Ask any designer, and they’ll tell you that their number one way of landing new design clients is through word-of-mouth referrals.
If you do an excellent job on a client’s project, there’s a good chance they’ll pass your name along should they hear of someone requiring services you offer. I’ve built my entire business on this model. And chances are, so have you.
But does that mean you should only rely on word-of-mouth referrals? No, it doesn’t.
Are you familiar with the term diversify? In short, it means “using different options.” Such as “you should diversify your investments,” meaning you should have multiple investments. If one of them isn’t doing well, your other assets can help make up for it.
Diversification can also apply to your income stream. If all your work comes from one client, and that client suddenly has financial difficulty and stops sending work your way, you’ll be in trouble. That’s why it’s best to have multiple clients. If one stops sending you projects, you can still make a living from the rest.
But I want to talk about diversity concerning how you obtain new clients. As I said, word-of-mouth is the most popular method in our field. But word-of-mouth has limits. That’s why you shouldn’t rely solely on it for your clients.
This is how word-of-mouth works.
Imagine a tree. The tree trunk s one client. You design a project for this one client. They may refer someone else to you via word-of-mouth if they like what you did. That someone else is now a limb on that tree.
Again, you do a good job, and that someone else, the limb, tells another person about you. That new person becomes a branch on your tree, and so on. Every limb and every branch can trace itself back to the trunk, the first client.
Now you have a big tree of clients, all somehow connected back to that initial client. And that’s great. But there’s more than one tree in a forest. This means many people could use your services but have zero connection to anyone in your tree of clients. And if they have zero connection to your existing clients, they’ll never hear about you through word-of-mouth. That’s why you should diversify how or where you find clients. Because every client you land that isn’t connected to your other clients starts a new tree for you.
Now there are many resources available on how to find clients. Searching the phrase “How to find graphic design clients” will produce more than 247,000,000 results. Have fun reading through all of them.
But today, I want to share six unconventional ways you can find design clients.
And just a note, I’ve successfully landed new clients using 5 out of 6 of these methods. And it’s not because one didn’t work. I just never tried it myself, but I know others who have. Also, note that some of these methods may require a small investment.
So let’s get started.
Placing business cards in books.
Leaving your business card in a book is a great way to introduce yourself to someone who may not know you.
Look at your local library or book store for books on starting a business and insert your business card. If there happens to be a chapter on branding or marketing, place your card there. Should someone read the book, they’ll come across your card at the point in the book where they’re learning about the type of services you offer.
This method worked for me recently. A client contacted me saying, “I found your business card in a book I bought.”
BTW, you could leave a business card as I did. Or, if you want to get more creative, you can have a special card made for just this purpose. Imagine someone reading a “How to start a business" book and coming across a card that reads, “Are you thinking of starting a business? I would love to help you with your website.”
Join a board of directors or committee.
As I mentioned above, some of these methods require an investment on your part. This one isn’t financial. It’s time.
We all know that networking is one of the best ways to become known for what you offer. After all, if someone doesn’t know about you, there’s very little chance they’ll hire you.
But networking doesn’t have to be just at conferences or special events. You could join a local board of directors or a committee for an organization.
What’s good about this is you’re not just meeting people once. You regularly interact with people when you’re on a board or committee. This gives them a chance to get to know you. These relationships make it very easy for someone to consider you when they need a designer.
Don’t do this with the mindset of landing clients. If you're going to invest your time, it should be with an organization you believe in, even if it doesn't produce any clients.
Advertise your design business on T-shirts.
I’ve talked before about how when I first started my business. I had a T-shirt made with the message “Hi, I'm a website designer. Is your site working for you?” on the back. I wore this shirt to local events and trade shows. It landed me several new clients.
But wearing a T-shirt advertising your services isn’t what I wanted to talk about today. Over the years, I’ve designed T-shirts for various organizations, events and festivals in our area.
Not only do I design the image for the shirts, but I broker the screen printing as well.
Whenever I give a client a quote for a T-shirt project, I offer them two prices. A regular price and a discounted price if they allow me to put my name and logo on the back of the shirt.
If it’s for an event and they want a list of sponsors on the back, I’ll ask to have my name and logo on the sleeve instead. Most clients jump at this opportunity to save money. And since I’m brokering the deal, I make sure I’m still making a profit either way.
I’ve had my name and logo on shirts for sporting events, festivals, concerts, charity events, etc. Each of them is an opportunity for someone to find out about my business. And over the years, it's brought in new clients.
Sponsor your kid’s activities.
Another option to get your name out there is sponsoring your kid’s activities. If you don’t have kids, you can still reach out to local youth groups or leagues and inquire if you can help them.
Growing up, my daughter played competitive soccer and volleyball and danced on a competitive dance team. I found a way to advertise my business with each organization.
For soccer and volleyball, I approached the teams with a fundraiser idea. I created a T-shirt not for the athletes but for the parents, grandparents, friends and siblings who watch the game from the sidelines. I designed a graphic with the team name and “Sideline Support” on the front. On the back, I put my business info.
My daughter's team sold the shirts to family and friends of every team in the league. And all proceeds went to my daughter’s team.
For the dance team, my daughter was on. I offered to design their yearly dance recital t-shirt in exchange for a full-page ad in the recital program. I’ve had several clients discover me through that ad.
Advertise your design business on your vehicle.
Another way to get your name out there is simply by putting your information on your vehicle. Vinyl letters, a wrap or even a car magnet, create a moving billboard advertising your services.
This is the method I haven’t tried myself. But I know a few designers who have their business information on their vehicles, and they’ve told me it brings in many leads.
Include an ad for your design business in any proposal involving ads.
You’ll get to work on projects that involve ads from time to time. Maybe you’re asked to design a magazine. Or a program for a local event. It might be a sponsor board or a t-shirt with sponsor logos. Maybe a website client wants you to incorporate space for ads on their new site.
Whatever the project is, always ask for one ad spot to be reserved for you as part of the proposal. If it's a sponsor board, request to include your logo as a sponsor. Try to have your ad or logo on everything you can whenever possible.
There's more than just word-of-mouth.
Word-of-mouth is, and will always remain, the best way for you to land new design clients. But it shouldn’t be your only way. Try as many of these unconventional ways to land design clients as you can. Who knows what will happen. After all, people aren’t going to hire you if they don’t know who you are.
The more you diversify how you find clients, the more trees you'll have in your forest.