Every week I get emails from designers looking to get more clients. And almost everyone fits in one of two scenarios:
1. FEAST OR FAMINE CYCLE: Maybe you’ve been totally booked (and overwhelmed with work) for months and haven’t done outreach or marketing in ages. But now your projects have ended and you’re in freakout mode when you realize you don’t have any future work scheduled.
2. NO LEADS: Maybe you’ve just started your business – or you’ve been let go from agency or corporate work. You’ve got a site but aren’t getting any inquires. But all you’re doing is waiting for someone to contact you.
The very worst thing you can do is just sit around and wait for people to visit your website. You have to be proactive.
What are you doing to generate leads and convert them into clients?
WORK YOUR NETWORK
By far and away, the best way to generate new business is to work your network for referrals. Referrals can come from former clients, co-workers, friends, family – even strangers that overhear what you do (source of a lot of work in my early days!) Have you ever posted on facebook for a a great restaurant or travel tip? This is the power of the social referral in action.
- Do people in your social network know what you do (and that you’re available)?
- Does your family know what you do?
BUILD YOUR NETWORK
Self-promotion isn’t evil. Get more eyeballs on your business.
You have to be visible for people to remember you. Let your network know what you’re up to. Keep your site and skills up to date. Coming from the corporate world? Learn LinkedIn. And use it. Connect with your former clients and co-workers and make a point to keep your profile updated.
Start promoting yourself and your work on a regular basis. Get your voice heard BEFORE you need to. Become known as the go-to resource for what you do.
People talk for days about email conversion rates, but few people talk about how to get the right traffic that gets you clients. It’s not about getting tons of traffic. It’s about getting in front of the right prospects.
- Are you sharing your latest work with others that could use your services?
- Are you sharing your knowledge via blog posts, social media and newsletters?
- Are you connecting with online and offline influencers?
Become a featured expert.
This has single-handedly changed my business. I consistently get quality referrals from targeted speaking engagements and programs where I’m featured as a trusted advisor. These referrals don’t end when the program ends. Once your name is out there as a vetted resource, people will flock to work with you!
How do you get a gig as a featured expert and go-to referral?
Relationships are everything. Every speaking engagement and teaching position I’ve gotten in the last few years has directly come from previous relationships – everything from current and former clients to personal mentors and workshop participants.
Do you know people who run complementary businesses (and whose clients need you)? Coaches, course creators, online teachers, consultants, photographers, copywriters, bloggers and SEO experts all need reliable designers and developers to refer their clients to. Connecting to just a few key influencers in related fields can be a tremendous way to generate new (and quality) leads. Continuously work on building your network of connectors and influencers.
- What can you do to become the go-to referral for others who need your services?
- Who can you connect with that will send you more work?
- Where can you get featured (online and offline) that will sent targeted traffic to your site?
Looking for more? Check out:
The importance of creating relationships
DON’T BURN YOUR BRIDGES
We’ve all had tough clients or personnel situations. But try to refrain from talking negatively about it on social media. Other people ARE watching and take notice. Not every project (or relationship) works out. But be a pro and keep the venting private (trust me, my dog has heard an earful..)
Communication is everything.
Stop doing everything through email. Seriously. Pick up the phone if there’s an issue. I recently saw someone lose an huge potential project…all because they didn’t pick up the phone to work through a contract miscommunication.
Are you saying no too much?
I’m a big believer in saying no to what doesn’t serve you or your business. But in some cases, you CAN say no too much. I’ve been behind the scenes of a lot of teams and projects (and I’ve seen a lot of team members come and go…)
You might be turning off your current customers if you hear things like:
“I didn’t want to bother you”
“I know you’re busy all the time”
“We just can’t afford you anymore”
Are you making yourself TOO inaccessible?
I’ve heard from more than one consulting client that they stopped working with their designer because they heard “no” too often – or because the work didn’t justify the rates. (There’s always two sides to the story…but really consider – is the client the problem or is it you?)
THE PERILS OF SOCIAL MEDIA
You’re wasting time.
You know it and I know it. I see way too many people wasting away their days (myself included!) when they could be actually doing work and earning money. Be honest with yourself – are you on FaceBook (or Instagram…or Slack…or Reddit…) and REALLY getting work done? Or are you on there to feel “busy” and occupy your day?
Looking for more? Check out:
Check out my post on removing distractions and getting the work done.
Why I don’t like FaceBook Groups
You’ll hear a lot of folks talk these days about using FaceBook Groups to source new clients. I’m in a lot of groups – and I’ll often see someone post that they need a designer. But here’s what often happens – a bunch of desperate designers immediately post their site and advertise how cheap they can do the project. It’s like sharks circling their prey. Why would you ever want to compete on being the lowest priced provider?
Here’s what I DO like about FaceBook Groups
I think FaceBook groups can be a fantastic place to share your knowledge and create relationships. When you get known as the go-to person for something, THAT makes you a valuable resource – and you’re more likely to pick up quality work. And it’s super important that you’re in the RIGHT Facebook groups. Is the group full of a lot of promo ads and kvetching about clients? Really think if that group is serving you or just taking up space in your feed.
I’ve personally removed myself from a lot of social interaction because of rampant negativity – when you surround yourself with complainers, you’ll focus on the negative and not on generating business. Find groups (and networks) where people support each other (not tear down people’s programs and services).
WHAT IF YOU DON’T NEED WORK RIGHT NOW?
This is the most dangerous category to be in – complacency. I can tell you many stories of solopreneurs AND employees who wish they would have leveraged their network BEFORE they needed to. But they’re overwhelmed with the day to day running of their business.
Setup a waitlist
Been super busy but need to plan for the future? Then you need to implement a wait list. When I was taking on new design clients, I would keep a waitlist of 3-6 months (any longer than that would likely require a raise in prices and deal with issues of project scope). I’d setup the contract, assign homework and take a non-refundable deposit that assured their spot on my queue. Win for the client, win for my cash flow.
- Make a point to write an 1-2 old clients (that you enjoyed working with) once a week to catch up and find out what they’re up to. You might be surprised how many of them are looking to do new projects (and are willing to wait for you!)
GETTING REAL ABOUT YOUR WORK
Your work needs to be tight. And that includes your website.
Sometimes we need to take a hard look and admit that we aren’t putting our best work out there.
Your site matters.
I have seen so many sites from designers who say they are struggling to find clients – and their sites are a hot mess. It’s unclear what they offer, links and buttons don’t work, pages feel unfinished and nothing feels cohesive.
I often get asked for recommendations – and if I look at a site and it’s a mess, I’m not comfortable recommending them. The people who ask me for recommendations TRUST my word. I’ve gotten burned more than once when I recommended someone who just wasn’t up to par – and I don’t want my recommendations to reflect badly on my business.
As they say in the restaurant business, If you have time to lean, you have time to clean. Not busy right now? Take this time to tighten up your site. I’m not saying it has to be the most revolutionary site ever but links should work and images and content should accurately represent your work. Test test test. And get your site together.
Here are some of my best articles on getting more work, making the sale and getting repeat business.
Getting new work
What to do if you don’t have any new projects lined up?
How do you get more design clients- especially if you’re just starting out?
How to make your business stand out
Different business models for designers
The art of the followup
The art of the sale