Where all the great design clients are hiding (Shh, don't tell anyone)

design clients hidingHave you ever beat your head against a wall after getting off the phone with one of those clients who just really gets on your nerves?

You know the kind of client I’m talking about.

And we’ve all had them before.

In fact, if you’ve ever (like me) found yourself thinking “Where are all the great design clients?” then don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Finding clients is tough…

But finding great clients is even harder.

It’s much easier to settle for mediocre clients, low-paying clients, or rude clients.

It’s time for you to stop settling. There’s a place where all the great design clients are hiding and I’m going to let you in on the secret. I’m going to offer you the secret that not a lot of freelance designers know – one that completely changed my design business when I discovered it.

So where are the great design clients?

If they’re out there, why has it been so hard for you to find them? Because they’re a little bit disguised.

The greatest design clients…drumroll please…

Are hiding in design agencies.

Design agencies, production houses, creative service businesses, and the like.

What?

Let me explain:

If you found yourself having a hard time negotiating prices, methods, deadlines and the like with your freelance clients, then I totally understand where you’re coming from.

I got to a point where I just didn’t want to deal with all the drama.

But I didn’t want to work full time as a designer for someone else either.

What to do? Freelance for a design firm.

They handle all the drama

This whole tactic started when I got an internship as a designer at a local production house. I worked there for a few months, and then I had to go back to school at the University so I had a choice: quit my job or quit school.

But hiding somewhere in the shadows was my third choice: freelance from home for the production house who hired me.

After some negotiations and a little paperwork, I was on my way!

They found the clients, they negotiated price and timing with the clients, they delivered the final product, collected and filtered feedback, and all I had to was design.

Ah, sweet design. Remember when you used to design as much as you dealt with difficult clients? Designing is more fun than client-handling for most of us, right?

But isn’t that just like working for someone else?

When I’ve shared this trick with designers before, I always get the question “But you’re still just working for someone else, right?”

Nope.

I work for me. I decide which projects I take on, I tell them if I can hit their deadlines or not, I decide how much to charge and I determine my destiny.

But the beauty of it all is: they provide me with steady projects.

The yellow brick road

If you’ve been searching for the hidden emerald city of freelance design stability, this may very well be your yellow brick road.

And the joy of it is, working like this, you’re welcome to add any golden bricks to the road as you go.

Just because one of your clients is a production house doesn’t mean you can’t work with other clients directly (just be sure not to sign a non-compete contract).

Find the perfect balance that works for you between steady projects and steady income via a production house and high-quality additional clients.

So stop searching the world over

The great design clients are production houses and design agencies. Look their first. Here’s a few more reasons why this is such a great set up:

  • Design agencies usually having a billing period (15 or 30 days) which means no more fighting clients for a paycheck.
  • Design agencies usually understand where you’re coming from as a designer which means no more fighting clients on what looks good or achieves goals visually.
  • Design agencies pay higher rates. Because they can up-charge their client for the work you do, they tend to pay more than a small client looking for a good deal.

If you’re tired of looking for “the perfect client” maybe you’re looking in all the wrong places. Try giving an agency or a production house a try.

About Preston D Lee

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

Comments

  1. This is something I’ve thought about doing, but it has its drawbacks just like everything else. A lot of agencies won’t let you use the pieces you do for them in your portfolio. And you’re not really building YOUR business, you’re building someone else’s. I think if you go this route, you have to be working on building your own client relationships as well.

  2. this is a great tip, I usually tend to look around for contracts with bigger businesses who need my services, though Melissa pointed out the main drawback, witch is mainly that almost all of this work result on a white labeled service, anyway you still can build your client pool by your own and then you could easily choose the best prospective clients to build a relationship with and then keep your business growing.

    it all depends on the point of view.

    Cheers Preston :)

  3. I agree with Melissa O on this one entirely. It won’t be your business if you can’t use the work you done in your portfolio. It’s an easy way out and that’s the price to pay. I guess however in a business dollars and cents sense, it’s happy both ways, I admit we do have freelancers working for us as well in the same manner and they’re very happy to be in the position they are in. All depends on what your goal/objective really is, to really grow the business or just keep it the way it is.

  4. Perhaps there is a different business-culture between countries, but this strikes me as a prime source of commission for many freelancers in any case.

  5. I think, as well as other things in life, we, as freelancers, have to make a good balance, dealing with OUR clients and with OTHER clients, but it’s only a matter of a particular goal:

    if you goal is only make more money, so, just leave all the hassle to other people and work searching for that…only money, but, if you really wanted to create a BRAND yourself…well, it say everything

    don’t get me wrong, I think this is a good advice and if anyone here have try only “one side” why not to try it the other way, just for the experience

  6. It is a great route but I believe it’s best to keep your existing clients and create new clients also, at the same time. Otherwise if your relationship with the agency comes to an end you’ll find yourself very stuck. I think it’s best to do a little of both and not get too reliant on the agency.

    To anyone who is going down the agency route, just bear that in mind.

  7. I am a VERY laid back person and have no problems with people most of the time. There were very few times clients became abusive and I just fired them. As a freelancer, I have this ‘luxury’. In time I was able to gather even better clients, as soon as I got more experienced with it all. Sometimes I can ‘smell’ a bad client from the initial contact and just refuse to work. I’m usually busy and earn pretty well, so I can choose who to work with. In the past year I had ONLY great clients and one of them has been with me for half an year already.

  8. I just started my own free-lance business full time and I love reading your blog. This is a great idea for finding great clients! Thanks for this!

  9. I’ve recently been making the shift from working for my own clients to freelancing for a small development company and I’ve been really enjoying the switch. I think finding a company that with values that are consistent to yours – both in the design process and in what kinds of work they take on is really important to you being satisfied with the new set-up.

  10. This is a great point as I enjoy a relationship with a design company that I value greatly. It’s great to work with people who “speak your language” and take care of the non-design aspects of business. However, here are a few things that sometimes make the process more cumbersome:

    - Having to middleman through the design company to the client makes getting and receiving information a longer process.
    - Understanding what the client wants can sometimes be misconstrued based on what the design company understands or thinks they understand.

    And:

    - Working directly with a client generally means they get a better deal (they are paying only you, and not you + the design company), and/or you can charge more and receive the entire profit.

  11. I think this is a great idea, although what is the best way to approach another design agency? I recently started freelancing full-time for my own growing design agency. I still pick up contracts separate from my design agency as well.

    Thoughts on approaching other firms to freelance? Thanks!

  12. Good post Preston however one very important point is missing which i was searching in this post was that how would you intrigue your old clients turn back? We have worked for more than 200 clients online who were happy with our design services but we are looking for a system in place to follow those, to monitor and get in touch.
    This is very important for online design business. What do you recommend to keep track of our customers foot steps? where we could know their time to time design needs? Is there any tool available online? I looking forward to hear from you.
    Tanvir Hussain, Creative Head at Descom Group

  13. I have mixed emotions about freelancing for agencies. I love the thought of working with people that speak the design language and not having to search for clients so I can spend more time doing what I love which is design. But I don’t like the idea of not being able to put it inside my portfolio. However, a more steady freelance income would be very nice.

    One thing I didn’t see in this article that I would like to know more about is how do you get started working with agencies? Agencies are so big, how do you find the right person to contact about freelancing?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Where all the great design clients are hiding (Shh, don’t tell anyone) [...]

  2. […] as well as locally) with some of my best potential clients – other designers. As Preston notes in this post, repeat business often comes from in-house teams that need an extra hand or design firms who need […]

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