Finding new clients

Hi Folks,
This being my first post, I just want to thank all of you who are sustaining this community. I’ve been reading your answers and advice for a long time and I’ve found them very useful. So thank you :slight_smile:

I’ve been working as an industrial designer only with clients that I got from platforms like Elance, Upwork, Freelancer etc.
I have never found, contacted and gotten a client on my own. I want to start learning how to do this.
What I’ve done before posting on these forums, with no success:

  • Asked for referrals from previous clients.
  • Sent emails to companies.
    What I’m planning on doing:
  • Contacting company representatives on LinkedIn.

I would very much like to hear your thoughts on what I could do to start improving my skills in this area.
Do you know of any literature, training or maybe where I could find a mentor or a coach? Or maybe I should hire a salesperson/agency?
Any advice is welcome.

Thank you.

Do you have a portfolio on Coroflot or Behance showing your (full range) of process? That in itself is a good start. Although I work full-time, I am occasionally approached several times a year from online work or through word of mouth from past employers/clients…

I’ve been out on my own for about 1.5 years building a small studio, though I sometimes did freelance projects while I was working full time for almost 20 years. Almost all of our clients in the last 1.5 years have been recommendations and existing relationships. People I’ve met at conferences over the years, people I’ve met on here at the discussion boards (In Chicago right now doing a project with a forum poster), people I’ve worked with in the past.

Emily Cohen has some great simple “networking” principles in her new book: Emily Cohen – Redesigning Your Creative Business to summarize though, don’t network, be a good friend. If you give to your friends they will give back… or enough of them will. Her view is that a new client takes 1-2 years to close from first contact to closing a sizable project, and all of that time is building rapport.

The Futur also has a lot of great content about things like this. Actually Chris Do is live streaming about this now: 🔴 5 Tips On How To Talk To New Clients - YouTube

I highly recommend watching some of Chris’s videos:

I’ve closed a few clients who were new relationships. One of them was Biltwell: . In that case I had identified them as a brand I wanted to work with based on where I saw the brand going and a basic outside assessment of how my small team could help. I saw on LinkedIn that a designer who used to work for me and who I still mentor was connected with one of the founders on LinkedIn so I asked him to make an introduction for me. That sparked up an email conversation that ended with them saying they liked my work but that they didn’t use outside designers. I replied no problem, I’d love to swing by and buy you lunch and just chat small business owner to small business owner. We did that and ended up hanging out. That led to emails going back and forth for about a year, just the usual “saw this, thought you might like it”, making fun of competitors, stuff like that. And then a year later they came back and asked me to design a line of products.

So to sumarize. Take the time to invest in your friends. See how you can help them, it might be advice, or just spending time together (by the way, you should be enjoying that too and getting advice and feedback in return). If they have a contact you want an introduction to, ask them if they would be comfortable making that intro with a recommendation.

Also, I checked out your site, you have some solid work! So you can do this, build those relationships and the projects will come.

This image is from Chris Do’s talk going on right now.

The answer is there is no “one way”. I’ve been running my own design consultancy for almost 12 years now.

I’ve had clients that I previously worked for at a Corporate level. I’ve done trade shows and cold calling. I’ve got friends and friends of friends make referrals and send me business. I’ve had random people contact me via email.

Business development is a tricky thing and even going on 12 years into it I don’t think I have the perfect solution and the landscape is always changing. 12 years ago, there was no instagram and (I don’t think) LinkedIn. I’ve tried some things that don’t work and some that do.

The challenge I find is to always keep things moving. Try something, evaluate, fine tune the approach and then move on. New content, new channels, etc.

Bottom line, do good work and recognize you are in the service industry. I’ve actually been shocked at how bad some sub contractors and other small business professionals are at professional communication, managing deadlines, etc. Doing the right thing and in a well considered approach may be basic, but the bar can be pretty low. Know your strengths and point of differentiation. At a recent meeting, I made a huge impression just by having a high quality print (my Studio Overiew newspaper) leave behind as most consultants just email a PDF and many designers in my niche field have pretty terrible graphics and marketing pieces.

As Michael says, some business relationships also take time to foster. I’m now close to signing one of my largest contracts ever with a client that I’ve been in talks with for over a year. I approached them through a mutual friend as gave them my pitch as I saw the potential they had and indicated how I could help. They were not used to using outside help, so lots of hand holding and presentations was necessary. Will see where things go, but new relationships take time.

Finding clients is one thing, but the other is also finding the KIND of client you want and the TYPE of relationship that works for you and your business. This takes time. My business is built on a full service type of offering (from strategy and branding to design, development and graphics/marketing) so I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of long term, retainer clients. Some 7+ years going. This makes running my business easier on one hand, but also more difficult when those projects eventually move on. Some consultants I know only work on shorter projects and jump from thing to thing always needing to find the next paycheque. Depends what works based on your skills/offering/business model.


Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll think about showing more of my process.

Thank you so much for the elaborate response and personal examples. I really appreciate it.
I’ll make sure to read Emily Cohen’s book.
I watched The Futur’s video. Definitely one of their more informative episodes. There are some good book suggestions in the end there as well.
“…you have some solid work! So you can do this…” This means a lot to me coming from you.

Thank you for your response. It was great to read your opinion.