With sweaty palms and a queasy feeling in my stomach, I sat outside a local dentist office in my car trying to figure out what I was going to say.
I told myself that today was the day I would start my web design business, so I Google’d a few businesses, got their addresses, and decided I would visit each of them to see if they needed a new website.
The only problem was that I had no portfolio to show them.
“How are they going to trust me if I’ve never worked with clients before?” I thought to myself.
Feeling defeated, I drove away before even hearing a yes or no from the business owner.
Are you trying to figure out how to start your own web design business without having an established portfolio?
As someone who has made a decent amount of money building websites, I can relate to the fear of not knowing how to get your first client when you don’t have a portfolio.
Unfortunately, most businesses won’t want to work with someone unless they have a portfolio of work to show them.
The question is, though, how are you supposed to build a portfolio if you need one in order to be able to build one?
It’s like the Screen Actor’s Guild: you can’t get a SAG card unless you’ve been in a SAG movie, but you can’t be in a SAG movie unless you have a SAG card.
Sounds pretty insane, doesn’t it?
Well, thankfully, there actually are ways to start building your web design business even if you don’t have a portfolio to show people.
Follow these tips and you won’t be running around in circles like most people when they first get started!
Lay the Right Foundation for Your Business
Starting a business can definitely be overwhelming, so before diving into it you’ll need to figure out a few key elements that will work as the foundation for your success.
A few of these elements include your business structure (sole proprietorship or LLC), business bank account, business credit card, invoicing software, accounting software, and proposal and contract templates/software.
I personally have an LLC, and I would recommend getting one, but I know plenty of people who work as sole proprietors and they like it better that way.
There are plenty of pros and cons to having both, so do your research and figure out which is best for you.
As for accounting, I keep track of it all on my own using Google Sheets.
Freshbooks has a great expense tracker as well if you don’t want to keep track of it yourself.
Having all of these things in order will help establish your credibility as a web designer when prospecting for clients if you don’t have a portfolio.
Build Websites for Yourself
Before you even think about building a website for someone else, you need to have some experience building websites.
As mentioned in my post showing how to get into web design with no experience, the best way to learn something is by taking action.
You should also try building niche websites based on topics you like (e.g. you’re a fan of quinoa so you start a website showing all of your favorite quinoa recipes).
Having a point of reference for your web design work can help local business owners decide if you’re right for the job, so don’t be afraid to show them these websites as examples of your expertise.
Build Websites for Friends and Family
Know somebody in your family or circle of friends that has a business?
Ask them if they’d be interested in having you either build them a new website or redesign their old one.
Having already established a relationship with them, it’s easier to sell them on your work even if you technically don’t have a portfolio.
Remember, though, that doing business with family or friends can end up doing harm to the relationship if not done correctly so be careful.
Have Friends or Family Refer You
If you don’t have anyone close to you that needs a website, ask them if they themselves know someone you don’t that needs one.
My first web design client was a referral from a friend, and even though I didn’t have a portfolio they hired me anyway because of my friend’s reference and reasonable pricing.
Just bring it up casually when you’re with friends or family and you might get lucky!
Befriend Local Business Owners
People tend to only want to work directly with people they like, so try to build a friendly relationship with local business owners.
Perhaps there’s a local restaurant you go to often that has a crummy website – befriend the owner and let them know that you know how to build websites.
Offer to build them a website at a discount, and see what they say.
You’d be surprised at how willing many business owners are to work with freelancers, and having an existing relationship will help you get your foot in the door even without a portfolio.
While it’s much easier to build a web design business with a portfolio, we all have to start somewhere.
Thankfully, there are ways to begin building your business even without an extensive portfolio.
An SEO expert, web designer, and writer, Thomas writes on topics he deems fun such as digital marketing, entrepreneurship, and personal development. Since 2014, he’s worked with countless business owners to help them improve their organic presence online. When he’s not writing about online business or geeking out about the latest Google algorithm update, he spends his free time playing the piano and working out with his wife.