I’ve been getting this question a lot lately in my one-on-one designer consultations.
Maybe you’re new to design or maybe you started out like me – having worked for someone else for years, you’ve got no idea how to generate leads and get new clients. When you’re just starting out, everything about your business can seem overwhelming – and hustling to get paying clients is the last thing you want to stress about.
I’m personally not a fan of cold-calling or using services like fiverr or odesk – I don’t think that’s where you’ll find your best, ideal clients. Instead of hustling, focus instead on cultivating connections and relationships. One of the smartest things I ever did was connect with influencers who could send ongoing work.
Here are some ideal people to connect with:
Larger firms often work with independent contractors (they get the projects and line up the contracts, you do the work, and they mark up your price – win/win all around). I occasionally work with bigger companies on larger-scale projects. This allows me to take on really interesting work AND I don’t have to manage it.
Bonus: In my experience, larger firms often pay on-time.
Often other designers need someone to handle overflow work or smaller projects. I worked with one such designer for three years – who ended up giving me a great sub-contract for MTV!
This is a HUGE market. Most business coaches need reliable designers to refer their clients to – many of my first projects came from one business coach (who still refers work my way years later…)
Product Developers / Service Providers
This is another overlooked area – how many services do you use on a daily basis in your business? Think of all of your design tools, wordpress themes, plugins, etc.. Guess what, all of those services use and recommend designers! See if you can get on their preferred vendor list – this is a tremendous way to get in front of your ideal audience.
If you’re just starting out, you likely haven’t worked with many clients – but remember that every client is a potential source of referrals. Referrals are still the #1 source of my clients.
Here are few ideas to get you started
Note: This does mean you have to do a bit of work – and not just wait for people to come to your website.
Seek out designers and business coaches in your field of interest.
For example, do you specialize in health and wellness sites? There are TONS of coaches in that area. Offer to do a small project for the connection / coach so they can see your work. I would not recommend doing an entirely free site (do something smaller like a branded graphic such as a facebook cover so they can see your work).
In my case, I created a website and relevant branded materials for a connection after he had sent me dozens of clients. (note: this was AFTER we’d worked together for a while) – there are people out there who will take advantage of your good nature, so be mindful.
I’m personally not a huge fan of giving financial incentives for client referrals, but 5-10% is a common industry standard if you want to go that route.
Make a list of services and products you use
Review those sites and see if they have a list of preferred partners. Often all it takes is a simple email or phone call to get listed on their site as a vendor. (Note: I do not recommend pay-for-play – there are plenty of places you can get featured for free).
Don’t limit your offerings too much
A few years back, a previous client referred me to a larger company who just needed interface design. From that one contact, I did over 15 separate jobs. If you’re a designer, don’t limit yourself to just website work – if you’ve got the skills you can do interface and app design. And if you’re a designer don’t be afraid to learn a little bit of front-end development – I love using Beaver Builder (a WordPress page builder) to build my custom designed sites. Check it out in action here: Create a 5 minute landing page
Want even more ideas? Check out these designer resource posts
How to attract and retain high quality web design clients
What to do if you don’t have any new projects lined up?
How to make your business stand out
Different business models for designers
The art of the follow-up
The art of the sale
Great tips Michelle! I knew you would have even more great advice to add to the topic 🙂 Thanks for the shout out miss. I completely agree with the business coach route. My very first coach has sent me a ton of referrals so I completely agree it’s a great industry to reach out to. I need to do a better job of letting my past clients know first that I have some openings, as I know if I loved working with them, it’s possible their referrals are my ideal clients as well.
Michelle Martello says
Thanks Leah! You inspired me 😉 Connecting with coaches offers a HUGE opportunity – without having to leave your desk.
I stumbled upon your lovely site a while back and have really enjoyed your newsletters and blog posts! Thanks so much for these tips. Great advice – especially for those of us who are new in the field. I’m adding these to my list! Have a great weekend 🙂
Michelle Martello says
Hi Lisa – Thanks so much for writing in – it is appreciated!
Hi Michelle! Great post! I’m wondering what’s the best way of approaching business coaches? Do you enlist their services first to establish a relationship or contact them directly and ask to be on their referral list?
Michelle Martello says
I highly encourage establishing a relationship before pitching. See how you can be of service to the coach BEFORE pitching. You also need to verify that the coach is in alignment with your values. Start up a conversation and see if you’re a good fit and go from there!