Dream Clients: The Beginning
Clients are a moving force for anyone running a solo creative business (freelance designers, writers, filmmakers, etc.).
To start, I'd say that this guide is not for you if you're just getting started. Finding your dream clients is only possible when you already have clients. On how to get your first clients, read this and this article first.
Clients are a moving force for anyone running a solo creative business (freelance designers, writers, filmmakers, etc.). You need to serve the ones you have and always think about where the new clients will come from.
When I started freelancing, I was taking any clients willing to give me work. And that's how it works. That's how I get paid to support my family and grow.
In 2017 I made a decision that has completely changed the way I do my work until now. I decided to raise my rates 4x times and never take smaller jobs than that rate.
For about two months, I had no incoming client work. Most of my existing clients declined to work at such a rate. But I promised myself never to take smaller jobs, so I had to keep it.
I continued to apply to projects on Upwork, but most of the clients treated my rate as highly expensive. But then, one day, a client responded to my proposal and agreed to work with me on the suggested rate. I was utterly shocked and happy.
I started following a simple rule to raise my rates with each new client. Soon, I had to leave Upwork as a platform for finding clients because the price I was working with was not suitable for the types of clients looking for freelancers there.
I started to find other ways to land better and higher-paying clients. I talked about them in my previous article, "No followers? No problem." where I outlined a few ways I used to land new clients without a significant social media presence.
At some point, I realized that I had the power to say no. Even if I needed that job to pay my bills, declining it to have peace of mind was a much higher priority. As I started gaining new leads, I said no much more often than I did when I started. I finally realized who I want to be working with and what matters most to me.
And this story moves us to the first step in finding your dream clients.
Take a moment and think. Which businesses align with your interests? Your passions? Your values? Your way of living? Your strengths?
Like identifying an ideal client avatar for your first client, you need to define the people or companies who will be your dream clients.
Now, when you know your dream client, how to get them to work with you? That is what the second part of this article will be about.
I will present a strategy that I've personally used to land some of my favorite clients. These were clients that I proactively identified, researched, targeted, reached out to, and eventually sold. They turned into engaging, enjoyable jobs, favorite portfolio pieces, and successful, award-winning design outcomes.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that you need to have an active client base to find your dream clients. If you're just getting started, you should learn to land your first clients. You will need time to build your experience and reputation, refine your process and message.
If your dream clients would want to research you, what would they find? Make sure you have past client reviews or recommendations to back up your work.
But what if your clients didn't leave you a review? It's not a hard job to get a few of them. Here is how I asked my clients to leave their feedback.
Explain to your client how reviews help your business thrive. I frequently use the phrase "Reviews assist people who are similar to you to find me.
Often people avoid writing reviews because they don't know what to say. Assist in addressing their concerns by providing your client with a list of questions to consider before writing a review for you. Here are some of my favorite questions to ask when requesting a review:
Why did you choose me as your service provider?
What service did I perform for you?
How would you rate the service you received? (Provide a rating scale)
In what areas did I meet or exceed your expectations?
In which areas can I improve?
Would you recommend me to others?
Some people believe that a review must be official. They postpone it because they don't think they're good enough writers. After asking them if they'd spend 3-5 minutes writing a review for me, I'd say: "It doesn't have to be official or anything – think of how you would describe your experience with me if your closest friend were getting married!"
The longer your client has to search for your Facebook page or Google Business account, or LinkedIn profile, the less likely they will leave a review. Make it easy for them by including links to the specific location where you want them to post a review.
Your customers are taking the time out of their day to say nice things about you. It would be best if you expressed so much thanks to your client for doing that. Those words will assist you in booking more clients.
You'll need a portfolio that converts. It doesn't have to be a website (I still don't have all of my work listed anywhere on the web), but it's good to have it available online. I used Behance and Dribble to show the work open to the public and a PDF available by link for the work I did by contract (which I could not share publicly).
The most important thing about great portfolio pieces is that they are relevant to the work you propose for your dream client. Something they can associate with and give them confidence you will deliver for them.
To create a stunning portfolio piece:
Show the context and the purpose of the project. Describe the company, industry, and goal of the project. Give a viewer the context of the work.
Outline phases of the project and your role in each of those. What was the timeline of the project? What kind of work did you do in each step?
Showcase your strategy – competitors, personas, user flows. In your case study, show the work besides design – research, process, and planning are worth sharing.
Explain the constraints (technical, etc.) you've been working within. What technology was involved in the project? Describe the limitations that you've worked within.
Here are some of the most common mistakes the designers make when creating their portfolio piece:
No mention of a timeline
No mention of contribution to collaborative efforts
No mention of leadership skills
No mention of challenges/lessons
And this is how a job-winning portfolio piece looks like:
Answers "What" and "How" questions. It should be clear what you've been working on and how you work. Through your case studies, explain your approach to work along with the work itself.
Expresses your proficiency in design. Many recruiters judge your portfolio based not only on the content of your case studies but also on the design of your portfolio.
Showcases 3-5 relevant projects. Quality over quantity is the best rule to follow. Recruiters don't have a lot of time to study your portfolio. Projects you choose should be relevant to the job.
Don't password protect your entire portfolio. If you must, you can put individual case studies behind password walls. Just not the whole thing.
What is it about you that makes you different from others in your field? Maybe your process is unique? Perhaps you work faster than others? Maybe you're just easy to work with?
Find your unique value by overlapping your skills and curiosity. Prove your value by sharing your work publicly. I realized this too late in my career, but you don't have to.
Are you designing and building websites? Are you interested in sports cars? Design and build websites for sports car companies. It is a much less crowded niche than simply designing and building or making websites for car companies.
I know a designer with this combination of skills that landed a contract from the world's largest luxury automotive brand at 22!
It should go without mentioning, but you don't want to approach your dream clients quite yet if you don't have the expertise and confidence to produce what they need and exceed their expectations.
You build excellence with repetition. The more you practice – the more experience you get — the better your skills become.
On this note, many people are debating whether traditional education (in our case, design education) is still worth it for gaining first-hand experience.
I genuinely believe that minimal value is left in going to college/university. Add a $25k-$100k debt to it after you graduate, and you probably will change your mind even if you want to get a degree.
I need to mention that I have a degree, but it's a master's degree in computer science. I studied to become an engineer, not a designer. But in my second year at the university, I started diving into design and realized that I enjoy it much more than fixing bugs in code.
The only thing that I was missing when I started designing was a proper intro to design fundamentals. Lines, colors, shapes, textures, space, contrast, rhythm, balance, typography, etc.
These are the building blocks for everything you produce as a designer. A designer who doesn't know the foundations is like an engineer who doesn't know geometry and physics. I learned most of the foundations on practice (the hard way), but I'm glad that I had theory lessons from my mentors early in my career.
To be continued next week. If you enjoyed this part, show your love by hitting the ♥️ and let me know what you think in the comments below. Consider subscribing (if you aren’t already) to get updates by email, so you won’t miss the next part.
A huge thank you to Jordi for reviewing this article.
Have a great week,