Freelance Web Development Jobs: How to Pitch Clients Outside of Upwork

This is a guest post by Travis Bennett

I love Upwork. Back when it was Elance it’s how I got started with the whole freelancing game, pitching and winning freelance web development jobs from clients all around the world.

These days, though, it can be tough. New freelancers are even finding their applications aren’t being accepted because they’ve got “too many candidates in the category you’re applying to.” Ouch.

But this could also be a blessing in disguise. Years back it was a good platform to start looking for freelance web development jobs, and I still love it to this day. I’ve got a handful of long-term clients I work with on Upwork, but I no longer use it as my main source of leads.

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The race to the bottom was just too intense. You’re competing against developers in developing countries, and all over the world, who are willing to do the same contracts for a fraction of the price. Especially in the web development categories, it’s getting harder and harder to find clients who value your skills and are willing to pay premium rates.

But that doesn’t mean these clients aren’t out there. You’ve just got to adapt and use new techniques to find them.

Here’s how I do it.

Pick a particular niche you serve

This first step is all about developing a laser-like focus. You need to niche down on a particular customer segment you’ve had success with and create a value proposition that speaks to others in that segment.

My advice is to take one of the websites in your portfolio and use this as your stepping stone. Perhaps you’ve just done a great website for a lawyer, a local retailer, or whoever it is, you’re going to leverage this to get new clients.

If you’ve not done your first project yet, then finding one is a whole other task. We dive into what it takes to get started as a freelancer in a separate post.

See also: How to Be a Freelancer While Working Full Time

Alright. So back to your niche. Your friend’s dad runs a local law firm and building them a website was one of the first projects you did. Now you’ve got to quantify your success.

  • What change in rankings were you able to achieve?
  • What increase in traffic does the new site generate?
  • How has the inquiry rate increased since the change?
  • What’s the value of the biggest client the new website brought?

Depending on the client you may (or may not) have the answers to all of these. But what I’m trying to get you to think about here is outcomes. Your pitch needs to communicate the value you’ve generated for a similar company, so the prospect thinks “Oh wow, I want that too.”

See also: How To Make (More) Money On Upwork By Finding Your Niche

Research your target customers

Now you can take any approach to this that you like, but I find a local strategy usually has the best results. People relate to you faster when you’re in their area, and you’ll get a higher success rate with the outreach you do.

But if you’re location independent and halfway around the world it’ll still work, having done both myself I know these techniques work.

Right. So taking the law firm example, we need to find a few more companies to help. I’d pick a city, or if you’re wanting to get a lot of leads look at a state level, and start doing some research.


1. The first step is to head to your local library.

They’ve got free access to a program called Reference USA, which is essentially a giant database of American companies. You can filter on keywords and industries, and sort by sales or number of employees to ensure you’re not wasting your time with massive corporations, and download up to 100 leads at a time. Within about 20 minutes you should have hundreds and hundreds of leads.

2. Next, I’d turn to Google.

Searching for “lawyers in CITY” or “law firm in CITY” and dig through at least the first 20 or 30 pages of results. As a web developer you’re probably going to find your ideal client buried way past the front page, so keep looking. They’re the ones who need your help the most.

3. From here you’ve probably hit maybe a thousand leads to check, which is plenty.

But I always keep my eyes open. Perhaps you notice a legal ad on the back of a park bench or spot a full-page spread in your local yellow pages under lawyers. Make a list of all of these companies too, as they’ve got ads up which proves they’ve got budgets to spend.

Making a personalised pitch

The worst possible thing you can do at this stage is to start spamming the leads you’ve collected asking for freelance web development jobs.

Instead, you need to invest 5 to 10 minutes of research into each company. Look for any obvious mistakes on the website, and make a note.

Certain things I look for are an outdated copyright year, whether or not the site is mobile-responsive, or even just the overall look and feel of the site. I use these later when I start talking about the specifics of how we can help.

If they’ve got a perfect website, I’d simply make a note to check back in 6 months or a year, and move on to researching the next lead in my list.

I send an average of about 10 cold emails a day, which (when done consistently) is plenty to build up a solid pipeline of leads.

It’s just a matter of following these steps:

1. Create a cold email

Based on what you learned looking at the website, send an email in a format like this:

Hi (contact name)

Hope you’re having a great day. I’m (your name), a fellow (city) native and also a local business owner. I am reaching out as I found (their company name) while searching for another business.

In short, I wanted to discuss your website, as there are a few quick changes we could make that will get you more sales each month. My company, (your company name), just finished a website for (insert example company), and they’ve been incredibly happy with their success. Specifically:

– We built a mobile version of their site and they’re seeing a 50% increase in traffic

– We added a new sales page which is generating 5 new leads every week

– and so on…

If it makes sense to talk further, I’d love 10 minutes of your time to talk about how we could get these results for your business. Just respond to this email or reach out to me on my personal line (555-5555). I’m looking forward to helping a fellow local business owner succeed!


(your name)

2. Sort out the next steps

Once I click send, I use my email tracking software to see how it performs. Hubspot works great, as I use G Suite it lets me know the second my email has been opened, so I can follow up.

Now here’s the fun part.

Once they’ve read my mail, I’ll do one of two things.

  • Call them directly 10 minutes later just to see “how it’s going”
  • Send a one-sentence follow up email with “Oh, just one more thing, we’ve also been quite successful doing XYZ for (their industry), have you got a sec to speak now?”

Once they’re on the call, you need to rely on your gut to determine how “warm” they are as a prospect. The goal is to get them to commit to a face-to-face meeting or learn if they’re simply not interested so you can move on.

I try to keep this first call short, with a focus on listening to the customer and understanding the problems they’ve had so far. Generally, they’ll have had a less than favourable experience with a web developer, which is why they’ve not got an outdated website that’s not performing.

Because I don’t follow a script, my calls are a bit hard to map out, but they usually focus on building rapport. I repeat back what the prospect is telling me using their own words, reassure them with facts and results we’ve achieved, and keep the tone of the conversation as upbeat and positive as I can.

You want to communicate just how confident you are that you’ll be able to generate the same results for their business and get them to commit to a follow-up meeting to discuss the project in detail.

Oh, and if you can wrangle an idea about the budget they’ve got in this first call it’ll save you a lot of heartache in the long run, but this isn’t always possible.

3. Ask for the business

Maybe I’m a little bit cocky, but the way I handle sales meetings is to assume that I’ve already got the deal before even sitting down to the face-to-face session.

After hundreds of client meetings, this is what works best for me, but you may need a different approach. You’ll be the best judge of this.

Here, I simply reaffirm everything that we spoke about, but let the client talk in detail about the specifics of what they want their website to do. I may have a rough outline of the scope prepared, (depending on the level of detail I got from that first phone call), but if not we’ll run through this together with the client to come up with an estimated price.

Then it’s just a matter of asking for the business. I’m pretty upfront, and I’ll say something like

(client) thanks for your time today, and I’d love the chance to work on this project with you. I assume we’ve got a deal?

From here, you’ll get a pretty good idea if there are any stumbling blocks you need to overcome, like getting sign-off from a higher authority in the company, or if there are any lingering concerns you need to address. In this case, you’ve got to overcome these as fast as possible.

Until you’ve got the contract signed and the money in the bank, you can never assume a project is “guaranteed,” so stay on your toes and clarify any of their concerns as fast as you can.

I have a habit of replying to emails immediately, even if it’s just to say “Got your note, will reply in 3 hours,” so clients know I’m always available. Unless I’m sleeping of course.

Following this process, I’ve been able to ditch the clients who want you to work for peanuts and secure freelance web development jobs that pay well, time and time again. The key to it all is to personalise your pitch.

See also: Freelance IT Jobs: 30 Resources for Finding PAID IT Related Work

By demonstrating real value it shows you’ve done your homework, and the hook is that you’ll be able to produce the same results for their business.

Then you’ll stand out from the spammy emails from so-called “website design specialists.” And you’ll start landing freelance web development jobs left, right and centre.

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Written by

Travis Bennett

Travis Bennett runs Nomad Stack, a free set of resources for digital nomads to help aspiring entrepreneurs escape the daily grind and build a lifestyle business of their own, from anywhere in the world. Keep up with the latest on Facebook and Instagram.


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  1. Bob Kruse

    Great article! Trying to get web dev work in the “real world” is definitely a daunting endeavor, especially when you’re used to doing everything online.

  2. Ade Amos

    Great article. I appreciate that your shared real-life insight and not just usual mumbo jumbo.