I get a lot of questions about how we get clients here at Rowan Made, so I thought I’d start a new series on the blog in order to shed light on our own approach, as well as ideas that you can try out yourself. Before I dig in, however, it’s important to note that getting clients begins with HOW you put yourself out into the world. Also known as, your brand. Most of you are well aware of what this means, but not everyone takes full advantage of the attributes that make each and every one of us unique.
In fact, the world we live in today is highly visual. There’s instagram and facebook and shapchat and more, all of which are constantly shoving the lives of others in front of us on a daily basis. There is a lot of good that comes out of the internet and social media, in general, but it also makes things more complicated in terms of keeping comparison and emulation at bay.
Think of it this way. You login to instagram, scroll, and see that Person A just launched a beautiful new project. You think to yourself: wow, they’re amazing. They have the best clients. My clients are alright, but I wish I had more like theirs. You continue to scroll, and see that Person B is bragging about a six-figure product launch. You think to yourself: damn, that’s a lot of money. They know what they’re doing. Their audience is bigger than mine will ever be. So again, you continue to scroll, and see that Person C is seamlessly infusing wellness into their brand. You think to yourself: wow, that’s fresh. I need to focus more on self care and share how it affects my work and life balance. That will surely strike a chord with my own audience, right?
Most of us, myself included, fall into this kind of comparison trap quite often. And sometimes, we’ll even follow the path of others, just because it’s worked out so well for them.
Sure, for a lucky few, this may actually result in “success,” but for the vast majority, it doesn’t. Emulating the path of others pulls you farther away from who you are and who your brand represents, making your business less enjoyable for yourself along the way.
Your brand is not a reflection of how somebody else within your industry is working. It’s a reflection of who you and your people are. Simply put, it’s 100% unique to you.
I’m sharing this because it’s something that I want you to keep in mind as we move forward. There are so many ways to go about getting clients, but you have to approach it from a place of sincerity. What works for me, or for others, may not work for you. So take all of what I have to share, and use only the pieces that feel absolutely right for you.
Getting clients falls into three different areas: word of mouth, referrals, and selling yourself, and we’ll be covering the first two today. Word of mouth is a biggie, and works for most designers, whether they’re just starting out or have been at it for awhile.
For example, when I first started my own business, the only clients I had at the time came from word of mouth. I was actually still in school, didn’t have a portfolio, and definitely wasn’t selling myself anywhere else. A design professor of mine knew that I wanted to freelance, and also knew of a professor in the history department that needed a website. So, she thought she’d pass my name along in hopes that it would get me some real world experience. And it did!
I designed the history professor’s website and then found myself in front of a new client, who happened to be her friend.
Even today, nearly eight years later, word of mouth is still a huge part of how we get clients here at Rowan Made. Typically, this comes from our previous clients, who will tell other friends and family about us, which in turn, helps grow our base.
I personally love this form of growth since the people who come through have already heard about what it’s like to work with us from somebody they trust. Because of this, they’re eager to get going.
So, if word of mouth is something you’d like to explore a little more, start by reaching out to friends and family. Tell them about what you can do as well as the kind of people you’re looking to work with. Then, if they know of somebody that fits the bill, chances are they’re going to go out and sell FOR you because they already care about you.
Worth of mouth only flourishes from there, almost exponentially. Because if you have people who are rooting for you, coupled with clients who you’ve served well in the past, you’ll be able to cast a wider net, naturally.
The only caveat with this approach is that word of mouth goes both ways. If you’re doing your best and being kind to others, word of mouth WILL work in your favor. But if you’re burning bridges left and right, word of mouth will eventually catch up to you in a not-so-good kind of way. So, simply keep that in mind whenever you share what you do or are working with others. Words are powerful and it’s best to have the positive kind on your side.
The second approach to getting clients is through referrals. This is similar to word of mouth, but deals more specifically with peers. Or, the relationships you establish within your industry.
After graduating from design school, referrals became a newfound blessing within my business. I spent a lot of time on Twitter, which was a bit more active at the time, connecting with other designers who were out on their own, doing similar things as me.
Sometimes, this was as simple as replying to a tweet and saying “I love your work, keep it up.” Other times, I’d respond directly to a question, which in turn, started a discussion. The more I did this, the more relationships I established within this little online world. And because the internet sometimes feels smaller than it actually is, some of these relationships actually crossed over with one another. And suddenly, I found myself in Skype chatrooms, Google chat conversations, or email chains with all of these like-minded peers.
From there, I felt comfortable enough asking for help. And because I had already established such strong relationships with these people, they were absolutely willing to send work my way whenever their schedule was too full.
In fact, my first year of freelancing was filled up almost entirely by referrals. So much so that I honestly don’t think I would have made it through without them.
So now, let’s circle back to you. If you’re looking to get more clients from a referral standpoint, then you have to make sure that you’re approaching it from a genuine place. Simply emailing a designer you admire and asking them to send inquiries your way doesn’t work. It’s overly presumptuous and negates the importance of establishing a relationship.
Instead, my suggestion would be to get to know your peers without any sort of preconceived intent. Sure, your relationship with somebody may benefit you down the line, in more ways than one, but if you focus on that, the other person will probably notice and check out. So again, try to be genuine and truly get to know your peers. Healthy relationships grow from a place of equality, care, and respect, and if you’re doing that, you’ll soon realize that the other person is, indeed, rooting for you to succeed. And they’ll be more likely to help you out. In fact, they’ll probably offer it up first.
Obviously, this means that patience is key. But I promise, just as word of mouth grows over time, so too does referrals.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for a quicker approach, try checking out some of the online design directories that are available to you. I’ve listed a few below to get you started:
Next week, we’ll be diving into part two, which is a biggie: selling yourself. Until then, feel free to share any other ideas or tactics you’ve personally used in the comments section below. I’m a big advocate of community over competition and believe that there’s enough work to go around. So let’s help each other out when we can. ;)