A freelance designer’s target audience: how do you find it?

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“Who’s your target audience?”

Lately, I’ve been asking a lot of designers that question because I’ve been offering 5 business critiques per month lately and that means digging deep into how designers build and market their businesses.

But I’m worried.

Because the most common answer I get is something like:

“Anyone who needs logo design, I guess.”

And I have bad news for anyone who gives that sort of answer:

You’re going about it all wrong!

See, it’s your job as an entrepreneur to DEFINE your target audience, not let it define itself. Then, once you define who your target audience is, you go after them, hunt them down, and convince them you’re the perfect designer for them to work with.

In my first post of the new year, I asked GDB readers to contribute a few questions and topics they’d like covered in 2012. Tristan wrote:

“I’ve been freelancing for just over a year now, doing well, building a client base etc.
What I’m struggling with now is how really focus the services to figure out my target market…”

So why can’t your audience just be “Anyone looking for (fill in your specialty here)”?

Here’s the right way to do it

Today I want to share with all of you the quickest way to define and build your target audience:

Take a step back and evaluate what you’re really good at–and I mean really good. Because there are a million designers out there who can do mediocre work in all areas of design. But if you can specialize in something and just knock it out of the park, that will set you apart and make you shine when approaching potential clients.

Finding your niche isn’t enough. You’ve got to superniche next. That means if you specialize in web design, superniche down to web design for non-profits or web design for Fortune 500 companies. (See how we’re starting to get a better idea of our target audience already? Instead of “anyone who needs a site designed” we now search out “non-profit companies who need a new web site”.

You can even super-niche it further focusing on non-profits that need a redesign instead of a site built from scratch. Or non-profits that need a redesign, have a budget of $2,000 or more and have been in business for at least 5 years.

Get it?

Niche down as far as you can.

Next, you need to find your target audience and figure out if there are enough of them to keep you in business.

If there are, find out where they spend time online, what advertisements reach them the best (newspapers, community newsletters, forums, social media) and then get involved in those spaces.

Just because you’ve defined your target audience doesn’t mean you can NEVER accept work from anyone else. At the end of the day, money is money and work is work.

But you’ll find you’re spending your time and money more effectively if you focus your marketing efforts solely on your target audience.

Sure, you’ll get spill over. But focus on your target.

Like a dart board

Have you ever thrown darts at a dart board? If you have then you can imagine exactly what I’m saying here:

You always put your full effort into hitting the target, but you will always have a few darts in random places on the board. These darts still bring you points and your other clients still bring you income.

But you always want to shoot for the target.

Are you going to do it?

If you take action today, I promise you’ll start seeing more clearly how you can grow your design business more quickly and start making more money doing more of what you really love.

Share with me who you think your super-niched target audience is by leaving a comment. I’d love to hear what you think!




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About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee


  1. Hey Preston, really like the idea of ‘super niche’-ing it!

  2. Preston,

    Love the dart board analogy. Love it.

    This topic is something that I’ve struggled with somewhat myself. Sounds silly, but it’s true, and it’s been making the home page of my website really difficult to define. What belongs there? Sure, what I have to offer, but what is that really? I can’t very well just say “whatever you need.” (Well, I technically could, but that’s not what I want to say.)

    This post made me realize it’s because I lack focus. The truth is I do all sorts of work for all sorts of people, but what do I want to work on and for whom if given the choice? I’ve found I have more questions than answers, but asking the right questions is half of the battle…it’s harder to find answers when you lack questions.

    Thanks for starting the gears cranking in my brain! I’ll be a better business because of it.

  3. Hey Preston! First of all, thanks for having a crack at answering my question!
    I’ve always been frustrated with the marketing side of things. I loathe it. But I’m beginning to realise it’s hard to find a target market and “niche in” because I’m not too sure yet what area I excel at and what I love the most.

    One thing I have noticed is that I’m doing a majority of my work for agencies and web firms. Doing outsourced design work for mostly small agencies who have maybe one – or no – designers on board.

    I really enjoy it, and like establishing long term relationships that are profitable for both parties :) It keeps the work coming for me and I don’t have to deal with the communication and client side of things as much.

    My question is, do you think this could be a niche? Targeting small web / design agencies who need a designer? Is it niche enough?

    Also, how do you focus your marketing on your niche while not completely ignoring everyone else?

    Lots more questions I know! I’d love any and all advice I can get. :)

  4. matt leach says:

    My target niche is people who are anxious to begin a new venture in owning a beginner business… Beginner businesses that have been open for a little while tend to say no to design b/c at that point they’re already seeing how tough owning a business can be… They’re always up to their eyeballs in debt to get it started so budgets can be tricky to work with, but every new business owner knows that having a website is vital… Once you talk them into a website you can remind them that no website is complete without a logo, as they go hand-in-hand… I create a package plan (logo + 10 web pages + 1 marketing tool) that brings down the itemized charge of the logo but makes up for itself with the web work… This also gives me a classy opportunity to promote IT services that include getting them started with an email system, email signature (once logo is made), hosting their website, setting up the internet, biz Facebook page, printers, computers, cell phones and wireless devices (printers and internet)… Their age doesn’t matter as much as their technology IQ – The lower the better… So it could be fair to say the elder the better… You can even be their print broker and make a percentage on letterhead and envelopes, if anyone still uses them…

  5. We originally targeted small businesses and startups. But the last few years, we’ve targeted nonprofits, midsize businesses, and agencies – it’s been very successful. Naturally, this means a fair amount of RFP reviewing and proposal writing but the budgets are adequate to a client’s needs.

    It’s all about finding and refining your niche.

  6. Hi Preston,
    Thanks for the practical advice in your post. It makes sense to clarify your market or niche market. You should be careful with your layout and font choice though. There are too many different styles of headings and it puts graphic designers off. There are some good style guides on typography and layout. I only stayed because I was interested in your content. I mean this in a constructive way and only write this because your content and style of writing are good.


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