Whether you’re a newbie or have been in the game for a decade, finding new graphic design clients can be a challenge. You may have one or two strategies that you stick to, and you’re struggling to expand your list. Maybe you’re busy enough already that you haven’t been able to look up from your desk—but that could change.
Whichever category you fall under, it’s best to think about strategies for finding new clients ahead of time. You can apply them tomorrow or when you finally have time to breathe.
Through research and interviews with freelance graphic designers, we found seven tips to help you get new customers and grow your own graphic design business. From marketing your portfolio to collaborating with admirable businesses and trendsetters, your client list be will long before you know it.
1. Market Your Portfolio
As a newbie, you’ll probably have to spend more time marketing your work. The most impactful way to do so is by sharing your portfolio through the web. Whether on social media, creative platforms, or through cold emails, an online presence is everything.
Market using social media
You’re probably used to letting your artwork speak for itself, but try speaking for it instead. Use social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter to share what you do and the stages of your projects, as well as the reputable clients you work with. You don’t always have to direct message people. That can be pushy. Instead, post your thoughts and story to your feed. You set yourself up for prospective clients to come to you.
Writing what you do gives prospective clients the details they won’t get by looking at your projects alone. Whether on LinkedIn or Twitter, tag clients. Include websites you’ve worked on and hashtags to boost your content to sell yourself.
Market Yourself on Creative Platforms
There are platforms online specifically for freelance graphic designers. They allow you to connect with other creatives, find jobs, and, most importantly, showcase your work. No matter your level of experience, share your designs on platforms like Behance, Dribbble, Coroflot, and Crevado. It gives your portfolio more exposure and heightens the chance of prospective clients reaching out.
Market through cold emails
Similar to cold calls, cold emails are unsolicited emails that are sent to receivers for the first time. The goal is to advertise a service or product without appearing like a salesperson. In your case, present your graphic design services to people who say they are looking for a new design or look like they may need it.
If you are new to establishing graphic design clients, send cold emails to entrepreneurs, influencers, and small business owners with booming competitors. If you are looking to tailor your clientele, micro-market, then send cold emails to your selective group. Micromarketing is when you select a small group of your client base to establish your niche.
For example, say you want to focus on designing for the health and wellness industry. Look through your LinkedIn connections and their profiles to find relevant prospects—personal trainers, natural beauty product creators, candlemakers, and chefs. Check out their websites and logos to see if you can make some magic happen. If so, send a message.
2. Don’t Rush to Pick a Niche
If you're new, be a generalist when it comes to accepting different types of projects. Your current focus is on building clientele and getting establishing. For the most part, this is usually the stage where you are open to receiving work rather than being in a hurry to pick a niche. Different niches can include animations for gaming, health and wellness for established brands, or working with entrepreneurs or startups—you name it.
If you're experienced, you'll have a better idea of your specialty. Seasoned freelance graphic designer Doug Huegel says that “casting a wide net in the design world can definitely land you more clients, but I've found that specializing as a niche designer attracts more quality customers that are willing to pay higher prices for your expertise. It's also a lot more fun and fulfilling to work in an industry you personally enjoy and are passionate about.”
There are pros to being expansive or selective with your type of design. As a fresh freelance graphic designer, opening yourself up to different projects allows you to have a bigger pool of clients. If and when you choose to pick a niche, you’ll become an expert in that industry and have recurring clients.
3. Enter Design Contests
Design contests are not limited to seasoned designers. It is a great opportunity for creatives of all levels to gain exposure, be inspired, and, more importantly—grab the attention of new clients. The biggest benefit of participating in them is the pool of prospective clients searching for new graphic designers. They can stumble on your work and reach out to you directly.
Aside from possibly taking home the prize, any graphic designer who enters a competition can use it as a self-evaluation and an opportunity to grow. Take The Daily Logo Challenge, for example. It lays out instructions for designers to follow in order to enter. Once complete, they can showcase their work by sharing it on social media with the hashtag—#dailylogochallenge.
After participating, graphic designer Jesse Hoyos shares, “daily practice has helped me keep my design skills sharp and I think designers of all skill levels can benefit from it.” He doesn’t give a positive review highlighting that he won. Instead, he praises Daily Logo for giving him the opportunity to become a more skillful designer. It boosts his confidence and will likely attract more clients.
4. Network and Rely on Word of Mouth
You take advantage of your network when looking for a new job or when choosing between different brands of gadgets, right? The same applies when looking for new graphic design clients because people trust others they know.
Once you've found a networking opportunity, take advantage of it. Freelance graphic designer Amy De Wolfe sells her skills through selective terminology. When a networking opportunity presents itself to her, she doesn’t just say, “I’m a graphic designer.” Instead, she hits people with: “I help women turn their side hustles into dream businesses.” People usually have a greater reaction to the latter, conversations spark from there, then word spreads.
“Word of mouth is key for graphic designers. So often we focus on the quality of work without building meaningful relationships with clients. By also remembering customer service matters, you can get referrals like you wouldn't believe,” explains Huegel.
Having good customer service before, during, and after a project is the component to ensure people will work with you and spread the word. Be clear about pricing and what you include in your services. Do you provide an allotted amount of revisions or unlimited? Factors like that are important for prospects to know. Be available to iron out your process and thoroughly answer questions before prospective clients make their decision.
5. Showcase Your Work and Wins on Instagram
If you've never posted on Instagram, set up an account and start posting your work daily. Don't worry about your number of followers. Make reels, use hashtags, post stories. Consistency is key, and it will make clients come to you.
On the other hand, if you visit Instagram and post daily, take your profile to the next level. Go on Instagram Live while you're brainstorming or in the process of designing. People love inside scoops—plus, your next client may be watching.
As stated by Huegel, “Instagram is the best place to showcase graphic design work since it's already such a visual platform. Because graphic design is all about impactfully communicating a message as quickly as possible, it can act as a sort of laboratory to experiment with what people are reading quickly and what elements lose people.”
Look at the engagement—the likes, comments, shares, and saves you receive from followers on each post in IG. This allows you to see what is trending and what they would like to see more of from you.
In addition to trying out what sticks and what doesn't, use Instagram to share your wins. Not only does it show that you are a great graphic designer, but followers will see that that you’ve successfully completed projects and are appreciated by your clients. “You build a following, you build trust,” says De Wolfe. “And eventually, some of those people following your work will need something designed and think of you.”
As soon as you’re ready to share your amazing designs with the world, post them on Instagram to attract clients organically. You’ll see who appreciates your work based on the high engagement of the content you share. Those are the ones who will reach out to you for future projects and connect you with people in their direct network.
Posting your work on Instagram is a minor yet consistent action you need to make for people to see your current work. Use Later to share content. It’s an all-in-one marketing platform that uses automation to help you plan and schedule content ahead of time. This way, you can focus on your craft while simultaneously receiving likes, comments, and shares without being present.
6. Reward Your Clients for Referring You
Gaining new clients through established clients is always a win. Not only does this mean new business but also that clients appreciate your work so much that they want to spread the word!
If you are new and not at the level of having established clientele yet, no worries. You still have something to offer. Steep introductory discounts will build your base quickly.
For those of you who already have established clients, promote referral rewards so your list can grow even longer. From sending an e-gift card to their email for a store they once mentioned they love to a discount on their next project, rewarding your clients shows a huge appreciation.
De Wolfe has a referral program that works perfectly for her. When her clients refer her to others they know, she gives them a gift certificate they can apply to future projects with her. “The amount of the certificate is based on the size of the new client’s project and is given to the existing client once the project is complete and the bill is paid. I put this offer on the bottom of each invoice and most of my clients have come from this system.”
7. Collaborate with Agencies and Influencers
If you consider yourself a newer freelance graphic designer, be open to working with agencies. Small agencies have smaller budgets and outsource to people like you. As a start, go on LinkedIn, check out what creative agencies express that they’re hiring, and see if you have any connections who work at any of those places. View their company website to get an idea of their graphic designs and see if your background aligns. If the stars align, then reach out to see where things go.
Additionally, a company funneling work to you consistently can offer a sense of job security, which is rare for freelancers. In the same breath, be careful because working with companies directly can quickly take your free out of freelancing—less time on your terms, more on theirs.
On the other hand, if you are a more seasoned designer, look for opportunities to collaborate with influencers—people who are basically walking ads on social media. Find people you like and engage with their content. Introduce yourself and highlight what you do. Compliment them, and express what you are looking for—a partnership.
Planning to pay influencers is key, too. It’s an instant win for them now and a bigger win for you later when the clients start rolling in.
Be Friendly and Genuine
Remember, before you are a graphic designer, you are a person. Let your personality shine when you meet clients for the first time and throughout the process of working together. Your personal touch will make prospective clients comfortable and, more importantly, remember how great it is to work with you.
Doug says, “Be genuine and confident in your identity as a person and a designer. By doing this, you'll not only attract new clients, but they'll also be folks you'll see eye-to-eye on a personal level, and those are the people who will see your value and be willing to pay what you're worth.”
Regardless of your level and expertise, all soft skills mentioned above are crucial to have for long-lasting partnerships. Once everything is set in stone, you’ll be able to get the ball rolling and get some tips on writing your contracts.