4 Easy Ways to Attract More Design Clients

Build Solid Web Presence

It might sound obvious, but if you decide to go freelance and you want to let potential clients know that you’re for hire, the first and perhaps the most essential step is to build a strong web presence. The easiest way to start doing this is through an awesome website– having a profile on Behance or Dribbble is not enough. Your website is your greatest tool in showcasing your portfolio and design style.

Use a platform like WordPress or Squarespace to host your online portfolio. WordPress is a more flexible solution with thousands of add-on features to customize your website to your liking, while Squarespace is much simpler to set up quickly, but at the cost of less flexibility.

Make sure your website highlights important information, like the fact that you are available for work and the specific services you offer. In solidifying your web presence it’s also vital to include these things on your social media pages, along with your past work. The most important thing to highlight on your website is your portfolio, ideally consisting of past work representing each of the services you offer. If you don’t have many projects to showcase yet, it’s fine to include self-initiated work to show off your graphic design capabilities.

Find a Reliable Source for Projects

Long term success of any business is dependent on a core customer base, and it’s essential to identify yours as early as possible. Freelance sites like Upwork are some great places to start. These sites are online marketplaces made to connect freelancers with potential clients. Make a profile, upload your portfolio and start bidding on contracts.

With the variety of project types available, you’re sure to find some on a regular basis that fit your interests and desired rate. You can also apply for jobs you might not feel totally qualified for as there’s nothing to lose, and it’s great to seize any opportunity you’re presented with.

One thing to keep in mind about freelance marketplaces is you’re bound to come across lots of bids from other designers that are far below market rates, usually from designers outside of the US in countries with a lower cost of living. To combat this low-balling competition, establish yourself as a high-quality designer, using your portfolio and profile, and aim to bid mostly on US based projects.

Get Listed In A Directory of Experts

In addition to freelance marketplaces, directories like Sortfolio or Dribbble are great sources of visibility that can increase the likelihood of qualified leads. These sites are already doing the marketing for you. Potential clients search the web for graphic designers or particular services and land on these sites looking for a match. Simply making yourself available and accessible on several directory websites will help you gain consistent clients.

It also helps to go for a niche, and find specific companies to partner with. For example, ecommerce platforms, like Shopify, have huge customer bases of vendors potentially in need of web designers. Shopify highlights designers who can help their customers, as it’s a win-win for them. Some printing companies also maintain directories of print designers for the same reason. Become an expert in a particular niche and it’s easy to have your marketing handled by companies within that niche.

Go Local Within Social Circle & Community

The oldest way to get consistent work as a graphic designer is going local within your social circle or community. No matter where you live chances are there are hundreds of businesses and organizations within a 5 mile radius that are in need of design work. This has been the foundation of design agencies for decades.

Friends and family are great clients too, with the potential trade-off of offering discounted rates for word-of-mouth marketing. In any business, connections and deals are often made through relationships, so keeping a small client base of close friends and family is an integral part of attracting more design clients overall.

3 Things I Learned Through My First Design Business

Graphic Design Business Lessons

My first foray into the graphic design business was an attempt at starting a multi faceted design agency while in college. I considered myself a Renaissance designer so I figured why not. Leading with web design as my high ticket item, I started offering a variety of design services. The plan was to upsell customers with add-on services like logo and collateral design. I was savvy enough to have identified a niche to market to at the time. Since I had built up a pretty respectable portfolio for my age I was pretty sure this would be a walk in the park.

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t net millions of dollars through my first design agency, like I was expecting. What I did gain, however, was experience points and a more sophisticated outlook on the business of design. The type of thing you can’t get from reading a book or listening to a podcast. Sometimes you just gotta dive in not knowing how to swim and build your own floatation devices. You walk away from every unsuccessful business attempt with money lessons. Luckily, I wasn’t dealing with large amounts this first time around, but these were the key things I left with.

Design in phases

One of my early mistakes was a poor payment structure that left me vulnerable. I charged my clients on a 50/50 payment plan. Fifty percent of the total cost of the project upfront, the other 50% after the work was delivered. It sounded fair for both parties, and no client ever had a problem with it.

I was naive to the reality of the disappearing customer. It happened to me a couple of times that I’d get my upfront deposit, complete the entire project with regular communication with the client along the way, and deliver the final project, only for the client to stop responding to my emails come time to pay the 50% balance.

“Could he have died maybe? Yeah that’s gotta be it.”

Guess how many times I actually ever heard back. Zero! Vanishing clients put me in one of the worst situations you can ever find yourself in as a freelancer– completing 100% of work and only being compensated 50%. I knew there was a better way to approach invoicing, so I devised a different payment structure. The 30/30/30/10 payment plan.

Ever since I started putting clients on my 30/30/30/10 payment plan I never felt like I got burned, even if the client did disappear. Breaking every project down to phases like this keeps you paid in advance. Here’s an example of what this looks like on a web design project.

  1. 30% to start initial design comps
  2. Another 30% to finalize design comps
  3. Last 30% to transfer design files
  4. 10% upon review and completion

At no point could I finish the entire project and not be compensated for the work that was done, because each phase starts with a pre-payment. There’s also more transparency for the client on the timeline of the project.

Increase rates as you go

It seems almost impossible to find out what other designers are charging for the services you offer. I’ve always found this a bit odd, but everyone’s been hush hush about their rates for some reason. A combination of not know what to charge and being happy with whatever I could get for my work lead me down a dark path of low balling.

“Everyone’s been hush hush about their rates for some reason.”

Think $50 for a logo. $250 for a website. It’s scary looking back at it. But I had no clue what the going rate was for this stuff, and as a starving college student, $250 was a whole lot of money. It wasn’t until I came across some forum thread by some angry designer scolding new designers who are undercutting the market and making things bad for everyone else that I realized what I was doing. But at the same time, I didn’t really care because at least I was making some money.

That post always stuck with me though, so I decided I would increase my prices. Not only to help the market, but because as I got more clients and got better at what I was doing my work was definitely worth more. Maybe I can’t charge the same rates as a big name agency or major league graphic design business but I could at least double my initial rates. Scary at first but totally worth it. A solid business move overall.

Save for emergencies and expansion

No matter how low my rates were or how busy I was with work on any given month, I should have designated percentage of my profits to tuck away for the future. When you start seeing your design work pay off and make money in large amounts you never thought possible it’s easy to forget about the best ways to manage that money.

If I had saved a portion of my profits from day one and made strategic financial moves, that worldwide design agency I dreamed of would probably be flourishing by now and I’d be so stinking rich. Getting on the right track with a freelance savings plan is a great way to have the funds needed to grow your team, get new equipment when needed, and overall have a buffer for when things go bad and you didn’t earn enough through any given month to pay the landlord.

“Have the funds needed to grow your team”

As years progressed, I started investing more into my graphic design business. To stay afloat I progressively increased my rates and was sure to maintain a better relationship with clients. It’s been awhile since I’ve witnessed a disappearing act, and despite whatever flaws may still remain, I’ve graduated to a more sound position thanks to the growing pains of my first design business.

That global design agency is still within reach!

What are some of your best lessons learned running a graphic design business or as a freelancer?

Building Income via Design Services

One of the things I love about being a designer is the flexibility of potential income sources. Let’s admit it, nobody likes to put all of their eggs in one basket and nobody should. Fortunately, us designers are in a pretty good position.

Let’s walk through some of the opportunities available to you right now to profit from the design skills that you already possess. As you sharpen your skills you just have to apply yourself and be a bit clever in your strategy to efficiently maximize your income. Here are a few tips to help you do just that.


Foregoing the traditional route

Designers are not just there to put a nice looking topcoat on the finished product anymore. Design plays a major role in the development of every product on the market, physical or digital. If you find a really good company to work for you’ll have an opportunity to advance in your design career and potentially be on your way to big things.

But what if you can’t land that dream design job and your skills are going to waste? Time to change the way you think about your design career. One of the best career avenues is one built entirely from scratch, and the best place to start is by offering design services to put your skills to work.

Branding Design

In layman’s terms, branding is a step beyond designing a logo. On a branding project you will be involved in creating a unique personality for a product in the consumers’ minds, mainly through assets such as logos and other graphic elements, typography and photography style. All of which will be used throughout the lifetime of the company, through collateral, product releases and marketing campaigns.

The aim of branding is to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers. The key to selling branding is emphasizing the importance of this, and communicating to your clients that improved branding means more business for them.

Web Design

Web design encompasses many different skills and disciplines in the production and maintenance of websites. Often many individuals will work in teams covering different aspects of the design process, although some designers will cover them all.

The most common web design client is a company or individual who is looking to keep up with competitors in their space by reaching more customers through the internet, so highlighting the return on investment of having a strong web presence will help you close more deals.

Marketing Design

Successful advertising connects a product or service with interested consumers. Through eye-catching visuals and clever copywriting, ads try to influence the public into purchasing the product. Promotional design brings wider appeal through direct mail pieces, fliers, coupon, websites and store displays.

You can go digital, focusing on things like banner ads and social media graphics, or set out to conquer the print game, with a focus on flyers and catalogs.

Apparel Design

Apparel design is a rewarding, fast-paced and highly creative job. In order to stay at the top, well-designed and well-developed products are key. Product development helps to identify a market opportunity, creating products that appeal to the market, develop technical specifications, and modify the product for production

One of the easiest ways to get started in apparel design is by designing t-shirts. A t-shirt design can be literally anything, so there’s a customer out there for whatever design style or niche you’ve come to master. The most rewarding aspect of this particular service is seeing people walk around wearing your designs.

Packaging Design

Customers are drawn, more than anything, to products that look good. Something that is well designed and interesting is bound to attract more potential customers than a product that is poorly designed and looks bland. This is the importance of packaging design. It is, after all, a key part in marketing a product and ensuring it sells. It is also a key part in associating a brand to a certain thing – be it a color or a feeling.

Consulting

If you have a skill you know other people in your field want, sell consulting services that teach other freelance designers how to duplicate your successes. You can make extra cash for this, while sharpening your own skill at the same time. The fact that you’ll have other designers looking to you for feedback, direction and inspiration will keep a fire lit inside you to further advance your own career, and hold you accountable to doing just that.

Selling consulting services to other designers is much like selling design services to companies. It’s essential to have a portfolio of sorts to showcase your past success. This can be achieved through case studies that dive deeper into your design process and the impact your work has left on your past clients’ projects.

Rejected Designs

Not everything you design will be loved by your clients. Instead of letting those unused designs go to waste, cash in on them by selling your design files or assets on marketplace sites. As an example, Graphic Leftovers is a website that lets graphic designers sell logos, icons, illustrations and more that have been leftover from client projects.

How to Build an Effective Design Portfolio

Essential graphic design portfolio tips

In high school I carried my art portfolio around with me everywhere I went. Not only did it weigh 20lbs but it was probably about half my height, twice as wide and attracted stares as I lugged it onto the bus every morning. Then all the big art schools required that we present them these things and they’d decide whether we were cool enough or not based on it.

I like to consider the portfolio as the best forecaster to a designer’s success. In the industry we’re in, visuals play the most major role. You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but us designers are  judged by our portfolios daily. And for that reason, it’s our duty to show off how cool we truly are. Here are some must-follow graphic design portfolio tips to help ensure a bright career path.


Your Visual Identity

The most important goal of any design portfolio is exhibiting a particular visual identity. Bottom line, if I can’t recognize that your work was all done by the same artist, it’s gonna be a tough ride for you! A solid identity is an essential design career asset.

Businesses generally call this “branding”, but while your brand ecompasses more than just the visual aspect of the impression you leave on others, as a visual artist 99% of your brand is visual. With so much importance weighing on your visuals, it’s essential to develop a style that is distinguishable.

HOW TO SOLIDIFY YOUR IDENTITY

  • Define the look you want to present to the world. Is it serious, polished, technical, whimsical, or trendy?
  • Narrow down some of your best work. Chances are you’ll notice something you’re doing that’s working for you. Keep doing that!
  • Compile a moodboard of other artists’ work that you’d love to be mentioned in the same sentence with. Take cues from their visual identities.
  • Replicate your “look” over and over a million times until you’ve mastered it. Can you imagine how many times Kaws (street artist) has drawn X’s for eyes?

Treat your portfolio like you would a brand identity client. Fine tune your look to make it instantly recognizable. If I’m hiring you to design for me I want to know exactly what I’m getting, and that’s what building a visual identity is all about.

Breadth & Depth

One of the most helpful things I learned in high school art class is that every portfolio needs breadth and depth. Breadth is the variety in your collection of work. Let’s say you’re a print designer. You’ve gotta let it be known that you can design business cards, brochures, pamphlets, all that stuff. That’s breadth.

But what’s your focus? Maybe you specialize in print work for footwear companies and dive deeper into that. That’s depth. The balance of breadth and depth is the artist’s way of saying “hey I can technically do a number of things but I specialize in THIS”

BUILDING BREADTH

  • Experiment with a variety of project types. Build a website, paint a mural, design a t-shirt.
  • Not all variety is beneficial. Narrow down the types of things that matter to your industry. If you’re a digital designer keep your work digital.

BUILDING DEPTH

  • Determine what your depth is in by deciding what you’d never get sick of doing. Love fashion? Highlight that as your specialty.
  • Depth can also be a specific project type, like landing pages or packaging.

graphic design portfolio tips

Research Your Niche

When it comes to making improvements to nearly anything, having something to model yourself after is beyond significant. You wouldn’t make renovations to your home without looking at hundreds of other beautiful homes you’d want yours to look like. No NBA player steps foot on the court without having studied tapes of the greats.

As a designer, studying the niche you’re competing in is essential to not only being on par with your peers, but giving yourself a competitive edge. As a web designer I couldn’t even begin to count the number of hours I’ve spent browsing sites like Awwwards for research purposes. Researching my niche keeps me up to speed with what’s going on in the industry and gives me a good idea of whether or not my work is still professional enough to keep up with the big boys.

WHAT AND HOW TO RESEARCH

  • Your research doesn’t have to be formal. No need to collect data. Keep it casual and make it a habit.
  • Identify the top 3 blogs in your niche and visit them 2-3 times a week
  • Identify your favorite artists or design studios within your niche and follow them on social media to keep up with their projects.
  • Keep an eye out for new techniques or trends. Exhibiting savviness to your industry pays off.

There’s your homework for the day. Treat your portfolio like a term paper and put in some research to back it up.

Speed Design

A surefire way to add new work to your portfolio fast is equipping the speed design strategy. Speed designing can actually be a lifesaver. Imagine you specialize in branding and have a prospective, on-the-fence client who wants a hand lettered logo, but is hesitant to hire you because you only have one example of what she’s looking for.

Now, if that one example is the only example of a hand lettered logo you’ve got to offer, you may very well lose that client. But if you were able to produce 3 more hand lettered logo designs over a few hours or days, you’d have a much better shot of closing that deal.

The same can be said for your portfolio. You can build an attractive portfolio filled with the type of work that is in demand in your niche in a short period of time by committing to speed. At the same time, you’ll fine tune your technique.

SPEED DEMONING

  • Set a short time limit for producing 3-5 new works. I like to keep it to no more than three days. One day sprees are also fun.
  • Don’t stress about perfection when speed designing. Focus on quantity with this strategy.
  • If you’re a multi-faceted designer, focus your speed designing efforts on one specific project type at a time. For example 3 logos in a day vs 1 logo, 1 landing page, 2 business cards.

Unsolicited Redesign

Sometimes it can be hard to accumulate a solid body of work at the earlier stages of your career, if you 1) haven’t done much client work or 2) had a real design job yet. Or it could be that you have built up a portfolio but none of the work really gets you excited.

That’s where the unsolicited redesign strategy can be a major tool in your portfolio building arsenal. An unsolicited redesign is a case study project that involves taking something you think is poorly designed and redesigning it the way you would’ve done it. This type of case study gives you a chance to show off your design process while producing an end result that you’re proud of.

REDESIGN PROCESS

  • Start with either your favorite big name brands, or obscure / defunct businesses
  • Pick an element or business niche that you specialize in (ex. User interface or health industry)
  • Document your approach to the redesign, so prospective clients or employers get a feel for your workflow

These essential graphic design portfolio tips are just the first few steps in a long journey to a successful design career. Once you define your visual identity and begin to implement effective strategies to producing top quality work, you’ll be the envy of all your peers, and one step closer to becoming iconic in your industry.

More Resources

How to Build a Design Portfolio (Early in Your Career)
4 easy steps to create a beautiful design portfolio
Format – Online Portfolio Platform

Free Web Fonts for Better Typography

Raleway

Google Fonts’ Raleway is one of the cleanest in the library, and is available in more styles than you’ll ever find use for. The wide weight variety makes Raleway excellent for both heading and body copy. The only downside to this font is the love-it-or-hate-it “W”.

Mrs Eaves

Mrs Eaves is a Typekit font that is also available in small caps and petite caps, with an italic style that is so elegant yet so laid back that you’ll find it quite versatile for a range of different looks.

Dosis

One of my newer favorites, Dosis is a contemporary sans serif font that is great for acheiving a particular modern look. The rounded edges and narrow width that characterize Dosis make it rather unique, which is rare for fonts.

Playfair Display

Hands down my favorite serif font available through Google because of its classiness. You can’t show me a free font that elevates some guy with a small canoe to looking like a member of a global yacht club as well as Playfair Display.

Futura PT

Available through Typekit (free with Adobe CC), Futura is a font I compare to a nice piece of mid-century modern furniture. Rich heritage that dates way back, yet still manages to look modern and almost futuristic. Casual and artsy all at once.

FREE WEB FONT RESOURCES

Google Fonts

Typekit

Font Squirrel

Essential Skills for Succeeding In the Design Industry

You can always expect that there will be barricades to break down getting into any profession, and your skills are your ammunition to do so. To succeed as a full-time graphic design professional there are a few required skills. Some that you may already have to some degree, and others that you might have not even considered improving upon but would greatly benefit from.

Creativity

This is the most obvious but also most important skill . Creative thinking is the seed to any extraordinary project ever built. Creativity also helps you develop your own style, no matter what it is you decide to do.

WAYS TO GET YOUR CREATIVE JUICES FLOWING

  • Draw or sketch randomness every day (or every week for starters)
  • Visit art galleries or museums every now and then to see all kinds of art forms from different time periods
  • Engage in social activity regularly, with new people
  • Watch tv, listen to music, browse the internet–you never know where inspiration will strike

Whether it’s coming up with a new business idea or a solution to a design problem within a project, creativity is your best asset.

Spotting Trends & Opportunities

In order to adapt to changes in the industry, it’s important to constantly keep an eye out for the latest trends and in demand services or products out there. Depending on the particular niche, service or product you intend to specialize in, there are resources online through which you can follow the latest trends.

Paying attention to what’s popular can help you determine which strategic moves you can make to get further. Now it’s not about jumping on every bandwagon that comes by, but recognizing which things you’re in a position to capitalize on based on your capabilities or resources.

HOW TO SPOT OPPORTUNITIES

  • Blogs and online magazines
  • General and specialized internet forums
  • Television

Always keep an eye out for opportunities and you’ll never run out of things to capitalize on.

Technical Design Skill

The best artists in the world are hardly ever the highest paid, but being the best artist you can possibly be is a surefire way to increase your income. The better I got at design, the more I was able to charge for my work and not have my prospective clients think “Who does he think he is charging this much?”

…being the best artist you can possibly be is a surefire way to increase your income.

Know what’s considered good design and get as close as you can to that ideal. A good strategy is to pick a designer you like and compare your art to theirs, looking for where you might be lacking. Mimic their style if you have to, just to get into the swing of tighter technical skill.

WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR TECHNICAL SKILLS

  • Stay sharp– practice designing every day
  • Study your top 5 designers and take note on things you can brush up on
  • Master your software– educate yourself on the ins and outs of Photoshop, Illustrator, and any other software you particularly use

No matter what skill level you’re currently at, there’s always room for improvement. It’s easy to get comfortable at the skill level you’re at, but it’s important to consciously build on it continually.

Dedication & Discipline

No goal is complete without these two must-have skills. Chances are you want to make big changes to your life and career, and they all start with 100% dedication and discipline. An old art school tv commercial asked the question “How bad do you want to be good?” and that sums up the attitude you should have towards success.

In running your own design business, even though you have no boss over your shoulder establishing strict rules, you have the opportunity to make your goals act as your boss. Keeping in mind what you’re aiming to achieve can help you maintain the required levels of dedication and discipline to succeed.

STAYING ON TRACK

  • Set goals and keep your eye on the prize
  • Dedicate a bare minimum of 1-3 hours every day to your design work
  • Skip out on some leisure activities or partying every now and then

Whether you’re self employed or working at a big-name company, at the end of the day your skills are the determining factor of your success. Learn to fine tune these essential skills to get a step ahead in your design career.