One thing I am often asked by designers – old and new alike – is: “how do you get work” or “how do you get clients”.
Here are the principles and practices that I have used and found successful over the years.
Put most of your effort into developing your own site
Building and maintaining websites is a time-consuming business, but at least the time and effort put into your own site will benefit you and you alone.
Many people often ask me about the plethora of design work sites and bidding sites and whether I use them. The answer is “no”. Sites where people bid for work or upload their work for display will always benefit the consumer (the clients) rather than the producer (you). You are up against multiple competitors on the same site and the client can pick and choose and this means you make less money.
Of course, you can engage with social media, directory sites and forums, etc., but use them for driving interest to your own site. Your site should be the hub of your online world.
But why would potential clients contact you from your website? Because you write quality content on there about what you do. You should write about everything you can possibly think of about your particular area of expertise – generally and specifically. Even take the time to research into related areas you don’t know much about now but hope to in the future. There is nothing quite so educational as writing a tutorial. People will start to arrive at your site from search engines, see you know what you’re talking about and hire you.
Remember – it’s far better to have clients going to you than to go cap in hand to potential clients.
Put your USPs, skills and services on your business stationery and emails
For example, I have “Marketing materials, Design, Animation, Print, Re-branding, HTML Email, Search Engine Optimisation, Website design & development, hosting & maintenance, etc.” in my email signature. So that anyone receiving mail from me will know that I don’t just do web design. Put this on your invoices, business cards, letterheads, etc., online and off.
Never turn down a job if it’s a good client
If someone asks for a job you can not do, say “yes”! Find someone to do the job and charge the client a little more than you paid for it. Did I say don’t use bidding sites? Don’t use them to look for work. But use them to find workers. Elance and oDesk are good.
This way you get a new client, find a new contact through the bidding site and learn a bit about how to do work in an adjacent field to your area of expertise. Oh, and you get paid!
The best clients are the ones you already have
Some clients have come to me with tiny jobs and end up using me to rebrand their company. By saying this I don’t mean do all manner of jobs for rock bottom prices. But always treat clients with the utmost respect and honesty and this good karma will come back to you in terms of repeat business.
However, I don’t bombard my current clients with unnecessary email marketing – when they leave me alone, I leave them alone. But I do send them a card every year wishing them and their families the best season’s greetings and a happy new year. The card has my contact details and a synopsis of my services, of course.
It never ceases to amaze me how much work I get from people I have already worked for or from their recommendations.
If you’re just starting out
Whether you’ve been working as a designer for years or you’ve just left college, you can enter the freelance world with zero risk! There is nothing to stop you being a freelance graphic designer as you can work in your spare time. Many people ask me when is the best time to go freelance. I say now! You can start by creating and improving your own website and writing valuable content that is indexed by search engines. But do this in your spare time. Don’t leave your steady job to go freelancing with no clients!
What you can do next
Start a website and write the best articles you can each and everyday. That is honestly the best advice I can give you!
I’ve run a business since 2006 and the only reason I’ve been able to continue is this blog! I write more about the business of attracting the right clients to your business in my e-book How To Get Clients. Plus there’s more about the setting up, running and extra monetizing in the Running a Web Design Business e-book.