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How to find clients as a freelance graphic designer: 6 foolproof strategies

In the world of freelance graphic design, the quest for new graphic design clients can feel like an epic journey. You’re swamped with existing projects, racing to meet deadlines, and, in the midst of it all, it’s a challenge to find the time and strategies to secure new clients. 

Moreover, the path to discovering new opportunities is riddled with intricate challenges, from perfecting your proposals and nurturing client relationships to determining the right price for your creative freelance work and carving out your unique niche.

If you’re a junior designer in the early stages of your career, this struggle is all too familiar. You’re eager to grow your business, but you’re also caught in a whirlwind of client demands and creative endeavors. It’s a delicate balancing act that requires some expert guidance.

Luckily for you, the Playbook team has been there. In this post, we’ll share some of the strategies that have worked for us so you, too, can overcome the challenges of finding new clients and growing your business while managing your existing workload. 

So, if you’re ready to unlock the secrets to uplevelling your freelance design career, read on. Your journey to success begins here.

6 foolproof strategies to find clients as a graphic designer

1. Build a portfolio

Your portfolio is the key to attracting new clients. Craft a compelling, well-organized, and visually captivating portfolio that communicates your design story and sets you on the path to success as a freelance graphic designer.

If you don’t have one already, start by building a strong portfolio. And even if you have one, consider whether your portfolio truly showcases your best work — because your portfolio is your visual resume, and it has several crucial functions:

  • Showcasing your best work: Your portfolio is where you exhibit your finest projects, demonstrating your skills and problem-solving abilities.
  • Niche focus: If you’re looking to specialize, your portfolio is the perfect place to highlight your expertise in a particular design niche.
  • Reputation building: A well-structured portfolio establishes your credibility in the freelance market, showcasing your professionalism and passion for design.

When creating your portfolio, keep these principles in mind:

  • Clarity: Clearly convey who you are and how you can help clients. Make your portfolio a reflection of your personal brand.
  • Quality over quantity: Focus on presenting a select few top-notch projects that showcase your best design work. Quality always trumps quantity.
  • Consistency: Maintain a consistent style throughout your portfolio. This doesn’t mean identical designs but a cohesive thread that reflects your unique design aesthetic.

Of course, just having a portfolio isn’t enough on its own — unless you’re already well-known, most people are unlikely to come across it through search engines. So you’ll need to put your marketer’s hat on and share it with potential clients. Here are some suggested ways to market your portfolio:

  • Social media: Post your process of creating artwork on Instagram and LinkedIn and let your followers witness the thought and care you put into every piece of work. Also, try joining Facebook groups for small business owners and building connections with other members.
  • Cold emailing: Send outreach emails to entrepreneurs, design heads in small companies, and professionals that are working in niches you like. Make sure you research the person and company and tailor each email to them before hitting ‘Send.’
  • Creative platforms: Platforms like Playbook that are created with designers’ needs in mind enable you to create, organize, and share portfolios quickly and easily.
  • designers’ needs in mind enable you to create, organize, and share portfolios quickly and easily.

2. Run passion projects

When you’re just starting your journey as a freelance graphic designer and find yourself with limited work to showcase, it’s essential to take matters into your own hands. Sometimes, you need to create opportunities, not just wait for them to come your way. That’s where the concept of “passion projects” comes into play.

Passion projects are ventures that you undertake yourself to enrich your portfolio intentionally. They are a demonstration of your creativity, skills, and commitment, and they can set you apart in a crowded marketplace.

One of the beautiful aspects of passion projects is their flexibility. You can tailor these projects to align with specific niches that represent the clients you aim to attract. By doing so, you’re not only honing your design skills but also showcasing your ability to meet the needs of your target audience.

In the digital age, passion projects can extend beyond visual design. Consider creating YouTube videos or building a social media presence around your projects — like Chris Spooner, creator of Spoon Graphics.

By doing this, you’re not only showcasing your design skills but also establishing yourself as an authority in your chosen niche. This approach serves as a powerful lead-generation tool, drawing in clients who resonate with your passion and expertise.

Passion projects are your chance to shine and carve out your unique identity as a freelance graphic designer. They provide you with a platform to create meaningful work, attract your dream clients, and demonstrate your commitment to the craft. So, don’t wait for opportunities—create them through your passion projects.

3. Leverage referrals

Once you’ve secured a few initial clients, don’t let those relationships remain stagnant. Instead, turn them into valuable assets for expanding your client base. Leveraging referrals is a powerful strategy for building long-lasting client relationships.

Referrals create a win-win situation for both you and your clients. By offering a bespoke referral bonus or incentive, your clients become motivated to recommend your services. In return, you gain a second lead, opening doors to an extended network of potential clients.

While you might initially hesitate to ask a client for referrals, remember that most businesses maintain diverse partnerships with various suppliers and organizations. Your services can complement, rather than compete with, those of their network. Clients are often eager to support your growth, as a successful referral reflects positively on them as well.

Once you’ve completed projects for your first clients, you’ll be able to ask them for testimonials, providing valuable social proof of your talents. 

4. Niche down—but not too quickly

Choosing a niche is a pivotal decision in a freelance graphic designer’s journey. Niching down essentially means selecting a specific design style or industry focus. Graphic designers, both freelance and in-house, often find themselves gravitating toward certain stylistic preferences or developing affinities for particular sectors.

It’s crucial to strike the right balance when looking for your niche. You don’t want to end up with a client roster filled exclusively with, say, automobile clients, when your true passion lies in working with food brands. 

Niching down helps you take stock of your interests and provides a clear direction for your professional growth. It aligns your work with your passions, making each project more fulfilling.

From an external standpoint, niching down results in a more focused portfolio, a sharper pitch, and a set of referrals that are highly relevant to your niche, which can significantly boost your chances of landing the right clients.

However, it’s important to understand that niching down shouldn’t be your first priority. When you’re just starting, it’s often best to take on various projects, and your primary focus should be on building your clientele and establishing yourself.

This initial stage is about staying open to diverse opportunities and not rushing into niche selection. As your experience and reputation grow, you’ll naturally find the right time to niche down and fine-tune your freelance graphic design career.

5. Enter design contests

Design contests are a fantastic way for freelance graphic designers of all skill levels to sharpen their abilities and expand their horizons. 

Participation alone offers immense value by exposing your work to a broader audience, potentially attracting prospective clients in the process. Winning is a remarkable achievement, but the true benefit lies in self-evaluation and personal growth. 

A great example is the “Daily Logo Challenge,” providing structured guidelines for participation. Designers can share their logo design entries on social media using #dailylogochallenge, fostering visibility and networking opportunities.

Consistent participation in such challenges not only hones your design skills but also boosts your confidence and enhances your appeal to potential clients.

Playbook regularly runs design and AI design contests, so keep an eye on our competitions page!

6. Spread the word

For freelance graphic designers, leveraging word of mouth can be a game-changer in acquiring new freelance clients. Here are key strategies to harness the power of recommendations:

Use personal networks: Tap into your personal connections for job opportunities, just as you would for any other recommendations. Your network can be a goldmine of potential clients or referrals.

Craft an impactful self-introduction: Your self-introduction is a pivotal tool for generating interest. Frame your profession in a way that resonates with your target audience, like Amy De Wolfe, who says, “I help women turn their side hustles into dream businesses.”

Prioritize meaningful relationships: Building trust and delivering stellar customer service are as vital as producing quality work. Happy clients become your most valuable referrers.

Transparency is key: Be transparent about your pricing, services, and any other crucial details, such as the number of revisions offered. Engage with potential clients to provide clarity and address their concerns, ensuring they make informed decisions.

Myths about finding clients as a freelance graphic designer

When it comes to running your freelance graphic design business, there are several myths and misconceptions that can hold you back. 

Let’s bust them now so you can start building your business right away!

Myth 1: You need a perfect portfolio to get clients.

Don’t get caught up in the myth that your portfolio needs to be flawless before you can attract clients. Here’s why:

  • Diverse portfolio: It’s better to showcase a range of styles and skills rather than perfection. A versatile portfolio demonstrates your adaptability.
  • Evolution: Every designer begins their journey somewhere. Even a smaller portfolio can land you those initial gigs to kickstart your career.
  • Quality over quantity: Clients value quality over quantity. A handful of exceptional pieces speaks louder than a vast collection of mediocre ones. Focus on excellence, not perfection.

Myth 2: Lowering your prices will get you more clients.

Busting another myth, it’s crucial to understand that lowering your prices isn’t a guaranteed path to success. Here’s why:

  • Perceived value: Undercharging can make clients question the quality of your work. Maintain a pricing structure that reflects the value you provide.
  • Sustainability: Consistently low prices can make it challenging to sustain a thriving freelance career in the long run.
  • Attracting the wrong clients: Lower prices might attract clients who don’t truly appreciate your skills or are solely seeking the cheapest option, which can be detrimental to your professional growth.

Myth 3: You need to be active on all social media platforms to find clients.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to juggle every social media platform to secure clients. Instead:

  • Focus on quality: Concentrate your efforts on a select few platforms where your target clients are active and engage meaningfully.
  • Consistency: Regular, high-quality posts on a couple of key platforms often yield better results than sporadic updates on many.
  • Efficiency: Narrowing your social media focus allows you to be more efficient with your marketing efforts and better connect with potential clients who matter most.

Myth 4: Only the best designers get clients; there’s too much competition.

The belief that only the elite designers secure clients due to fierce competition is a misconception. Here’s why:

  • Unique selling proposition (USP): Every designer has a unique offering, be it a distinctive style, approach, or specific skills that cater to specific client needs.
  • Local markets: In local or niche markets, competition is often less intense compared to global platforms, providing ample opportunities for talented freelance designers.
  • Building relationships: Strong client relationships can lead to repeat business, reducing the constant need for new clients. Exceptional work and excellent customer service often trump intense competition.

Myth 5: Cold calling or emailing is outdated and doesn’t work.

Don’t dismiss the power of cold outreach prematurely. Here’s why it can still be effective:

  • Personal touch: Thoughtfully personalized and well-researched outreach can distinguish you from the competition, leaving a lasting impression.
  • Direct engagement: Cold outreach enables direct engagement with potential clients, offering a proactive approach to client acquisition.
  • Proactivity: Initiating contact through methods like cold emailing demonstrates your eagerness and dedication to potential clients, often yielding positive results.

Unleash Your Design Potential with the Playbook Community

The path of growing a freelance business can be a solitary one, but it doesn’t have to be. In our journey through myths and realities, one truth shines bright: community, inspiration, and support are invaluable. 

So don’t go it alone. Join the Playbook community for camaraderie, fresh ideas, and a chance to showcase your talents in thrilling competitions. You’re not just a freelancer; you’re a part of a thriving, creative ecosystem. 

Ready to take your portfolio to the next level? Dive into our article on “What Should a Graphic Design Portfolio Have” for expert tips and inspiration. Your creative journey awaits—embrace it with Playbook.