So you’re thinking about launching a career in freelance graphic design. Congratulations! Taking your career into your own hands can be one of the most personally, professionally, and creatively fulfilling experiences of your life. Making the decision to go freelance is one thing – but actually drumming up business and landing your first client is another. Where do you find them? How do you pitch your services? And how do you convince potential clients that you’re the right person for their design needs?
Finding your first client can feel daunting – but it’s not rocket science. With a few simple steps, you can go from zero to client faster than you ever thought possible.
Let’s take a look at the step-by-step process you can use to get your very first freelance graphic design client – and get them fast:
Step One: Set Yourself Up For Success
If you want to successfully land your first freelance design client, you can’t just start reaching out to people out of the gate – there’s some work on the back end you need to do to set yourself up for success.
Define Your Point Of Difference
The very first thing you need to do when launching a freelance design career? Figure out your point of difference.
Think of your point of difference as your “secret sauce.” It’s what makes you special, unique, and different from all the other design talent out there – and it’s the reason your ideal client is going to want to work with you instead of that other talent.
Your point of difference can be anything; it can be the fact that you never, ever, EVER miss a deadline or that you can churn out logo designs faster than clients can assign them. Whatever it is that sets you apart, you need to define it and you need to own it – because that’s what’s going to help you stand out and grab your ideal client’s attention.
Pull Together Your Portfolio
Before you can pitch potential clients, you need to be able to show them what you can do – which is why you need a portfolio.
Pull together samples of your design work. Whatever kind of design you’re going to be pitching, make sure you have relevant samples to show your potential clients; so, for example, if you’re pitching flyer design services, make sure you have plenty of examples of flyers you’ve designed. If you’re marketing custom illustrations, make sure you have plenty of illustration samples for potential customers to check out.
Don’t have any professional examples? Not a problem! Figure out what kind of design services you want to offer—then create samples in that genre to showcase to potential clients.
Step Two: Establish A Digital Presence
So much of the work you’re going to do as a freelance designer takes place in the digital space. So once you’ve established your point of difference and pulled together a portfolio, it’s time to increase your visibility in the digital space and make it easier for potential clients to find you.
Design a portfolio website to showcase your work. Start a design blog. Set up social media accounts for your design business and start sharing your designs. When you reach out to clients, they’re going to search for your online – and if you want to appear credible, they need to be able to find you.
Step Three: Do Your Research
Once you’ve got everything set up on the back end – your point of difference, your design samples and portfolio, and your digital footprint – it’s time to start researching.
Researching The Design Market
The first thing you’ll want to research is the design market. Understanding the market – the competition, what kinds of designs clients are looking for, and the standard rates for design work – will help you be strategic in who you reach out to and what you charge. You don’t ever want to undersell yourself or your services – but you don’t want to price yourself out of the market, either.
Defining Your Target Clients
Once you have a baseline understanding of the design market, it’s time to start researching clients. Who do you want to work with? You might be tempted to cast a wide net – and to just go after anyone and everyone that may be in need of a designer—but niching yourself down to a specific audience is a much better strategy.
When you’re targeting a specific kind of client, you can build your value in a much more cohesive way than if you were going after “general design” clients. Do you want to design logos for startups? Are you wanting to work with children’s authors on illustrations for their titles? Do you want to design PowerPoint presentations for corporate businesses? Define your target audience – and then start digging into what clients you can work with within that audience.
How To Stay Organized
Start a Google doc or spreadsheet and start gathering information on potential clients. First, research businesses you want to work with. Then, search on LinkedIn for the contact who’s in charge of design (at smaller companies, that may be the CEO – while at larger companies, you may want to connect with the art director or creative director). Use email hunting tools like Hunter to see if you can track down your contact’s email address.
The more leads you can find, the more people you’ll have to reach out to – and the more likely you’ll be to land one of them as a client.
Step Four: Start Connecting
Once you’ve built out your list of leads, it’s time to start reaching out and transforming those leads from names on a spreadsheet into your first paying clients.
Here are some best practices to keep in mind as you’re reaching out to potential clients:
Show potential clients you did your research.
From a client perspective, there’s nothing worse than getting a pitch from a freelancer who clearly has zero ideas about who they are or what they do. When you’re sending out emails to potential leads, make sure to show that you did your research. Tell them what you like about their design, mention a recent project they’ve worked on, or talk about how you’ve used their products or services. Once they see that you’ve taken the time to understand them and their business, they’ll be much more open to hearing your pitch – and potentially working with you.
Build your value.
When you’re reaching out to potential clients, you might be tempted to share a ton of information about yourself – like your credentials, where you went to school, or what kinds of design projects you enjoy working on. But it’s not enough to tell them who you are – you need to tell them how who you are can benefit them and their business. Use your initial communication to really highlight the value you can add to their business. The more value you can add, the more they’ll want to work with you.
Ask for the sale.
Sending a letter of introduction isn’t enough. When you’re sending out potential client communications, make sure you’re clear that you want to work with them – and include a call-to-action (whether that’s scheduling a consultation call or filling out a new client brief to get details on potential projects) to make that happen.
Finding your first client can feel overwhelming. But with these four steps, you’ll be well on your way to landing your first client – and, if you keep following these steps, plenty of clients after the first, too! To maintain a consistent workload from clients, check out these steps to get more freelance work.