How to get clients?

Besides connections and having a good track record what are other good methods of getting product design clients? What trade magazines are a must for advertising? Other means?

i’d say,

  1. connections
  2. connections
  3. connections
  4. targeted cold calls/emails
  5. web presence
  6. walking trade shows
  7. targeted mini mailers
  8. ads

funny story from a colleague who runs a small studio in san fran (who has done some top shelf work for larger brands and some nice product)… he recently did small ad in the business week design issue…his result “no clients, but lots of students looking for internships!”

myself, i find the majority of clients actually find me. either through places like the core forums here, or somehow online. it helps that i have a pretty specialized/unique USP, but for what its worth im always surprised at the number of cold calls i get looking for my services. not all turn into good leads, but it never hurts to have the demand without pushing ads, etc.

at the same time however, i’m also a big fan of going direct to tradeshows for the meet and greet. i just got back from one in vegas (WSA shoe show), and walked the floor for 8 hours a day for 3 days carrying samples and a portfolio plus a mini portfolio leave-behind. got at least 50 contacts…now just the tedious work of follow-ups and call backs. on the plus side though, i find its good to get contact and meet people, even if they dont turn into work, and i always consider it from the perspective that if even 1 lead turns into a job, it’s paid for the trip.


Going to tradeshows with your portfoilio is a great idea. I’m going to hone-in in the industry I especailly would like to get myself into.

I like the story about your friend doing an ad in businessweek - LOL.

I definitely have good networking which I’ll be tapping into both in Korea and and here in the U.S.

I’ll have an ad in the ID magazine for good measure.

well i guess you should have a good ad and good connections…in regards with the connections…let’s you have a friend(connection), you must know his friends and from their try to make it as a connection…

Going to Tradeshows and drumming up ID business is an excellent source, have been wondering myself how to create some freelance work…might as well create it for myself.

Thanks R


When you are “walking trade shows”, who are you targeting?


Attendees with interest in particular Exhibitors?


“walking the floor” for me means going to the booths that could be potential clients and introducing myself, getting the contact info for the design director responsible for follow-up contact (or speaking with them if they are at the show- often not), and showing my stuff + leaving behind a package.

While I’m there (at the show) I also try to arrange meetings/contacts with people I’ve worked with previously or been in contact with before.

I do have to say though, that the results haven’t been particularly worthwhile. After attending 3 or more shows, I’ve got tons of contacts and what seemed like a good few potential leads for real projects but more often than not, very few pan out. I’ve always considered that if I get 2-3 projects as a result, it would pay for the cost of attending the show, but recently I haven’t had as much yield, and more real business comes from other sources. This combined with the fact that less brands are exhibiting due to cut backs (and it’s the same brands show after show), I don’t plan on attending shows for the next few seasons, and instead am looking at more direct marketing efforts to drum up contacts/business.

I consider that if I pay around $2000 to fly out, stay in a hotel, attend the show, eat, drink, portfolio prints, etc. and don’t get much directly out of it, the $$ would be perhaps better spent by targeting a more selective bunch of prospective clients and flying to them directly to pitch my services (after qualifying the leads of course)…haven’t gone that way yet, but seriously considering it. After all, if I can provide that type of personal service, it also demonstrates a great ability to meet the needs of the clients and makes a larger impression than just another designer cold calling at a show, perhaps…

We’ll see. At the moment, i’m full-up busy, and tightening my own marketing belt for the new year, so who knows…


As you may be aware, I’m not actively “designing” anymore. But that may change soon.

Interesting that your results mirror my experience from previous trade show efforts; lots of effort with not so favorable results, as in $$$.

I observed lots of “not invented here” mentality; “Thanks, but no thanks. We know what we’re doing here.” Frankly, it got pretty old, pretty quickly.

At least it wasn’t just me.

I feel your reply. The biggest enlightenment I’ve found is that most often the brand who need design the most, are (in some respects no surprisingly as they are what they are) are the ones who don’t see the value in design. That is, those brands with crappy branding/product that I know could have greater potential seem to be the ones most in need and at the same time least receptive to outside design work. I’ve found this in my own consultancy as well in terms of clients.

While in some respect, when i get a client who comes in with crap, i think “hey, i could totally turn this company around!”, I also now think “hey, they haven’t seen the value of design so far, and don’t see anything wrong, so what could i do to possibly change that”. I’m a big advocate of design and branding and try what I can to change the perception of clients, but more often than not I’ve found it’s a useless (and frustrating endeavor), not worth the time/$$$/effort.

As an aside, I also have to say I’m greatly disappointed on the professionalism of many corporate people with respect to returning emails/calls. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made “good” with people at a trade show or elsewhere, sat and chatted for 20min., showed my stuff, they expressed interest, gave me contact info, said they have projects upcoming they could use my services for, etc…only to return home, write a personalized (never cut and paste) email addressing our contact and their project, only to not even get a “no thanks, not at the moment”, reply. nothing. I’d say out of all the followup emails I write I only get about 15% reply rate. Not only frustrating, but very unprofessional, in my opinion.

I get at least 15 emails per week, from random “potential clients (most likely some dude with a useless idea”, students, etc. and I always reply to each and every one. Same thing when I was corporate and got emails from consumers, web fans, etc… sure, time is money, but it doesn’t take that much time to write a “thanks for you email, but I can’t help / am busy / have nothing” email reply.

I figure karma what it is, anyone who writes you could sometime be a potential client, boss, co-worker, etc. so it doesn’t help to burn bridges by not replying, esp. if it is a personal (not form) email and specifically addresses things you’ve spoken about. Just poor form…same goes for replies from HR if you apply for a position and are already in further contact, but that’s a different rant…


I’ve never been a fan of attending trade shows cold. I hate leaving sales to chance and find that I could greatly increase the likelihood of making trade shows a productive lead generating (and, more importantly, bill paying) resource by pre-qualifying leads. The only catch is that this only works for trade shows that publicize their attendee lists. As soon as those are available I start due diligence on list attendees and find the ones that I think might be a fit. I then work those just like any other prospect and if they’re interested, then I offer to send them some information about us before the show with the open invitation to meet at the trade show if they’re available. At least that way you can hit the floor running and it’s not like the dozens of independent inventors / designers I’d pass lurking around the booths hoping to get a totally cold sit-down with a decision maker (something that rarely bears fruit).



I’m guilty of this sometimes when I really want to take the time to respond, but then can’t… The result (no response at all) is worse than a simple “thanks, got nothing” response.

I got 10,000 corporate emails in 2008, and sent 3,000. I did the math and for every post I make here, I send 10 emails at work and get 25.

The ultimate chap-ass is the visit to a prospective client with our owner in-tow, the meeting and presentation goes well, and the prospect suggests following-up in a week after they’ve made their decision. Then a half-dozen+ calls go unanswered in the ensuing six months or so. There’s a special kind of disappointment that springs forth from that type of (a lack of a) response.

Addendum: the prospect I’m thinking about called out of the blue ten months later and admitted that they’d not moved forward at all on the project we’d met about. They had a prototyping need relating to the same project and being the sales whore that I am I jumped at the chance to support them again. Someday, I’d like to enjoy the success that would allow me to tell clients like that to get stuffed.



This statement is often true:

I observed lots of “not invented here” mentality; “Thanks, but no thanks. We know what we’re doing here.” Frankly, it got pretty old, pretty quickly.

Jesus expressed this sentiment over two thousand years ago when addressing the town of Nazareth

New International Version: Matthew 13:57
And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”

I believe it means people will respect and believe an “out-of-town expert” quicker than someone from the same city. I know in my situation, I sometime get work from another state hundreds of miles away where company X nearby (within 5 miles) will not even talk to me or return my calls. I cannot get them to review my recent portfolio.

Of course, my skills and knowledge have improved since that last interview a few years ago, but it can be a challenge to get your foot in the door in your own community.

Howdy Chris!

especially if the out of town expert is getting paid a whole lot. Then the managers listen.

This is the best thread I’ve read in a year, I think. Thanks!

Yes interesting thread.

If you are a consultant, it touches upon the idea of whether your model for generating and conducting busines is the fee for service,expert from afar model… or the relationship partner with the trust of the internal group model. I know there are in-between states, but in my experience it quite often breaks into these two.

Understanding which you are will give direction to tour NDB efforts.

Walking tradeshow floors serves neither very well. That said, walking floors is a technique useful for gaining knowledge and/or building relationships.


Great topic for those days when no one calls when they say they will.
I made contact with someone as potentially a very big client for me. He said he’d phone yesterday to organise a meeting.

I was hugging my phone all day…nothing.

Working on your own in a vacuum you have too much time to think and start to get paranoid!

Good to hear I’m not the only one who gets the “oh we might have something for you” and then nothing comes down the line for over 6 months or something.

Great thread!

You never know who might be the next customer or send a customer your way so it’s always best to treat everybody by the golden rule “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you”.

Great topic for those days when no one calls when they say they will.
I made contact with someone as potentially a very big client for me. He said he’d phone yesterday to organise a meeting.

I was hugging my phone all day…nothing.

When the girls did this in grade school, they were playing hard to get. You’d think businessmen would be a bit more mature. I watched that “He’s Just Not That Into You” film on a flight once, and I never thought it would apply to my profession. It’s the same strange dance that surrounds all human relationships.

I’ve seen a lot of complaining about the corporate status quo here, and trust me I know the frustration. In my experience, middle management is usually content with rocking the boat as little as possible (as long as it isn’t sinking at an alarming rate). They have comfortable jobs, and the kind of upheaval that designer’s suggest is not only more work for them, it could cost them their comfy position. Upper management usually also reflect this sentiment, but are at least smart enough to put on a show so that everyone knows how committed and bold they are. There are exceptions to this rule, but I seem to have picked up a pattern in my career thus far. Designers are usually saavy to the fact that risk, change, and growth are the same and we tend to be more progressive than the people that had all their training in minimizing risk (especially once they get their salary and their will to politically defend it). It is no surprise to me that some of you are mentioning clients that call you six months after your initial meeting admitting that with all their vast resources, they have made no progress. I have worked in house for a company that exhibited the narrowest, most despicable business practices which led to almost complete stagnation. I left as soon as I could , and luckily for them, they are in a very inelastic market.

There must be a way to get a corporation’s attention and keep it. So where do we find the people with real vision? Real ambition? People that realize that stagnation is death whether fast or slow? People on these boards talk about design ‘preaching.’ I know why this has become a standard practice, but this goes deeper than design.

My friend said to me yesterday that business growth is the same as personal growth. If you wake up in the morning different than when you retired the previous evening, and you go to bed that night different than when you woke up, you are growing. How does that happen? You pay attention, process, analyze, try, do, fail, and let it all in. That is what I do everyday. Why is it so difficult to get people to do it in groups?

Usually their needs to be one charismatic leader that exhibits this behavior publicly and then many will follow the example. If the leaders are petty politicians, then people will either turn into the same. If the leaders are motivated by love of success (not stiffly monetary but releasing something good into the world) rather than fear of failure, you will probably have an organization that returns your phone calls. We need more quality people taking leadership roles in corporate America, but unfortunately they are often driven away by the ‘politicians’.

For my small part, I just speak my mind and call other people on their bullshit. I allow myself to be proved wrong, and keep my eye on the product, not on my job.

Design consultants need to find the ear of the person who isn’t all talk. That is really hard. I know.