How to make sure you have clients (and income) all year round

have clients all year round graphic design blender
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Whether it’s from clients or from fellow designers, I hear this a lot:

“Business was going great. I had a lot of customers and was really busy, but now I’m not because <insert reason here>. So I need to figure out how to market myself to get more customers.”

Do you recognize the big problem with this statement?

If you don’t, that’s okay, because I’m about to share why you should never catch yourself saying this ever again.

The BIG problem

The big problem with this statement (and similar ones) is that you’re not marketing yourself when you’re busy.

As conventional financial wisdom goes, if you’re too busy earning money to market your business, you’ll soon find you have plenty of time for marketing and no money.

In other words, once you run out of client work, you’ll have plenty of time for marketing because you didn’t secure new client work while you were busy.

Soon enough that leads to no money.

The excuses we make…and how to conquer them

When you’re busy with client work, it’s easy to make excuses. Here are the three most common ones I hear and how to combat them.

“I’m too busy!”

Solution: Schedule time to market your business and set deadlines for yourself just like you would for your clients. Use time savers like automatic social media publishing to spread content with a single click and RSS feeds of specific topics (think Google Reader) to focus your energy.

Be specific about what you’re going to do with your marketing time. This isn’t business surfing time; this is time specifically for you to accomplish something – be it fixing that bug in your website, planning your social media strategy, or writing content for your next blog post.

Remember, if it’s important enough, you’ll make time.

“I don’t know where/how to market my business.”

Solution: Focus, focus, focus. If you try to market a little bit everywhere, you’ll run yourself ragged. Where have you gotten the most clients, or where would you like your clients to find you? Here are some tips:

  • Prioritize your social media efforts to two or three to start out with and then grow from there.
  • Join your local chamber of commerce or similar economic group and start networking face-to-face. Potential clients in your community will be much more likely to hire you if they saw you volunteering at the food drive, sharing design tips with the mixers group, or joining the business lunch with the men’s or women’s group.
  • Upsell your existing clients (yes, this is marketing!).
  • Offer referral discounts. We all know client referrals are where most of the business comes from; don’t be afraid to ask!

“I don’t know what to publish online.”

Solution: The first step to successfully marketing your business is making a plan, so when you first start working on your own business, you need to figure out what your message is.

Try creating a marketing plan for just one month. Plan a theme or concept for each week that reinforces your overall message. The great thing is, you don’t have to decide on the content in the planning stage. You can publish original content as well as share existing content such as videos, images, blog posts, news articles, etc. that relate to each week’s theme.

Tip! Use Twitter hashtags to relate all of your weekly posts.

Example: My overall message is Greer Genius – A graphic/web designer specializing in information presentation and engaging content. So I might choose one week to focus on client engagement with numbers, the next infographics, the next presentations, and so on. In this way, I’m spreading a lot of information and examples on a specific topic with the hopes that engaging my audience with pull marketing will show them why they need my services to accomplish their goals.

Once you master monthly planning, try to schedule a 3-month plan. Remember to allow some flexibility in case there’s a big news story or event that you can use to piggyback exposure from.

Final thoughts

Okay, GDB readers, it’s your turn. How do you market your business while you’re busy? What tips do you have to increase your efficiency and minimize your effort? Share your thoughts in the comments on this post!

About April Greer

April is a go-to freelance designer with a rare combination of creative expertise and technical savvy. She is available for subcontracting and speaking engagements – visit Greer Genius for more information.

Comments

  1. Nice article April. Despite how many times I’ve read otherwise, I’m still not yet sold on the idea that social media is really all that helpful in attracting very many actual clients. I do think it’s very useful for bringing more readership to one’s website, but beyond that I personally haven’t seen much results in terms of actual clients coming via twitter, behance, facebook, etc. I have however noticed the seo benefits of posting my blog articles those sites.

    95% of my clients still come from people typing in “Nashville graphic designer” into their search engine. I would love to know the specifics of how people are getting clients via social media aside from the better search engine ranking for their own website.

    • Derek,

      To be honest, I partially agree with you. Here’s how social media has worked for me:

      – Facebook: An ex-coworker of mine saw my FB posts about freelancing and introduced me to a friend of his who needed graphic design work. (We’re still working together 2 years later.)

      – LinkedIn: I’ve found 2 repeat clients though conversations and relationship-building on LinkedIn. I use this arena primarily to build trust and establish myself as a professional in our industry.

      – Behance: A client of mine found me through Behance – I like that my work gets exposure though nearly no work from me.

      – Twitter: I use it as a draw to my blog.

      – Pinterest: This is just as much for me as it is for promotion. :)

      Hope this helps – sometimes it’s a mixture of luck and being in the right place in the right time.

    • Derek,

      To be honest, I partially agree with you. Here’s how social media has worked for me:

      – Facebook: An ex-coworker of mine saw my FB posts about freelancing and introduced me to a friend of his who needed graphic design work. (We’re still working together 2 years later.)

      – LinkedIn: I’ve found 2 repeat clients though conversations and relationship-building on LinkedIn. I use this arena primarily to build trust and establish myself as a professional in our industry.

      – Behance: A client of mine found me through Behance – I like that my work gets exposure though nearly no work from me.

      – Twitter: I use it as a draw to my other forms of social media.

      – Pinterest: This is just as much for me as it is for promotion. :)

      Hope this helps – sometimes it’s a mixture of luck and being in the right place in the right time. And partially, the perception is that if a designer/marketing/creative doesn’t have social media, they’re “behind the times,” even if it’s not true.

    • Derek,

      I’ll agree with you for the most part, however, I have found that by participating and being helpful in some of the groups I’m a part of, has netted me more business than my FB page or any other social networks (twitter/linkedin).

      In fact, I’ve gotten about 4 new clients so far this year alone via the connections I’ve made in those groups. :-)

      All depends on how you use it.

      I still use my FB page, Linked In, Twitter and Google+ for helping spread my content and grow my list, but FB is still where I get the most traffic from.

  2. I always maintain direct contact with my customers. That means that I will personally deliver the finished product to them, which could involve dropping off a box of flyers to them, or presenting them with the finished website on an ipad combined with a tutorial session. It’s during these moments that we can chat about various ideas and before you know it, I’m taking a brief for the next project!

    The other thing I do is provide discount cards – I know that the pitfalls of discounts has been discussed elsewhere on here but this is my own little invention that works quite well. The client gets a discount on their next order but only if they pass the card on to another potential customer – who also gets a discount on their first order. It’s great incentive to pass my name around.

    If/when the work does completely dry up (and it hasn’t yet, not this year so far anyway) I publish my own print projects and find advertisers to pay for them. This has multiple effects – it provides free advertising (for myself) and also provides a modest margin to support my business in the quiet periods. For example – I am producing a series of mid year community calendars that will attract local businesses to advertise on them. No one’s hired me to do this, it’s my own project but it will pay for itself plus some.

    Lastly, and this is a no-brainer, carry a business card EVERYWHERE you go. Even the pizzeria I was at last night had a menu with a few spelling mistakes – I politely pointed this out to the manager, then slipped him my card asking him to call me next time he needs more printed.

    I try and market myself on the road as much as possible. Face to face contact and word of mouth are the two most powerful selling tools you’ll ever use.

    • Adam,

      Thanks for sharing your tips – they’re really useful and hey, if they work, you can’t knock ‘em!

      I agree with you about word of mouth and getting your face out there. When you’re a trusted face and real person instead of a business name, people are more likely to contact you.

      Thanks for sharing!

  3. After reading this post I realize there are a few things I need to prioritize once my hectic schedule slows down. Social media can be addictive so I’ve minimize my time to a hour in the morning, mid-day, and evening. I totally forgot about my chamber of commerce. This article really helped my re focus. I am overwhelmed with projects right now, but I don’t want a slow period of time later on. :-)

    • Siedah,

      That’s the kind of thinking that is going to get you in a pickle…”when things slow down.” From now on, quote your project time-frames such that you give yourself time to work on your business.

      Good luck!

  4. An excellent article, as usual, April!

    I agree with Siedah, it’s far too common to forget about the brick & mortar business networks, I have to change this, too…

    Adam, I’m not a fan of discount cards, I fear my business will look cheap that way, but maybe I’m wrong about it. Excellent advice about print projects and advertisers, I should try that sometime. The “always-have-a-bcard-in-your-pocket” tip is one I used with great results for years. You never know when you’ll meet a potential client.

    I’d like to add an experience to April’s answer to Derek:

    One of my best clients found me through Viadeo (the French Linkedin). He was a client first, and then became a referral (for 2 clients). He even became a collaborator later, on 2 projects (he develops, I design), and it’s probably only the beginning.

    Usually, I’m not a fan of premium accounts, but in this case it was really worth it. I agreed to go premium after a friend of mine told me he was getting lots of work this way (for android development). For me, it’s just a 1-time story, but the ROI is still huge.

    • Kevin,

      Thanks for sharing! I think when used appropriately, you can offer a discount without looking cheap. You might not use a card, or design it as such that it doesn’t devalue your services. Maybe it’s in the form of a thank you card?

      • A thank you card is a really sweet idea! I’ll just have to think about a way to make it really special.

        A few years ago, I did the terrible mistake to offer discounts on my invoices prices, as most beginners do, I guess. It really hurt my business, and I had to wait a long time to be able to balance it without looking rude.

        There are many differences between France and the U.S. about doing business, but a thank you card should work. Thanks for the tip!

        In any case, I’d rather offer extras than having my income reduced in a way or another. Freebies & bonus deliverables are always well received. Advices, too: I specialize in working for entrepreneurs, many of these entrepreneurs being new in the business league, so I give them marketing & business-oriented advices, a good way to add value to the regular design work (what works for you can work for others, as you know really well, April).

        • Kevin,

          Glad I could help! Extras are a great way to offer value without using the idea of a “discount.” They’re in the same vein, but difference presentation.

          Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thanks April for this post
    just want to ask more about the weekly (or monthly) marketing plan concept, if you explain more. with lot of thanks

    • Elyes,

      Glad to hear you’re taking the next step in promoting your business! I can certainly delve deeper into the subject in another post.

      Some quick tips to remember:
      – Repeat yourself (a lot) to reinforce branding. Use the same wording throughout your marketing.
      – Always look for a tie-in to your main marketing tagline or pitch.
      – Support your marketing with great content that’s already online.

      Good luck and thanks for asking!

  6. I have to admit I’m addicted to Facebook, but I use it everyday, and it most definitely has helped me grow my business. I post my work to my business page (among other things), and share on my personal wall, which has helped bring a lot of other “friends” to my business page, and eventually some have become clients. While my “friends” may know what I do, they don’t know how well I do it, and often times when they see my work it reminds them they need something that I can help them with, or that they know someone who may need me.
    It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen, and continues to happen, so I’m a firm believer in an effective social media campaign.

    • Theresa,

      I do the same thing. My family in particular always used to respond to “I’m a graphic designer.” with “So, what exactly do you do?” Now that I post my work on my personal as well as business FB pages, they’ve not only been super-impressed, but they understand my talents and have brought me clients. Win-win!

      Thanks for sharing!

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