1. Word of mouth marketing
While a seemingly obvious answer, this option was by far the preferred method of everyone who contributed to the conversation. I would add that social media and a designer’s online presence contribute immensely to the “word of mouth” method. Whether people are talking or typing, when one person tells another person about your design services, it’s word of mouth marketing. Below are a few comments and tips that the readers contributed:
The word of mouth has been my friend for a long time. It’s been working so great that I’ve done almost exclusively local projects, I didn’t have to worry about looking for other clients elsewhere.
Here in Cyprus, the whole world really revolves around word of mouth. Different people will work differently, but as long as the client is 100% happy, it’s all good – repeat work, or future clients are virtually a given then.When I first started working out here, I didn’t realise that, shot myself in the foot once or twice.
Word of mouth is king for sure! Nothing sells your services better than someone else raving about them. The majority of my work comes via word of mouth, but unfortunately not quite enough and I’ve had to pursue other methods of landing clients.
Word of mouth. After being self employed for more than 20 years, there is always someone who will pass along my name.
2. Knocking Doors/Cold Calling
Surprisingly, this technique came in second place. Cold-calling or knocking doors can include a number of different techniques including:
- Emailing a business
- Actually knocking on a business’ door
- Contacting a business via social media
- Calling a business on the phone
- Approaching a business owner face to face
Here are a few of the tips the readers offered when it comes to finding new clients via “the cold call”:
My favourite ‘way’ is simple – I find out about some small/medium businesses in the area, then prepare myself and go to them. Just like that. 15min talk with business owner/someone in charge. It really works. I’d say better than any ad you may put anywhere in the city.I even set some time during the week to walk across the city. I write down names of cafeterias, shops, pubs, clubs, restaurants etc. Then find out if they have/need a website etc – if they do, I go to them.
Twitter is also another good way to connect with potential clients. I keep a running search open in TweetDeck for “graphic design” as well as a more localized search feed. Any time I see someone say “I need a designer!” I contact them immediately and ask what they need help with. These are usually one-off projects, but sometimes you make a solid, long-term connection that leads to more work.
Some readers also offered their opposing views on using the cold-call method:
Good idea, but most want your work for cheap because they know you are a start-up and looking for clients whereas other designers are too busy to go around door to door, they might be viewed less needy for work. (View the entire discussion here.)
3. Participate in Forums
Finding a good community to participate in is a great way to network with a lot of other professionals who could later offer you a design job. I also like the creative take that Ashley suggests: offering a contest where you give away something for free in hopes to get a paying job out of it in the future. This is a great implementation of Chris Anderson’s “Freemium” principle.
I got my first big break from forums at goodreads. I’ve been in a group with a bunch of authors for a while before I started freelancing (so I knew these people). I offered my services up for 3 free websites, kind of like a contest. After I finished those I posted them up in the forums and people liked them so much they’ve been coming to me ever since.
I took some advice from David Airey’s forum and offered my services pro bono to a local Non-Profit Company. The company brings local musicians to retirement homes and hospitals. This has caused a surge in business from the musicians. I have been hired for two websites, several flyers, and I am working on a CD cover for a musician’s first album. I am a strong believer that “freemium” works.
4. Design Contests / Freelancing Sites
This is always a hot topic in the design community. Should designers participate in design contests, crowdsourcing, freelance sites, etc? Check out what a few readers had to say about the issue:
Design contests are a great source for “getting your foot in the door” with new clients.Yes, you may not get paid for every single line you draw (I don’t remember ever being directly paid for networking either!)and yes, not every contest you win will become a long term client. But, there are many creative designers that are finding after providing say a logo via a contest, the client then turns to them in the future for further branding and design services. In the interviews I have been doing with designers participating on design contest sites this is an obvious trend.
So far I have only worked on projects through freelancing sites. All my clients are from abroad. I haven’t done even a single project locally since I started working for freelancing sites. The beauty of freelancing sites is you choose the job, you decide the price and time frame and get paid much much better than what a local client can pay you.
There are obviously countless ways to find new design clients. A few other suggestions that were made included local print advertising, job-searching on classified listings like Craig’s List, Job Boards and more.
Keep the conversation going!
Now it’s your turn. You’ve heard my opinion and the thoughts of some other readers here at GDB. What’s your two cents? How do you find new design clients? Do you agree with the tips offered above? Contribute to the conversation!