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How to Sell the Heck Out of Your Design Services… In the Coolest, Non-Sleaziest Way

In This Article

I’m an artist first. I care about creating beautiful, functional things more than anything else. If I could just sit in a room all day and create and pay the bills – well, that’d be just fine with me.

However, running a creative agency requires additional skill sets. It requires learning about everything that goes AROUND your art to turn it into a successful business.

“Selling” is probably the hardest thing for us artists to grasp. However, after running an agency for the past 5 years, I’ve got a good grip on it, and I’d like to help you do the same.

In fact, these days, practically everyone who calls us becomes a client.

That’s not because we’re a bunch of “slick Willy” salesmen who are good at conning and manipulation… it’s because we have a really solid process down pat.

First off, here are a few rules I have when it comes to sales:

1. I’ll never do anything that compromises my integrity or who I am as an artist. That means no lying, hyping, cutting myself short, or pricing myself higher than I feel is fair either.•

2. I’m always willing to walk away. Every prospect who calls is just ONE opportunity – not THE opportunity. That doesn’t mean I won’t passionately pursue their business… it just means I won’t put myself in a position where desperation runs the show instead of my calm center.•

3. I will be a super cool guy! My goal in talking to prospects is to be the coolest, kindest person they’ve spoken with that day. After all, how often do you become friends with the people who sell you… anything? My goal is to try to get them to laugh and smile – a lot.

With that said there are…

2 things you must have to make your sales process complete:

1. A kick-butt proposal.

Your proposal should knock their socks off. It should be clean, well-designed and gorgeous. It should also go into DETAIL about EVERYTHING your prospect gets included with their service.

For example, do you do research? What kind do you do? Why is it important? What does it contribute to the project? How much do you do?

Do you optimize web pages so all relevant info shows up above the fold? Make “Above the Fold Optimization” a point in your proposal and talk about why it’s such a good thing.

In our proposal, we outline Market Research (research into their target audience), Brand Research (research into their company), and Competition Research. We educate prospects, in the proposal, about why each phase is so important and the steps we take to complete each one.

We offer copywriting, so we talk about how the copy assumes their company’s ideal voice, while using the research to tell their customers exactly what they need to hear.

We talk about the coding process and how we test on multiple browsers, devices, etc. We explain how mobile functionality works and that it’s included too.

Take nothing for granted! Your prospects have no idea about how you work, or everything you’ll do for them. Let it all out in the proposal.

Also, you’ll want your proposal to be easily edited. We customize every proposal we send to match a client’s interests / needs. This customization goes a long way in converting sales. Actually, we probably spend a solid hour or so customizing every proposal. Every client is different, so we have to tweak the content we’ve already prepared each and every time.

2. A solid agreement.

This isn’t just to cover yourself – this is also an important psychological component to closing sales. Contracts emit security, experience, and safety. You want yours to emit a sense of, “I’ve done this many times before, and I’m not going anywhere.”

This is especially crucial if you only deal with your clients through email and phone. That’s because you have no brick-and-mortar structure that shows people how serious and committed you are.

For example, if you walk into a gym for a membership, and it’s a rinky-dink place that looks like it took them 10 minutes to set up, and in 10 minutes they could suddenly disappear… you’d probably re-consider.

But if they had a solid, beautiful front desk… marble-floored bathrooms… new, shiny equipment, etc… it emits a sub-conscious message that they’re committed and in it for the long haul.

Your contracts, emails, proposals, and phone calls ARE your “brick-and-mortar” storefront. So have a really solid contract in place.

Okay, now that we’ve got that covered… Let’s get into the “nuts and bolts” of selling the heck out of your services.

Rule #1: Always get them on the phone… And never tell your prices right away!

I’m going to assume most of your prospects reach out to you through email. If so, you probably get a lot of emails that look like this…


I’m interested in having a website designed. What are your prices?


At this point, most designers send back an email like this…

Hi SP!

Websites cost $XXXX – $YYYY. Would you like to discuss your project?

Designer Joe

And at this point… you likely never hear from your prospect again. Or you get a polite response, followed by no business.

Here’s why: First off, your prospect has no idea what they’re getting for whatever price you throw at them this early in the game. How could they possibly know if it’s a good value or not? Any price sounds like too much at this point.

Also, chances are they know nothing about web design! So any price you throw at them is just gibberish this early in the process. It’s important to educate them about the thousand and one things that are included, and THEN give a price.

Second off – closing sales via email is TOUGH! Your services cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. People want to talk to you to make sure you’re even real! They want to get to know you a bit before they fork it over.

So, from now on, you have one job to do when someone reaches out to you via email: Get them on the phone!

We usually send an email that looks something like this…

Hey SP!

Thanks for reaching out 🙂 Our prices can vary quite a bit depending on what exactly you need.

Why don’t we set up a time to chat for a few minutes so I can learn more about your project? Then we can give you a really accurate quote.

How’s tomorrow at 4pm EST? If that doesn’t work, shoot me back a time that’s good for you and we’ll make it happen.

Looking forward to it!

Yes, we use smileys and exclamation points… in just about every email we send. I’m trying to build friendly relationships here – not show people how stiff and professional I can be!

Also, you’ll notice I didn’t ignore the price question – but I postponed it for later, and with good reason. The truth is, websites can vary a LOT in price!

This shows “S.P.” that I’m serious too. I want to discuss her project. I actually want to spend time hearing what it’s all about. There’s a good chance she’s reached out to a handful of other teams who just spit a price out at her.

So now you’ve got your prospect on the phone! What to do next?

Well, I’m all out of time for this blog post! But next time, I’ll talk about how to structure the conversation so it’s fun – and leads to more sales.

Fair enough? 🙂

Then hang in there till next time. (Subscribe via email here.)

And if you have ANY questions at all about what we’ve covered so far, please don’t hesitate to ask! (Comments found here.)


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Written by David Tendrich

Staff at

David Tendrich is the co-head of creative agency Unexpected Ways, as well as the co-founder of Reliable PSD: the first-ever PSD to HTML & PSD to Wordpress service run by designers, for designers. He co-runs his companies from Portland, Oregon with his lovely wife and biz partner, Lou Levit.

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  1. Andrea Irvin says:

    So I should not list prices right? How do you get them to actually call or email? And is it better to list your phone number on the site? Can you check mine out? i just started it and have got some traffic but everyone leaves and does not create an account or anything..

    Please help!

    Thank you,

    -Andrea Irvin

    (freelance graphics/web artist)

  2. jennifer avegno says:

    Could you give me some advice on if taking a deposit for agreed upon work is normal or something that should be in the contract to lock in the deal or do you feel no deposit should be implied?

    1. David Tendrich says:

      Getting a deposit to start work is 100% normal. In the first call you can explain: “Here’s how the process works” and tie it in there.

      Never do work without getting paid!! And never deliver your final work until you receive the final payment.

      (There are exceptions, of course, but for the vast majority of the time we live by those 2 rules)

  3. Agreed about the cold calling. I have been working for myself for almost 30 years and in the early days when I tried this (phone and emails) it never worked. And what you say about the matter is completely correct. Once they make an enquiry first then it’s in one’s best interest to call them and have a friendly chat about what they need, where they have come from and want to go, project wise. It works!! They get a sense of who you are, if they can trust you and from that the feeling of being comfortable with you.

    1. David Tendrich says:

      I agree. Some people swear by it though and they have a great system for it. I think there are enough ways to get clients that you can lean towards those that suit your personality / strengths. Cold calling definitely does not suit mine! 😀

      Yes – totally. Get to know them first. People appreciate that so much.

  4. Andrea Garza says:

    Great article. I always feel like I get too detail oriented and that I’ll make client’s eyes glaze over or confuse them. I’m glad to hear that people seem to be reading over your details and quoting them to you. I think the use of smiley faces and exclamation points is a great way to make the initial contact much more personal feeling, that’s something I will definitely implement going forward. Great tip! I am also about to implement a one-time exit intent popup for customers who are just poking around looking at prices, etc. To download my free guide “10 Things to consider when hiring a web designer”.

    1. David Tendrich says:

      Nice! I love the direction your’e headed in. Yes, people will read every word as long as it’s *relevant* to their problems and desires.

      Also – for your exit popup – I’d suggest trying something that caters to those problems & desires.

      For instance, clients don’t really want a designer, they want more business. But they recognize that to get that, they need a designer.

      So make the popup offer about what they really want: Getting more new customers.

      Good luck 😀

    2. David Tendrich says:

      Right here!

  5. Kieran Parker says:

    Loved it, Where can I find the next part?!

    1. David Tendrich says:

      Right here! And thanks 😀

  6. Whitney Hoskins says:

    Thanks David! I agree cold calls are a waste. I’m just starting out freelancing from my home office as an art director/designer who enjoys the one-on-one with clients. I spent a decade as a designer in ad agencies and in-house design dept’s and burned out of the environments; my home studio is exactly where I need to be to relax, focus, and enhance my creativity (and no more migraines!). But what are some good ways to land high-quality clients? Everyone I meet seems to be stuck on the idea that design is something you get on Fiverr and that’s disheartening to keep hearing at networking events. Should I join Chamber of Commerce? A BNI-type closed-loop referral organization? Just keep meeting people anywhere/everywhere? I’m in an area with a well-to-do population for sure, but that doesn’t stop people from wanting a bargain. I also thought about direct-mailing a kick-ass, custom piece showing off my work examples to area agencies and design shops. Any advice is greatly appreciated!

    1. David Tendrich says:

      Hey Whitney!

      I think you really have to follow your strengths. My strength is copywriting. So I use that to land new clients, mostly by putting up websites taht tell them what they want to hear so they pick up the phone and call me 🙂

      If your strength is in-person networking – roll with that.

      If those groups are full of the “Fiverr” crowd though, then maybe they’re not the best.

      You can call different chambers and ask about what kinds of businesses are in them.

      If it’s all real estate and make up consultants – I’d turn the other way.

      I think reaching out to agencies is also a great idea. I don’t know if I’d send a portfolio right off the bat – but I’d maybe send a nice well-designed letter with a gift inside (like a $5 starbucks card as a thank you for their time) and ask if they’re in need of help from time to time.

      Good luck 🙂 Thanks for sharing all your thoughts

  7. I though I had it all figured out but this really opened my eyes. Really good post

    1. David Tendrich says:

      I love when that happens 😀 And it happens just about every day lol.

      Very awesome, thanks for that valuable feedback

  8. Ramon Bosch Design says:

    Great advice on handling customers, I’m taking some of your tips home 🙂 Thanks!

    1. David Tendrich says:

      Nice! 😀 Thank you too

  9. A very good one. Thanks for the article David

    1. David Tendrich says:

      Thanks, Jo, really appreciate that 🙂

  10. I totally agree with solid agreement, but I only do it after I email the prospect and give them an estimate. If they agree to fine tune it, then I will present them with a final quote that is extensive and explains everything.

    I simply will refuse to spend hours putting a quote together just to find out that the price I gave did not fit within their budget. Time is money and I could be working on my projects.

    1. Spot on. This works for me too. And it does work provided they like your work to begin with and the vibe your website gives out too.

    2. David Tendrich says:

      Smart man 🙂

      I think that’s a great addition to the process

  11. I completely agree with all your awesome points, David. I especially can relate to the part about leaving the line of communication open by not giving the price right away. It’s always best not to let the future of a relationship be determined merely based on “first impressions”, and raise as much interest as possible for later.

    1. David Tendrich says:

      Hey, thanks Ido 🙂 Really appreciate that

  12. Great article! However, always when I find these kinds of articles, I must admit I hope to find that magical trick to land clients that doesn’t include a phone. 😛

    I must say I haven’t found it so far, so I guess it all comes down to step out of the comfort zone and get on the phone.

    1. David Tendrich says:

      Yes, exactly! And if you want some clichè comfort zone quotes to get you fired up, I’d be happy to help 😉

      (On the other hand… if you do find that magical trick let me know 😉 )

      1. Sure, I’ll take a handful comfort zone quotes any day! 😀
        (And I promise to come back and share if I ever find that trick.)

    2. Lou Levit says:

      For the longest time I would always look for the exact same magic trick, but I have yet to find it lol! Getting on the phone was so uncomfortable (and I would have pretty much rather done ANYTHING else) at first, but when you do it enough times I think you begin to realize that at the end of the day it’s just another person on the other end of that line, and they’re really not that scary.

      I also think something that helps with that is being willing to walk away from the project. There’s so much pressure when you go into it with the mindset of trying to sell, or having to get the project (at least for me). When I stopped looking at it that way, and I really became completely ok within myself with not getting the project, it became a WHOLE lot easier, and a lot more just like a regular conversation.

      Hope this helps 🙂

      1. April Greer says:


        I’m with you – you have to know where your boundaries are (price point, project specs) before the conversation and let go of that “I MUST make this deal” mentality. Once you’re interviewing them as potential clients as much as they are interviewing you as a potential designer, it’s much easier to relax and chat.


      2. Thanks, Lou! You’re totally right.

        It’s sometimes hard, though, if there been bad months and far between paid projects, or if you’re just starting up and have had just a few paid ones and no one in sight.

        But it’s as they say; “Each ‘no’ you get, brings you closer to a ‘yes'”. 🙂

  13. Thanks for the post! Sometimes I forget the importance of a simple phone call. It adds personality that email won’t do =)

  14. Jerry Nelson says:

    Great article. Some things I did know, but wow, that email template is great! I’m anxiously awaiting the “handling phone calls” one. That’s an area I really need to work on. Thanks!

    1. Hey Jerry! So glad to hear it man 🙂 Thanks so much for the comment. Hope the 2nd article gives you some great gems too 🙂

  15. Hy ! great article David 🙂 im an interior designer and im so not good at selling part though im very confident about all the other aspects of my services 🙂 i feel i can benefit in a lot of ways from this , thank you for sharing

    1. Hey Sadia, that’s super cool of you to say 🙂 Thanks for stopping by 🙂 Glad this post helped.

  16. Nicholas Mann says:

    Great post!

    Someday I’ll move to a more phone based communication. It’s just that I get super nervous talking to people I don’t know well and you can tell right away through my voice. I’m also quite new to freelancing so there are frequent questions I don’t know the answer to at the top of my head which is convenient for e-mail conversations.

    1. Nicholas, I feel for ya man. I’m still scared of the phone to this day, even if it’s friends lol. My wife (& business partner) used to be even worse. I could actually bring myself to speak to clients, but she’d go hide in a closet if I ever tried to get her on the phone.

      Now she handles 90% of our sales and is really amazing at it.

      She started with a script that I wrote for her. She would literally read it word for word until she got confident enough to take the concepts behind it, and run with them.

      The truth is, about 85% of “sales” calls are just listening and asking questions to your clients. Next time I’ll go more into the “game plan” of the actual phone call. Maybe if you have a plan and a strategy ready ahead of time, it won’t be so scary 🙂

      Thanks for sharing 🙂

  17. Hi David,

    Like your post, however would recommend making sure you proof read in future before posting as you appear to have missed spaces between words in several (at least a dozen) instances throughout this post – especially if you’re offering copy writing as a service.

    No offence meant, best regards,


    1. Preston D Lee says:

      Simon, Thank you for the help. It was actually a formatting error on my end as the editor (ironic, I know.) We’ve fixed it now. Thanks for being patient with us. And thanks for reading!

    2. Sorry, Simon. Preston just had to get some new-writer-hazing out of the way ;-). I’ll make sure to put extra spaces between letters for next time lol.

      Glad you like the post, thanks for sharing 🙂

  18. Great article, we follow these rules, like most of what you write, but we do not get detailed in our bids. In fact, they are super vague and the clients just have to trust our expertise.

    It would be interesting to see your list of details. 🙂

    1. That’s really interesting, Martha. That’s pretty cool you can pull that off, not sure that I can at this point. Maybe it’s a market thing though. We fill that thing with a LOT of words. But it always amazes me when people quote odd little phrases from it. They really pour through it. Catches me off guard every time, cause we’re all inundated with the nonsense that “no one reads anymore”.

      Are these big ticket items you’re vague with? Small stuff? Both? Would love to hear more.

      1. Most of our work is website based running from $5,000+. I have always wanted to do a dramatic “list of features” but we list about 5. The same ones that every website designer should – CMS, SEO, Social Media, Responsive, Text Replacement (I know that one is out of date). Then we give them a suggested website map and pricing.

        We meet with every single one of them in person and usually get the contract.

        1. David Tendrich says:

          Well there you go! You must kick major butt in those meetings 🙂

  19. Great article! Lot’s of grat tips.

    Not sure if the lack of simple spell check validates or invalidates the fact that this was written by an artistic businessman though.

    1. Ha! “great” not “grat”!

    2. Preston D Lee says:

      JKent, that was my mistake, not David’s. Thanks for catching it too. I’ve fixed it all up (I hope) and we figured out where it went wrong.

    3. Thanks, JKent. I wish I was as cool as the jumbled letters made me out to be lol. Maybe some day 😉

      I’m glad you got a lot out of the post.

  20. Ryan Tomlinson says:

    Wow, what an awesome article! I am so guilty of not using the phone like I should. 90% off all my business communication is via email. This article has me now looking at myself wondering if I am throwing away business. I will trying out your email template. Thank you!

    1. When I made the switch, sales became about 2,000x easier. And I had this moment where every lead I’d ever lost through email flashed before my eyes. It was quite a lot lol.

      Would love to hear how it goes for you 🙂 Next time I’m going to talk about the process I’ve stumbled upon for handling those calls – maybe there’ll be something there to help you make the transition too.

  21. Great post! Thanks for the info.

    Usually I’m not the grammar or typo police, but I couldn’t help but notice there were quite a few words run together…just thought I’d mention in case you wanted to fix the online version 🙂

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      Thanks, Mindy. That was my fault. We had a glitch in the formatting. Thanks for the help!

      1. I think Preston was trying to make a statement… about how we’re all just a bunch of jumbled up letters and words in the end 😉

        Very deep, my friend, haha.

        Glad you liked the post 🙂

      2. So how did the first 5 years start? I was going to ask this on your second article, but went back to make sure it was covered..

        It’s assumed that potential clients are a plenty.. But most businesses have no visibility.. I just wonder why the cold call is never mentioned…

        To become a firm takes marketing and follow up calls.. But if cold calls are never first on the list.. What was your marketing budget to get all those calls?

        Like yourself after 5 years in business I get to test my approach to calls in.. But, let’s talk about the uncomfortable cold call..

        1. David Tendrich says:

          Hey Phil,

          I am very, very anti-cold-call. I’ve done it in the past… in person even… and it was probably the most uncomfortable experiences of my life.

          Every form of communication your business engages in sends a message. And that’s not the message we wanted to send. We wanted people to be open and comfortable with us from the beginning and full of the warm fuzzies.

          99.9% of the time cold calling brings on feelings of defensiveness and anxiety (in both parties) and you have to overcome those feelings to get anywhere.

          You have to prove the heck out of yourself just to get someone to be open to you for a minute.

          With that said, I don’t think the choices are either “pay for traffic” or “cold call”. There’s a whole, big ole middle ground inbetween 😉

          As for what we did, we paved our own path. We got very creative, and we stuck with our strengths. We formed partnerships, JVs, etc. We did a lot of work that didn’t pay much at the moment, but we had faith it’d pay off in the long run. And a lot of it did. We played the long game rather than trying to make quick sales. Our approach was never to hammer a business with calls or emails and then follow up with those calls or emails.

          (Bianca just put out a great post about forming the relationships I’m talking about. We did a lot of that kind of stuff and we always reached out with a giving, generous hand.)

          I believe there are people out there who have cold calling down to an art form, but it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to get to that point. And to spend the time and effort, you either have to be extremely passionate about it, or extremely scared of what would happen if you didn’t do it.

          I think that time could be spent in much more efficient ways that bring in lots of customers at once instead of just one at a time.

          Then again, maybe you have a different side to the story. If so, I’d love to hear it.


          1. Hi David,

            I agree that a one sided approach is never the answer.. And of course the printing industry is far different from the design firm.. Thank god! It either you need it or you don’t.. I don’t cold call regularly, but if you research your leads and call with confidence in your product, it should be easier..

            I just really wondered, how do you start with nothing and gain that first few clients..

            Maybe it’s a small business mentality.. I do sales because I’m confident I can deliver. That’s positive not negative.. My biggest and most loyal customers (been with me for many years) were from me cold calling.. Maybe I’m lucky.. But it has a value.. Especially in the beginning..

            It’s a vital first step.. Convince yourself to believe you can convince others your the one. It should be uncomfortable for you.. If it’s not your just cocky!

            I would love to hear your thoughts on direct mail marketing too..?

          2. Hi David,

            I love the idea of not having to cold call potential clients. I really love the idea of thinking through the clients prospective and figuring out how they would go about looking for a designer and approaching them that way.

            My question is, before you start reaching out to potential clients (however you decide to do it) you must do some research on them. How do you know who is looking for a graphic designer or what to look for in a company that might be a sign they are in need of one? This is what I struggle with. I could open the yellow pages and start contacting every company in my neighborhood but I feel like there must be a more effective way.

        2. David Tendrich says:

          Also, just wanted to clarify something:

          Nothing ever came from the cold calls 😉 Except for a big, unwavering realization that it was something I never again wanted to do.