Whether you’re a freelance designer or running your own design agency, one of the biggest challenges can be finding new clients, which can often feel like an overwhelming task, no matter your business model. But remember, lots of people out there are looking for excellent design work — it’s just a matter of finding them. While there are many ways to find new clients, what works for someone else may not work for you. It all comes down to knowing who your ideal clients are, and what graphic design services you can offer that allows you to stand out.
One way to do this is deciding who you want to work with, and how you can help them — whether it’s providing a design solution to their problem, or helping them achieve a certain kind of result.
Getting clear on who your ideal clients are will help you figure out where to find them. Similarly, identifying what you have to offer will help you communicate your services and your value, so that potential clients can determine whether they’re a good fit.
Here are a few methods in answer to the question of how to get graphic design clients, useful for any professional in the creative industry, from branding to web design and more.
1. Reach out to people you already know
As a first step, consider reaching out to people you already know, whether they’re co-workers, past clients or collaborators, classmates, or even neighbors, friends and family. You might reach out to these contacts directly, or post an update to your social media channels. Share with them what you like to do, and that you currently are open for new and interesting projects. There’s a chance that they’ll give you an opportunity you weren’t aware of, or put you in touch with someone who could use your services.
When doing work for people you have a previous relationship with, make sure to treat it as you would any other professional client relationship. Set up a formal meeting to learn about their needs and whether it’s a good match for your services, draft a proposal and get them to sign off on it, and provide excellent customer service. If it seems appropriate, offer them a small price break, perhaps in exchange for a testimonial or review, or simply as someone you have a close relationship with. Just make sure that it feels like a fair exchange for both sides.
2. Offer your expertise for free when relevant
While working for free is somewhat controversial in the design industry, offering a small portion of your services at no cost can, when done right, leverage future opportunities. Depending on what you specialize in, this might be a quick audit of their visual branding, a website analysis, or a free consultation — anything that addresses a specific problem your client is facing. Offering just a small taste of your services helps demonstrate your expertise and establish trust, setting the stage for hiring you as the next step.
A variation of this involves offering a free resource or tool, and asking for a potential client’s contact information in exchange. You might share a free eBook, a mini online course, or a pack of website templates — anything that your clients would find valuable, while at the same time showcasing your knowledge and expertise. Once you have their contact information, you can send a personal follow-up email, or continue to share valuable resources that position you or your agency as a leading, authoritative partner to hire when they’re ready.
3. Partner with other freelancers and agencies
One way to find new clients is by partnering with other freelancers and agencies on collaborations and cross-referrals. If other creatives in your network work with your ideal client, and offer services that complement your own, suggest partnering up to offer bigger solutions. For example, you might bring in a writer to produce content for the site you’re designing. Collaborating with other creatives allows you to access new clients, and to expand the services you can offer to your existing client base.
A related approach involves asking other freelancers and agencies who do work similar to your own to send any referrals your way. It might be that they’re fully booked, and can’t take on any more work. Or they may have gotten inquiries that aren’t a good fit for them, but may be a great fit for you. Getting to know other designers and creatives and asking for referrals can be a great way to reach more clients. For this sort of relationship to work, make it reciprocal by sending projects their way when you can’t take them on.
4. Check out marketplace sites and job boards
Marketplace sites and job boards, like the Wix Marketplace, can be a good place for freelancers to secure more work and determine what to charge. Here, the important thing is getting clients to pay attention to you on those sites, whether it’s submitting a well-crafted proposal, or building a strong profile with lots of good reviews. Some marketplace sites to check out are Toptal, Upwork, PeoplePerHour, Fiverr, and more.
For a broader range of job listings, check out LinkedIn or run a job search on Google, which sources listings from across the web. You can also check out design-specific job boards, like Behance and Dribbble, or more specialized sites like AngelList for startups and RemoteOK for remote work.
5. Send a cold introduction
Cold introductions — whether they’re emails, LinkedIn messages, or Instagram DMs — are a great way to start conversations with people you’d like to work with. When sending a cold introduction, make sure to include any details that will help you connect on a personal level, or which show that you’ve done your research on their work or company.
Explain who you are, what you do, and examples of design work that you’ve successfully completed in the past. Make sure to be specific about how you’d like to work with them, and try to make the message more about their work and why it’s of interest to you, than the other way around. Even if they don’t hire you right away, you might work with them in the future, or they might refer you to others who may be a good fit.
6. Revamp your portfolio site
Your graphic design portfolio or web agency site showcases your best work, as well as your personality and brand. It helps prospective clients determine whether they’d like to work with you and how they can contact you as the next step.
Update your site so that it features your most recent projects that reflect the kind of work you want to do in the future. Remove any outdated projects, or pieces that you’d rather not be commissioned for moving forward. You might also add testimonials, awards, or case studies that help demonstrate the results of your work and your growing expertise. You can also freshen up the look and feel of your site by updating the typography, or adding videos and interactions that help engage site visitors and help bring your work to life.
To optimize your portfolio site for search engine results, consider choosing a few keywords that your ideal client is likely to use when searching for your services. Include these across the text of your site and its metadata. Make sure to link back to your portfolio from the rest of your online presence, whether it’s your social channels or places where you or your work are mentioned. These links not only help direct more people to your site, but could also boost your site’s position on search engines.
7. Engage with potential clients on social media
Staying active on social media and being present online helps clients find you, discover your work, and get to know you better. Make sure to choose social platforms that make sense for your business. Whether it’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or any other site, invest your efforts into the places where your ideal client is most likely to be found.
Keep your online presence in people’s mind by sharing helpful information, answering questions and commenting on other people’s posts. The key is posting regularly and engaging with others in a meaningful way. Through these interactions, potential clients can get a glimpse of who you are as a professional and the kind of work that you’re doing. They’ll also be able to reach out for your expertise as a precursor to hiring you for a project.
Social media is also a great way to meet and stay in touch with an online community of other freelancers and agencies. These might be the people that you end up collaborating with or getting referrals from in the future.
8. Create meaningful content
Content comes in many forms — blog posts, live videos, podcasts, eBooks, reports and the list goes on. Creating and posting content online allows you to share your knowledge, showcase your process and talk about your latest projects. It helps you build credibility and become an authority in your field, which can lead to all sorts of unique opportunities. Plus, when people find your content, they’ll get to know you better and may want to work with you based on that.
Content also allows people to search for you online by making it optimized for search engines. Include relevant keywords that your ideal client is searching for, or add a transcript to make your videos and podcasts more searchable (as well as accessible). On top of sharing your content on your own website, consider posting it on well-known sites, like Dribbble, Behance, YouTube or Medium. These sites tend to show up on the first page of Google, which means people will be able to find you more easily. Make use of these well-established sites to send people back to your work and portfolio site.
9. Speak at events and conferences
Frequenting and speaking at events, conferences, and webinars — as an individual speaker or as a panelist — can be a great way to share your knowledge and position yourself as an expert and industry leader. Whether virtual or in-person, speaking allows you to get in front of new clients who may need your design services or who can refer you to someone they know. Plus, you’ll get to practice speaking publicly about your work and knowledge. This can help you find new ways to talk about your practice, improve your communication with clients, and find new ideas for content to post online.
10. Do extraordinary work and ask for referrals
If you’ve delivered extraordinary work and provided an excellent client experience, clients will be happy to tell others about the work you’ve done for them. It’s just a matter of asking them for referrals and recommendations. Be sure to let your clients know that you’re always open to taking on new projects.
When you do get referrals, it’s important to make every direct referral a priority. Take time to understand what potential clients are looking for. If they aren’t a good fit, refer them to someone who might be a better match and do your best in helping point them in the right direction.