About Preston D Lee

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

Comments

  1. I would live to see a post about designers who have at least 7 years exp, got screwed by clients, burned all the bridges because of it..and now has trouble finding work because no on want’s to actually pay for design/branding services..or at least the only market I can reach out which has been mainly entertainment. Musicians, DJ’s etc. I know this is off topic, but I’d love to see something on land your “next client” when your in a drought.

    • Ouch, sounds like you had quite the falling out. I hope that things turn around for you — burning bridges is no way to make friends or meet clients, though, especially in the rough economy!

    • Preston D Lee says:

      Ray,
      I hope things turn around for you. I would encourage you to branch out and try to find completely different audiences. There are clients all the around the world. Thanks to technology, you can get a pretty fresh start.

      You may also want to read April’s post from a little while ago titled “Unburning Bridges” – it could come in handy!
      http://www.graphicdesignblender.com/unburning-bridges

      • Thanks Preston, I read that article when it was posted. The thing is I wasn’t the one who burned the bridge, it was the client. These clients took advantage of me so they are best left where they are. I should of said I had to “fire” these clients instead, lol.

  2. I’m trying to get my first big client as we speak through the tender process. I have heard a few bad stories about tendering – how it is quite faceless and time consuming with little feedback, but none the less I am giving it a try. Have you experience in the tender process?

    I like your idea of prepping some work and approaching them – this could be a fairly time consuming method but one that could definitely pay of, probably best suited to websites over logos.

    Thanks for the post
    Mel

    • Preston D Lee says:

      Mel,
      I haven’t done much of the tendering process myself, but I do have a few tips for what little I’ve done. For anyone else out there, we usually refer to “Tendering” on this site as bidding or sending a bid or quote.

      Try checking out this post and see if it helps at all. Titled “Write amazing design project proposals and get more clients” – http://www.graphicdesignblender.com/write-amazing-design-project-proposals-and-get-more-clients

      I hope it helps at least a little! I’d love to have you write a guest post on your experience with tendering if you’re interested. Let me know.

      Thanks!

  3. Are there even big accounts anymore ? Our economy is at a steady collapse as of right now, and alot of these big accounts either don’t have money to spend on things like design and branding, or they have in house teams and spend way less. I don’t mean to take a negative approach to this, but it’s the sad reality. It would be nice to narrow down to a list of “big” clients to have a more realistic view of if it’s really possible in this economy. Nike don’t need a freelance web designer, for example. Most big companies already have what they need.

    • Preston D Lee says:

      Ray,
      I think you’re misunderstanding what I mean by a big client. I agree that Nike, Coca-Cola, and Apple all have there own designers, their own agencies to get work done, etc. But I happen to also work for a corporation who (in addition to in-house designers) hires freelancers on a regular basis.

      The point of a “big” design client is to provide steady income for a long time. There are hundreds of thousands of huge companies (especially in the business to business realm) that need designers all the time.

      I think you’d be surprised.

  4. Great post, Preston! I’ve been trying to find the perfect “steady” client for some time now. I think the best thing you can do is figure out your niche, and then seek out the big client that can provide you with that sort of work. (I.e. Stationary & print, website maintenance, illustration, etc.)

    Designing shirts and illustrating has always been just a fun hobby of mine (aside from my web design work), but I think I’m going to get in contact with a local clothing printer to do some freelance design work. Let’s hope it goes well! :)

    • Preston D Lee says:

      Brent,
      I’d love to hear how it goes for you! I think that’s a great idea. I used to work for a screen-printing company and we had other designers submit their work for projects all the time. Good luck!

  5. This is actually a really hard question to answer, at least for me. My previous business had a single client that accounted for 60-70% of my revenue for 10+ years. As a result of the time commitment, and my naive expectation that this arrangement would last forever (I was in my early 20’s), I spent little time expanding my client base. Then one morning, my business was gone. New owner, new direction.

    Would I like to have a client that generated a steady stream of work month in and month out, heck yea. Would I have some hard decisions to make if that client became “too big” for my comfort zone. You bet I would. What would I do? I have no idea.

    • Agreed, Michael – Love to have that steady income but I don’t want a client that I depend on to eat. I’d rather have a diversified client list, but I’d certainly take on a big client!

      In your “what would I do if a client got too big?” – my best answer (I think) is to search for more clients to bring the percentage of work done for them down.

    • Preston D Lee says:

      A very fascinating point here, Michael. And some great insight too, April. I agree, you want to be careful not to depend too much on one client. That being said, I still seek out bigger clients, but make sure that I can survive without them.

      To get an idea of what I mean, check out how I diversify my income to ensure a steady income at
      http://www.graphicdesignblender.com/my-secret-steady-money-freelance-designer

      And how to make some additional passive income so that if I lose a client, I’m not dead in the water at
      http://www.graphicdesignblender.com/9-ways-designers-can-generate-passive-income

      Thanks for the great input!

      • That’s a good point for sure, I actually ended up depending on my last “big” account, and because of it I lost out on money because he tended to toy around with time, telling me he’d need to start x project at x date, and it just kept turning into other excuses..eventually leading me to fire him.

  6. well that’s a problem in Mexico, if you do free work to try and land a contract, they take your advice or comps and hire a student for peanuts.

    • Preston D Lee says:

      Nod,
      I see what you mean. It’s definitely a tough balance.

      I recommend offering a few pieces of advice and a few comped out improvements, not an entire finished project. That way, they see what you can do, but can’t take all your ideas. If they take the few ideas you gave them, you’re not out all that much.

      I wouldn’t spend more time on this particular kind of thing than you can afford to lose out on entirely.

  7. I agree with this article 100%. I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years and having a couple of big clients is the best thing you can do for yourself as a freelancer. You deal with one contact and make good, sometimes great money. As opposed to dealing with a dozen small clients to make the same kind of income.

    Of course there are drawbacks to consider but that SHOULDN’T STOP YOU. First thing is long terms. Most large corporations work on net 30, 60 or even 90 days. That means you must be prepared to stay afloat for the 2 or 3 month wait time until the check arrives. Another point of frustration is waiting for approvals. Large companies usually need to have several people approve your concepts before giving you the green light. This can take some time and then they’ll expect you to make the revisions right away. Nature of the beast, deal with it. Last drawback I’d like to bring up is the fact that large companies can be extremely picky. The smallest details may be requested to change and you’ll think, “Does that really matter??”. Well, yes it does. Why? Because they said so and they’re paying you to do it.

    Working with smaller companies is fine, but be prepared to do a lot more work for the same money you would get from one large client…

    • Preston D Lee says:

      Flopsop, (What’s your real name?)
      That’s some great advice and I totally agree! Be prepared for a big client to function differently, offer different feedback, and work at a different pace than the rest of your clients for sure! How many “big” clients do you manage at once?

  8. My business has been based solely by large clients. At least in this first year. Yes they get better rates that most, but only on the products or services that they use regularly. I keep telling myself that if I had 4-5 other clients just like them, I wouldn’t need any other business to live comfortably. You will always pick up a small job from random customers that you pick up. My recommendation would be to do research and find clients that have graphic needs, but not enough needs that they could afford to bring someone on full time or even part time. That’s where we come in. Its between the freelancers and the design firms. Chances are if our work is comparable, our price will be much lower as we don’t have the overhead that a design studio has. Plus our service can be much more personal and hands-on. My newest Blog touches on this a bit…http://artworksproductions.biz/category/blog/

    • Preston D Lee says:

      James,
      I agree with you. There’s definitely a place for designers who want big business. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Don’t have a “big” client yet. I do contract with Infoglyphs (www.infoglyphs.com – a Canadian company that makes infographics and other assorted graphic design items), but I have no idea how large the company is in terms of what percentage of work I do for them or their overall income. We did work once for a giant textbook publisher.

    I also contract with The California Parks Company, which also might be considered a medium-ish client. Doubtful their classified as “big.”

    All the rest are fairly small companies/design agencies.

    I would love to find a “big” client – I see some portfolios with Xbox ads, DuPont, or the like and think “wow, how did a PERSON land that? I’d have guessed they’d have chosen a design company.”

    However, one “big” client isn’t the end-all. Management changes, your contact retires, sales fall, or they hire their own design team — so while I’d love that steady income, I wouldn’t want all my eggs in one basket. So I’d keep diversifying and trying to lower the percentage of work they are such that if they change or disappear, I’m not up a creek without a paddle.

    • Preston D Lee says:

      April, I see what you mean. I wouldn’t recommend any designer put all the eggs in one basket either! In fact, I would recommend designers go after bigger clients once they have enough capitol, reserve cash, and small clients to keep them afloat. Big clients, for me, are the butter on the bread, if you see what I mean. Thanks for sharing!

      • Preston,

        After reading my post, I didn’t mean to sound negative – I think a big, steady client is great – but I just want to caution others NOT to rest on their laurels and feel “safe,” because the only thing that stays the same is change.

  10. Great post Preston, what we like about big accounts is that they offer prompt payments and yes, a steady flow of projects…for a period that is, until they start looking for someone else for a breathe of fresh air.

    However, sometimes, big accounts aren’t that rosy as it seems. Especially if it involves cross disciplines and you need to hire additional workers to meet their requirements. Another thing is time, a lot of big accounts filter through lots of management red tape and it might actually be more worth spending it on smaller fishes.

    The do offer one good thing though, they make your portfolio kick ass!

  11. I am totally against doing any free or comp work. Although it seems there are designers that do this, but I choose not to. large companies have their downside, @Flopspop mentioned a few good points about larger companies, I prefer small to medium, more personal, design gets approved faster and payment has always been at delivery of service. Having big names in a portfolio is good but be ready to backup the man power that comes with it. Most larger size companies already have their design companies picked out or they have in house designers. If they don’t your not taken very seriously unless you have and office and half descent meeting room and staff to conduct business. Rarely you will have larger companies that will not care you working from your bedroom/home. Also just like everyone else larger companies are tight on money too, so everyone here knows how that is.

  12. After reading the comments, I wonder if we are confusing a “big client” with a “big company?” I am looking for big clients, those who send me a steady stream of good paying jobs. I don’t care if it is a one person firm or a company that employs 5000+.

    Right now, I am lucky to have a “big client.” She is a one person design firm that send 6-10 jobs for my print brokerage every month.

    • Michael,

      I think you’re right – I’m guilty! :) Thanks for pointing that out and reminding me that it doesn’t matter their company/revenue size, it matters how much business they bring to you.

      So, to revise my earlier post – I have two medium clients and an assortment of smaller clients. The medium clients have steady jobs for me, while the others are good for occasional jobs or the one-offs. I have one client that might be turning into a medium…keeping my fingers crossed!

  13. Hmmm… Admirable that an article like this can be written but a little naive. Big clients / companies don’t care you are designing from your bedroom or a glasshouse penthouse overlooking central park . But if you can’t hold those client meeting in a plush 14 seater table with coffee served from all over the world then you will not have the WOW factor.

    And big clients love, no sorry, demand that. Believe me I know. 

  14. Chris Etheredge says:

    Hi All,

    I have been freelancing only part-time for the last 2 years so all of my clients are relatively small. The goal, obviously, is to build my freelance business so that I can do it full-time. I try to go about my business, as far as meeting with clients, paper work, contracts and returning phone calls and quality of work,with the same vigor for my small clients as I would hope to do with a “BIG’ client. So, hopefully, I’m building skills that will allow me to handle the bigger clients in the future!

    Great post!

  15. There is a prominent element that exists in most successful freelancers’ lives: The on-going contract. At times I’ve had 2-3 on-going contract clients (that added up to 40-50 hours per week of work, collectively); but I learned in the end that you only need one — more than one complicates your day-to-day life with unnecessary white noise (e.g. meetings, revision downtime, sprint reviews, time spent in project management software, etc.).

    I like to keep one main on-going contract with a local agency or start-up for about 25-30 hours per week. Close to home is good, but remote has worked for me in the past (just requires more time communicating, and less time spent making money). Outside of that mainstay, I pull in one-offs that can sometimes be 5-20 hours per week (depending on how available I am), or quick WordPress sites, design jobs, etc. Don’t rule out consultations and research jobs as well as part-time teaching, writing/blogging, or public speaking!

    Finally, in addition to your big client, your auxiliary clients, and your side gigs, you should be involved in as many other small revenue streams as possible; including: Having website themes available for sale on sites like Theme Forest, as well as regularly participating in design contests on sites like 99designs — when you have spare time between other work of course.

    The main goal is to not get distracted by things that don’t generate revenue; and of course to hang on to that one, main, big client! You want something like a Lucky Strike cigarettes — if you don’t mind a Mad Men reference :). Also, it’s important to keep sales up, even when you’re booked for 50-60 hours in a week. It usually takes me a minimum of 1 week from the initial contact before a sale finalizes (contracts, W-9s, NDAs, etc. are signed and sent); and then another week or two to get a deposit. It’s difficult to see the importance in driving new sales, when you just sold a $6k project or something — this obviously could vary from person to person, but I find it hard to discipline myself when things are going well!

    I sort of babbled on… but hopefully my comment was useful to someone.

  16. My first and only big name client is Orbitz Worldwide (Chicago office). That was back in August of 2007. I had received my Computerized Graphic Design Associate degree that same year in May.

    I would post my creative services on Craigslist.com and one day, I got an e-mail for a t-shirt design from Orbitz Worldwide (from them having seen my post listed). We spoke over the phone, I got back to them with a quote, they said OK. I was like, YES!!! They sent me their logo, and the background they wanted and all I had to do was basically find a certain type of font they wanted and I came up with three different ideas and that was that! You can see the simple t-shirt design here: http://www.coroflot.com/egallegos

  17. Emily Smith says:

    I had a big client that I had worked with in-house that became my first big freelance client. That lasted for years and it was a good paycheck every month. Unfortunately, when the marketing director left to go to a sister company, the new marketing director wanted to make big changes (to include not using my services anymore). Luckily the original marketing director got me a gig with her new company. My biggest struggle is trying to use my experience at these branches of the large corporation to get in with all the other branches of the company in all the markets around the US. So far, I’ve tried to get the marketing director and others I know in the company to make introductions, but that hasn’t worked. Any suggestions?
    Thanks,
    Emily

  18. I mostly agree with this post. I came across this post in a general search of ‘how to nail big design clients’ and I have the mid-size clients in my bucket. I have one really great mid-size client that I worked for ‘in-house’ for a year and a half and when I told them I was moving, we discussed a telecommute arrangement. I lost my salary of course, but it opened me up to having them as a steady client, and left me a lot more time to find new clients. The hourly rate is probably a little less than what is competitive, but because they offer me at least 30 hours a week, it equates a decent salary. I have had a few small guys that bring in some money, but this mid-size client brings me a lot of income, and allows me to have time to fish for other accounts. I usually go after accounts that are already looking for a designer (from craigslist and careerbuilder is where I’ve been lucky) but yes, have money to keep yourself afloat. Just like another poster said, these companies pay out every 3 months, and while the one paycheck is good, it isn’t very steady.

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  1. [...] Land your first BIG design client | Graphic Design BlenderBy Preston D Leeland-first-big-client-graphic-design-blender. If you've ever wondered how some freelancers get hired on by big accounts, or if you've ever been tired of all the extra busy-work that comes with managing lots of small clients, this post is for you.Graphic Design Blender [...]

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