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. 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 can be a good place for freelancers to secure more work. 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