How to Start a Recession-Proof Freelance Web Design Business

By Suzanne Wentley

Remote freelance work has become one of the most resilient and lucrative employment options, particularly for web designers and other creatives. 

As companies downsize in the face of a recession, they often turn to freelancers to fill the gaps left behind by full-time employees. Freelancing can provide freedom and a steady source of income.

So how do you start a recession-proof freelance business?

For many, branching out on their own can be intimidating and overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. Creative, forward-thinking professionals can create impressive, independent careers that result in steady work—even during a recession.

This article will cover the 5 key steps to starting your freelance business. With dedication and focus, you can create a thriving business with fulfilling work.

Step 1: Polish Your Online Presence

When you start reaching out to clients, the first thing they’ll do is Google you. So before you start looking for clients, it’s important to have a trustworthy online presence that demonstrates your talents and professionalism.

Start by creating a portfolio or polishing the one you’ve already built. 

Personal web design projects, initiatives done on trade for friends, or even volunteering work for nonprofits in need of design work are all great options if you don’t have professional projects you can show off. Double-check that your links work.

Many freelancers have their own website and business email address. However, you can also just share a link to a well-organized folder in Google Docs. The goal is to make your portfolio visually appealing and easy-to-navigate for potential clients, who likely don’t have a lot of time to click. 

Along with a strong portfolio, you’ll need to give a critical eye to your LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages. Google yourself to see what comes up. Presume that any client will do their due diligence before hiring you, especially if you’re just starting out. Present yourself as the professional you are.

Step 2: Find Clients & Close Deals 

It’s easy to get frustrated at the amount of “networking” you’ll have to do, but the effort is worth it. Many of the best client relationships span years and are extremely lucrative.

When in doubt, start with your own network. Your goal is to start talking to people at any companies that might need help or know somebody who does. Set up a call or video chat, share that you’re starting a freelance business, and ask for advice. Listen to their feedback and take it to heart. Close the meeting by asking for introductions to anybody else who might have advice.

Job boards, like We Work Remotely and Flexjobs, are also places to look for clients and close deals. The companies that advertise on these boards are usually looking for talent for long-term, remote-based opportunities.

A final option is to create profiles on the many freelance marketplaces, like UpWork or People Per Hour. These marketplaces are constantly updated with classified-style advertisements placed by professionals and companies in need of design help.

Step 3: Get the Right Tools

Once you find clients and get projects to work on, make sure that your business operations can run smoothly. This means implementing an online accounting tool like Freshbooks or Quickbooks to track your income and expenses.

A common mistake new freelancers make is spending too much time on a given project.
Tracking your time is critical for both productivity and profitability. Harvest is a popular option, and both Freshbooks and Quickbooks include time tracking features as well.

Finally, you’ll want to make sure to keep your sales and outreach organized. Tools like Trello and Pipefy are great options, and both offer free plans.

Step 4: Upsell to Retainers 

Seasoned freelancers soon tire of searching for clients and are ready for a more sustainable approach to their business. The answer is retainers, which are contracts that create an ongoing relationship between you and a client.

A typical retainer setup involves selling a block each month for a fixed rate, but it’s also possible to sell productized services instead. Consider offering an “insurance policy” for clients in case something fails, or propose an optimization plan, coaching or analytical analysis for their online presence.

Step 5: Put in the Work

To become a successful freelance web designer, you’ll need more than just your skills. You’ll also need grit.

By focusing on the business of freelancing through the steps above, you can put yourself in the best possible position to succeed. Keep working on networking and outreach until you find a good group of initial clients. Then rinse and repeat.

With determination, you’ll create a successful business that can survive any downturn.

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