If your ideal clients aren’t coming to you, go to them.
Don’t passively accept what work comes your way. You can actively bend the direction of your freelance career.
I just got through pouring my heart, soul, and 17 years of freelance design experience into a massive guide to gaining new, bigger, better clients: How to land your dream clients — a step-by-step guide. I hope it helps people reshape their indie design careers by going after the clients they want, not just more of the clients they have.
However it’s a 22 minutes read, very detailed, and not for everyone. I won’t hold it against you if you don’t make it through that one. It takes some commitment!
There were so many little nuggets of gold in there that you’ll miss if you don’t read all the way through. I thought it was worth expanding a few of them in a more digestible format.
You have more choice than you think. Use it.
For many years, I was a bit too comfortable with the freelance work I had. I had very steady clients providing regular projects. I didn’t have to think much about where my next clients were coming from, which was just so easy. It’s natural to feel content in a situation like that, but looking back on it years later, I realise I should have been more ambitious. I could have been were I am in my career today, much earlier.
Then my biggest, steadiest client (who was about half my workload, sometimes more) suddenly vanished. Real dick move — gave me zero warning, after an 8 year working relationship, that it was over. Monday morning, years ago, I get an email saying “Sorry we don’t require your services anymore. We hired a new designer and he starts today”. Didn’t even tell me that they were looking to hire.
I didn’t panic, but my client pipeline was not prepared for this. Not even close. I had been neglecting networking during those years of easy contentment, and now I was up a creek with no paddle. I spent the next year meeting as many new connections as I could and slowly rebounding from that cliff dive. My business is in a far better place for it now, but it was a challenging recovery.
I fell off a freelance cliff, but built a parachute before I hit the ground.
Or, the danger of having too many eggs in one basket, and how to bounce back when that basket disappears.
What the experience cemented in my mind was this:
You can always get better clients
If you’re tired of working on projects that pay the bills but don’t really excite or challenge you, there are better client to be had. Even if you’re really content with what’s coming your way, there are always better projects. Projects that align more with your interests, passions, values, ethics, and strengths as a designer.
Better might mean bigger budgets and juicier pay-checks. Or it might mean work that’s more fun, meaningful, fulfilling. It might be longer more complex jobs that you can really sink your teeth into. I could be as simple as clients who are more enjoyable to work with, or who’s businesses you can more easily get invested in helping succeed.
Don’t settle. Don’t be too content. Be ambitious in what clients you want. Go get them.
OK, so there are better clients and project to be had. How do I get them?
First off, do you even know who your ideal clients are?
It blows my mind that many freelancers, even seasoned ones, haven’t given this enough thought. I’ve outlined a number of ways in which you can help define your dream clients.
Once you know exactly what clients you want you have to work out a path to get them. This is the tricky part, but if done right can be really rewarding.
The best way is to build up a portfolio and reputation that demonstrates your ability to delivery excellent design solutions for the types of projects you want more of. That will lay the foundation for your ideal clients to come to you.
But that’s a chicken and egg scenario. How do you get the first project of that kind? Here’s where some cheeky proactive email marketing comes in.
Cold-emails work, if you do them right.
You can identify, research, and approach your dream clients directly. I’ve outlined a comprehensive 6-step cold-email strategy that is proven to work — I’ve gotten a few of my favourite clients using this method.
My strategy covers topics such as:
- The setup — the foundation you need to make it all work.
- Dream client definition — who are your ideal clients and how to define them?
- The business research — finding the right prospects that match your definition.
- The gentle first approach — with real email examples and tips on how to craft the perfect message.
- When and how to follow up.
- The deal sealer — how to build a trusting partner.
- The working relationship — how might working with these clients you chase differ from your usual process.
- The rewards — it’s way more than just money.
This is delicate work. You don’t want to be spammy or insincere. The key is to be genuine all the time.
Commit to realigning your freelance business with the clients you want.
It is a commitment. You can’t do it half-assed and expect success. But it’s worth it.
Next time you find yourself approaching a slow patch of work and need a new stream of clients, give this strategy a go. Even if you don’t have much success landing the clients you pursue, the exercise of defining your dream clients (who they are, their problems, and how you can help) is extremely useful to your own understanding of how to offer your clients the most value.
Offering more value, means getting more important, meaningful projects, and charging higher rates. These building blocks to a successful indie business all support each other. It’s time you threw your own support behind them as well, by getting proactive about chasing the clients you deserve.
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Hi, I'm Benek Lisefski. Since 2001 I've run my own independent design business. Join me as I unfold 18 years of freelance business knowledge: honest advice and practical tips to help you take your indie career from good to great.
MediumTop writer in Design, Business, and Entrepreneurship.