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Get the design clients you want by defining what you do

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One of the more important things you can do in building your successful freelance design business is to determine exactly the kind of work you want to do, and what you want to accomplish. This may sound obvious, but it’s not always as easy as you might think.

As you develop your skills, you may find yourself with the ability to take on work that is outside the scope of what you got into the freelance business for.

Extra money can’t hurt, but there’s potential there of hurting your business as you try to expand too quickly.

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Let’s say you’re a web designer, but someone approaches you to do a poster. Will you take on that project? Most of the time you might as well (if it’s a project you’re qualified for), since it’s always nice to have a bit of variety and round out your skills (and the money is always an incentive).

However, if your print skills are shaky, you don’t want to risk hurting your reputation as a stellar web designer by turning out a mediocre poster.

Also, if you have a bunch of pressing assignments to get done and this random print job would be a distraction from your primary source of income, it may be wise to turn it down. Just remember to be nice about it. Explain that you’re too busy currently but would love to discuss future work.


If you have the time to take on projects that differ from your goals, great–try it out and see what you can do.

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The problem comes when these side projects start to take more and more of your time, keeping you from the work you enjoy doing and are best at.

Without a clear picture of what that desired work is, you may find yourself accepting projects may look good at first glance, but don’t end up being fruitful for your business.

So what kind of services should you offer and be willing to perform? Do you enjoy a variety of work or are you happy taking one aspect of design work that you excel at and making that your top priority?

A few questions to ask yourself:

  • What are my top skills?
  • What kind of work do I enjoy doing?
  • Can I be profitable doing just this work, or do I need to supplement my income with other types of projects?

Defining your work for yourself

Setting goals for your business is a huge part of making it successful, and without knowing what you want to accomplish down the road, it’s difficult to set attainable goals along the way.

Say you want to be strictly a web designer for fashion websites. With that objective in mind, you can start asking yourself what kind of work you can take on now to get you closer to that goal. Maybe fashion magazines, blogs, or other work in that field, but doing a newspaper ad for a local auto mechanic probably won’t take you in the right direction.

Defining your work for your clients

Give them a clear idea of what your strengths are and what type of projects you’re willing to take on. Potential clients often base their hires on work in your portfolio that is similar to their vision for the project. If you have a solid selection of work that you are pleased with, you’re more likely to attract similar work.

Listing too many services that you offer as an individual can make you seem like a “jack of all trades, master of none.” If you don’t have killer portfolio pieces in a particular media to back up your skills, don’t list it.

Calling all freelance designers!

How do you define the work you do? Are you clear about certain media or styles you’re willing to take on, or do you specify certain areas?

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  1. Great advice Dan! Thanks for that. Well I guess this also goes for all lines of work.

    We shouldn’t be taking our strengths for granted and should be emphasizing that to our clients more than our weaknesses.

    However, it’ll also be exciting if we continue to learn new stuff and cultivate our craft as time allows us to do. 🙂

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  3. Michael Port talks about this in his book “Book Yourself Solid”. If you’re a freelancer and you haven’t read that book yet, you really should.

    He calls it his “Red Velvet Rope” policy.

    One thing it looks like you missed (or I missed) in the article is that you actually want clients that are great to work with. You’re spending more time with them than your family, so you ought to enjoy the work you do AS WELL as the people you’re doing it for.

    I’m sure we’ve all had that one client that we swear we’ll never deal with again. The one that asks for everything yesterday. Or never pays you on time. Or is super quick to point the finger and blame you but exceedingly slow in offering praise or admitting that it was not your fault at all.

    Having a “Red Velvet Rope” policy helps with that.

    Maybe you only want to work with companies of a certain size, that can only have a single person interact with you so you’re not thrown to the wolves in design by committee. Maybe you don’t ever want to deal with the middle-yes-man that does little more than pass along comments and direction from some hidden puppet master.

    Freelance Funnel (http://freelancefunnel.com/) – More Leads, Better Leads, Delivered Daily.


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