When I started doing design for money, social media platforms like Instagram just launched their first versions. Most of them were used to connect with friends and family, not doing business.
From that time to now, things have changed. Platforms became intermediates, and you have to compete with hundreds of thousands of others doing the same thing as you do. Today, if your business isn't on Instagram or Twitter - it's much harder to reach your potential customers.
But you don't need a lot of followers to land your first client. I landed my largest clients without any social media presence. Why? Because those people don't hang out on Instagram or Facebook looking for an expert for their project.
Followers, likes, and comments are vanity metrics that don't influence the end result – sales. So how do you land a client without followers? Here is a step-by-step guide that helped me:
- Know your ideal client profile
- Find out where your ideal clients hang out
- Define a clear value proposition (niche-down)
- Learn cold outreach
- Provide value upfront
- Utilize Reddit and other communities
- Partner with an agency
This goes for any skill you're selling: design, websites, copywriting, etc.
Let's break it down further and talk about each point.
Know your ideal client profile.
"If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable." — Seneca.
First thing first, you need to know who you want to be working with. You should identify your ideal client, their pain points, struggles, dreams, and desires. Think about this:
- Age, race, gender, marital status, location
- Interests and hobbies
- Technology and devices
- Experience, expertise, and education
- Values and life principles
- Feelings, fears, and desires
Write it down. Look and edit few times. Be very specific, and don't worry about being too specific. Nothing stops you from making few different client avatars if you're more of a generalist or want to try your skills in various niches.
Find out where your ideal clients hang out.
I always found myself searching Google, especially when times were tough, hoping that I'd find a new and secret way of finding clients.
The absolute truth is, I already knew everything that existed to finding new work – and so do you!
So what do we know?
In summary, any article you might find on google basically covers the same methods:
- Word of mouth & referrals
- Building a personal brand & online portfolio
- Job boards & forums
- Social media
- And the list goes on...
The point is, we've all read the same content on finding work, just in different places.
I've realized that my searching results will hardly ever change due to the same content always being at the top of the long list of articles.
So what's the secret to finding new clients? The secret to finding new client work is quite simple – take action! Take what you know already and put it to use today! What are you waiting for?
To be more specific on this point, I'd recommend exploring the following sources:
If you're just getting started in freelancing, use job boards and freelance sites like:
If you're in the middle of your career and looking to jump off sites like Upwork, these were the places that helped me to do so:
If you're looking to expand your solo freelance business, here are a few places to start:
Define a clear value proposition.
To stand out from the competition, you need to show how you're different. Over the years, I've tried different styles for design, different approaches for the design process, different ways to communicate with clients. But there's one thing that works every single time.
See, the client doesn't care what you did in your previous work experience. None of your projects matter if they are not relevant to the job the client is talking about. Solution? Niche down and create a clear, unique value proposition.
For example, if you're a designer like me, instead of creating a generic UI that most people post on platforms like Dribbble, focus on a specific market and solve a particular problem.
When I published one of my earliest case studies, I focused on a single and very specific market - a mobile app for food delivery. After posting the project, I landed a few clients from the same industry with a total budget of over $25,000 for their projects.
Learn cold outreach.
No one likes to be sold on something. But cold outreach is a crucial part of getting new leads. DM your existing followers, send an email to the prospective companies, reach out to friends for references.
Here's how to do it:
This message can be anything, except "Hi."
- Did you like any piece of content they've shared?
- Did you read their blog post and want to clarify few ideas?
- Did you notice anything on their website that doesn't work?
Reach out and tell them about it. Be specific. Ask open-ended questions. Want to take it even further? Record a 30-60 sec video message directly to them explaining your thoughts.
Make a smooth transition into the qualifying questions (to identify their goals, desires, and pain points). Questions like "What do you do for work?" And "What are you trying to achieve in [their industry]?" Can help identify if they can afford your services.
At this point, you need to make them realize that they need help to achieve their goals. Then you can position yourself as a solution to the problem they have.
Say something like this: "I've helped quite a few people get (X results, plug a case study if you have one). I have a few suggestions that can help you get there. Are you open to take this connection offline and get on the call?"
Qualify and close.
After the initial call, you'll see if you can help with anything by utilizing your skills. At this point, you negotiate the price and scope and close the deal.
Provide value upfront.
Many creatives say, "I want to work with X, but they say I need more experience than I have now."
Clients are looking for what value those people will bring to them, which looks like a mismatch.
But if you want to work with global brands, you should prove the value you can do for that brand.
Let's say you're looking to work as a salesperson for a company.
Try to find people interested in using products or services of this company and go present those people to the person who is hiring in that company. You will show that you can already get new customers to the company and prove your value.
Utilize Reddit and other communities
A precious point of contact with new clients is communities. But for one reason or another, most of the designers I've talked to never used this fantastic tool.
Being active in your local or global communities can give you an enormous amount of fresh leads. Not all of them will be thousand-dollar projects, but there's a chance to catch a big fish from time to time.
Partner with an agency
Finding clients is challenging. It's much easier to settle for mediocre clients, low-paying clients, or rude clients. But finding great clients is even more complicated.
It's time for you to stop settling. I'm going to offer you the secret that not many freelancers know – one that completely changed my design business when I discovered it. There's a place where all the great clients are hiding, and I'm going to let you in on the secret.
So, where are the great freelance clients? If they're out there, why has it been so hard for you to find them? Because they're a bit disguised.
The most fantastic freelance clients ...drumroll please... are covered as agencies. Design agencies, production houses, creative service businesses, and the like.
Working with (not for) an agency has its vast benefits. You still work for yourself. You decide which projects you take on, tell them if you can hit their deadlines or not, choose how much to charge, and determine your destiny.
But the beauty of it all is: they provide you with ongoing projects.
And the joy of it is, working like this, you're welcome to add any golden bricks to the road as you go.
Just because one of your clients is an agency doesn't mean you can't work with other clients directly (simply be sure not to sign a non-compete contract).
This is the biggest one that brought me the best clients and the most money in my career. Partnering with an agency is a great way to win great clients and work on unique projects.
Landing one agency is more manageable than landing 10 clients.
The downside of this collaboration might be that an agency will likely take a piece of the pie. But hey, how much would it cost for you to land a new client?
So these are the steps that helped me build a six-figure design career over 5 years. I did it on my own, without anyone's help and support. There were not many articles with guides like this one.
So take action and start building your freelance business today.
Let me know if some of these resonated with you.