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Build a client list without crying as much as I did.

A relevant image to the blog

Building a client list is HARD! When I was starting from scratch as a freshly graduated designer and overwhelmed business-owner, I forced myself to go to networking meetups I scoured facebook for. (Ok I forced myself to go to like, every third one I found.) When I did drag myself to these meetups, walking up to strangers and saying hey felt like the last thing I wanted to do.  I usually left after a half hour of talking to 1.5 people before darting out the door.

After I stopped torturing myself with these kinds of events, I’ve been so much happier and have been able to grab clients in a ton of other ways that I am WAY more comfortable with. Networking doesn’t have to only be speed dating at a random co-working space downtown, it can be a couple replies on twitter, a visit to open studio day, or a cold email. It all depends on what kind of work you want to do and what you feel most confident doing! (Or the least cringe-y)

So what are the top ways I find my client projects?

Nudge your way into meeting other design studios & creative people!

Lately, a ton of my work has been coming from other creatives that I have either worked with or that I have cold reached out to with a quick hello. Whether it is a local designer I admire, a studio in town that I love, or a small business that I would kill to work for, I have pulled the young designer who is ~new in town~ card a bunch. While this doesn’t always pay off immediately in client work, it WILL immediately start to give you a sense of community and a place in the creative scene wherever you are based.

Down the line, when these people you’ve made connections with are all booked up, have a higher minimum than you, or cannot take on a client for whatever reason, they’ll usually have a list of creatives that they refer that potential client to. Get on that list! And make some friends along the way!

Fill up your Slack sidebar

Joining a few creative entrepreneur slack communities has been a game changer for sourcing both client projects and contractors to bring onto these client projects to work alongside me. They also help when you are feeling like a total lonely lug pushing pixels or if you need advice from people who understand what you’re doing. I’ve learned a ton about how people structure their client projects, pricing, and handling messy client interactions just by lurking in these channels. Here’s a few I haunt:

Freelance Founders
The Coven

Keep an eye on twitter

Design twitter really is a thing and it really is annoying sometimes…but it really can be helpful. Designers share and boost job opps a ton from their twitter, and I have definitely been surprised to make connections and snag contracts from just DMing people from my meme infested twitter account.

Think about trying Cold Emailing

A lot of clients that I am excited about working with might not really know where to go to find designers or creative people so it is worth trying your hand at cold emailing places. I definitely could stand to take more time doing this, but it really is a numbers game since you’ll only sometimes hit an inbox and be welcome there.

This has helped a ton with leads as I expand and change my offerings, especially for mural jobs. So email that hot dog shop down the street and ask if they want a jumbo hot dog painted on their building’s wall—the owner will definitely reply if they find that you can pitch how you’d be helpful to their business!

And the last one that only comes with time: Referral$

Almost everyone I’ve talked to who is a freelancer or small design studio team has said that most—if not all—of their viable client project inquiries come from referrals from their past clients, potential clients that couldn’t work with them for whatever reason, and design pals. It really is all about who you know, not whatcha know, folks!

Building your client list and expanding your network really takes time and I have had to be patient with it. But the more good you put out there the more you’ll get back!