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Episode #124: How to Get Clients as a Freelance Graphic Designer

Learn how to get clients as a freelance graphic designer by standing out from other designers, getting noticed and building your authority.


In this episode of Design Domination, I’m talking about how to get clients as a freelance graphic designer. Learn lots of tips that will help you stand out from other designers, get noticed by prospects, build your authority and get new clients—the right way, not in an icky sleazy, salesy way.

One of the most commonly asked questions freelance graphic designers ask is “How do I get clients?”

It’s hard because you are wearing all the hats. When you’re busy focusing on design work, you aren’t focused on getting clients, and then you go into that feast-or-famine cycle.

One way to get clients is, of course, through outreach—reaching out to them one on one. I did an episode about that called How to Reach Out to Potential Clients the Right Way, where I went into what to say to a prospect.

That’s fine and you can do that, but I want to help you get freelance design clients coming to you! I want to help you get in front of more potential clients at once and without feeling salesy or sleazy.

These tips will get you in front of your audience on a much larger level, not just an individual business one at a time. These will really maximize your marketing efforts!

Identify Your Audience

Before you start going after clients, it’s important to identify your audience. Your audience is not everyone. I know you will tell me it is, but it’s not. I get it. I used to think the same way.

If you can design for this business, then you can design for that business. Yes. But…

Not knowing your ideal client makes your marketing harder because when you market to everyone, you target no one.

You’re not necessarily speaking their language or understanding their particular needs. Your efforts are diluted.

I can’t tell you how many years I struggled with using certain words in my copy—“organizations” and “nonprofits,” “donations” versus “businesses” and “sales.” They both use different words.

It was exhausting! I just needed to pick one and stick with it, and I finally did.

So think of who your ideal client is. Try to narrow it down somehow by the type of business or the industry or the type of work that you do and want more of. This will not only help with your marketing, but it will help you figure out where your ideal clients are online—because if you don’t know who they are, how do you know where to find them?

LinkedIn Profile

Another way to get clients is through your LinkedIn profile. This is your online résumé.

Be sure to keep it up to date with your jobs, skills, contact information and design work.

Ask for recommendations from past clients and coworkers to add more credibility.

Connect with past coworkers, colleagues, past clients and potential clients who are relevant to your work and the industry you want to work in.

Show Your Work

Showing your work is another way to get clients.

Your work should be on your website and LinkedIn profile. You could also consider portfolio sites such as Dribbble, Behance, Coroflot, Sortfolio, Hire an Illustrator, etc.

Just because you build it does not mean they will come. So you need to be sharing your work in at least monthly emails or social media posts.

Create Content

I know you may groan over this next suggestion, which is creating content. But hear me out.

It serves several purposes, and you could do it as little as once a month.

Why Designers Should Create Content

It demonstrates your expertise, what you know. Potential clients don’t usually know what you know. They can learn so much from your content but also see how much you know on the subject matter by what you write.

It also helps potential clients understand they have a problem.

For instance, I wrote a blog post about how passing the Acrobat accessibility checker does not mean a document is accessible. I decided to write about that because I have lots of clients who think it does mean that. So they think they’ve been creating accessible documents when they really haven’t.

Your content should lead potential clients to you. Your content should always be relevant to the services you’re providing.

My post about the Acrobat accessibility checker lets them know they have a problem that they didn’t know they had, and, oh, by the way, here’s how you can contact me for help with document accessibility.

If you design logos or print materials and don’t want anything to do with websites, then don’t write an article about SEO.

Make sure the content ties in with your services and the work you want to get.

Creating content also can attract search engines and lead potential clients to your website or other social channels.

Your content can entice potential clients to take action. When you talk about the problem, how you solve it, share your expertise or a case study and so forth, you can add a call to action at the end for them to contact you about your services or have a signup for your email list via a free guide.

Creating and posting content works for you over time. Once you put it out there, it can get found by search engines. People may like, share or comment on it.

You can also write guest posts on other people’s websites, so that you get in front of even more of your ideal clients.

If you’re like, “Sure, Colleen, but what do I write about?”

You have lots to say, but you don’t even know it yet. I talked about social media content ideas for designers in episode 122.

You can take a day to batch write content and design social media posts for it.

Optimize Content

Before you write your content, you can use a tool such as UberSuggest to optimize your content for keywords to make it easier for potential clients to find your content when searching.

I did a free trial of it and then when I went to cancel, I got a lifetime deal for $99 or something.

Repurpose and Schedule Content

You can repurpose that content in other places, such as taking the first paragraph of a blog post and putting it into an email, which then leads them to finish reading the post on the website.

You can post your blog post as a LinkedIn article.

You can take a short snippet from a video and post it on social media.

You can also use a social media scheduler to help you not only post the content but rotate evergreen content (content that you’ve already posted), so that you don’t always have to do it manually each time.

We use SocialBee. There’s also Publer and several others for this. Post on days and at times your audience is most likely to be online.

Search Engine Optimization

Searching engine optimization is another thing that can help you get clients.

Be sure to check the SEO of your page content. Check out Yoast, SEOPress or RankMath.

Also get Stat Counter, Google Analytics or another analytics tool on your site even if you don’t look at the stats. One day, you will want this information, and you need to get this information over time.

Also, check your site’s load time. This can affect your search engine rank because Google will give your site a boost in search engine results if your site loads quickly. Also, potential clients are more willing to stay on your site once they’re there if it loads quickly. Slow sites frustrate people.

You can check the load time with Pingdom and GTMetrix. If your site doesn’t load 2 seconds or less then consider adding a caching plugin such as WP Rocket and optimizing images with a compression plugin such as Short Pixel.

You can find out more about having an effective portfolio website in episode 52.

Participate in Industry Groups and Online Forums

Join Groups Where Potential Clients Are

Once you’ve identified your ideal client, you can then get in front of them by looking for relevant industry Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups and online forums that they hang out in. Some trade associations even have their own private online forums for members and vendors who serve them.

For example, if you are targeting natural health businesses, you look up “marketing for natural health businesses” to see if any Facebook or LinkedIn groups exist.

But just joining these groups isn’t going to do anything for you. You need to participate, so that you are seen by them.

You can like other people’s posts, comment on them, and—better yet—answer questions from them. If you’re allowed, based on their group rules about promotion, share a blog post or free guide you’ve written.

This serves a few different purposes:

  1. You get exposure. People see your name on a regular basis, as long as you participate regularly.
  2. You’ll be seen as helpful.
  3. People will start to see you as an expert.
  4. You’ll get great content ideas because you will see what potential clients are asking about.

For example, in my client business, I focus on accessibility and working with nonprofits. They might be asking questions about Alt-text or overlays, so I see what they are asking about and can answer those questions or give my opinion.

The point is that potential clients will start seeing and recognizing your name. So when they have the need for your services, you will be top of mind, especially if you participate regularly.

If the moderators or admins of a Facebook group like what you share, they might even want to tag you as an expert in that group.

After some time, you may find that a group isn’t a good fit. Totally fine. Just leave the group and focus your efforts elsewhere.

Create a Group for Potential Clients

You could also potentially create your own Facebook or LinkedIn group—depending on where your ideal clients are. Think about a topic that your audience might be searching for. What keywords would they use to find a group to join?

Having your own Facebook or LinkedIn group is more work though. You have to approve users, some of which may be fake accounts (on Facebook at least) or might be your competitors, so you don’t want to let them in. You also have to moderate posts and comments.

It’s much easier to maintain an email list.

So having your own group is not for everyone. But it can help you build your own community to which you can market your services whenever and as much as you want—on your own terms.

Attend Industry Events

Another thing you can do to get clients is to attend industry events. These could be in-person conferences, online events or even MeetUps.

If in person, that’s even better. It’s easier to make a connection with people.

You can attend them to network with others there, connect with them on LinkedIn afterward, see what questions they have.

Be sure to have business cards with you!

Build Your Authority as a Designer

Another thing you can do to get clients more easily is to become known as “that person.”

For example, for the past six years, my focus has been on accessibility. I am constantly being tagged in Facebook groups when anything accessibility related comes up. I talk at online events and on podcasts about accessibility. I also get referrals from people who remember me for that.

When you’re focused on one or two things and you have that targeted niche and authority, clients remember you for it and are willing to pay more for it.

Certifications

Certifications can build trust with potential clients but also show that you’re an expert in a certain area.

Once you have one, display the logo for it on your website and let your audience know via email and on social media.

Speaking Gigs

Another way to get in front of people you want to work with is to join those trade associations I mentioned and ask if you could present a talk or webinar on a topic that would be interesting and helpful to the audience you’re trying to reach.

It also should be something that will help you be seen as an expert in that area. You don’t want to do a talk just to do a talk. You want to do a talk about something you want to potentially get work for.

If you are all about logo design and branding for restaurants, you could do a talk that is targeted toward restaurants specifically, such as 5 Mistakes Restaurants Make With Their Branding. Even if you could do that same talk for any industry, tailor it to who you’re going to be speaking to.

It should be an intriguing topic, one they will get something out of, one that’s going to make them want to register and one that leads them back to you if they need help.

Podcasts

If you’re not shy, you can also go on podcasts that you know your audience listens to. This can take more effort until you become better known in a certain subject matter because the barrier to entry is higher.

Podcasters don’t just let anyone come on their podcast just because they want to. They usually want to find out more about you and even have a meeting with you first.

Once you’ve done a podcast or two, it just adds that much more to your credibility with clients because, like I said, there is a higher barrier to entry.

You’re also able to reach a larger audience and get your name out there in a short amount of time—the time it takes to prepare your talk and give it and maybe answer some questions. The episode is then out there for perpetuity, so the benefits are ongoing. You can promote it any time you want to and get a boost from it.

Once I’ve done a speaking gig or podcast, I ask if I can use the logo on my website with a link back to their website. Potential clients will see this, and it builds trust and authority. They may not otherwise know about the speaking gig or podcast you went on.

Collaborate With Other Designers and Developers

Another great way to get clients as a freelance designer is to collaborate with others who offer similar and complementary services and have an audience that you share or want to get in front of.

For example, if you’re a logo designer, you may want to collaborate with web designers, who may need a logo design for their clients.

Ask for Referrals and Testimonials

Ask for referrals from colleagues and from clients.

When a client has already invested time and money into working with you and they recommend you to others they know or give you a good testimonial, it carries a ton of weight and does your marketing for you at no cost.

So it’s important to take on work that’s a good fit for your skills and expertise and to do it well and on time to get those referrals.

It’s also crucial to ask for referrals from clients you liked working with. Bad clients usually refer other bad clients.

Make an Impression

Thank You’s

This is old school, but because of that, it leaves an impression because most designers are not doing this.

After you finish a large project with a client you enjoyed working with, you might want to send them a thank you gift or card.

If you do send a card, I suggest handwriting it and investing in envelopes that are one of your brand colors. I get mine at The Paper Mill Store.

It will not only stand out in the mail your client receives, which increases the chance of it being opened in the first place, but it will remind them of you. Clients appreciate this type of gesture and that leaves a lasting impression.

Proposals

When presenting a proposal, don’t just send it off and leave it to them to review or leave it up to their interpretation. Create a short video walking them through it or present it in person.

A potential client was so impressed with my proposal and how I presented it with a short video of myself and screen sharing, walking them through it, that they referred me to their coworker. That coworker just awarded us a five-figure project.

My friend John Falke presents his proposals with the client live, and he too has a high acceptance rate of getting work.

Ask the Right Questions

You can also impress potential clients by asking the right questions, asking questions that most designers aren’t asking.

Instead of asking what they want the design to look like, ask questions that relate to their goals and strategy.

I’ve got a free guide on this, 17 Questions You Must Ask During a Design Consultation, which will help you do just that.

If you have any tips for getting clients and getting clients to come to you, let me know in a comment below or send me an email.

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