I asked myself “How do real life graphic designers actually find and keep new design clients?” What has really worked? If you haven’t done anything where do you start? What’s the consensus among graphic designers that already been through it? This is my conclusion.
This blog post draws upon the experiences of many graphic designers but mainly upon the advice of:
- Daniel Vivarelli, Canadian graphic designer over at Ultimate Reputations, Elite New Media, and FastCharacters. Daniel is also the author of the excellent e-book “The Elite Freelancing Method: Killer Strategies for Freelance Web Designers.”
- Alex Mathers, British illustrator, and the man behind Red Lemon Club. Alex is the author of the e-books “Promo 3.0: Why Creatives are Failing at Promoting their Art, and How to Attract Buyers and Fans in a Modern World” ($1,99) and “Ebook: 10 Steps to Powerful Online Self Promotion for Creatives” ($39)
- Sheila Patterson, American independent graphic designer over at Apex Creative
- Meg Robichaud, Canadian graphic designer and illustrator. You’ll find her at Meghan Robichaud.
- Steve Fogg, Australian, director at DesignDuo, and communications pastor at Crossway. Steve blogs at Steve Fogg
- Jacob Cass, American graphic designer blogging over at JUST Creative.
- Nicole Foster, American website designer
So what’s the consensus? Which are the most important self-promotion activities? There are, of course, a plenitude of activities you could do, in a more or less advanced way, but you should start doing these:
Publish a Targeted Design Portfolio Online
Potential clients come to your site for two main reasons:
Clients want to check out your work
What makes them like your work?
Most potential graphic design clients love to find four things:
- a lot of experience of similar jobs to the one they are shopping for (industry experience)
- testimonials of other clients happy with your work
- high-quality imagery
- fresh work
If your design portfolio delivers the above you make it to the client’s short list.
Make your designs quick and easy to review.
Make it super-easy to browse the design portfolio. Publish your greatest and latest artwork on your home page.
Forget about writing clever copy to start with. Focus your design portfolio on visuals that show rather than tells potential clients what you are capable of.
Clients want to make contact
If the client likes your work he wants to make contact. Make your contact details super-accessible, and make it super-easy to contact you.
These contact details are a must:
- Full name
- Phone number
- Link to a home page
- Link to LinkedIn profile
- Postal address
A link to LinkedIn adds a personal, human touch, and it serves as a trust giving factor.
You must set up these communication channels:
- Online contact form
For now, besides the design portfolio and contact page the only other page you need is an about page.
Email New Art Work to Current and Potential Clients Every 3-6 Weeks
You must keep in touch regularly. The way to do this in a non-spammy way is to send them new artwork you are proud of.
You must email these people:
- Current, satisfied clients
- Former, satisfied clients
Always, always expand your list! Add these people whenever the opportunity arises.
- Account people, creative directors, and other on local design and advertising agencies
- Startup-people, especially online startups
- People you make contact with on networking events
Attend Offline Networking Events Once or Twice per Month
Online networking is good. Offline networking is better – do both if you can.
Choose offline events with care. The most important are:
- The local chamber of commerce
- Events for new businesses, especially events for the startup and web development communities
For offline networking events:
- Be low-key. Allow for coincidences. Just go there, enjoy making new friends.
- Think give, not get. Come with an attitude of genuine curiosity. After meeting someone, do you now know enough to spot ways to help him or her?
- Always follow up new contacts. Send something that will help them. Follow up the next day if possible, or at the very least, sometime before the week is out.
And yes, do bring business cards. As a graphic designer, you should go all in on the design of your business card! It’s OK, you are the graphic designer! Show your potential client what you got.
Also, you might think of designing and sending a formal thank you card you mail after meeting first time. That is, a real, physical thank you card, not an email. It will make you stand out, guaranteed.
Always Deliver On Time, On Budget, and On Brief
Stand out from your competition with great customer service. Be an above average designer if you can, but always, always, always be:
- on time (or quicker)
- on budget (or below), and
- on brief (meet goals in the creative brief or exceed them)
And yes, the above means that you always must start the project with a creative brief, which is a superb business practice.
Always Ask Clients for Testimonials and Referrals
You find new clients by treating your current clients like gold (see Always Be On Time, On Budget, and On Brief). Testimonials and referrals from current clients help new clients trust you.
At the end of every project – ask your client one question:
– “Is there anyone else in your organization, or your network who also could use what I do?”
Always follow up new referrals immediately, and then keep them warm by:
- Keep in touch every 3 to 6 weeks. Be polite, do not spam.
- Keep doing it until you get work, or they tell you to stop.
Ask new Clients How They Found You
Keep track in a spreadsheet of what’s working. Do more of that!
A Final Note on Your Mindset
Do understand that marketing is continuous work and do not expect leads right away.
What finally wins over the client might be a combination of browsing your design portfolio, a recommendation from a friend, and actually meeting you in person at an event.
That’s it, folks!
Are you doing this? What are your experiences? Please comment below!