How to Find Awesome Clients

Thousands of service buyers complain of poor quality work from freelancers and design agencies every year; often to the point that reputations are ruined and the design industry as a whole suffers. From disappearing service providers to fly-by-night scam artists, the online world is packed with opportunities for things to go wrong, and it’s really not surprising that so many online and offline entrepreneurs have a bad impression of freelancers and one-off designers.

Of course, there’s another side to that coin.

How to Find Awesome Clients

While cheapskate designers and fraudulent artists ruin business for one side, ultra-demanding clients and power-tripping businesspeople can certainly do the same for the other. From bizarre requests to ridiculous revision ideas, some clients can be an absolute nightmare to work with.

Unfortunately, it’s part of being a designer—especially a newbie designer—and a lot of people simply suck it up and get back to work.

The problem with that approach is that it’s not a long-term strategy. You can only work with poor clients for so long—they certainly pay the bills, at least most of the time —but they quickly become a major roadblock to your business flourishing, costing you in terms of opportunity. Time gets wasted catering to ludicrous requests. Rates are slashed to keep them onboard. And an all-round negative aura immerses your business.

The good news is that, with enough planning and marketing direction, you don’t have to work for clients that are frustrating and difficult.

Here are some strategies that will help you refine your freelancing business and personal marketing to the point where you’re choosing clients; not them choosing you.

Get your planning book out, file a new page for marketing, and incorporate these tactics into your new client acquisition strategy.

Search by Yourself

Search by YourselfSearching for great clients can take time, but the satisfaction that comes from a low-maintenance client base is fantastic. Image source.

It’s one thing to put up an advertisement on a popular website, and another altogether to respond to someone else’s. While it’s typically unwise to respond to advertisements for service work – primarily since you’re often forced to work on the clients terms for payment and scheduling – it’s occasionally a great strategy for picking out clients and saving yourself the hassle of having to say "no".

Most webmaster forums will feature a website that’s packed with design-related jobs, and although wages are typically pretty low, they’re often a good place to start building up your portfolio and acquiring clients on your terms. If you’re catering to a higher-end market, a number of local directories and design-related websites typically offer job leads or other design contracts.

Create a Great Web Presence so They Can Find You

Create a Great Web Presence so They Can Find YouWithout directions and instructions, how are your clients going to find you? Image source.

You’ve built a website, done some basic SEO work, and now you’re stuck waiting for clients to come to you. The only problem: they aren’t coming.

A basic website is just that – a basic website, and it’s unlikely to attract any valuable clients to your business. While people may stumble across is from a bizarre and unrelated search result, it’s very unlikely that you’ll gain any valuable clients without your own client-driven and well-marketed website.

Before you create your long-term business website, look at the people who are getting all of the jobs you’d like. Even if you’re not at their level currently, look at their websites and observe what it is that’s pulling in new clients week after week. For example, if it’s conversion-driven sales copy, hire a professional to write your page in an appealing and buyer-friendly style.

You can only imitate for so long, but as a starting strategy, it’s a good way to gain exposure and influence. When you’re dead set on getting clients to come to you, look at the people who are inundated with clients and see what they’re doing right. Reverse engineering can help as a beginner, and could end up being the difference between 10 great long-term clients and 10 frustrating one-time clients.

Ask Your Current Clients for Referrals

Ask Your Current Clients for ReferralsSometimes a single phone call from a client is enough to land a major contract. Image source.

After a few months of freelancing as a designer, you’ll quickly build up a group of designers that come back to you for orders often. From weekly logos to frequent entire website designs, some designers are inundated with orders from one or two of their best clients, and completely free of work from anyone else.

This is the type of situation where you have to look at the advantages you have, not the potential disadvantages that only having a small stack of clients causes. Contact your best clients with an honest and important email, asking them if they know of anyone else that would be interested in working with you.

This situation can be taken to extremes, sometimes with very profitable effects. Want to really encourage your clients to get their friends working with you? Create an affiliate or referral program for your design agency, and convince past clients to bring in new ones for a small commission, discount on their next order, or special bonus. Incentives go a long way online, and sometimes something as minor as a free blog theme could bring in a new major client.

Advertise Yourself Strategically

Advertise Yourself StrategicallyWhen it comes to advertising, it’s all about strategy and placement.

PPC (pay-per-click) advertising can be worthwhile for service businesses, especially large service businesses that can afford to cater to a pool of clients at once. However, most PPC advertising platforms are used in a non-strategic manner, causing lost ROI and wasted time. From banner ad mistakes to on-page advertising that simply isn’t effective, even minor advertising mistakes can end up costing some serious money.

The best way to advertise is to go where your clients are. A great design blog or community might expose you to thousands of new designers, but it’s not the type of place that’s likely to be brimming with potential clients. Advertise strategically to target the most clients, and the most valuable clients, with every pick.

For example, a simple text advertisement on a small business forum could be worth much more than a large full-page post on a design marketplace. Why? Because an advertisement specifically tailored to small businesses will bring in hundreds of entrepreneurs and local business owners that are interested in working with you, whereas a marketplace posting will only ever bring in the occasional client, as the level of choice is hugely increased.

Don’t just advertise; advertise strategically for optimum clients.

Master the Cold Email Approach

Master the Cold Email ApproachLocal clients will often like to meet in person, so get your suit and tie ready. Image source.

It’s surprising how effective an email marketing campaign can be for service business owners.

Relax, there’s no need to spam anyone, but targeting individual businesses and community companies with the offer of design services can be quite worthwhile. Many businesses want to be online, but simply don’t know how to move their business there. As a designer, you can approach them with a deal in mind, limiting their barrier to entry and maximizing your local business profits.

This works best with local clients, and for some designers it can seem like quite a mission. Most of us internet-based providers aren’t used to working with offline businesspeople, so get ready for a few changes.

Email as casually as you’d like, but expect in-person meetings, discussions over lunch, and more than a few questions for a large contract. For some, this might be too much work, while for others it presents a lucrative opportunity.

Partner With Other Designers and Design Firms

Partner With Other Designers and Design FirmsSometimes even the unlikeliest of partnerships can work in your favor.

There are going to be times in your life when scheduling gets completely out of control. Clients will stack up, website design requirements will tally well off the page, and work will become a major headache for you. Then again, there will also be times when clients simply aren’t contacting you, leaving you completely free of work, and unfortunately, free of income.

Realize that every service business experiences these changes from time to time, and while many don’t adapt, many others do.

If you want a more constant flow of long-term clients, why not team up with another designer or design firm? You’ll be free to take care of their overflow when things get rough, and they’ll be available to take care of yours. While not a perfect solution for long-term clients, this approach can minimize downtime and keep your schedule smooth even through low-client patches.

What Are Your Strategies for Finding Awesome Clients?

How do you find your clients? What are some great resources online to find clients? Share it with us in the comments!

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About the Author

Mathew Carpenter is an 18-year-old-business owner and entrepreneur from Sydney, Australia. Mathew is currently working on Sofa Moolah, a website that teaches you how to make money online. Follow Mathew on Twitter: @matcarpenter. Follow Sofa Moolah on Twitter: @SofaMoolah.

This was published on Feb 16, 2010


Andrew Feb 16 2010

Decent post, but basic tips. Would take it more seriously if they authors description didn’t describe his work as jizz-worthy.

Chris Olbekson Feb 16 2010

Very good points. My strategy for this year is to try and make as many local connections as I can and get more involved with the community. I recently joined Support Local Grow Together, a group of small business owners how focus on helping each other succeed through cross promotion and using the services of other members. Hopefully it will pay off for me.

VictoriaAnn Design Feb 16 2010

Very nice – great advice! My ideal opportunity is to partner up with a web developer. Thankfully I already have a very good deal in place which was gained via an online forum. However, I would like to gain more business this way and just can’t seem to find a good place to begin looking. Do you have any suggestions?

Thank you.

Not being funny, but dude, your 17, how do you know?. The only way to get clients is by good word of mouth, some serious SEO or PPC, that’s it. Most businesses cannot afford to turn away work, it’s the less awesome clients that pay our bills. Move out of home and stop talking about earning your pocket money.

Some great suggestions here, and i have to admit the emails to local business’s one is great, its exactly where i would start to look for work.

Andrew Feb 16 2010

Since my initial comment doesn’t really add much substance I figured I’d follow up. My strategy has been to partner with agencies that need backup help and often use freelancers. As someone recently jumping into the deep end I’ve found this key for me to have repeat business early on. I haven’t seen a dip in income what so ever.

As Chris stated local connections are key. I’ve made it my NY resolution to network as much as possible and will be hitting numerous Chamber of Commerce events along with as many design events as possible.

Have a great day everyone! (still think ‘jizz-worthy’ is ridiculous)

Gustavs Cirulis Feb 16 2010

Thanks! Interesting read.

Great article, I think something like this is a gift that comes over time. After a few years of freelancing you start to be able to distinguish quickly between the unhelpful, freeloading clients that’ll underpay and want more work than planned originally, and the clients that are helpful and understand freelancing.

Yassine Feb 16 2010

Good article. Some good points made and useful tips. Thanks.

Also, thanks for the Gobias picture, made my day:)

Jordan Walker Feb 16 2010

What exactly is jizz-worthy? I can think of some filthy magazine as being jizz worthy. However, design… whole nother bag of worms.

bono calacal Feb 16 2010

Interesting read. Planning on partnering with other designers and programmers. Someone actually sent me an email to partner with her, worth a try.

Nicole Foster Feb 16 2010

Thanks for the great article. Recently this year, I re-evaluated my portfolio and changed it around a lot thinking it would solve my problem of less clients, but it hasn’t done much :/

The problem is I only have a few good pieces to show off in my portfolio and I’m not convincing enough to hire though I have 5 years of experience behind me. I’ll have to start mastering these tips or I’ll never find an awesome, paying client XD

Austin Clements Feb 16 2010

I like the direct contact approach. Once you 1) have a set strategy for approaching your client base and 2) do a little bit of research to that caters to that prospective clients specific need they seem to always respond. The rest is up to you!

Kameron Feb 16 2010

Great article. Not sure about the author bio. but good content non the less


Carol Feb 16 2010

Great points to get clients, the toughest thing is to keep your clients happy and that’s only achievable with quality.

Wonderful post, very helpful. Especially because it’s getting really rough sometimes!

Matthew Heidenreich Feb 16 2010

good article, would probably stay away from Jizz-worthly if you want to be taken seriously. thanks for the share.

Marco Barbosa Feb 17 2010

From the title one can think this is just one of those “I know everything” articles, but actually it’s an interesting reading. Very resourceful.

Thanks for sharing!

viztech Feb 17 2010

Really nice post, simple but effective tips and some of them are like which people usually ignore. I really appreciate the efforts made by the young Mathew :) and hope to share more in future too.

Thank you once again!

In America jizz is a word used to describe a males climax. Synonyms include Release the hostages, splooge, spunk, the big “O” and the always famous Bust a Nut’.

On a side note… It may lend some credibility if the author was old enough to crack a beer legally. Come on a 17 year old jizz worthy designer helping plan business strategy. Get real.

David Pohlmeier Feb 17 2010

My experience has made it clear that consistently creating good design work so that you get good referrals is the best way to get more clients. Having someone else market for you allows you to do more “real” work.

Cool post. We’re thinking about some of your pointers (collaborating with other designers/developers and reaching out to potential clients).

Nina Obrecht Feb 17 2010

All my best clients come from referrals. Word of mouth is amazing. If you do your job well, and are pleasant, good things will happen.

ManuelN Feb 17 2010

Very helpful article, sometimes its very frustrating work with bad clients who underpay you, but when the good clients come is all joy :)

Loveish Feb 17 2010

Finding gud clients is really a tough job. I hope these tips will help me to find good clients in the coming days :)

Jason Gross Feb 18 2010

Meeting with clients or potential clients in person will establish entirely different relationships. As a designer you have a great chance to earn respect and loyalty of clients if they can refer to personal interactions they have had with you.

dandy Feb 19 2010

I keep updating email list of y clients and send them newsletter about my services, recent projects monthly. Also i often contact my old clients and say them a ‘hi’.

Interesting list, I can take some of thsese tips . . .

nice post… easier said than done though sometimes!

Osvaldo M Mar 07 2010

With all due respect to the author, but, and I quote:
“Unfortunately, it’s part of being a designer—especially a newbie designer—and a lot of people simply suck it up and get back to work.”.
Eh, how old were you went you started to design professionally mate? if you went for something along the lines of 14, that would give you 3 years of professional experience, which i could cope with. Do not get me wrong, the article was fine, nothing new, but interesting none the less, I just i doubt of the “truthfulness” and experience that made you write the article.

Osvaldo M Mar 07 2010

Sorry, above i meant: how old were you when*.
I just doubt of the*
Just realized my typo-add-on that i have in Firefox is plain garbage!

Christopher Burd Mar 09 2010

I agree with other posters that this actually an OK article. But I think a 17-year-old, however talented (an archaic word for “jizz-worthy”), would be better off not trying to act the part of a seasoned veteran. The fakery will kill you, Dude. I’d be more interested in hearing the experiences of relative novice, in his own voice.

Seminar Raum Apr 14 2010

Interesting points indeed. I especially liked the posted pictures. Thanks a bomb!

Najeeb Puthiyallam Jun 13 2010

Good Article… !!

Nick Yeoman Sep 26 2010

It would be nice to have a few more examples, but I really like this article. I find word of mouth “or asking your existing clients for referrals” is the best solution.

I think the website is useless. Usually I’m selling to someone who doesn’t have a website because they don’t understand the web. Making that client look at your website is just going to confuse them.

Seferm Sep 28 2010

Very good point to be considered! Kudos!!

Alessio Oct 03 2010

Excellent post! I like your way of thinking.

Vishnu Dec 14 2010

The post is really good.. I am running a software/web developing concern and a call centre in India.. Am settled in UK and I am looking for clients from all over the world.. I think your article may help.. Thanks.. Any suggestions?

using effective seos and strategic ppc will help. But for me freelancing and referrals got me some serious clients.

Nice post. Could be very useful, but it gives a very bare base. If you dive into the matter you`d know special software that could help, websites, that can give you client information, or ideas on how to get new clients. In the company I work for, we have a marketing strategy, prepared for us by a professional marketing company and we follow that – not surprisingly it works:)

Rodrigo Muller Feb 26 2011

I’ve co-owned my own design firm for close to 8 years and I can tell you hands down, word of mouth is absolutely the best way of getting good quality clients. The trick to this is, KEEP YOUR CLIENTS HAPPY! I can’t say that enough. One unhappy client can mean many other potential clients down the tube… I enjoyed this article and I will try some of these suggestions to see if more “awesome” clients come out of it.

Dhanjiv kumar Apr 15 2011

i want to start new company for web development,any one give me project.

lulu233 Sep 08 2011

I’re always lacked focus, especially when it comes to reading, but I read your whole write-up. What a shock! It’s just so encompassing that I got involved in your content. I like your many views.

Dheeraj Sep 21 2011

Really good article. I run a web and application development firm myself. I could utilize most of these tips in my firm. Especially the point about partnerships. Even firms providing the same services can form partnerships either to share resources or jointly invest in marketing initiatives.

Actually this is a good and highly informatiive article,resourceful for biz growth

aleem Nov 04 2011

nice piece of advice for start ups. i also own a web development company and firmly believe that word of mouth is the best way of advertising :)

Liset Nov 15 2011

Thanks a lot. Watch out for I’m coming this 2012. finally (^_^)

Prashant Labde Oct 10 2012

Great article…will surely implement it…

Thanks. Interesting article.

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