Changing the question of: “how do I find better clients?”

Finding great clients has never been easy

I’ve been riding my third year of freelance design. With nearly fifteen clients that I’ve worked with over those two “completed” years, I have learned that finding great clients is not easy.

When we start out, we tend to need to take on every client we can get.

We take on design work for our Uncle, and we do some fliers for our church. Our neighbor talked to our mom, and now she want’s something created for her local boutique.

And now you start making waves on social media, getting new work, but not the kind that is the best type for our portfolio.

We are all looking for better clients

It’s no stranger to a freelance designer or agency that you want to find the right clients, or even just better clients than the last job.

Not everyone is a “bad client,” and not every client is a good client.

That is a perception based on the comparison of the clients we want vs. the clients we have.

So let’s change the perception by changing the question.

Changing the question

We’ve been asking this question for a while.

“How do I find better clients?”

This question has gotten us pretty far as freelancers and started to get us some great answers on where to look for better clients. After a while, you start making a decent presence online. But as things start to die down, we realize that it’s going to take more than just that one pursuit of better clients.

Let’s write a better question.

“How do better clients find me?”

This challenges convention in a way that makes you think on the ways people find out about you and what you are doing as a designer.

Look at the last few ways you started working with a client. Did you reach out to them? Did you have to chase a lead someone gave you? Did they get referred to you by someone else?

By spending a little bit of time trying to understand where someone came from and what mindset they were in when they joined up with you, you can start to figure out more efficient ways to:

  1. Get more actionable leads from there
  2. Optimize the conversion of your platforms
  3. Get in control of the designer comparison

What makes a great client great?

My experience in the past with clients has been all over the spectrum.

I’ve had clients fight for control when it was not needed for the entire project, essentially rendering me just there to make something pretty.

I’ve had clients misunderstand me throughout the process early on when I was learning to do design in the beginning.

As I started to level up the professionalism of my design process, I started to increase the level of quality clients coming through, especially when I went with a client questionnaire on my site.

It’s been the last 5 clients of mine that I’ve noticed the actual quality of clients going up and they seem to be fitting these criteria to a ‘t.’

A good client:

Though this list can go on forever, we have a decent checklist of things to look for. (Maybe I’ll make a post specifically about this for reference)

If someone is missing one of these, it doesn’t automatically make them a bad client, just know that if you’re unable to get to that point with them, there may be things that you run into during the process that may hinder your ability to do your best work.

So how do these great clients find you?

Think like a marketer and think like the client.

I know that we don’t always have a pleasant reaction to marketing as non-marketers. Some things we can just smell a mile away.

Marketing is a practice that has both a dark side and light side to it. You can use it for good, or you can use it for gain.

In this sense, we’re using marketing tactics to help pair up a decent client in need of quality design with a quality designer (you).

Can people actually find you online?

Run a search on Google for the type of design that you do. Does your name come up?

Maybe it does; try it in an incognito browser window. Still come up?

Ranking on Google can be a tough thing to do. It takes a lot of persistence and unless your potential client knew to look you up by name, would you be getting a lot of work through there?

We need to be working on hitting points along the buyer’s journey instead. A lot of marketers call these “Conversion Funnels” which is a scary thing to think about if you haven’t studied it.

People are in different mindsets at different times, and we can take control on how people move through those mindsets with our client attraction pipeline (another scary word).

Client Attraction Pipeline

The Buyer’s Journey

We talked about this type of journey a few weeks ago, but as someone ventures further into their first experience with a designer and their work, we end up going through several stages before the potential client converts to an active client.

A good client comes out of this usually through quality control filters of some sorts. For myself I use a client questionnaire on my websites to make sure that someone who is serious about working with a designer and is committed to quality design gets through.

But for us to attract the right clients, we have to start hitting the points where people are beginning to look for someone to hire for design.

We’re going to look at this roadmap again through the mindset of a potential client and what makes them convert.

1. Awareness of their problem

Someone realizes that something is holding their business back from a goal. They understand some people are better equipped to handle this task.

This could be a potential client, a design firm realizing they need to hire a designer, or it’s someone that doesn’t have the right qualifications to be a decent client.

2. Research

They look for people who can solve that problem. They might catalog a list of designers to reach out to. They find specifics about what type of strengths they have.

They look for things they post on social media

3. Engagement

They reach out via email, contact forms, social media, where your most prominent CTA is and try to get an inquiry for work.

4. Conversion

Based on their initial contact, they consider if they can hire you and if you’ve given them enough info to make a sound decision based on what they were able to find out about you and your process.

How do we map what we do to the journey?

We have the power to sit at each point of the journey with some sort of content that someone would experience along the way.

The more points we can map our content to, the more likely we will be seen as domain experts on the things that we do and the more likely someone who is a great client will hire you to do the work.

1. Awareness

We have the opportunity to capture a lot of traffic to people who want to find out what’s going on in their business.

We can do so by offering services or do-it-yourself-tools that do an audit of where they are at for a type of design work that you’re an expert at. Think of Brand or Site audits, a marketing launch checklist, etc.

2. Research

People have questions. They look up these questions on Google, YouTube, or [insert search here].

You have the opportunity to answer these questions preemptively by writing about it, making a video about it, sharing how you’ve already done something like it, how you solved something for a past client who also had that.

You might be active on social media networks giving nuggets of great, valuable information in your posts, making you look like you know what you are doing and are easy to approach to find out more.

You might be consistently posting your work on active designer sites like Dribbble, Instagram, Behance, etc. Showing that you’re committed to producing new content and still working in the field, you’re working in. The more consistent good work that gets posted, the more followers you have, the more you look like an expert in your field.

3. Engagement

You might have a website that allows people to contact you, either easily through a simple contact form, or through a more in-depth questionnaire.

You might have a decent call to action at the end of your YouTube videos reminding people that if they’re looking for a hand-lettering artist, to put in an inquiry on your site.

You might have your bio on social media telling people that you’re actively taking in new clients.

Maybe your website or videos give a good overview of what it will be like to work with you, allowing a client to make a more informed decision.

4. Conversion

Your client has got to know what’s going into the project and what they get in return.

You have the most control with good clients in this situation.

Where we go from here…

We’ll take a look at these points over the next few weeks on ways to build out your client attraction funnels.

This type of funnel is something that I’m actively working on for So Magnetic (my design agency) for us to start converting more visitors to customers.

It’s something that I worked on in the past for my personal site when I was freelancing and will be even more valuable now as I work on getting high-value clients and eventually moving into full Value-Based Pricing with these clients.

The nice part? you get to learn right along with me.

As I continue to explore these and get more acquainted with these types of great clients that I’ve been getting recently.

If you want to hear more about how I am powering through client work as a designer, you can either sign up for the newsletter below where you get to hear what I’ve learned, or by getting the podcast, where I share what I’m going through in trying to get my agency up off the ground

Until next week, friends (:

Darian Rosebrook, Compass of Design


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Darian Rosebrook

Brand Identity Designer for @itssomagnetic, running a design community at @compassofdesign. I write to help others grow their skills as designers.

Compass of Design

Some of the best design articles written by members of the Compass of Design Community to help you strengthen your skills in design, business/freelance, and marketing yourself.

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