One of my favourite parts of building a community around Gatto is finding lots of other designers whose work I love and who are all at different stages of their beautiful businesses. The question I get asked the most from people who are just starting up or going through a pivot is - how do you get clients?
I have the opinion that everyone’s methods and results are inevitably going to be completely different. But, in the few years that I have been running my design business, there are definitely a few tricks of the trade that I’m sure are important to any designer when it comes to attracting dreamy clients in to work with you.
Before we jump in, I just want to make that point really clear. Everyone in all walks of life is different. Every designer has a different style and a different approach, and the really important part of creating your version of success and getting the work that fits into this is owning what makes you different and not trying too hard to emulate anyone else’s process.
That being said, I wanted to write up a couple of posts to try and steer you in the right direction, if you have no idea where to start when it comes to getting design clients.
In this first part, I’m going to talk about the creative side of being a designer and finding clients - creating a great portfolio, finding your personal style and showing off what you can do. Then, part 2 will be all about the practical side - packaging your expertise, pricing perfectly and having a great process to bring it all together.
Developing Your Design Style
A crucial part of creating a design service that people want to be a part of and making sure people want to work specifically with you is having a design style. It doesn’t matter if you’re working with a niche group of people or in a more broad spectrum of potential clients but your design style is what will set you apart.
Developing your style is not a ‘get it done and out of the way process’, it is something that will evolve with you and will probably change throughout time. But, having it nailed and really clear will help you build a beautiful and fitting portfolio and also define your dream clients.
If your style is bold and colourful (I’d put myself in this camp!), then you know that you want to work with clients who create vibrant products or have a bold presence. If your style is more organic and neutral, then calmer clients would be right for you.
I disagree with business gurus who say you need to have a niche to thrive in business. Especially as designers, we don’t need a niche which says we work with only one type of person or within one specific industry - we can define our niche as our personal design style. This is why it is so important to define what your style is and make sure you are projecting this in your marketing and social media.
Whatever your style is, make it clear in your mind so you know which projects are a great fit for you.
Building a Portfolio That Works
Once you have your design style nailed and on point, you want to create a design portfolio which will show off your signature style and bring in clients who want to work with you so they can get a piece of what you can do.
When you’re starting out, it’s tricky to build a portfolio that you’re 100% happy with. You may have worked on projects that don’t totally represent you or you may not actually have enough projects to create a portfolio. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there and no one expects you to have a bursting display of work when you have just started.
There are a couple of things you can do to combat your empty portfolio:
Create Your Own Personal Projects
Personal projects are a great way to show off your design work without the hassle of getting clients and working through the project at their pace. You can make up a business or project idea and then create a brand design or website mockup for this conceptual design project. Just make sure you make it clear in your portfolio that the project was conceptual for clarity.
Offer Your Services at a Discount
This is potentially controversial as a lot of people think offering your services at a lower price point devalues the industry. I personally think that as long as a project is a great fit and both you and your client are getting something out of it - they get a gorgeous design from you and you get a beautiful project to show off - then it’s a win-win situation. Just make sure you and the client are a perfect fit and you would definitely be able to add this work to your website.
Reach Out to Dream Clients
Putting yourself out there is scary, don’t worry, everyone feels the same way. But sometimes, you don’t ask, you don’t get! Follow along with your favourite creatives and people you think would be perfect to work with and if they put out a tweet or Instagram post saying they are thinking about rebranding or getting a new website - jump into the comments and make yourself known!
Once you have a few projects which totally represent your design style and the work you love to do, you will find it much easier to pull in similar projects which are also a great fit for you.
Getting Your Own Design in Shape
Making people want to work with you and have a piece of your beautiful design work really starts at home. If your own website and branding aren’t up to scratch, it puts you in a difficult position when someone is considering working with you.
You want your own design to be the first showcase of your amazing talent as this is your first impression for potential clients. If you spend a bit of time perfecting a gorgeous logo in your signature style and then crafting a beautiful and easy to use website to match, you are already one step ahead.
If you don’t have your own website, and instead offer a templated portfolio link or your Instagram, think about how much more professional you would look with your own domain and website to represent your business. And think about how much more design skills you could show off on a website instead of one of the alternatives.
All of this really starts with you so make sure you a showing yourself off in the best way.
Defining Your Target Clients
One final step which may be the difference between reaching out blind and having a more targeted approach to who you want to work with is having a really good think about who your dream clients are. I wouldn’t go so far as to say you have to create a specific client profile or have a list of people you want to work with but, having an idea of what kind of person or business would be ideal for your projects gives you something to focus on.
Again, this is something which is very likely to evolve and grow with you as your business evolves and grows but it is a great way to gear your early marketing efforts and make sure the right eyes are seeing what fab work you can create.
Now you have my creative tips to get your design portfolio prepped and ready for the dreamy clients to come rolling in! Watch out for part 2 over the next couple of weeks which will give more practical advice to creating a design business which is ready for the clients to come rolling in and end up with wonderful testimonials.
More Advice for Designers!
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