If you are a freelance graphic designer, you know how tough it can be to find new clients. Sure, past clients are usually fairly dependable, and many graphic designers can easily stay in the black with just a handful of regulars, but consistently developing business relationships and networking with potential clients is an important part of your business.
Let's face it: competition is stiff and while freelance graphic designers are in high demand, lowering your prices isn't the best way of keeping work flowing into your business. You need to build up a pipeline of prospective clients and keep marketing yourself if you want to succeed (and earn what you are worth).
Don't wait for clients to come to you. Make sure that you have a clear and effective marketing strategy in place to ensure that you're proactively reaching out to clients and acquiring new business.
Considerations for your graphic design business
When you first start working for yourself, many freelancers make the mistake of taking on every single job and every single client that approaches them, sometimes at a reduced rate. Don't!
When you work for yourself, production is limited to what you can produce, and if you tie yourself up in projects that aren't paying a rate that you deserve, you will miss out on potential clients that can mean more for your business in the future.
Instead, focus on finding new clients who appreciate a great designer’s work and are willing to pay for it. Don't take on more work than you can handle. If your marketing efforts start paying off and you’re bringing in more work than you can actually produce, make sure that you can refer each potential client to a good graphic designer that you trust. Hopefully, they will return the favor.
Next, keep an open mind. Freelance work means you often deal with clients from various industries, which can be an enriching experience and open up your world. Don't limit yourself in terms of the clients you take on.
How freelance graphic designers can get more clients
Now that you've thought about how to approach new projects and people, here are just a few ways you can find graphic design clients for your business:
Use word of mouth
If you've worked as an in-house designer or already have a few clients on the books, ask them to recommend your skills to their network. Oftentimes, a good referral can be far more impressive than a portfolio or killer Instagram page. If you are just starting out and haven't had any experience yet, speak to your personal network or offer your skills to a local charity that you are passionate about.
Don't make the mistake of thinking your client will automatically refer you if you do great work - ask them to refer you! Using your existing business contacts is the cheapest and most effective way of building up a steady stream of clients.
Know your value
There is a virtual sea of freelance designers available online, often at highly discounted rates. What makes you different or unique? Why do you charge more for your work than some of the others on Fiverr or Upwork? You need to know the answer to these questions if you want more graphic design clients.
Avoid cliches like "working hard" or "delivering quality work." Think of very real benefits your past clients have gotten from the projects you've worked on or the expertise you've built up in certain fields. Are you a whiz at logo design or developing a brand identity for a company? How many projects have you completed in those fields? Which industries have you worked with that are unique to you?
Once you know what makes you different, you can start communicating your value proposition to potential clients through your various freelancer platforms, social media posts, and website. You should also include some information about your experience in your pitches and proposals.
Build and promote that portfolio
Your portfolio sets you apart from your competitors and showcases your work in a meaningful way. A representative portfolio not only shows your potential clients what you can do but will help them establish whether or not you are a good fit for their project. However, you shouldn't just stick your best work on a website or social media page and hope for the best.
Be strategic about your portfolio by thinking about:
- What results you expect to gain
- Which industries your portfolio should target
- The size of business you’re trying to reach
- If it accurately communicates your skill and experience level
You may be tempted to show off that brochure you did in college, but ten years down the line, you've already developed more skills, and you need to show it off! If you've received any positive testimonials or awards, showcase those in your design portfolio as well.
Next, decide where and how you will showcase your portfolio. You should ideally upload your portfolio to a platform that will do it justice, but also a platform that potential clients will visit. You could, for example, house your portfolio on a searchable portfolio website, like Sortfolio, Coroflot, or Hireanillustrator.com, and post the direct link on your LinkedIn profile or Instagram bio. If clients reach out for additional work samples or case studies, make sure that they are ready to email or share digitally.
Don't forget to make sure your contact info is highly visible and easy to find.
When you are busy and things are going well, your portfolio is often the first thing that you neglect, so make a note to update and review your work regularly. Set reminders or add them to your daily tasks so you don't skip this important step. A good portfolio is the best marketing tool a freelance graphic designer has.
You're a graphic designer - not a writer or a vlogger. However, putting out new content is one of the most effective ways to find new graphic design clients and one that's often overlooked. Whether you write blog posts, make Instagram reels, or post about your business on Medium or LinkedIn, the content will boost traffic to your site and give potential clients a way of finding you.
Written content is probably the most powerful way of finding new business clients, especially if you can share case studies or post about topics pertaining to their specific industries. (You can also repurpose written content in your proposals or send it out as monthly newsletters).
If you aren't a writer and don't want to dip your toe into blogging, consider a regular skill swap with other freelancers. Here are a couple of ideas to get started:
- You could provide business cards or design a logo for a local copywriter in exchange for a few blog posts
- Look for affordable and dependable freelancers that can help you write a few posts that you can share across the year.
Bear in mind that when you do start writing, you should keep your ideal clients in mind. If you are a graphic designer, you might be tempted to write articles highlighting Photoshop tricks you've picked up or “10 Ways to Design the Perfect Logo.” These articles are very useful and will probably generate a lot of web traffic...from other graphic designers! Clients aren't interested in learning the intricacies of graphic design; they want to find someone to do the work for them.
Write or create video content with your clients in mind, e.g., "5 Ways a Graphic Designer Can Boost Your Profits," "Why Good Logo Design Matters," or "How to Find the Best Graphic Designer for Your Business." Use examples from your own work in your posts, and always share your contact details so clients can get in touch.
Polish your profiles
Graphic design is a highly visual field, and you may be tempted to limit your social media presence to visual media that does your work the most justice, such as Instagram or Behance. While other graphic designers will definitely appreciate your posts, your graphic design clients might not stumble across them.
Make sure that your LinkedIn profile is up to date. Create custom content if you have to. Most hiring managers use LinkedIn to find freelance graphic designers, so you can't afford to make a dull and uninspiring page.
Here are some tips to improve your profile:
- Make sure you use visuals and text to your advantage
- Include a summary of your most important and relevant skills and achievements
- Set regular reminders to update your portfolio and profile
- Regularly add new work to the "work samples" area
- Add recommendations from your current clients or people you've worked with
You should also make a point of uploading a crisp and professional photo of yourself, with a short bio about your work experience and philosophy.
Work your networks
Putting yourself out there is easier than ever before. There are a host of virtual and in-person meetings, events, and conferences where you can meet new clients or collaborators, so make sure that you find the right ones.
Local meetups and conferences related to the fields you are interested in working with are often your best bet. Sure, small business conferences and freelancer networking events are great, and you can learn a lot from them...but virtually every attendee is looking for clients, not trying to hire someone else.
Instead, make your networking count by:
- Volunteering to speak at small business forums
- Join relevant Facebook groups
- Answer questions on Quora
- Take part in Twitter conversations
You never know where your next client will come from, so make sure your business name is always in view.
You may also want to think about coworking. You can easily rent an office in a vibrant coworking space shared by like-minded entrepreneurs and small business owners. You can get work done and network at the same time.
When you're freelancing, you miss out on the organic networking that happens in office buildings and cafeterias. Even spending one day a week in a coworking space can help you find new clients (or even just a few friends that are in the same boat as you). Even if your next client isn't working there, you might meet someone who can refer you to their own clients or network.
Use social proof
Would you buy a product on Amazon with a glowing product description and a 1-star customer rating? Probably not! We value the opinion of our peers more than we do the actual advertiser that's trying to sell their product, which is why social proof in the form of testimonials is one of the most effective marketing tools you can use when you are promoting your business.
Companies are far more likely to approach you if other clients vouch for you. You can increase your social proof by:
- Asking clients for a short review when work is done
- Asking for endorsements on LinkedIn
- Displaying testimonials on your website and social media posts
- Including references and testimonials in your proposals
These testimonials inspire much greater confidence in your abilities than even the best advertising campaign could.
Follow up frequently
Sometimes clients are eager and easy to close. Others require a little push. The key is to follow up and get feedback, even if the answer is "no, thank you." Declines and failed proposals provide us with the opportunity to learn. Sometimes your proposal wasn't clear (and you can correct it); other times, your proposal just didn't meet their needs or budget. You won't know unless you follow up a few days after hitting the send button.
The same is true when you meet someone during a networking event or when you've booked a discovery call. Send a quick follow-up summarizing what you've spoken about, or attach additional information that they may have requested.
Find some creative ways to contact past clients, such as:
- Using a promotion
- Introducing a new service package
Don't forget to follow up with clients after you've completed a project, either. If you've done a great job but haven't heard from the company in a while, there's no reason not to send a friendly message asking if they have any upcoming projects that you could assist with.
This will not only keep your business top of mind but can help you plan your schedule if you know a large project is landing in a few months that you need to devote your attention to.
Research your audience
Who do you want to work with, and what do you know about them? Your target audience represents the specific segment of customers you want to work with in terms of the size of their business, their geographic area, their industry, and other factors. It's important to define this from the start.
Start by creating an outline of your ideal clients and start collecting more information about businesses that match that profile. Once you have a list of top candidates, you can start planning your marketing strategy. Are they very active on Facebook or LinkedIn? Are they hosting an event that you can attend? Do they have in-house designers, or do they use an agency?
Once you understand their perspective and know which channels they like to use, you can start pitching to them.
Position yourself as an expert
You need to showcase your expertise and foster a sense of trust in your skills from the start. You can establish yourself as an expert by participating in industry events and sharing content that demonstrates your knowledge. A blog is a good place to start, but there are several other channels you can try:
- Publish a whitepaper, user guide, or ebook on Amazon and share it on social media pages.
- Create a free online course or Slideshare presentation that educates users.
- Start a weekly podcast sharing your views.
Who knows? You may even make a little bit of money from your efforts, in addition to acquiring new customers.
Talk about the negative side of the industry too
It's good to be positive about your industry, but highlighting the downside of the industry can be a great way of getting attention (and a way of showing your clients that you are different!).
An attention-grabbing headline highlighting a common complaint can go a long way, e.g., "Are You Tired of Overpaying For Graphic Design?", "Why Can't Graphic Designers Meet Deadlines?" or "Did a Cheap Graphic Designer Cost You Big Time? How to Avoid Future Rip-Offs".
Be careful not to shoot yourself in the foot by mentioning specific brands or by slating the industry as a whole. Always balance the negative with positives and highlight what you’ve done to be different. You might get a bit of flack, but chances are that others will appreciate your views!
Don't give out discounts
Occasional promotions can be a good thing, but trying to lure new clients to your business by cutting your prices to the bone isn't a good long-term strategy. Once you've given a client a huge discount, it becomes much harder to push your prices up.
"Discount" clients will expect the same service and attention as someone who is paying full price, and occasionally they are even more demanding and nit-picky as they try to push you for even more discounts.
Use a time tracker to ensure you aren't giving away more than you should. Be open to negotiating, but don’t give out dramatic discounts. Ideally, you want clients that can afford your full fees and respect your work in the long run. Going after bargain hunters means that you will fill up your diary with work that isn't worth your time.
Want to win more clients?
Win more clients with Indy’s Proposals tool. Easy-to-use proposal templates help you make the right pitch every time so you turn leads into customers.
Plan for busy periods
Hopefully, your marketing campaign will pay off, and you'll be flooded with clients. But as we've already said, it's important to know your limits. Trying to cram more work in and rushing through jobs in an attempt to correct the balance will always lead to a decline in quality.
You might make some money in the short term, but you'll blow your chances of repeat business. Instead, plan for busy periods by:
- Negotiating deadlines with your clients and planning ahead.
- Asking clients to chat about big upcoming projects ahead of time so you can free up your schedule.
Make sure that you have a Plan B and C in place if you do get more work than you can handle. This might mean referring your new clients to someone else or hiring a trusted contractor to handle the additional workload. If you are consistently turning away work because you are too busy, take it as a sign that you may need to expand your business and hire additional staff!
If work is drying up, it's time to get creative and start marketing your business. Get online, start networking, and start communicating with your existing clients, peers, friends, and family to let them know that you have the capacity to take on new work.
There will always be dry spells when you are freelancing, and taking a proactive approach will ensure that your bills are paid and your days are full. If one tactic fails, try another. You'll soon get a sense of which channels, messages, and plans deliver the best results.
Remember: the worst thing you can do is nothing. Any action you take towards promoting your business will reap the rewards. Don’t forget that you can find a host of innovative tools for freelance graphic designers at Indy to help you keep track of your new campaigns and clients.