Episode 24: 15 Ways to Get Your First Graphic Design Client

Lauren: 

Today we’re going to talk about 15 different ways you can get your first design client. Welcome to Earning by Design, a podcast dedicated to guiding graphic designers and creative freelancers towards building successful businesses from their passions. I’m your host, lauren Gonzalez. With over 14 years in the design industry, including both in-house, corporate and freelance design roles, I’m here to share insights and strategies to help you thrive in your design business. My journey was not without its challenges, including finding well-paying clients and struggling and managing an overwhelming workload for minimal return, but through perseverance and strategic planning, I was able to transform those obstacles into a six-figure design business that allows me to work from home, set my own hours and select projects that truly resonate with me. So, whether you’re embarking on your design career or you’re already an experienced designer, earning by Design is your companion to help you stay competitive in the fast-paced of graphic design. I remember that pain and struggle and frustration and just mystery of what it was like when I was starting my design business not knowing how to get my first client, my next client and so on. So here I’m going to be telling you and explaining different ways that I have seen very effective. There’s some that are easier, there’s some that are a little more complex, some that are for introverts like myself, some that are more for extroverts, but can be very effective if you’re willing to take the risks. So we’re going to get into what each of these are with explanations now. The first way is LinkedIn. A lot of designers think that this is about how to find jobs in-house, but not necessarily. It can be very effective to get design clients. I’ve had a lot of students of mine from my Consistent Clients Blueprint find getting inquiries because they are utilizing LinkedIn. You can first you gotta make sure your profile is set up have a great picture of yourself, have a nice banner that maybe shows some portfolio pieces, talks about how you can help different clients. Then you maybe have some different portfolio pieces featured as well. You want to be posting different projects. Think from a design thinking critical standpoint as opposed to this is just very pretty and then start reaching out to people.

Lauren: 

You can reach out to specific niches. If you have decided a specific industry you want to work with. If you’re still just looking to work with anybody, you can reach out to businesses. Look at their marketing agencies, look at other design agencies agencies. Look at other design agencies and reach out to people within them. So, for example, if you’re looking to work with just a business, you can maybe reach out to the marketing manager, the marketing team or the creative director and they might be able to talk to you and outsource some design work At a design agency. You can look at the sales team or the business development, because they’re the ones that would be able to see projects that maybe those design agencies, that that client it’s just too big a budget to work with that design agency and they can say, hey, I actually know a designer you could work with that maybe could fit with more within your budget Because, remember, design agencies have huge overhead expenses that they have to pay and so they charge clients a lot, lot more than usually freelance designers will charge Not saying you shouldn’t charge a lot, but it’s just really important that they have resources that they can send people to and you can be one of those resources. You could also connect with different smaller businesses that maybe go to their CEO. If you see that their company is only a few employees, go to the CEO, talk about what you can help them with and really make sure you do research before you start connecting with people. But that is an amazing way and an outlet people expect to connect on a business level on LinkedIn, and it’s only gotten better over the years.

Lauren: 

The next way that I have found to be very effective is cold emails. Now, this is the perfect one for introverts, because you don’t have to go and talk to anybody face to face. You don’t even have to show your face, except when you actually get a meeting booked with somebody. Maybe they’ll want to meet through Zoom. You could always do phone calls, but the best way to do this is research companies. You want to reach out to Find their email. You can look on LinkedIn to find their email address sometimes Maybe it’ll be on their company website and do a lot of research before you write to them. You do not want to just say, hey, I’m a designer, I’m so good, look at my work. That is going to get no responses. You want to start with complimenting something you like about their business, talk about how your services can help them and end with a call to action that you would like to set up, a call to see if you could help them get where they want to go in their business.

Lauren: 

The more personalized these emails are, the more likely you will get a response, but you have to think with volume. I just had a student who was doing lots and lots and lots of emails and he reached out to about 50 different companies and got a 4% response rate. So just you have to think with it’s about volume and quality. Just like most people, if you think about you get emails all the time, you probably don’t answer all of them so when. But some of those emails that you write are going to hit the mark at the right time and they’re going to get responses. So it’s really important that you are taking action and doing the research before you write these emails. It’s just going to get the response rate higher.

Lauren: 

The next one is online communities and Facebook groups. Sometimes Facebook groups can be just full of spam and people trying to advertise their services. But if you find some specifically, this is really good when it’s niched down and it’s not just all small businesses, because when you go in there and you’re not trying to spam and you find one that’s really about community and helping and advice, it can be such a game changer for finding clients. And this is done through seeing people post maybe questions about oh, I’m trying to grow my brand or I’m trying to help make my ideal customer attracted to my brand, then you can go and write a comment on this post and say, hey, that’s totally cool. You’re looking to grow your brand. I took a look at it. I love what you’re doing. I actually am a brand designer. I’m a designer and I can help you to get more attractive design work and marketing material to attract the right consumer. I’d love to talk with you about this and then then you can start back and forth with them. Normally at the beginning, it’s good not to be pushy, so maybe just say, hey, I love your brand and I actually am a designer. I’d love to chat with you. So doing those things and just becoming helpful and more helpful can get you in front of the right people and those comments can stay there for a long time. I had people design clients that found me in Facebook groups that I commented on years later. So it can be very effective for if you use it correctly and you’re not just there to get immediate clients but you’re there to nurture and become the authority in these communities.

Lauren: 

Next one is Instagram. Instagram is a visual platform, and something I find designers struggle with there is that when they start posting their work, they tend to get a lot of other designers following them. That can be to the detriment of you, because you don’t want designers as your ideal clients. That’s not who’s going to ever hire you. So as the algorithm starts to show you more to more and more designers and designers start following you. It’s going to take you further away from your goal. That’s why it’s important to strategically follow accounts that you want to get following back and that you’re not following other designers, but you are actually following accounts of businesses you would like to work with, because that’s going to then make you more recommended to those type of people and they’re going to see the posts themselves, as opposed to just designers.

Lauren: 

Don’t use hashtags that are just about design or graphic design, because generally, businesses that want to hire a designer are not really looking for those or following those types of hashtags. They might be interested in other things related to marketing or also. A really good way to find clients is on Instagram is to go and follow people who are leaders in a specific industry and look at their followers, comment on those leaders posts, say intelligent things, get your comments pinned and you will get in front of more of your ideal clients. They’ll see, hey, who’s this person, and they’ll go to your profile and if it’s set up with right messaging and has great work on there and links to your website, that could lead down the path of them reaching out to you. I have seen this happen many times. It’s all about getting things set up and training the algorithm in your favor for your ideal clients, not for other designers. The next one is a little bit hit or miss, but you cannot negate it. This is how I got my first client, and that’s telling family and friends.

Lauren: 

Now what you want to do is you don’t have to go post on your Facebook or on your personal Instagram and just say, hey, I’m a designer, now everybody, because you might feel a little bit pushy or awkward. Rather, make a list of everyone you know and think about people who have their own businesses, or know people who have their own businesses, or maybe your employees in a business that they know. You know that they may need a designer. That can be a great connection to get you in and get you started working and getting familiar with working with clients from a freelance design standpoint, as opposed to, you know, just being an employee, so that from that standpoint, I really like this route because it can ease you into talking about money and things with people that maybe you’re more familiar with at first. On the other hand, it can also be very awkward if somebody says, oh, you’re a designer, so you’ll get this for free, you’ll do a logo for free because they’re your friends or family, and you say, uh, no, you’re going to have to pay for this. So those kinds of conversations can be awkward, but I find if it’s a friend of a family member or a friend of a friend, it’s a little bit easier because you don’t necessarily know that person and you can have these professional conversations that way. So don’t negate this one as an option for getting that first client.

Lauren: 

The next one is Reddit. This is in the category of online communities, but I wanted to put it as its own because it’s peculiar in the way that it’s not necessarily set up the way that other online communities are, like Facebook groups. But if you join a subreddit such as real estate or Amazon sellers not necessarily all small businesses you can post things that are helpful for those communities. And maybe if you do a blog post on your website and you talk about the importance of branding or design relating it to the industry that you’re in the subreddit of. You can post that there and talk about tips. People will start to notice you. They will vote your posts up. You can join in conversations when people are asking how do I market myself better? How do I get my branding done? What’s a great tip to get in front of the right customers and you can jump in there and say, hey, you know, marketing and design are really important and you can’t have one without the other. So I would love to talk more about this and this can open the door to them seeing your website and getting in front of the right people. So don’t negate Reddit as an option. It can have some subreddits that are a little bit nasty and opinionated of people, but that is not everywhere and the more specific you are here, the better it can work.

Lauren: 

The next one is your local chamber of commerce. This can be amazing, because all small businesses there are there to connect and they want to network and share services. There’s these other kind of groups that are the business networking groups that I’ve joined before just to kind of try it out, and people become the go-to designers there. I’ve seen website designers who are the go-to designer for their business networking group because they’re all there to support each other and it’s something that’s actually required to get to know others At Chamber of Commerce’s events they put on these events Some people will speak. Maybe you can even have the opportunity to show what you do and you can hand out your business card and eventually somebody there will hire you, because everybody needs design in their businesses and it’s a good way to just get known in your area. So don’t negate this one. It does usually come with a joining fee or registration fee, so you have to think with that as an upfront expense. But if you’re willing to do that and you don’t want to go maybe niche specific but you want to go more local specific, then that’s a way that you can find some of your first clients. Just realize you’re going to have to do networking. It’s a little bit more of an extrovert type of experience. It’s not going to be just sitting there emailing behind your screen, but it could get you in front of the right people that could lead to hiring you.

Lauren: 

Something else that is a little bit similar to what I just spoke about is working with local businesses. If you were to get your own business onto Google and recognized and you have an actual physical location, this could be a great opportunity for you to service your local area. Maybe your specific town or city is very specific in the way that they are branded and all companies kind of have the certain feel. It’s very much that way in Portland, in the Pacific Northwest. There’s a lot of people who have a certain vibe, so if there’s a design company that is of that vibe and can cater to it and understands it, it could be really, really great if you were to jump into that specific niche and you can make sure that you get Google reviews and that you show up on Google when somebody is searching for local designer in your area. Now, I would not really recommend this for huge cities such as New York, Los Angeles. These kind of places have massive branding agencies and so many design companies Not that there’s not in every city, but there’s specific ones. That would lend itself more to this more hometown feel and I’ve seen designers do well when they work with their local community. You could even start working with local fire departments and local cafes and restaurants and gyms and things that just make it feel that small town and you can give back to your community by branding, designing to cater to that. So if you’re in an area where it makes sense to do it, I would not look over this as an option to get clients.

Lauren: 

The next one is to collaborate with other businesses. Now, this is professional businesses that service similar clients to you, but they’re not competitors. So they’re not other designers, but maybe they’re photographers or they’re web developers or they’re UI, ux designers that can compliment what you do, or maybe they’re marketing companies. And the way to do this is LinkedIn can be amazing to find them. You could also just search on Google and look up photographers for whatever the industry you want to work with, or just photographers in general, and then you can reach out to them and say that you would love to refer clients to them and have them refer clients to you. Make it about a mutual understanding and a mutual agreement as opposed to just hey, send me clients, because nobody wants to just have somebody who only thinks about themselves. You gotta think about the other person. So that could be a great way. I’ve gotten a lot of clients through this way, through referrals, through photographers and developers and even web agencies. It can be really amazing a way to get clients at the beginning when you don’t have a network yourself.

Lauren: 

The next way is something that is for those introverts out there, which is guest blogging. So this is about going and finding resources for the type of clients you wanna work with and pitching a blog to go on their own website and it’ll be cited by you. It’ll be linked back to your website, which also gives your website more authority in the Google world of SEO, which can be super helpful for people finding you that way. The cool thing about this one is that you are able to just get your expertise written into an actual paper or blog and then you submit it. It’s great to have an already written something written that is along the lines that your ideal clients would want to read, for example, doing something about the power of attracting your ideal customers through design, and that could be something that they would want to read. These ideal clients of yours would want to read because they are interested in that goal of attracting more people. So it’s not just something boring like the right typography to use in your designs. A designer might care about that, but I can guarantee you that an actual business owner would care less. So you’ve got to make it interesting and worded in a way that they’re going to be interested and that you get this resource that would be interested to publish it on their blog interested to do that. If, eventually, when you start working with more clients and you get results, you can talk about case studies there. You could also use famous companies using design as a case study into this blog to show the importance of how it affects and how design can have a great effect on their business. That’s just an example, but it’s a really good idea and you just have to search on Google for resources for this industry or blogs for this industry and find some of these great ones that can get a lot of volume on your guest blog.

Lauren: 

The next one is similar, but this is about guest posting on social media or getting yourself on a guest pod, being on a guest on a podcast. Now, the podcast one is a little bit more for the extroverts. I can tell you I was an introvert and I did it anyway and I got so so so many clients that way. But the social media one can also be great. You don’t have to get in front of anyone with your face, but you can do a carousel or a reel or something and then ask a specific account that you know your ideal clients follow and get with them and have them post that on their account, reaching all of their followers. It could get a lot of eyes on your business and on your social media account.

Lauren: 

Now the way to pitch yourself, to do these guest blogs and the podcast and the guest social posts is to talk about how what you do can benefit their audience. Make it about how it’s going to make their audience better. It’s going to help them and you’re not there to sell, you’re there to help. Always go in with that mindset, because these people they want to always have more content that is helpful to their audience. So it’s a really great way to do that without you trying to be salesy or anything. It’s just about nurturing and getting those people in front of you or in front of your posts, which can lead to clients.

Lauren: 

The next way is joining communities of other designers. Now this could be on Facebook groups, other Slack communities. I have an example of one which is a consistent clients blueprint community, which I help these freelance designers and design business owners set up their businesses correctly, so they’re not in the journey alone. It can get very lonely as an entrepreneur and until you make it, and when you’re not successful yet keyword yet, because you will be it’s important to know that others are also there to help you and can give their tips on what’s working. You can talk about your struggles and people can help you, correct and go the right direction. Also, I’ve seen that if there’s a lot of different designers within a community, they have different skill sets and they will need other people’s talents. For example, a motion graphics designer maybe needs a web designer, or a brand designer needs to hire a UI UX designer. There’s different skills that not everybody has, and it’s great to know when somebody else is a professional and it is within your same community, so you could get clients that way as well, and it’s also just a great way to keep propelling yourself forward.

Lauren: 

Now, I can’t go through this way, this whole video, without talking about one that I’m not a huge fan of but I will give you just an insight into it which is using these freelance platforms. So that’s Upwork, fiverr, 99designs. I’m a big, big fan of you getting your own business set up, because these sites can be extremely competitive in themselves. However, if you want to try it out, I’m not going to deny you to try it out, but it’s going to take a lot of time on these platforms and bidding and bidding and not getting the jobs before you get anywhere, especially when you’re starting and you don’t have any ratings there or any reviews from clients. So that can’t be negated. You can always check those out yourself. I have never used them, but they are some a way that a lot of designers have gotten clients in the past.

Lauren: 

The next way is going to actual networking or conference events. This is really, really great. When you go to one that’s specific to a niche For example, a real estate convention where there’s a whole bunch of real estate agents there walking around, that is your ideal client. You’re there to connect with them, talk about what you do, talk about how they’re doing in their business and relate it to what you do to help. I’ve seen these work really well for the health and wellness space. I have a student who goes to conferences all the time. Networks the beauty space they put on conferences and it can be so powerful. If you really understand that niche, you go talk to them, go up to booths, find out how they’re doing, find out what they need help with and offer your services, because they expect to connect on a business level at these conferences. That’s a great, great reason, whereas not always you know you go to, maybe on a Facebook group or in Instagram maybe they’re not there at that point to be connecting with other people, but in the setting of an actual conference, this does take an extrovert or an introvert that’s willing to have courage. If I can do it, you can do it, but it’s a really great way that you can find a whole bunch of your ideal clients in one location.

Lauren: 

The final way is also more for the extroverts, but it’s been really, really beneficial for me, and this is to present at workshops or at summits that are specific to your ideal clients. So you can pitch yourself of what value you can provide at, let’s say, an Amazon seller convention or a real estate convention or a food and beverage convention, online and you put together a presentation that relates your services to their pain points and getting closer to their goals, because if you understand the industry and you understand how it works, you can put together an awesome 15 minute presentation that has a Q and a at the end and get people to understand you as an expert and really knowledgeable in your design industry and that you can then help them. You can go and have at the end of it, you’re not pitching your services, but you are relating back to what you do. You can also link to your website. They can check out more about you. So that’s a really powerful way. Again, this is a little more advanced, but you could go and jump in.

Lauren: 

The more that you do at this point at the beginning, the more different strategies and ways you try, you’re going to see what works for you, what works for the type of design you do and what feels natural. So sometimes trying things that are super uncomfortable at first and pushing yourself way beyond the bounds that you would ever ever have thought can make things seem not as hard as you keep going. I felt that when I went a little bit too meekly in my approach to getting clients at the beginning, it was always a struggle. It was just this struggle, struggle, struggle, struggle until I tried things that were really hard and that pushed me and it got me to be willing to try more things and to see that it wasn’t actually that bad If you want it really badly to get that first client, to get more clients, to get the consistency, you have to be willing to do things that are uncomfortable and that make you feel maybe, maybe not so excited about it first, but when you do overcome it, you feel this intense sense of pride and that you can do more. So I do. I really know I threw a lot of things at you today and I would love lot of things at you today, and I would love to hear which one you’re gonna go apply and any other questions you have about specific ones. Be sure to download the downloadable about how to get clients in the description below. It’s really important for you to go and apply these and not just hear what I’m saying, but go apply it. I want you to try them out and see for yourself that you can get design clients and, as always, keep creating.

Lauren: 

Thank you so much for being here. I’ll see you next time. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of earning by design. If you found value today, I would be incredibly grateful if you could leave a review on your favorite podcast platform. Your feedback not only helps this podcast to grow, but it also helps to get in front of more designers who need help too. So thank you sincerely for being here and for more resources to help you succeed in the world of design.

Lauren: 

Please visit for the creativescom. That’s the number four, thecreativescom. We offer a variety of courses, programs and free resources, all tailored to enhance your design skills and your business knowledge. Also, be sure to follow me on Instagram at forthecreatives, for more updates and tips and, if you haven’t already joined my growing community of over a hundred thousand subscribers on the For the Creatives YouTube channel that has more content, all designed to fuel your creativity and your professional growth. Until next time, keep creating, keep exploring and continue to push the boundaries of your own creative journey. I’ll be here to guide and inspire you every step of the way.

Listen to this podcast episode on…

Be strategic in your first approach to getting clients.

In this episode of Earning by Design, I dive deep into the world of finding your first design client. We will explore 15 powerful strategies you can use to get started,  whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert.  

Even if you’ve already secured your first client, this episode is a goldmine! The strategies I talk about in here go beyond just landing your initial project. You’ll discover powerful tactics to build a steady stream of high-quality clients who value your services and keep your design business thriving.

Key Points:

  • 15 Strategies to Land Your First Design Client
  • Methods for Introverts and Extroverts
  • Utilizing LinkedIn, Cold Emails, Online Communities, and Social Media
  • Collaborations, Guest Posting, Networking Events, and Workshops
  • Importance of Experimentation and Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

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