Today’s question comes from Daniela about freelance cold calls. She’s trying to figure out how to find new clients after starting to work on her own as a freelancer graphic designer.
I just read your article and it was very informative! I am a graphic designer, and I just decided to start working on my own. My name is Daniela. I am very nervous and was wondering if you wouldn’t mind to just give me some tips, I would really appreciate it. Well, the biggest thing is that I am not sure what is the best way to look for clients. Should I just walk from business to business giving my business cards or cold calling? Or is there better way to do this? Also, if you have any other suggestions what should I do or not do please let me know as well. It seems that you have many years of experience in this field and I would love to get some feed back from someone like you.
Thank you so much for your time and I look forward to your feedback.
Answers From Linkedin Discussions Below
Logo Designers Collective
Melissa Stewart – Hello,
A good way is enter some competitions. 99Designs is a good website. Some creatives would disagree but they’re great for being versatile, great for building your portfolio and if you do win a competition, it’s more than likely to give you the chance to build a relationship with the client resulting in more work.
Take full advantage of the social sites – Facebook and Linkedin. Get a page up on Facebook and network wherever you can. Once you’ve built up enough contacts etc, you could send out a snazzy looking email. I use Mailchimp. Send this email to everyone, including friends and family as word of mouth is always the best way. Print companies are good to get work from if you can artwork for print. Also register with some creative agencies. If you get work through some agencies, you could build up a good relationship with the company you’ve gone to work for and take them on yourself. They’d rather go through you, than go through an agency which is costly.
Dyan Sutton – Good Advice. I think networking is the most important thing when you first start…and give out those cards. Don’t try to do everything. Find your niche and specialize to some degree.
Price reasonably, but not cheap. Raise your prices as your reputation builds. Be personable. People do business with people they like and stay in touch with your contacts via emails or direct mail. Good luck.
Eric Lockwood – Cold calls have never been fruitful. The best methods I’ve found over the past several years include: networking, with friends, peers and business groups; recommendations from friends or past employers; collaborating with other designers on a project; and working on pro bono projects. No matter how you cut it with today’s economy, it’s not easy. Advertising and marketing budgets are the first to be cut and the last to get money.
Cora Stanton – I think you have to used every single method you can find. That includes cold calling, and networking… and everything else under the sun. Put all the chances on your side and get exposure.
In House Designers
Rod Hjelm – I hate cold calling!!! I don’t think it’s effective or productive in any way. Meeting people face to face however can be much more rewarding and there are a lot of ways to do this besides walking door to door down main street.
Networking has been my number one way of finding new work. Do a great job for a client and they’ll be willing to refer their business friends. Network within your own contacts. Don’t ask people if they have any work for you directly. Instead ask people if they know of anyone in need of a great designer. It’s less direct and leaves the reply open for people to think about whether they need design as well. Connect with your contacts regularly even if you need to create a calling schedule.
Networking with others outside your network can be a lot of fun and some of the best places I’ve found include your local Chamber of Commerce. Go to their meetings and meet people. Networking groups are also a big way to meet new people specially if it’s a small business group. These groups can be found in nearly every town.
Have fun with it and show a lot of interest in people you talk to. Ask lots of questions and use these opportunities to learn and grow. I hope this helps.
Freelancer 4 Rent
Sarah L. – Hi Blake
The tips I’ve seen around the internet (and frequently suggest to my clients) are:
Make your cold calls “warm calls,” that is, do some research and weeding before you start. This should include:
* a target market. The universe of all people who might need the services of a graphic designer is large. Decide what types of jobs you’d like to do or who you are best suited to work with and start there.
A dictum of freelance work is you shouldn’t do something you’ve never done before for a new client–too many variables out of control. Starting with the experience you have will give you some confidence as you contact people.
* organizations within your target market
* the best person (or people) in each organization to contact.
* that person. Be polite. Recognize that this person probably hears from a large number of freelancers in the course of a week. Why should s/he consider you?
* to develop a relationship with that person. Call up and ask her or him out for coffee. Email this person for advice related to mutual interests. And, of course, don’t drop the person the minute s/he says “sorry there’s no work”–you don’t know what the future will bring you or her/him.
(see also http://bit.ly/YL-2012)
Vivienne Ettenfield – Hi Blake and Daniela,
I cold call every other week. I started visiting small business around my local area, just to introducing myself and the services Vivacious Designs offer. This built up my confidence to cold call larger business. I learnt that businesses buy into the person before the services you offer.
Derek Miller – Go to www.elance.com and register there. People like myself use them constantly to find freelancers.
Art & Design
Paul Livesey – If you live in the USA I suggest that your join elance.com which is a forum for freelancers. I haven’t been successful bidding for jobs but then I live in South Africa which may be problematic for some clients.
Digital Media Group – Australia and New Zealand
Craig Reardon – Thanks Blake. We at The E Team have a ‘no cold calling’ policy. Why? Because they are fundamentally invasive and as such can only tarnish you and your brand. To my way of thinking any organisation that cold calls is either desparate or lazy. Why else would you risk annoying and insulting those you want to do business with? Sorry for the passion but its become a pet grieve of mine as my own workday is constantly interrupted by cold callers.
Clever marketing is by far the better approach.
AIGA | the professional association for design
Doug Best – I’ve been a full-time and successful freelancer for 15 years.
Cold calls are a waste of time. Its really not a good idea to start freelancing full-time unless you have 1 or more clients lined up already.
You also need to do some ruthless and objective self-examination to determine just how good your work is. If you don’t have really quality chops you will be slaughtered.
The most fertile ground for clients is generally finding design / branding / ad / web studios in your area and trying to get work from them.
Christian Simon – I would second Doug’s comment. Where a freelancer may wish to use a cold call to generate an interview and secure some initial commitment, this is not the way graphic designers are hired. The portfolio remains the point where most hiring decisions are made. They won’t grant the interview until they see the portfolio. They won’t see the portfolio because they don’t take cold calls from every Adam/Eve.
Sally Minker – Cold calls don’t work in graphic design. It’s mostly who you know. Networking and telling all your design friends that you’re looking for work is the way to go.
Mark Grabow – I disagree about cold calls not working, but it can take 100 calls to get a single job. As wonderful as referrals and networking are for finding new clients, sometimes it is getting down to search, research and trolling. @Doug is quite correct about self-examination. Be certain you have the knowledge, experience and capabilities that match up with their needs and exceed what they are currently producing.
Stephen Shepherd – I have been running my own freelancing business in the UK for a little over a year now and have been very successful. This has been achieved by placing my business out there so that when people want my services I am there ready to provide (some call it In-Bound Marketing).
Cold calls have not been any part of my marketing plan and I do not see them ever featuring in my business. The secret is to use the internet and social networking to your advantage and sell yourself as a brand. Keep you as a brand consistent and you will find people cannot help but talk about you.
The proof is in the pudding, I started my business in January last year with 1 client now I have completed work for over 20 clients in my first year and 8 of those clients are regular repeat customers. All this with just good SEO on my website, consistent branding and regularly providing content through the main social networks.
Mark is right in some respects, but you have to think to yourself is the customer you get from cold calling your ideal customer.
That said, I have friend who makes a digitally printed brochure/book about herself and drops it off at design studios she is interested in working for, and she gets jobs that way.
Ezra Alexander Cohen – Another vote for networking. Nothing beats it. I networked heavily for 3 years in the late 90’s (including being a founding board member of PANMA and the now defunct Design Exchange) and to this day I can trace 90% of my business to contacts I made during that time.
During 2009 I, like many, saw business drop off as budgets froze and I tried cold emailing… I have a substantial portfolio so I did get a dozen responses but nothing panned out into new relationships. In the end what got me going again was contacting older clients and reminding them that I existed. Of course you can’t poke old clients if you are starting out so… get out there and press the flesh.
Calvin Werry – I do make cold calls for my photography and find that it’s a very small part of my total income. I did lot’s of cold calls for a graphic design firm that I worked for in the ’90s and it did pay off. We had a great portfolio and a staff that needed more work. You had to be persistent and know that it might be a thousand calls and 6 meetings before you landed a lucrative client with many jobs. You can try a marketing campaign with emails and physical mailing of promotion items via the post. You follow up on your mailings via a phone call and request to show the rest of your portfolio. It is most important to get “face time”, not over a phone. Treat your own marketing campaign like you would a clients, it takes more than one instance of seeing your brand before that will say “hi”.
Networking and introductions via contacts is the best way. I have found that local “networking” groups with active members in the various vertical markets is one of the best tactics. Not only do you make yourself available to the group, you get leads for cold calls that are starting new businesses or changing locations. FInd a group that meets once a week, say for lunch, exchanges leads etc. Find a local charity that you can “fill some of your time with” and work side by side with other volunteers from the major corporations in your community. Not only do you feel good about helping others, you are gaining contacts for your business.
Tiffany Smith – Networking. Networking. Networking.
I’ve found that being a member of local organizations (your city’s chamber of commerce, any young professional/small business group, graphic design chapters like AIGA) is such a benefit to business. It’s a great way to meet other business owners and get connected with their creative needs. Besides, in this economy, people don’t just want to buy a service, they’re buying a service from a person they know and trust.
Jonathan Metz – I’m a little bothered by the fact that you decided to recommend a crowdsourcing site, especially on AIGA, which has been known to have a stance on spec work. Personally, I feel that crowdsourcing undervalues our field and continuing to work on sites like this only promotes the idea that it’s an okay business plan to ask designers to do work up front with minimal opportunity to get paid.
I agree that cold calling is somewhat a waste of time, but given the chance I’d rather waste my time doing that than working for free. In essence, networking is just a fancier term for cold calling since you are hoping they don’t throw your business card away and call you for some random project.
I’ve used crazedlist.org, which is a craigslist aggregator to find gigs. Creative Hotlist, Behance, and coroflot can all be useful for finding gigs as well. I would also recommend posting work on the envato marketplaces. Unlike crowdsourcing sites, a designer posts a project and individuals pay for it if they like it and see the value of it (like an open market).
Nicole Spiegel-Gotsch – Hi Blake,
For the most part I agree with everyone’s comments but there can be value in what is sometimes referred to as a “warm” call. Where you do some market research and contact prospective clients who you’ve identified as a higher value prospect based on your research.
In NYC the Science Industry and Business Library (SIBL) http://www.nypl.org/locations/sibl offers many excellent business and marketing resources accessible online.
Another way to find prospective clients is by connecting with your local creative alliance. If you’re interested, I have an article detailing the many networking and educational opportunities they provide here:
Hope this helps!
Christian Simon – @Ezra Alexander Cohen, Contacting past business relationships I am of two minds. On the one hand past relationships are worth investigating because the persons know your quality–competent, trustworthy, can take criticism, work hard, etc.
Yet business is competitive. I can’t imagine working with many people from my past because I think of them in the past. I’m thinking of the difference between designers and illustrators/photographers in particular. While certain jobs /remain/ much the same (like catalogs are a bunch of cut out things with prices, or annual reports are pages of financial figures), the rest /want/ to be new. Seeing an illustrator who has matured is a wonder. Is it the same for reconnecting with designers?
To bring it back I guess what I’m leading to saying cold calls (and of course networking) are a necessity if you’re not going to reopen past relationships.
Blake McCreary – Again everyone, thanks for such a productive thread with many answers about cold calling! You’ve been a great help to expanding my knowledge and anyone who reads the blog.
@Jonathan If I were recommending crowdsourcing as a full solution, I wouldn’t be requesting opinions from AIGA. I had also mentioned networking after I shared my experience and said, “Perhaps look into a couple bidding sites to scrap out some extra income while you try more traditional methods.” I don’t think you should be bothered by crowdsourcing, but I will defend myself.
vWorker requires a 100% deposit by the employer so you work is not upfront work if you follow protocol. That is not “speculative work.” Avoid the contests which were just added. Sourcing has a bad wrap for paying little and/or under par. This is partly true, if you are ill prepared to showcase your portfolio and have a lack of commitment. There are plenty of filters on the feeds that limit your bidding time by choosing projects that provide satisfactory budget. You can even find jobs that pay hourly (around $25/hr) doing logos, packaging, and web design. It’s important to be upfront about your process while bidding. You would be surprised how many employers appreciate going the extra yard to attain well thought out creative design.
Over half of my annual income is derived from crowdsource bidding where I land quality clients that are personable and fair. One of my recent clients Titan-Seo.com was hooked from vWorker. Host-Party.com was also pulled from vWorker. Both of these companies are top quality and now gained the trust to pay me up 50% upfront on contracts outside of vWorker. If you play your cards right you won’t be on vWorker bidding very long. It’s basically a job board with security.
Victoria Malabrigo – As someone just starting out, I’ve found that even though networking is obviously key, you have to start somewhere. Sometimes right out of college you don’t really have a network at all to begin with. Along with going to your local chambers of commerce to scope out small businesses, I’ve found that one way to get your pinky toe in the door can be through a recruiter.
Now, having a recruiter isn’t for everyone, and I can imagine people thinking “like I need a middleman to take out more of my income,” but it doesn’t always work that way. The scouting agency I started with paid exactly what I asked/bartered for from certain jobs, and they lump their fee on top of yours. Some places are different. Then they do all the tax-related stuff for you and it’s much less of a headache trying to figure out how much a year you should be saving if you’re doing your own taxes.
Aside from the whole pay aspect, there’s a great deal of networking opportunity involved. Some of the jobs I’ve booked I would’ve never been given the time of day had there not been a reputable recruiter behind me. It’s their job to talk to folks from companies all day long and gain a deeper understanding on what kind of jobs those companies are looking to place. A recruitment agency doesn’t have to be permanent, and you can leave or not take jobs whenever you see fit. You can still search for other jobs outside of the agency, which of course I’ve done. For me, it was definitely a strong start coming fresh out of college and I definitely value all the opportunities they had to offer. Beats not working at all.
Kelly Rutherford – You have to look at the % of successful contacts by the effort you put in. What I understand is that it is a “numbers game.” Every business has the same reality as a graphic designer. If 4000 “mailed” post cards returns 4% return on investment you will see this reality whether you are a large or small business.
We have to embrace the reality that we are our own marketing directors of our services. What that means is we will wear many hats – sales person, marketing director, office manager, telemarketer, producer. So, the next time someone asks for spec work, a discount or more of your time, tell them your accountant said “NO.” Otherwise all the other functions in your business will not be able to get paid and you will no longer be able to FREElance.
Ronald Kerns – networking at AMA (American Mkting. Assoc.), IABC (Int’l Assoc. Business Communicators), and other similar professional organizations are ideal for establishing relationships with people to build a freelance business.
Temp recruiters are “better than nothing”…no, you’re not getting paid as much as you would be if doing it on your own, but a 2-3 week gig at a prestigious design firm or ad agency is “better than nothing”…and, again, you’re networking while there.
Example: I had a 2 week temp job (set up through a creative temp placement agency) at a small, but great, marketing firm. I made sure I “connected” on LinkedIn with those I worked with closest. Then, months later, I see the “immediate supervisor” has left the company! A quick note to her to say “HI”, and that I noticed she left, along with an invite to the next AMA function…..and, she’s become a valuable source of work..with her new company, as well as through some of her other clients…..all from a 2-week “temp job”….
Stu Leventhal – I would add a few suggestions – most already posted – like “networking” are correct.
I would try and get more creative:
• Visit a local college MBA program – and offer design services for young entrepreneurs starting fledging businesses. Branding / brochures / web sites etc .
.• Go to local restaurants or diners – see which need better menus – or signage – offer your services
• I’m a printer – and I refer design all the time. So go to local small printers and ask if any of their clients need design services – or do they need to add design as a service.
• This is political season – find local politicians running for office and offer your services to do their flyers / posters / lawn cards etc . .
The world is changing in the communications industries in ways that even the best and the brightest and have a difficult time getting a grip on. So all of us – myself included – need to discover new ways of finding business!
Blake McCreary – After reading through all of these responses I’ll agree that networking is the staple of the business. We’ve all found work in many different ways to start out. I firmly believe that it takes quite a bit of luck and everyone gets some. I’ve always tried to take advantage of new opportunities and nail them. I remember working with a photographer a few years ago and her brother-in-law worked for a small sports agency. She referred me a year later and a small $500 project turned into to a much larger 4 digit contract.
@Robbi I’ve found that asking for a referral is actually a very good way to spark word of mouth. Many clients get the impression that you may be very successful and busy. If they know you are looking for work they may think of you more to return the favor on satisfactory job.
I’m also looking to write a follow up article on all of the wonderful info. If anyone is interested in heading that project it’s open to guest writing. You’ll get credited and some free hosting. Thanks!