7 Actionable Ways to Build a Strong Client List from Scratch

You’ve undergone the army training on Codecademy, you’ve read every possible article there is on A List Apart, and there isn’t a single Photoshop brush that you haven’t tried already. You’ve excelled in graphic design, and you’re ready to take on some new clientele, possibly your first ever.

We read and we learn that selling something is as easy as sending out an email to multiple companies at the same time, or we get told that websites like 99designs is where the elite is residing and that, if we would like to make a lot of money and have great reviews, we should apply for every single job, because working hard is what it is all about.

In my experience, it has been more than sending out emails or reading blog posts on how to become a sales expert. It has been hard work combined with dedication and ultimately, the craving for achieving my goals as well as having fun while doing it. Lets dive into some starting points for designers who are looking to expand their horizon.

Outline Your Work

Publishing a blog discussing your work is a great way to get your work out there to thousands of people all over the world. And the best part about this is, you aren’t even required to invest money, not at first, in order to publish your own blog. Over the last couple of years, free publishing mediums like Ghost, Medium and Tumblr have become increasingly popular among graphic designers, web designers and people who generally love to make stuff. The real advantage of publishing to these specific blogging platforms is that you don’t need to build your following from the ground up, these are large publishing sites that already have millions of users who are searching, commenting and sharing content as long as it meets the industry standard.

Earlier this year, Google Engineer, Sebastien Gabriel published a great story on Medium about how he joined Google and what the whole process was like for him. If you’re capable of producing such high-quality content about your work, your clients will come to you, so building your first list of clients will be the least of your worries.

Case Studies

Write Case Studies

Case studies really break down the value of your work for clients, so while your website is crucial for getting eyes on your work, case studies can convince them to convert into paying clients.

Learning to understand your own work process is very important as is learning to write professional and proven case studies on how to do something in order to achieve a successful end result. Earlier this year, I was working with a client who wanted to build a larger following online. At first I was skeptical, but as  time went by, I realized it would make for a great case study as everything was turning out to be better than expected.

Case studies are a great way to tell the world how valuable your products or services are. They go beyond simple testimonials by showing real-life examples of how you were able to satisfy your customer’s needs and help them accomplish their goals. With great case studies, you will be able to highlight your successes in a way that will make your ideal potential customer become your customer. – Kristi Hines

Write a case study about something you’ve worked on for the past couple of weeks. If it has brought you results and these principles can do the same for others, you’ll instantly be in demand, why wouldn’t you?

Give Stuff Away, for Free

Everyone loves freebies, but keep in mind, this is a tough to-do–for one, since it has been recycled so many times, it can appear “overdone”, and for two, designers are still questioning whether giving away stuff for free can help bring clients in. But it depends on the kind of free stuff we’re talking about. I doubt that a new set of social media icons is going to attract a lot of attention apart from the casual blogger / webmaster who’s trying to find something that suits his blog design. But giving away items that you think is valuable and could prove to be useful to many others can really promote your services in a big way by going viral on the world wide web.

A great example of this is the gmail redesign concept that was published by Ruslan Aliev on the design website Behance. A couple of months after publishing, the inspiration that Ruslan was able to translate into a full fledged design concept has netted him tens of thousands of views, likes and comments all across social media, including Behance itself, not to mention, exposure on some of the biggest online design websites. He did the right thing by spending the time to build something unique and sharing it with the world or free. What is stopping you from doing the same?

Meet Your Peers

Meet your online peers
Having years of experience in design can mean that you’ve become quite good at certain things which means that you’re in the position of being able to give sound advice to others. So sharing this knowledge with others online through the use of forums and commenting on design blogs, can go a long way in establishing your name and achieving credibility with potential clients.

As of right now, there are a few strong online communities that can help you meet and collaborate with other designers, get industry insights, and share opinions with like-minded people. Some of my favorite online communities such as this include:

  • Dribbble: Expose your current project to thousands of potential clients. Read the story of Sebastien’s journey (above) to understand the power of Dribbble.
  • Behance: Build Your online portfolio of work that you’ve created, a humongous community where you’re sure to find inspiration and a lot of work, too!
  • Designer News: Similar to the online community Hacker News, Designer News offers a lovely environment for discussion, showcases and general chat of the current state of the industry.
  • Twitter: Engage in conversation with thought leaders to show that you’re proficient and can challenge someone’s ideas. It’s important to show interest in people, rather than being a full-time spectator.
  • Quora: Everything on Quora is a question… except the answers. Look for challenging and intriguing questions that give you a chance to explore more areas of your work. Help people  better understand their problems in order to gain a better insight into them.

All of these above communities are free to use and offer free exposure. I would love to hear your favorite communities like these that help bring attention to your ideas, work and way of thinking, so feel free to share in the comments below.

Don’t Be Afraid to Share

Or lazy to share! It’s true though, having a regular schedule of sharing your work with your followers is crucial. It would be a shame if you were able to capture a lot of peoples’ attention with a unique piece, only to retire after that and never go all the way to see where it takes you.

This goes for clients as well, not just random people on design websites. What is the harm in sending a client of yours a new concept you’re working on? Nobody is saying you need to tell him that behind this concept lies a captivating urge to be hired for that particular piece.

Share! Share! Share!

Promote Your Idols

“Oh, you tweeted my latest design – that’s very nice of you, thank you.” – “Wait, you did what?! You shared my work with your ten thousand followers? Now that is something I need to take a look at!”

The basic human psychology doesn’t change. The more time you spend on praising, admiring and promoting someone else’s work or business, the quicker this person is going to return the favor in one way or another. When choosing whose work to share, if you concentrate on sharing high profile designers’ work with lots of followers, so that if and when the favor is returned, your work could be shared with thousands of potential new clients at once! Plus, that one small action on the part of another designers can go a long way and add credibility in the mind of a potential client looking to hire you.

Make the Leap

This last point is your real starting point for getting out there and building a larger client base. It takes around five long-term clients to work with to have nearly unlimited supply of work, and now that the web technology is changing and design is becoming more important (think usability), it’s the perfect time to begin investing time and energy into something that might prove to be the best thing you ever did.

I’m eager to hear your own stories and tales of how you were able to capture more than two clients at any given time, and how you happened to turn your passion into a business.

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