How To Start Your Freelance Career & Get Your First Client

June 3, 2013

The most asked question I get is, "how do you find clients?" In this post I hope to answer this question and guide you through the exact steps you need to take to get your freelance graphic design business off the ground and headed in the right direction.

Make the jump to freelance & plan everything

Whether you plan on freelancing part-time or full-time, you need to make that decision and commit. You’re going to have to put in a lot of time to learn the trade and be the best service provider possible. If you aren’t willing to put in a year or two to get your business off the ground, then this is not for you!

Still believe that this is what you want? Good.

Take a few minutes and write down your answers to the questions below. The more in depth you answer, the better you’ll understand yourself and your freelance business. Your answers will help reassure you that this is what you want to do.

Take out a notebook or open a text editor and answer these questions:

  • Can you handle running your own business alone?
  • Do you have self-motivation to work alone and teach yourself?
  • How much will you need to earn each month to make a living?
  • What type of work are you going to specialize in? (Logo design, t-shirt design, wedding photography, WordPress development, etc.)
  • What type of clients do you want to work with? (Startups, local businesses, organizations/non-profits, lawyers, realtors, etc.)
  • Do you have good communication skills?
  • Can you take criticism? (You will get rejected!)
  • Are you going to be able to keep up with the constant changes in your field?
  • Are you able to work under pressure and stress?
  • Where do you want to be in 5 years?
  • Do you have a backup plan?

With your answers written down, you should now have a better vision for what it is you want to do. I made the mistake over a year ago when I first started by not fully understanding what my real freelance goals were. You need to treat your freelance career as a real business, because it is! You can also use your answers to the questions above to shape a business plan for yourself.

Building your freelance website & online presence

With your specialty and target market in mind, now’s the time to build your freelance website and online presence.

Treat yourself like a client and really plan out the content of your website. Build yourself a brand and be consistent with it throughout all of your online accounts. (Photos, colors, bios, etc.)

Designing is the fun part, but it’s the content that converts potentials into real paying clients. Draw out a sitemap and write a brief description for each page on what its purpose is and what content it will hold.

Typically your website should be home to a blog that pulls in traffic, a friendly about page with your photo that shares your story, a simple method of contact, and your portfolio of work.

If you lack the skills to design and develop your own website I highly recommend you purchase a pre-built premium Wordpress theme.

Getting your name out there & landing your first client

Clients aren’t going to know you exist unless you get your name out there in front of them. First thing you need to do is tell your family, friends, and other influential people in your life about what it is you’re doing. “I’m starting to design full-time, so if you know anyone that’s in need of [insert your specialty], let me know!”

Isn't it exciting now that your freelance business is really coming to life? Especially now that you’re making a real commitment with spreading the word about it?

To really start prospecting for your first clients, the most effective method I’ve found is simply search for businesses in Google that you wish to work with and “cold-call email” them to introduce yourself and your freelance business.

Make your emails personalized to that specific prospect. Here’s a simple example that you’re free to edit and use:

Hi [Client’s Name],

I hope all is well. I’m Brent Galloway, a freelance graphic designer in Ohio. I specialize in logo and t-shirt design.

I’m contacting you to determine whether you have any occasional or ongoing need for graphic design work that I can help with.

You can view some of my recent design work here:

If you have any questions for me, please feel free to ask. I hope to hear back soon!

All the best,
Brent Galloway

If possible, another great way to find potential clients is to attend a networking event. I like to participate and help out my local technical career center with judging student events and such. Even if there’s a job fair in your city, attend and pass out some business cards.

Speaking of business cards be sure to leave them behind when you're out and about – or even better, design a unique leave-behind flyer and pin it up on local bulletin boards or simply leave them on a counter at your local coffee shop. Another really creative use of your business cards is to attach it to a comment card. If there’s a comment or suggestion box wherever you may be, leave some helpful feedback/critiques about their website or stationary and paper clip your business card to the comment sheet.

Give value & become an expert

I’ve grown my freelance business immensely this past year, just from taking the clichés in life and putting them to use.

“The secrets to life are hidden behind the word cliché!”

You'll only succeed if you start now!

No matter if you’re just now getting started or have been at it for a while, you can really take this next bit of information and put it to use and boost your freelance business towards success.

While you’re sending emails and making connections, use whatever free time you have to contribute something of value. Here are some specific ideas you can try out:

  • Offer to do small pro-bono projects for an organization. Use this work to build your portfolio and to get referrals.
  • Guest post on a blog with an established audience about your topic of expertise.
  • Write a tutorial explaining how to accomplish something that others might find useful.
  • Teach a workshop at your local library or school. Maybe set up a presentation to give to a class or group of people.
  • Share your knowledge! Go on forums or Quora, and answer questions.

Show up every day

Like I said earlier, if you aren't willing to commit and put in the years of work then you might want to rethink your career path of becoming a freelancer.

It's hard work to build your own success out of nothing, but once you do start bringing in an income by doing what you love, it's a feeling that can't be explained, but only experienced.

Find your passion, stay positive and put everything you learn to use. Times will get stressful, but if you’re actively connecting and sharing, you’ll be growing an audience and this will lead to more work. Stay creative and keep the passion for what you love to do!

How can I help?

I’m always happy to help those looking to start a freelance career. If you're struggling with something or have any unanswered questions, let me know in the comments below!

Thanks for reading!

See my latest work and more on Instagram @BrentGalloway