In my last article, I discussed why I became a freelance creative. Since the article ran, my inbox has been filled with emails asking the same question…so how do I get started? This is not a simple question to answer. There is no one magic method and I believe that if you asked other freelancers, they will tell you different strategies that have proven successful for them.
What Hasn't Worked
I of course can only speak from my own experience. I don’t produce spec work and go looking for suitable clients (although I have), I don’t place ads in various publications (although I’ve done this too and nothing came from it) and I don’t personally shop my book around to ad agencies anymore because that takes way too much time and effort. I have found that networking is the most successful way that I can get work.
What Works For Me
I believe that the one thing a designer (or anyone) should carry with them at all times is a great looking business card. Anytime I leave the house I know that I may come in contact with someone that could use my services. If I go to a party, I take cards. When I go on vacation, I take cards. When I am going to play golf, I take cards. I have met my clients in every place imaginable. The truth is that everywhere you go, everyone you come in contact with, be it the woman you are sitting beside on an airplane or the older gentleman you just got teamed up with on the golf course, works for (or better yet, owns) a company that may be in need of your creativity.
Now, it sounds like I must be one hell of an extrovert…and I am, but the pitch is easy and it works. When you meet someone new, ask them what they do for a living. They will automatically ask you the same question. After telling them say “Here’s my card, you should check out my site”.
It’s that simple. The pitch is made and it takes mere seconds. They will pocket the card (I have yet to see anyone crumple it up in front of me and drop it on the ground) and if it makes it back to their home or office, they will eventually check out my work strictly out of curiosity. You would be surprised at the results.
Another tactic is to attach your website address to every email you send out. Many people will forward emails without deleting all the information on the one they originally received. Every great joke you send, can and will be forwarded around the world with your website attached to it…and it may get hits.
When You Get the Client
Now try not to be too picky with the first projects that you take on. As I have said in the past, I got into this business because I couldn’t legally spray paint a wall. Any way I get to do that is all right with me. You can and should design everything and anything. Every small client is a potential big client, or they know someone to whom they will recommend your services if you do a great job for them. Satisfied, they will also become a repeat customer. Many times I have produced something small (a business card perhaps) for a client only to have them add on a few more projects because they liked what I did on the first one. There have also been many times where they have told their friends what a great job I did and the next thing I know, I’m creating a huge outdoor branding campaign and getting paid extremely well for it.
I will also take on a small client that doesn’t have a huge budget if I know that the potential payoff will be great. For instance, every year I produce a magazine for one client. 70% of the magazine’s advertisers don’t have a designer to produce their ads. I give my client a slight break on the rate, and in return, they happily recommend me to their advertisers and the next thing I know I’m designing 25 ads on the side on top of producing the magazine. That’s 25 more clients that will think of me next time they need something creative. It pays to be resourceful.
There are many, many ways to find work. For example, the web is full of networking sites, forums, and freelance work sites. I take an hour out of each day and frequent these. Sometimes they pay off. Through this method I have produced work for US companies and had the bonus of being paid in US dollars. Out your door are thousands of companies that need work done. There are also many companies that have in-house creative departments that may be short staffed and need to fan out some work. Finally, when you get confident enough, there are the large corporations that may be unsatisfied with their ad agencies - and not exactly pleased with the fact that they charge $25k for one magazine ad, an ad that you could do for a quarter of the price. If you have an agency background they would probably be interested in talking to you. Sound impossible? Think about it this way…it is far easier to shop your portfolio to the heads of these large corporations than it is to get in to see an agency creative director.
Now get out there. With some initiative and perseverance the world can be your showcase.