it count. And, with your website, you then have a place to show your references, so potential clients can get even more proof of the hopefully great work that you do.

If you are in any other freelancing business, having a website nowadays is really important as well, but probably doesn’t need to be the first thing to care about, but as a web developer, this is literally the first thing I would recommend you to get done.

Start close to Home

Now, to get more references and build your portfolio, one tip is to start close to home. Offer to build websites for friends or family if they have anything they do that might profit from a website. You might even have done some projects yourself which you can build websites for, so for example I build a website about the research I did for my bachelor thesis, which isn’t work for a real client, but it still serves as a reference for my work that potential clients can view.

Also, you can offer your service to local businesses, at the start you might even want to do this for free, which will increase the likelihood that they are gonna say yes, so that you can get your first project, even if it’s unpaid. This one is not about getting paid, but about gaining real-world experience, getting feedback, and your first testimonials, your first reference you can show to future clients.
You can approach local small businesses that could benefit from an online presence, either ones that don’t have any website yet, or also ones that do have a website which is not great yet and should be improved. Explain the advantages a website or better website could bring them, such as increased visibility and sales, but be upfront about your intentions too. You’re looking to build your portfolio, yes, but you’re also offering them value—a professional website at a fraction of the market cost or even free, in return for feedback and maybe also some shoutouts on social media.

Finding the right businesses to approach is tricky and takes a bit of practice and time, but it pays off! For me for example, I had a good shot at the first business I approached and immediately got the job, but after that, I needed to approach about 15 other businesses before getting another yes. Don't give up!
You can use Google Maps to find local businesses, and then check on Google and Social Media if you can find any website, and if yes how good that website is. Then, either get to them via Social Media or E-Mail, or as an alternative just walk by and go have a chat! I would not suggest just calling them, because those sales-calls often are annoying and will make them likely to say no.
Oh and also, each client, whether it is a friend’s startup or a local cafe, is a potential source of future referrals. Delivering value and building a good relationship can turn a free project into a source of paid referrals further down the line, we’ll closer look into referrals at the end of this post.

Remember, the goal at this stage is to build a diverse and impactful portfolio that showcases your skills and your ability to deliver results. Every project you add is one step closer to establishing yourself as a trusted and skilled freelancer in the area of your work. So, really focus on embracing these early opportunities because they are your foundation for the future.

I remember that my first non-family client was a small local restaurant where I’ve been snacking quite a few times, and I just went to them and offered to build a website for them, for free, and they were really happy about the offer. It was a great practice for me, I learned a lot of things about working with „real“ clients, I actually also get free food there now so every time I walk by I can just grab some delicious snacks and I really really love that :D, and they were so happy with the final result that over time they referred me on to a few other paying clients, so it clearly was a win-win and a great start.
This clearly shows how you can also profit from something like that.

Differentiate Your Services from Others

Once you’ve started to build your portfolio, the next crucial step is to differentiate your services from others. You might be wondering, ‘What makes me different from the hundreds of other freelancers out there?’ The answer lies in finding and targeting your niche. You have probably heard that a thousand times already, „find your niche“ here, „find your niche“ there, but it really is true, it is an essential thing to do.

Let’s talk about what that really means. For me, my sweet spot is working with small businesses, startups, and individuals who need quality web solutions but can’t justify the expense of a big agency. These clients value quality but might have more flexible requirements regarding customization. That does not mean I just create cookie-cutter ugly standard websites, far away from it, every site I build is tailored to each client’s needs. However, I can afford to streamline my process by using the same reliable foundation for multiple projects, like a specific Jekyll theme, which saves time and keeps costs down. This approach has been a key part of my offering, striking the right balance between quality and affordability.

But your niche might look completely different, and that’s okay. Maybe you have a passion for e-commerce sites, helping small shop owners bring their stores online. Or perhaps you’re fascinated by the automotive industry and want to specialize in creating high-octane websites for car dealerships.

The point is, specialization makes you stand out. It makes you the go-to person for clients in that specific sector.

Remember, the goal isn’t to limit yourself but to distinguish yourself in a crowded market. As you grow, your niche might evolve. That’s part of the journey. For now, focus on identifying that unique angle that sets you apart and appeals to a specific segment of the market.

It’s not about being everything to everyone but about being the perfect fit for your specific clients.

Search Engine Optimization

In the digital realm, being visible isn’t just about being seen; it’s about being found. For us web developers, Search Engine Optimization, also known as SEO, is not just a service we can offer to clients; it’s also a crucial part of our own business strategy. And that holds true for every other freelancing business as well. Making your website easy to find for potential clients is extremely helpful. But how do you stand out in the vast sea of search results? There are so many ways to improve your SEO and that’s not something I want to cover here in detail, but I want to share one strategy that has significantly boosted my visibility and can help you as well.

One thing I do a lot is incorporating a ‘Created by Per Starke Web Dev’ link in the footer of websites I develop. You might ask yourself, if you haven’t looked into SEO a lot yet, “Why does this matter?”. These are called backlinks, and they are gold dust for SEO. Each backlink to your site from a reputable source tells search engines that your content is credible, and credibility leads to higher rankings. Having many quality backlinks improves your SEO a lot, and linking to your site from websites that you create for clients is any easy, effective and efficient way to get this done.

Now, one thing – always ask your clients first. It’s essential to respect their space and brand.

I’ve found that many of my clients are completely okay with it, especially when they understand it also showcases their investment in professional web development. But what about those high-end clients who prefer a cleaner look without external links? Or those who are particularly brand-conscious? Here’s a workaround: instead of the footer, you might place your link in the imprint or another less obvious part of the site. This way, you still get the SEO benefits without impacting the site’s aesthetic or user experience. It’s a more subtle approach but still effective.

However, tailor your approach to each client. Some might see your footer imprint as added value, like a digital signature of quality. Others might prefer a more discrete acknowledgment. And there might be clients who just do not want to link to your website, which also is totally fine and you should definitely respect that. The key is communication—discuss it openly with your clients and find a solution that works for both of you.

Social Media

Social media is the next thing you should care about. It offers a dynamic platform to showcase your work, connect with potential clients, and share insights into your process and expertise. But how do you make it work for you without it consuming all your time? Let’s break it down.

At the very least, your social media profiles should serve as a portfolio extension. That means regularly sharing your projects, whether they’re completed websites, design mock-ups, code snippets or anything else, so that clients who look you up on social media, or clients you contact via social media, directly can get some great impressions. Also don’t forget to share your blog posts if you have any or any other content that positions you as an expert in your field. You can utilize visually driven platforms like Instagram or Pinterest to showcase the aesthetics of your web designs. LinkedIn and Twitter are excellent for sharing industry insights, blog posts, and engaging with broader professional communities. Occasionally sharing behind-the-scenes content, such as your design process or problem-solving on a project, can furthermore humanize your brand and create a more personal connection with your audience.

That is the basic, you can then choose if you want to spent more time on social media to actively grow an audience there, or if you are happy with just showing your work without building a big audience, both is totally fine, personally I go with the second, more minimalistic approach, but if you want to take the time and effort and think it will be valuable for you in your specific niche, you can certainly do that as well. There are thousands of blog posts, videos, podcasts or other form of content on how to grow on social media, so if you decide to go that way, you will easily find more information for that.

Open-Source (or other pro-bono) projects

Another thing you can do to improve your visiblity and especially your reputation is working on open source projects. Open source projects are projects where the code is public and people can choose to voluntarily help working on it and make suggestions for improvements.

In other freelancing areas, you can look for similar opportunities as well.

Participating in open source projects reflects a commitment to learning, sharing, and contributing to the broader tech community. It highlights your willingness to engage with challenges beyond paid work and shows potential clients that you’re invested in the advancement of technology for everyone’s benefit.

Diving into open source gives you a unique opportunity to work on diverse projects, often outside your day-to-day client work. Whether you’re contributing to a Jekyll theme, develop a Homepage Canvas, both of which are things that I did, or tackling issues in a larger project, each contribution enhances your skills. It’s practical experience that you can directly apply to client projects, making you a more versatile and skilled developer.

For example, when I worked on my Jekyll Theme, it’s called OneFlow, click here if you want to check it out, contribute to it or maybe apply it for your future website projects, it wasn’t just about throwing another theme out into the world. It was about identifying common needs and gaps in what was available and creating something that not only served those needs but also demonstrated my ability to anticipate and design for user requirements.

Similarly, the Homepage Canvas project allowed me to experiment with interactive elements and user engagement strategies—skills that have directly benefited my client projects. A little sidenote about the Homepage Canvas, it’s a free tool that I developed to simplify the communication process with clients that want to get a new website. While and after developing it, I applied it in real world projects and could really decrease the quite classical communication struggles and with that also decrease the needed development time because clients were better able to tell me their wishes and needs. So, if you want to contribute to the canvas or apply it yourself in your future projects, make sure to check it out!

Content marketing

Blogging, or similar content marketing, is a another strategy for shining a light on your expertise and broadening your reach. By sharing insights on for example web development processes, SEO, or the collaboration behind website creation, you address both your peers and potential clients. This dual approach not only demonstrates your depth of knowledge but also your ability to translate complex ideas into actionable advice. It once agains enhances your reputation, and high reputation makes clients more likely to pick you as their preferred freelancer.

To reach fellow developers, share things like technical deep-dives and industry trends to engage and educate your fellow web developers.

To reach Clients, write about things like how to simplify the web development communication process or highlight the value of professional design to attract potential clients, stuff like that.

You should publish posts on your own website, partly also because this again can enhance your SEO, but then you can additionally publish the posts on sites like, which can get you more readers and, if you add a link to the original post on your own site, more clicks on your website.

The Oldest Form of Marketing: Word of Mouth

The oldest form of marketing, word of mouth, remains one of the most effective, especially in the service industry.

Satisfied clients are your best advocates.

Often, if you’ve delivered quality work, they’ll naturally want to share their positive experience with others, whether through social media shout-outs or direct recommendations. So delivering quality results and high value to customers, plus building a good relationship with them, is the best thing you can do. Building a good relationship can be as simple as delivering fast, being friendly, thanking them for feedback, offering them their own preferred method of communication or all the things like that,

While organic referrals are valuable, taking a more proactive approach can enhance this channel even more. One way to do this are direct requests: Don’t hesitate to ask satisfied clients to refer your services to others. A simple request can sometimes be all it takes to generate new business. Another potential idea are referral programs: Consider setting up a referral program like offering a percentage of your earnings from referred clients, like a 20% referral bonus, that can motivate clients to actively promote your services.

What I just started, which I think will be really helpful but I haven’t tried it out for too long, so I am excited how this will turn out, is instead of offering a referral bonus in money, I offer clients that successfully refer me on to help them with promoting their website on social media for free, which is something I normally offer as a paid service.

The effectiveness of a referral program can be different based on your relationship with your clients and the specifics of your business model. In my experience, even when offered a referral bonus, many clients chose to refer my services without expecting anything in return. This underlines the importance of building strong and close relationships with your clients.

Actively approaching new clients - part 2 of this post

That’s it about building your solid base, the more long-term stuff, check out the next post for an in-depth dive into the short term strategies, tips how to directly, immediately get clients right now!

Thanks for reading, and have an amazing day everyone!

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