There are many questions about working as a freelance designer, but the most recurrent question, after is drawing what you do all day?, is usually: but how do you get clients?
I thought long and hard before sitting down to write this. Firstly, because I’m sure what I write here doesn’t apply to everyone and it derives from my own experience as a freelance designer, during these last six years and two different countries.
I didn’t want to present it as a yes or no recipe, but as some indicators to pay more or less attention to certain channels that CAN help you get more clients.
How to get clients as a freelance designer or illustrator?
Define what you do and what you sell.
Before you go out and look for clients, you must be very clear about what you are going to sell them. This way, not only will you be directing your advertising efforts to the right people, but you will also avoid working for people who clearly: neither value it nor are going to pay for it.
Here’s a short checklist to apply and organize what you do:
- Do you sell a product or a service?
- E.g. I sell graphic design and illustration services.
- For whom?
- Ex: For small entrepreneurs in social media.
- What does it include?
- Ex: Social Media packages, brand development, etc.
- It is also good to define what your deliverables are. File types, etc.
- How long does it take?
- I recommend listing your development times in working days. Define your development stages, number of revisions and cost for extras. Don’t leave any room for assumptions within your process.
- How much does it cost?
- The controversial “what do I charge?” questions deserves its own blog post, I know. But my biggest advice is to always ask someone in the field or a colleague if you have any doubts. Trust me, I’m always asking people, and I also receive consultations from others. I try to guide people in that regard because I don’t believe in having any secrets or locked prices.
- What are my terms and brand values?
- Establish some terms of service that help you protect the things you deliver to customers. For example: personal use, commercial use, etc.
After that, you will have a better idea of what to do, which leads me to the next point:
Show what you do, but better.
Now that you’ve got it right with the product or service you want to sell, it’s time to show it. You can do this in many ways and on both levels: physical and digital. In this case, I’m going to talk about the digital space, since that’s where I get 95% of my clients. And where pretty much everyone 24/7.
To show what you do, you can:
Of course, you don’t have to be everywhere. Choose the one that works best for you and start there to establish your strategy.
- Set up your own website or,
- A portfolio like behance, dribble, etc. Also,
- A profile in social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin.
- A profile on a sales page for services such as Fiverr, UpWork, Workana, PeoplePerHour, etc.
- If it is a product, organizing your items in an e-commerce service such as Etsy, RedBubble, Society6 or Cloud Store, Empretienda, Mercado Libre, etc.
In the place you choose, show your work with intention. What do I mean by this? Talk about your process, about your client, what you learned working on it, what you delivered… use mockups, photographs and different resources that help you highlight each project. Be creative, tell a story and convey an experience. This will work much better than writing something like: Hello, I sell logos!
What if you don’t have any customers yet? No problem, show and tell your story through personal projects that reflect your services. If you want to work on empowering personal brands, work on your own branding and show the process. If custom illustration is your thing, start by drawing your friends or family. Or if you want to work with publishers, choose a theme that interests you and create for it.
The work has to find you working already.
Optimize your profiles so clients can find you.
You are already working on organizing your projects and showing what you do.
How do your clients get to you?
Either through Social Media or your website, the client must have a kind of roadmap or super clear process so that they can contact your services. If it’s a website, use a contact form for your clients.
For this I recommend you to establish an email address only for your clients (this way you will avoid spam and newsletters) and use it as the main source of contact.
This will not only help you stay organized, but also transmits much more professionalism, helps you keep your budgets and
Not only will this help you stay organized, but it also conveys much more professionalism, helps you keep your budgets and communications on track with all your customers.
Bonus: Do your job well and the advertising pays for itself.
I started thinking about how I got my first client and I remembered that it was by recommendation. This was from a person who already knew me, but not my work. He mentioned to the person looking for the services that I was responsible, organized and had “good aesthetic sense”. At that time I was doing my graduate work in Architecture. My first work was some customized watercolor illustrations for a small catering venture. And that’s where it all started.
This kind of clients helped me a lot to put weight on my skills as a designer and to take seriously the services I offered. To take me seriously. The rest is sort of a snowball effect (in the best of senses!), always leave the best in each work and there will come the second. And the third.
Would you like me to expand on any of these?