How to Make a Positive First Impression with Potential Clients

Part of being a freelancer or an independent designer is communicating with potential clients and landing new work. This is part of the business aspect that is not a favorite with many designers, but it is critical if you want to establish a successful business.

For clients, choosing a designer for their project is often based on their comfort level with the designer and their confidence that the designer will do a great job with the website. First impressions make a huge impact here and can either get you much closer to landing the job, or they can lead the client to eliminate you from consideration.

In this article we’ll look at 11 significant factors that will influence the early impressions of a potential client while they are trying to find a designer for their project. These are all things that you can focus on to show clients that you should be considered for the work and that you are capable of giving them an excellent website that will be effective for their business.

1 – Have an Attractive and Usable Portfolio Site

Each designer will have their own sources and preferred methods for getting new clients, but in most cases the portfolio site will be one of the most valuable resources for attracting business. Whether the potential client finds you through your portfolio or decides to visit your portfolio after hearing about you from a friend, your site will be highly influential in the first impressions of many potential clients.

The portfolio site should display your best work, should be easy to navigate, and should make it simple for visitors to contact you about their projects. The specifics of designing and developing an effective portfolio site is beyond the scope of this article, but it should be understood that the portfolio will be a critical first step to making a positive first impression with visitors and potential clients. For more detailed information on portfolios see:

2 – Respond Promptly

Most of the people who will be contacting you will probably be doing so by completing a contact form or sending an email from your online portfolio. The average potential client is probably not extremely familiar with the process of getting a site designed and everything that is involved, and many are concerned about finding a designer who they can trust to handle their project. By responding quickly you can help to make them feel more comfortable with you and what the experience will be like if they choose to hire you.

It’s not that uncommon for me to get emails from potential clients who say that they have been unable to get responses from other designers regarding their project. If you can get back to them quickly you may be able to easily set yourself apart and show them that they will get quality customer service from you.

3 – Communicate in Terms that They can Understand

The typical client will not understand terms that web designers and developers commonly use. Make an effort to communicate with them at their level by avoiding technical terms and details that will mean nothing to them. By phrasing things in a way that they can easily understand there will be less opportunity for confusion and misunderstanding. This is applicable when you are responding by email as well as when you may be talking to them on the phone or via Skype.

As you provide the potential client with the details of what you can offer them, be sure that it is easily understood and in phrases that they will be comfortable with. If they have trouble understanding the details of your offer they are likely to feel some uncertainty and they may prefer to go with another designer that does a better job of meeting them at their own level.

4 – Show a Personalized Approach

Each client’s project will have its own unique characteristics and situations, and from their perspective it is important that the designer shows a genuine interest in meeting the specific needs of the project. Make an effort to demonstrate to the potential client that your services will be tailored to meet their specific needs, as opposed to offering a cookie-cutter approach to each client.

You can show an interest in their project by asking questions to get to know more about their situation, and communicate to them how you would recommend that you work together to achieve the end result of a website that is exactly what their business needs. Because most clients are at least somewhat uncomfortable with the process of getting a site designed, it usually makes a big difference to them to know that an experienced professional is working on their project and making an effort to see that it is as successful as possible for the client.

5 – Be Professional

One of the easiest ways to quickly lose a potential client is to give an unprofessional impression. In any written or verbal communication that you have with potential clients, make it a priority to keep it professional. Give them confidence that you will handle their business appropriately and that you are experienced and capable of doing the job.

6 – Answer Their Questions

Potential clients will always have questions about your services, your qualifications, your pricing, and how you would handle their specific project. Some clients are more upfront with their questions and will ask them right away. Others may hold their questions for a while, and in some cases you may have to make an effort to find out what questions and concerns they have.

Part of making a positive impression with potential clients and encouraging them to hire you for the project is to simply develop a strong level of comfort. One of the best things you can do to make clients feel comfortable with you is to take the time to answer any questions that they may have and give them a good feeling of what it would be like to work with you. Clients that value your professional opinion and expertise will want to know that you are willing to spend the time to address their concerns.

7 – Provide Some Guidance When Needed

Because most of your potential clients will not have the same knowledge of web design that you have, there will frequently be some situations where you can provide them with some valuable guidance that may help to make their project more successful. Maybe this would involve recommending a particular content management system, advising them of a less expensive way of doing things, steering them towards a particular design style or approach, or just about anything else involved in their project.

Most clients and potential clients will view the designer as an expert, and they will assume that if there is a better way to do something you will tell them. Don’t assume that clients are aware of better options that may be available to them. If you can help them to complete their project more effectively or efficiently than has been discussed, show them the specifics and why it may be a better option for them. This can be a great way to show that you are knowledgeable and that you care about making the project successful for them.

8 – Offer Options

There will probably be a lot of situations, especially in the current economy, where potential clients contact you with a list of features that they want in a website and a budget that is not realistic for getting it done. If this is the case you can simply tell them that it is not possible at that budget, or you could provide them with some additional options that might work for them. Maybe the other options will involve a smaller site or only the features that are most important for them, but it may give them an opportunity to get a site at the budget that they have available. Additionally, you can also give them the option of getting everything they want but at a higher price. In some cases the specifics of what they need are more important and they will be able to spend the extra money.

By finding ways to work with clients and meet the needs of their situation you will be able to show them that you are willing to work with them to find a solution that is fair and mutually beneficial. Although this will commonly involve pricing issues, it could relate to other details. For example, maybe the options you offer them will be provide them with some choices in terms of how quickly they need to have the project completed. Also, you could offer them some options that would involve your work on an on-going basis for maintenance and additional work as opposed to a one-time project to just design and develop the site.

9 – Show Them Similar Projects

One of the best ways to give potential clients confidence that you can do a great job for them is to show some work that you have done for other clients that is similar or directly relates to the work that you would be doing for them. This could be a design of a particular style that they are interested in, work for a business in a specific industry, development for a particular content management system, etc.

While your portfolio will show select samples that represent the best of your work, and potential clients will be able to see what you are capable of, it’s possible that none of that work is really very similar to what they are looking for. While they may be confident that you are a talented designer, there may be some concerns about the ability or experience with something specific. By showing them some quality work that you have done in a project similar to theirs you will be able to demonstrate that you are more than capable of doing a great job for them.

10 – Provide a Detailed Quote

Before potential clients decide on a designer to hire for their project they will want to know exactly what they will be getting and what they should expect to pay. Of course, the specifics can still change if there are unexpected changes to the details of the project, but a thorough quote will give them a much better idea of what to expect.

The quote should cover the details of what you will be providing, the costs and the timing that payment is expected, as well as deadlines or anticipated milestones for the project. There a number of resources available for managing invoices online, and many also include features for creating professional-looking quotes and estimates for clients.

11 – Demonstrate that You Want Their Business

Clients want to work with a designer that is excited about their project and interested in working together to create an effective website. If a potential client is talking to two designers about the project and they are equally qualified but one shows more interest in the client and their project, that designer is likely to get the work. You don’t want to go overboard and beg for the job because it will make you look desperate and the client may wonder why you need the work so badly, but you do want to show interest in getting their business.

What’s Your Experience?

What have you learned to make a positive first impression with potential clients from your own experience?

Stephen Snell is the owner and editor of Vandelay Design, a popular design blog.
  1. October 15, 2009

    good read!

  2. Daniel Apt
    October 15, 2009

    One important thing with these rules (at least I think so), is to be flexible with them.

    Each client is unique, and thus must be handled uniquely, most clients are just good willing people that want to have you create something for them. They are not out to rip you or to do something bad to you.

    Not only is it important that the client can trust you, you should just as well trust the client. Being too professional: having a contract that mentions all possible situations can be a bit threatening for a client. Inform the client about these situations, don’t give a client a contract and let the contract be surprised by all the rules you want to have.

    Trust comes from honesty, and sometimes honesty can hurt. Clients might not have the best design sense, that’s why they hired you,but if they want a purple site with white dots, you might need to break it to them, that it won’t look so nice. If you’re honest, then the client can really trust you.

    Also this was a great read, thanks!

  3. October 15, 2009

    In addition to the information in point four, I’d suggest learning as much about the client and their current web presence before you meet them. Particularly for clients who already have a website, you can highlight the strengths and weaknesses of their current web presence, be more specific about what you can do to help, and demonstrate that you’re looking to solve their problems.

  4. October 15, 2009

    I agree with you, each client is unique and should be treated accordingly. That is a good point, thank you for making it.

    True, knowing more about their current web presence is also important. Thanks for the comment.

  5. October 16, 2009

    Establishing a memorable persona with a client is key. Providing great support in a lingo they can easily understand helps them feel more comfortable and also makes you more approachable. Having a personal approach is key, yet so are professional boundaries. Some clients may try to capitalize on your kindness by dropping deadlines or requesting changes that go beyond your contractual agreement. Maintaining a realistic and honest working relationship is not only a great indicator of disciplined professionalism, but also helps avoid burnout!

    Also, the portfolio is crucial! I am still coming across freelance designers who have amazing work but a portfolio that simply is an injustice to their talent (i.e. using low-quality JPEGs, including page bleeds, etc.).

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  8. October 19, 2009

    A really interesting article, I like to think that I do all of the above anyway, but there are some lapses in every freelancer, so it’s always good to have a reboot of how we should act, thanks a lot!!

  9. October 21, 2009

    Great article, I would have to agree with Daniel Apt with his point about trust and honesty. I have found that both these things have helped my develop good relationships with clients.

  10. December 3, 2009

    What an amazing post! Thank you so much. I am diving more and more into freelancing and have a meeting coming up. This is definitely inspiring and motivating for me. I appreciate it!

  11. December 4, 2009

    I agree with Daniel completely — flexibility is key. It’s great to have a set process for dealing with clients, but use it as a baseline instead of a rule. Each situation is unique, and I’ve found that freelancers that try to strictly adhere to arbitrary and self-imposed ‘rules’ can sometimes scare away work that that would’ve been profitable.

  12. December 4, 2009

    Well said.

  13. December 8, 2009

    Providing a detailed quote has its flaws at times. I can recall a client asking my if I can cut out B and F from the detailed quote I had mailed him. I told him that was the basic features and it would compromise the quality. So he moved to other options that I could remove from the quote.

  14. December 22, 2009

    Once again, great job! This article was quite useful with an eye to how I’m going to deal with the clients. Thanks!

  15. February 5, 2010

    This is awesome. Lovely post. TFS.

  16. March 1, 2010

    this article has raised some really important points! great stuff

  17. March 19, 2010

    Thanks for the post!
    Was very useful! 🙂

  18. April 6, 2010

    Good post I think being a freelancer means you have one chance to set yourself apart, really difficult when you are sometimes competing against companies who have someone else looking after sales, marketing, accounts whereas a freelancer you have to do it all.
    Your website and branding should be the most important factor and honesty, as a sole trader you can build up a better relationship with clients abd this trust should be conveyed through your initial meeting and your website or marketing materials (such as flyers or business cards)

  19. April 7, 2010

    Great post. This article will surely help those who are freelancer

  20. June 24, 2010

    Great article, I would have to agree with Daniel Apt with his point about trust and honesty. I have found that both these things have helped my develop good relationships with clients.

  21. June 24, 2010

    you can build up a better relationship with clients abd this trust should be conveyed through your initial meeting and your websit

  22. August 8, 2010

    Thanks for this article !!

  23. August 8, 2010


  24. August 20, 2010

    Universal rule: use common sense and courtesy.

  25. October 18, 2010

    some really important points thanks for sharing

  26. This post can never become out dated as their are some really good tips and advice that are shared here, thanks.

  27. April 27, 2011

    true that awesome

  28. Olatunji
    May 7, 2011

    Nice and timely .

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