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. And, these clients are rooted in my personal belief system. It took a half a year to build momentum to build up enough of a base to quit my full-time job.
Alright, we get it. Get to the point!
Yes yes - the answer! I get clients in three major ways. I am a huge believer in the rule of thirds, in that life somehow divides itself pretty evenly into three major camps.
#1 - Word of Mouth
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.)
#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. Namely, Craft & Code and a wonderful person named Kelly Vaughn. I'm not a developer. I'm not a writer. I'm not an SEO specialist. But my clients often need all three. So what do you do? You form a team of people that work with you steadily on projects. Kelly is a a developer, 100%. When Kelly gets a referral, she'll need a designer, and I revert back to #1 to make sure she still wants to work with me in the future.
#3 - Find Your Avengers
Being a part of a group will enhance your life. What would Captain America be if he wasn't leading the Avengers? Still handsome, but without purpose. I've been in the same book club for three years, I volunteer, and I'm involved in the most important groups I can be: 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 - and then everything goes back to #1.
Things I Do NOT Do
I needed to add this. Aside from the rule of thirds, my other strong belief is that even if someone tells you NOT to do something, you have to experience it for yourself. But, I figured I'd share anyway! I would not recommend relying heavily on the following:
- Service type sites (Thumbtack, Fiverr) - They take out fees and people are not nice there. They want a lot for a little.
- 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.
- Google - I have never, ever had someone google "Atlanta Web Designer" and decide to work with me. Do you know how many designers there are here??? Let it go.
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. Coming up: my story, and what do I do when I DON'T have clients?