This client-getting tactic worked so well… I actually had to stop using it.

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Last year I attended a digital marketing conference in San Fran. I had three objectives:

  1. Learn cool stuff I could use for my own businesses and to help my clients.
  2. Pick up potential clients.
  3. Eat a lot of that famous west coast sushi :-)

After all – I’m a digital marketer – so everyone at this conference is a potential client, right?

But here’s the thing… From attending these conferences in the past, I know how people pitch their services and pass out business cards that get stuffed into pockets and thrown away.

I 100% hate that approach. Every fiber of my being shrieks in pain at the thought of being “that guy”.

So I decided to do something different… Something that would make potential clients come to me.

What I came up with cost me about $50 (I think $48…) in total, but it should have cost less. I had to pay for overnight shipping though so what should have been a $20 marketing project cost me $30 more.

What was the project?

A t-shirt.

“Huh? That’s it?”

Yep. A t-shirt. But…

I didn’t want to do what everyone else does: slap my logo and some salesy message onto an ugly T that fits weird.

I wanted my shirt to actually stand out like crazy, and I wanted it to look cool. After all, if I’m paying $50 for a t-shirt I’d better be able to get more than one use out of it LOL.

I also wanted who I am and what I do to be instantly recognizable so potential, qualified clients would approach me to discuss.

To accomplish those goals, here’s what I did:

I found a cool fitted black t-shirt on one of these websites that lets you design your own clothing. (I don’t remember the name, but a quick Google search for “online screenprinting” or something similar made them pop up.)

Then, using their online interface, I put one single word in Helvetica Bold across the front in white:

“copywriter”

All lower-case, for personality ;-)

In this case, I was promoting our agency’s copywriting service as we were backed up with design projects. But the same tactic would have worked if I’d printed:

“web designer”

Or

“awesome web designer”

Or something else that’s simple but has some spice.

When I arrived at the conference, here’s what happened next:

On Day 1, I found my seat, took out my notepad, and started prepping to take notes. Then I heard:

“YOU’RE A COPYWRITER? HEY WE REALLY NEED ONE.”

I looked up to find a wide-eyed fellow in front of me. We chatted and he couldn’t have been more excited at the idea of hiring me.

(And I put his dialogue in all caps because he practically screamed it at me. Which only served to attract more attention :-) )

In fact…

This simple little* t-shirt worked so well that after the first hour… I took it off and didn’t put it back on for the rest of the weekend.

(*I say “little” because it’s kind of a running joke that I wear small t-shirts… at a recent event I spoke at, they had a comedian “roast” a bunch of the speakers / audience at one point and the guy called me “Baby Gap” LOL.)

I was overwhelmed. The response was more than my fragile little mind could take.

I was offered projects from the people I’d met later on, but I actually declined them because they weren’t very interesting.

(I’m very picky about projects, and have worked very hard to get to a place where I can afford that pickiness.)

Unfortunately, this actually made these people want my services even more, which made me feel really bad when I continued to decline them.

But if I’d needed the cash or wasn’t so selective, I would have made a small fortune from that $50 investment.

The best part? I really love the t-shirt and it’s now a part of my regular rotation :-)

So if you want to try this for yourself, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Wear it anywhere entrepreneurs roam. That could be Starbucks on a Monday morning or marketing meetups / conferences, etc.
  • Conferences where you have to pay to get in will get you more qualified leads than free ones. Why? Because they’re full of people who are actively spending money on marketing. That means they have cash to spend and they like to spend it on growing their businesses.
  • Keep it SIMPLE. My shirt didn’t have any sales messages or anything. Just “copywriter” in big, bold, white letters on a solid black background.

It’s stupidly simple.

I know. But sometimes the best ideas are. Have questions / comments / another cool idea you’d like to share? Leave a comment.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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About David Tendrich

David Tendrich is the co-head of creative agency Unexpected Ways, as well as the co-founder of Reliable: the first-ever PSD to HTML & PSD to Wordpress service run by designers, for designers. He co-runs his companies from Portland, Oregon with his lovely wife and biz partner, Lou Levit.

 

logoMore about David’s business: David is co-founder of Reliable – what happened when a group of designers got fed up with PSD to Code companies… and created their own. Check them out, and see what makes them so unique.

Comments

  1. Loved this!! Such a brilliant idea.

  2. Hi David, I loved your on your Client getting tactic. It really sounds so simple to do. I think this one I may try for myself too!

    Thanks for the tip.

    Regards,
    Joelle

  3. Sweet! So the next conference I’m at, we’ll all be walking around with a title on our chest. :D

    I love it, David!

    Thanks for sharing.

    April

  4. Charlie says:

    Such an amazing idea!
    I’ll definitely try to do something like this on my next networking event.

    Thanks,
    Charlie

  5. What a great idea, can’t wait to try it! Thank you :)

  6. Brilliant idea! Bravo!

  7. Hi David. Sounds like a cool idea. Will do it myself pronto!

  8. That’s a really cool idea! I might have to “borrow” that one… ;)

  9. Love it!! I offer two related services, and I’m going to try a variation of this: “graphic designer” on the front, “need printing?” on the back.

    • For this tactic I would avoid something like “Need printing?” as that’s a sales message and exactly what this method is positioning you to avoid ;-)

      This method is just geared toward letting people know “This is who I am, what I do, and I’m here if you feel like chatting”. It’s more casual and low-key, so people feel like if they approach you they’ll get a conversation instead of a sales pitch, and so they’ll feel safe to do so.

      With that said, maybe you’ll have a lot of success with it. Best of luck :-)

  10. A great idea! I have to steel it. I hope it works in Finland as well as it did for you.

  11. Haha great idea!

    I’m curious though. What do you put on your t-shirt when you can kinda do a lot of various kinds of design/development/video production/brand building/marketing etc etc?

    I’ve actually been struggling with this because I’ve had roles in the past where I was required to do all of these and now I’m not sure how to market myself.

    I guess if I was going to narrow it down I prefer web design of some kind the most and anything in that realm.

    Great article, thanks for the read!

    • Joe,

      Pick one, and it might vary from conference to conference or day to day. The point is to get people talking to you, and from there you can sell all of your other talents.

      Good luck!

      April

    • Hey Joe,

      I’d tailor it to the conference you’re attending, and pick the one that you feel people at that conference will have the most interest in.

      Or, like in our case, pick a service that you’re looking to expand. We were booked with design so copywriting made sense.

  12. This was a very interesting article and I am going to put it to the test. Thals and keep them coming.

  13. So simple, yet effective. Thanks for sharing this tip David.

  14. Awesome idea, great article, thanks for sharing!

  15. I LOVED this idea! Makes absolute sense to use to build the illustration & watercolor side of my graphic design business – thank you!

  16. Love it! Way better than proffering cards while juggling a wine glass and canapes! So — what font and point size did you use?…..:=) And what about the “real estate” on the back…..? Leaving it blank (rather than a rejoinder such as “jussayin….”) requires such admirable restraint. (BTW, I’m thinking Bodoni myself!)

    • Hey Duncan,

      I couldn’t tell you font size or anything, sorry :-\

      I just shift+dragged the word until it stretched all the way across the chest. And yes, I left the back blank :-) I think anything else turns it from a cool shirt that can also serve a business purpose into a business shirt that might be cool as a side-effect.

      For this method to work, the cool, low-key factor has to have first priority. That way people feel safe approaching you and not like they’ll be bombarded with a pitch if they do so.

      Best of luck!

  17. This is one of the things that is so simple and obvious that it makes you feel stupid that you haven’t came up with it yourself! I love it! Thanks for sharing :)

  18. Irum Majid says:

    I love your idea. I am a printer and I am going to try it. Thanks for sharing your creativity. I love reading your blogs.

  19. Yep. So, from now on, I’m going to wear blank shirts, given that everyone of you is going to annoy potential clients with words they don’t easily understand; they won’t know where to look at.

    My blank shirt will be like those silent commercials between all the fuss ads after the TV match. Every annoyed potential client in the networking event will just look at me for salvation while asking: Would you please help me out from this craze? And I’ll be just like “Sure. Please, come in.”

    When everything is bold, then nothing is bold.

    • I think it’s going to take a bit more than this blog post for things to get to the point where a blank t-shirt is the silence and shirts using the method above are the noise ;-)

      This method right now separates you from the noise, and gives clients the chance to approach you so you don’t have to go “hunting” at these conferences and events and put people on the defensive and be just “another” person walking around trying to sniff out potential clients and handing out biz cards.

  20. Samantha says:

    Thanks for sharing! I think I’ll try this out for myself as well =D

  21. Does dressing casually, i.e. wearing a t-shirt, make any difference than dressing business casual when attending these conferences? Are most conference attendees dressed casually, and if so, does your impression of that person differ, as in, do you think less of them professionally? I like the creative spirit of the t-shirt, and feel that the person wearing one would be more approachable.

    • Hey Candy,

      Great question.

      I think you have to do what comes most naturally to you. Dressing up and trying hard to make a good impression are not my thing, so I don’t even attempt it. Some people feel more natural in that kind of apparel though and can’t work without it.

      I dress super casually. I feel my strength is making people feel comfortable and safe around me, so I stick with that. But to do that, I have to feel comfortable and safe with myself, so I dress in a way that helps me do that :-)

      This is usually slightly-tight fitted jeans and a blank t-shirt (I don’t really wear shirts with designs or writing on them – unless I’m wearing my “copywriter” shirt).

      When I speak to someone, their clothes don’t really matter to me as far as professionalism goes. I listen to how they talk, what they say, the kinds of questions they ask. In a few words I can tell if someone is the real deal. And often they’re not wearing expensive blazers and polished shoes :-)

      Hope that answers your question! None of this is an exact science, but these are my thoughts.

      Take care,
      David

      • I own a small recruitment firm and I went to a Company Directors event a few months ago. Mostly MD’s of SME’s so the place was just me, in jeans and a shirt and a bunch of suits. Imagine my relief when someone else turned up in jeans too, we got talking and it turned out that he was one of the speakers, a former CEO that turned around a loss making business and sold it for £180M. I’m going to ditch the Shirt and get the T-Shirt, maybe I’ll join him in the Hamptons next summer :)

  22. Hi David,

    I thought of a similar idea people couple try if they don’t have the time or money for the T-Shirt idea (which I love by the way).
    If you have to wear a name tag – or even if you don’t, write in what you do in the “My name is” space.
    Not as cool but it might help.

    Jennifer

  23. What a great experiment! With you mentioning wearing small t-shirts, do you think the combination of tight t-shirt and informational message packaged together assisted with your increase of popularity? I’m hoping the message is all that it took as I would hate to send the wrong message to potential customers with a very tight t-shirt. :-)
    L

  24. Ha! Very nice! May have to give this a try :)

  25. Liked the “little” t-shirt idea.
    As an Art Director, do you think it would be better to make a t-shirt that reads: Art Director OR Graphic Designer?
    Just not sure everyone knows what an Art Director is.
    Mike

    • Hey Mike!

      Great question. I’d pick the one that the audience you’ll be in front of will resonate with most. If their lingo is “art director”, that’s what should go on your shirt, and vise versa for “graphic designer”.

      But I would actually get more specific than “graphic designer” as that’s also super vague and a lot of people might not know what that translates to, as there are tons of different kinds of designers.

      I’d put “Logo Designer” or “Web Designer”, etc. as people walk around thinking “I need a website designed” or “I need a logo designed” and not “I need a graphic designer”.

      Hope that helps :-)

      Best of luck,
      David

  26. WOW! What a neat idea and so simple…I m going to start on it right away!
    Thanks! David!
    :)

  27. Hi David!…

    So I was thinking about your T shirt idea a lot…

    What do you think if I have the “Title” within a Speech bubble design or something like that…Will it be too much?

    And do you have any suggestions for the title to use instead of “Graphic Designer”!

    Thank you
    Tyno :)!

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