Where Do I Get My Clients?
Tonight when I opened my site to write a blog post, I wanted to start with my story - how I came to be a designer, what influenced me, how many years, projects, and struggles it took to get here. But most of you aren't interested in that. The #1 question I have been asked in the past year of 100% full-time freelance is this:
Where do I get my clients?
Gaining a client base wasn't easy, and that's the honest truth. I am not going to romanticize hard work and dedication, because there were definitely adult tears and a few bad client experiences that got me to where I am today: able to accept clients (and deny them! all the time!) on a steady basis. Even more importantly: the clients I accept fall within my good client boundaries. This process of gaining a good client base took a half a year to build momentum, enough so that I could quit my full-time job.
Alright, we'll work hard. Still, how do we get good clients?
Yes yes - the actual answer! I get clients in three major ways.
#1 - Word of Mouth - 70% of my work
If you are nice to someone, they are going to speak highly of you to a person or two. Fact. If you are mean to someone, they will probably tell a dozen people about how rude you were. Double fact. I go out of my way to add unique, personal touches to my work so that when the time comes, my clients refer me to their friends and family. This means using a professional invoicing system, following up after project completion, responding to emails (with a friendly tone!) within 48 hours, and not losing your composure, even if clients say ridiculous things (and they will.)
Word of mouth is huge, and I can't emphasize how much. You probably go to your hair salon, nail salon, car wash, even doctor's office because you asked a friend or looked at reviews. When I do good work for a client, they tell their friends about my rates and working with me. It's all about gaining trust.
#2 - Partner Up!
An amazing and fulfilling chunk (and probably a little more than a third) of my work comes from partnering with other agencies and talents. To mention a few, I work with The Eddy and Sarah Moon + Co on various print, web, and branding projects. I'm not a developer. I'm not a writer. I'm not an SEO specialist. I'm certainly not a project manager. But my clients often need bits and pieces of these things, and I'm only one person. So what do I do? I formed a team of people that work well with me, and I work well with them. This can be anywhere from a developer who partners with a designer, a project manager who has great relationships with clients but needs a designer, or a web designer that wants to parter with a brand designer. Why do you think I'm called Olivia Design + Co?
#3 - Find Your FLOCK
I've been in the same book club for five years, I volunteer, and I make sure I surround myself with people of similar interests. I'm a part of two large Facebook groups that are extremely specific in their demographics. The first is a developer/designer only group, and the second is only for women in the Atlanta area. I built up a rapport in both groups by answering questions, being involved in their community, offering discounts, and building their trust. Ladies tag me in posts needing my specific skill sets, and because I've worked with so many of them before, I get good recommendations. Boom, it goes back to #1.
Things I Do NOT Do
While knowing what things I do to get clients is important, it's often important to call out a few things I don't do, and wouldn't recommend:
Service type sites (Thumbtack, Fiverr) - The market is INCREDIBLY competitive. The clients are sometimes rude and hasty, since they're seeking a quick fix to a problem that should be met with strategy. Don't fish around for 10, $50 projects. Try to build your client base, research, and do work that you can charge for $500 for one, good, strong client.
Recruiters (Creative Group, Vitamin T) - To be fair, I've gotten approx. 10% of my work from recruiters. They're not all awful. But the work flow is often unreliable, they take 50% of your hourly rate, and there are many limitations to their contracts and communications.
Marketing material - To this day, after 5 years of freelancing, I have only gotten one hit off a business card I left at a coffee shop. The feeling was incredible when it happened, and the project went well, but it happened once out of 100 cards that I left there. I'm not a fan of those odds!
Hopefully this helps you aspiring freelancers in your search for a good client base. I'm lucky to have enough work that I can choose to work with those that make me shine.