Making a Positive First Impression with Clients

When it comes to landing clients for design projects, the first impression is extremely important. With so many web and graphic designers out there, clients have a lot of choices about who to contact and ultimately who to hire. The first impression can be the difference in a client contacting you to get a quote or moving on to the next designer. And the first impression after personal contact can be the difference in the client hiring you for the project or choosing another designer who seemed like a better fit.

Most clients are a little uneasy about the process of hiring a web designer. Many are intimidated because they don’t feel like they know enough about the industry to have confidence that they are hiring the right person. Some are unsure of how much they should expect to pay for the services that they need. If you’re able to make a positive first impression with these clients and put them at ease that their project will be in capable hands by hiring you, you will be much more likely to land the project.

In addition to converting more leads into paying clients, making a positive first impression can also help designers by reducing the amount of time and effort that is needed to secure the work. It’s inevitable that you’ll need to dedicate some time to communicating with potential clients before they decide to hire you, but it can also be very frustrating when you spend a significant amount of time and then they choose to hire someone else or to put the project on hold. The less time that you spend before getting a commitment from the client the more time you will have for working on the projects of those clients who have hired you. If you’re able to make a strong first impression and the client doesn’t need a lot of time to decide to hire you, that is an ideal situation.

Ways to Make Positive First Impressions

Professional Portfolio Site

When clients visit the portfolio site of a web designer they will be forming opinions on the abilities of the designer partly based on the quality of the portfolio site itself. An attractive, professional, and functional portfolio site can be a tremendous tool for helping to land more clients, and it is one of the best ways to make a positive first impression. Most clients will expect your portfolio site to represent the best work that you are capable of, so be sure that it gets the attention it deserves.

For inspiration to use in your own portfolio site design you may be interested in:

Quality of Work Displayed in the Portfolio

In addition to the quality of your own portfolio site, the quality of the work that is showcased in that portfolio will also be a big factor in the first impression that is formed by your clients and visitors. Before deciding on which designer to hire, clients want to see examples of work that have been done for other clients. If your portfolio shows a high quality of work on your client projects they will know that you are capable of producing the same great work for them.

Don’t feel like you have to show all of your client projects in your portfolio. It’s ideal to showcase your best work even if it means using a smaller number of projects in your portfolio. If you have projects from a few years ago that don’t represent the best work that you are capable of now, leave them out of your portfolio. You may also have projects that satisfied clients but didn’t really stand out as a quality piece to you. You may also want to leave these items out of your portfolio site.

Quick Response

If a client has visited your portfolio site and decided to contact you about their specific project they will probably be filling out a contact form or emailing you. The amount of time that passes before you respond can impact the first impression that they have regarding your communication. If you’re able to get back to them quickly they’ll feel more confident that you will manage the project effectively than if you take several days to respond.

Having a quick response time can be difficult because you’ll need to be able to balance the projects that you are currently working on with the need to respond to inquiries regarding future projects. Most likely you get a lot of email each day and responding immediately to each one can break up your workflow. It’s not necessary that you respond immediately, but the sooner you can get back to that client the better. Remember that they will be forming opinions based on your communication and they are most likely reaching out to other designers as well. If you’re able to quickly make a strong first impression it will go a long way towards encouraging them to chose to hire you rather than continuing to speak with other designers.

While there is no specific answer for how quickly you should respond, most clients will respond positively if you get back to them within one business day of their inquiry.

Personalized Attention

Each client and each project is unique. How you communicate with them will show that you appreciate the uniqueness of their project, or it can make them feel like you want to put them in a box with a generic response that is used with all of your potential clients. In order to show the personalized attention you should ask questions and get to know their situation, what they are looking for, and what you can do to help.

It’s a natural response for people to appreciate personalized attention, so the designer that makes the client feel like their project will be given the attention it deserves will be most likely to get the job. Ultimately the client wants positive results for their business as a result of the project, and they’ll feel more comfortable about getting those results with a designer that takes the time to provide personalized attention for the project.

Your Own Ideas and Suggestions

While you’re communicating with the client about their project and what they are looking for, don’t be afraid to present your own ideas or suggestions for the project. Some clients will know exactly what they want and they’ll only want you to make it happen, but most clients will view their web designer as a consultant as well. They’ll appreciate working with someone who can advise them through the process based on their professional experience.

If you’re able to make some suggestions or present ideas that could make the project more successful, less costly, or easy to maintain and manage going forward, the client will quickly see the value of hiring you.

Detailed Quote

Many clients don’t understand how designers come up with a price to charge for their work. Because prices can vary so much from one designer to the next, the client may feel like numbers are just being thrown around randomly. By providing a detailed quote that includes line items and a price breakdown, clients have an easier time understanding exactly what is involved, what they will be getting, and how the price is determined. Detailed quotes help to put clients at ease with the price.

Additionally, if you are in competition with other designers for landing the project, a detailed quote can show everything that is included in your proposal. Comparing prices from one designer to the next is often an apples to oranges comparison as not all designers are going to include the same things in the quoted price. Are you going to be doing things like setting up email accounts for the client, setting up analytics, social media, transferring files to a new server, etc.? If you list all of the services that you will provide in a detailed quote the client can get a better idea of exactly what you are offering, and they may not get the same thing from other designers who are quoting a lower price.


In all communications with the client, clarity can go a long way towards making a positive impression. Avoid using industry jargon and terms that the client won’t understand and communicate with them at their own level. Jargon often confuses clients and makes them feel uneasy about the project since they don’t want to sign a contract for a project that they don’t understand. Make an effort to provide clarity and they will have a better impression about your ability to work with them and communicate effectively throughout the project.

What’s Your Opinion?

How do you go about making a positive first impression with clients? If you have any advice for our readers please feel free to leave a comment.

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17 Responses

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  • Monalisa, December 8, 2011

    The tips given here for making first impression is nod doubt useful. Think yourself as a visitor. Even if a site appears in the Google 1st or 2n place without a good look you often bounce from that site and move to a site looks better. Though now a days SEO is a big issue but even though i vote for a good looking design first. SEO need may be considered after designing but design can’t be done with the SEO guidelines.

  • Gport, December 5, 2011

    Nice post, some good tips in there. A while ago I wrote a post with guidelines on how to handle your first client meeting, maybe it’ll help some people here:

  • Mori, December 4, 2011

    I really think that a well designed, and very professional portfolio, is what helped me close a large amount of contracts with clients, the clients saw my portfolio, really liked it, and chose me fo their work, even that they had cheaper offers, they chose a professional with a great portfolio and background.

  • Monty, December 2, 2011

    These are all great, positive comments but they all seem just a little transparent and sickly sweet.

    My clients always say that the reason they keep coming back and recommending me is not because I wear a tie or a beaming smile but because I treat them as an equal and not as a master.

    The project is in charge, it makes demands and the client and I respond to those demands from different view points, but as a team.

    Obviously commercial environments change from country to country, culture to culture, but in Australia, I’ve found that being yourself, being direct and saying the things that need to be said – in a firm but respectful way of course – gets me a lot further than painting on a smile, forcing out an upbeat voice and wearing a suit.

  • Steve Wyant, December 2, 2011

    Great advice. On the topic of detailed quotes, I’ve found it to be a double edged sword. For many prospects it helps them get a handle on how much work is actually entailed in creating or migrating a quality site.

    However, if you itemize and price various tasks or features, many times prospects will start to “line-item veto” to try to get the price down. The haggling that ensues can get very tangled, and what may result is a site that is a bad compromise.

    Sometimes, the level of detail I present is dependent on my assessing the likelihood of it being red-lined.

    • Vandelay Website Design, December 5, 2011

      Yes, that does sometimes happen that clients want to eliminate certain line items. From my experience it’s best to try to explain why each item is necessary to the end result rather than negotiating which ones to eliminate. In most cases I wouldn’t be willing to eliminate any line items, on smaller projects at least. On larger projects there may be more add ons or things that could be eliminated without compromising the quality of the project.

  • Evan 'OldWorld' Skuthorpe, December 2, 2011

    nice article. I think having a detailed quote definitely helps you and the client as they know what they’re paying for and what they’re getting for their money.

  • olajide, December 2, 2011

    Great article, very instructive. thanks

  • Andrew Clarke, December 2, 2011


    This is a word from the deep south of the USA and means ‘a little more’
    So, over deliver of what you promise. just enough to be noticed but not that it hurts or costs you or could be considered bribery. It’ll be noticed and appreciated and hopefully creates a warm fuzzy.

    Great article, thanks

  • Urviho, December 2, 2011

    Tanks for the article. It’s instructive :)

  • Josh K, December 2, 2011

    Some great comments there. Being positive, enthusiastic, approachable and friendly is key. Communication between a freelancer and the client, is very different, from communication between a client and an agency.

  • Business Media Plus, December 2, 2011

    Nothing takes the place of the impact that a warm smile has on the customer. And as for your site get your content professionally written. By doing this you will ensure that your message is clearly communicated and the language that it’s used presents you in the best light.

  • Web Hosting, December 2, 2011

    Making a positive impression is must

  • Eric, December 2, 2011

    Ironically, many of us got into design to avoid corporate life, but a tie is an absolute must at any client meeting. It’s a matter of respect. You are asking them to invest their money in your skills. You need to always remember that. Great article!

  • Steve Rich, December 2, 2011

    Your business name & brand recognition is key for success. You would definitely consider to place your business name and identity on items of publicity that are attention grabbing and have relatively longer life , even in outdoor use. Yes I am talking about printed full color branding labels or stickers that show your name and logo. I am sure next thing in your mind is: wow, getting full color branded labels or stickers with lamination for outdoor use must be very expensive.

    Do yourself a favor and have your name & logo printed on full color sticker. Give to your clients, you will have free publiicity as long the your branding labels last.

    Steve Rich

  • Andy @ FirstFound, December 1, 2011

    Having a good phone manner really helps too. I always find that a good rapport with a client is key to making that all important first impression, so be enthusiastic!