Struggling to find design clients? Here’s how I built my business from nothing

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Let’s pretend the internet doesn’t exist. Given that you are reading this blog while online I appreciate such a concept may be pretty hard to get your head around but please, bear with me.

Picture the scene.

You’ve left your regular paid job. You know you can make a living as a freelance designer, if only you could find the right clients.

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  • You’ve set yourself up a new portfolio website.
  • You’ve bought your own software.
  • You’ve drafted up a quick one-page business plan.
  • Your phone is on your desk ready to go.
  • You are building a nice little audience on Facebook, Twitter is a bit of fun, and you have joined a few forums, LinkedIn and online groups to chat to fellow designers.

But nothing happens. No enquiries, no commissions, not even one of those annoying automated messages.

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Let’s talk.

Let’s get down to basics. What’s your job? You are a designer. You help people succeed in business. Business owners come to you and ask you to design flyers, leaflets, business cards and other print collateral to help them promote their business.

So do it for yourself.

It’s the best way to market yourself as an expert: showcase your skills and gain clients.

Panic mode.

When I started out I only worked in print. Website design was a dark art to me; I had no experience, no skills and no thoughts of selling it as a product.

I also had no clients. On leaving my paid design job I worked for a printer who fed me work on an almost daily basis, but suddenly it stopped. He got an in-house designer and I was surplus to requirements overnight – and to cap it off he told me four days before Christmas.

The panic set in. I had no clients and bills to pay.

I could either admit defeat, or find new clients and work.

(PS: If you’re in panic mode—or even in you’re not—you can quickly and easily fill your client pool with Millo’s new project: SolidGigs. Kill the feast/famine cycle once and for all for one very low monthly fee.)

Knock, knock.

Instead of sitting behind my desk, hoping in desperation someone would see my website, I made the best decision of my life. I got up, walked out the door and decided to find design clients.

Initially I spoke to friends and relatives.

Networking has to start somewhere after all, and these people have friends and relatives too, so it seemed as good a place as any to start. The unfortunate thing is friends and family will tell you that you are great, you will be alright and everything will be a success.

They are not being honest.

You need to speak to new people. People in business. People you do not know.

Kind of daunting I know, but people who ‘may’ have a need for your skills are your prime audience and that means cold-calling, knocking on doors and selling your skills blind.

This is a whole new ball game. It’s hard work, and it will mean rejection a lot of the time, but each time you approach someone you will learn something, be able to adjust your pitch and take that experience to the next one.

Come prepared.

Walking into a business takes guts. You need to be prepared, and this means taking something you can leave behind:

  • A flyer or leaflet,
  • a small brochure,
  • examples of previous work,
  • anything that shows your skills and will make them remember you.

Most companies receive emails from designers offering their services – let’s be honest, these often get ignored or deleted.

A face-to-face meeting, however, offers a different perspective. As a breed humans love to talk and mingle. Speaking to someone directly ensures that your enthusiasm, personality and skills set are instantly on show.

This more often than not makes the difference. You can answer questions instantly, decide rates on the spot, and potentially get work in minutes.

It is here many freelancers fall down. You’re a good designer, you manage your time perfectly, your rates are competitive and you know you can do this.

No good I’m afraid.

Now you need to switch heads and leave the ‘designer’ at home, and work yourself into ‘salesman’ mode. You’re not only the designer, the accountant, the project manager and tea boy – you are also the top salesman.

From one comes many.

This is how it worked for me. One business agreed to let me do their stationery. It was only a one-man band but I caught him at the right time and got the job. We agreed on a price and I went away to start.

24 hours later I returned with his stationery designs and he loved them. I then pulled out a flyer I had also designed for him as a bonus and explained this was free. He loved that as well and, unsurprisingly, was extremely grateful.

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All I asked of him was that if he recommended me to anyone to tell them the actual cost of the flyer design.

By this time we were almost becoming friends. We talked over a cup of tea.

I explained my situation, how I had been left high-and-dry by the printers and was looking to build up new clients. He offered to speak to colleagues and friends and see if anyone else needed any help as he could see I was good, was an all-round nice chap, and the rates were right.

Free advertising. Perfect.

To cut a long story short…

Although the guys behind Wikipedia would beg to differ, the internet doesn’t always have the answer. Sure, marketing yourself can be cheap, quick and easy…but is that how you want to present yourself?

Potential clients really appreciate you going that extra mile. We can all send out blanket emails, but it requires a certain amount of conviction to pick up the phone or knock on a door.

Try it.

You never know where it might lead…my business, Designers Up North, has grown into a collective of professional freelance designers.

If anyone out there wants to share their experiences of ‘going offline’ then please, write a letter to…only kidding, drop a line in the comments.

PS – For all those people who are currently in a state of shock at the mere thought that the internet doesn’t exist, I extend my sincere apologies.

BONUS: Tools we recommend as you build your freelance business from scratch

Here are a few tools you’ll want to bookmark and use as you start on your career:

  1. Freshbooks: the #1 invoicing software for freelancers & solopreneurs
  2. Bench: for bookkeeping & tax help.
  3. Bonsai: an All-in-one freelancing solution for the world’s best creative freelancers.
  4. Bluehost: for affordable, easy-to-use web hosting—because every business needs a web site.
  5. Chrometa: Time tracking to ensure you never lose time you spent working on a client’s project.
  6. ConvertKit: for sending marketing messages to previous or potential clients.
  7. Udemy: for continuous learning on all kinds of subjects (including business).
  8. LegalZoom: for help with trademarks, copyrights, and other legal issues.

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About Jim Adams

Designers Up North is a creative collaboration of freelancers each bringing their own skill set to the team.  Jim is the lead designer specialising in print and branding. Matt runs the Southern side of things via Designers Down South and works mainly in web design and development.

Leave a Comment



  1. Great reminder. A bit slow at the moment and the piece was the spark I needed. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. This is a very kind sharing. Thanks Jim. I hope something like this. I now to find design clients.

  3. Excellent read, and very wise words! Going the extra mile is paramount, a few months ago I shot a Holy Communion in a church close to where I live. As I had just finished shooting the ceremony for my client, a guy who I knew who used to own a local pub, tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I could take a photo of him and his Grandson who was also having his Holy Communion on the same day. Of course, I obliged and offered to email him the photo – he gave me his email address on a scrap of paper. It only took me 15 seconds and I was just about to head home, so no big deal. Anyway, a few days later, rather then email him the digital file of the photo I decided to order a nice A3 print for him of the photo that I took. It cost me £2.97. I dropped the print off for him a few days later, I found out that he now owns a restaurant not far from me so I thought I’d pop round and hand it over personally. He was absolutely made up, he had a lovely photo of him and his Grandson, he was so proud of his Grandson, you can see it in the picture. Now this act from me served 3 purposes…1) It was my good deed for the day (I try and do this as often as I can – Karma!) 2. He got the photo of himself with his Grandson 3) Who do you think he is going to call if he needs a photographer? (or knows someone who does). He also told me to pop into his restaurant with my wife sometime and “he’d sort me out”…so at worst I’ll get a cheap/free meal out of it. Thanks for listening!

    • Yea exactly Steve. I ran a distraught woman to an ill friend’s house on a valuation. The other two agents ignored the tears. Who will she use? Yes picked me as I was human.

    • Jim Adams says:

      Wow, this is fantastic story Steve and the perfect example – thanks for sharing it here! Building relationships, no matter if they are professional or personal, is how to grow a business for sure – That old cliche ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’ certainly rings true for most freelancers. We’ve got commissions that we would never have been approached for purely because someone told the client we were the people to go to.
      A personal recommendation is, without doubt, a clincher in most situations.

  4. Thanks for this article! This is definitely an area in which I feel uncomfortable doing, but I also understand how easy it is to delete “cold-called emails”.

    I love just talking to other business owners, I believe there is value in genuinely being interested in what they do and just offering to help to showcase your work. Which will hopefully lead to free more “word of mouth advertising.” However, I’ve never done this randomly. Usually this is built on my own network.

    I will definitely give this a shot!

    • Jim Adams says:

      Believe me, I know what you mean Samantha.

      We’re a funny breed creatives, be they designers, photographers, freelancers, whatever we do….. often we are quite insular, working on our own and in a bit of a bubble so to break out of that and approach people is often quite hard – However, it works – and that alone makes it worthwhile. Keep us updated won’t you, would love to hear how things go!

  5. Referral is definitely the best way to get consulting work, but when you’re starting out you don’t have that. Walking straight up to the client with that special light in your eyes that come from sincere interest and passion always worked for me, even though I’m a developer and not a designer.

    That said it still takes guts and some amount of foolish self confidence to walk up to a total stranger you’re stealing some time from…

    I liked the free bonus idea, say what, I’ll offer a free license for my Mac app to anybody here who asks, the idea being you’ll sell many more for me.

    Well one can hope anyway 🙂

    • Jim Adams says:

      Thanks Duncan and you’re right – it does take self confidence, but as humans we thrive on interaction, whether positive or negative. 9 times out of 10 I’ve found if you start talking, someone will listen – What the clever part is requires asking them questions, let them do the talking – after all we all love to be asked our opinion, what we think etc…. You can take a lot of the stress off yourself by making them talk and then they end up asking you questions you can answer with confidence and authority.

      At the end of the day, if you lack confidence to talk to people, ask them a question about themselves – they will talk and you can listen. Im a good listener. I can then work out what it is they require, nod, agree, offer an answer and then ask another question.

      Before long you’re asking each other first names and then its much harder to walk away without anything.

      There you go – one tip haha. I shall send my invoice immediately 😉

  6. I can fully appreciate the point you’re trying to make and agree that seeking clients face-to-face is great advice, but am quite confused as to how “You are building a nice little audience on Facebook, Twitter is a bit of fun, and you have joined a few forums, LinkedIn and online groups to chat to fellow designers.” when your opening premise is that ‘the internet does not exist’.

    • I think you’re being pedantic – Jim is relating that the real business transactions are human and not through social media

    • Jim Adams says:

      Hi Paula, I see your point, but I think we are all told to use Social Media just a bit too much – at the expense of actually being social!

      Most businesses have a ‘social media strategy’ these days, a rather daft marketing term that essentially means building relationships. My point is do not make the online one your priority – Make the human, on foot, knocking on doors method your sole focus.

      Social media has the ability to make us lazy, after all its far easier to ‘tweet’ than to talk, to ‘like’ rather than walk somewhere and tell someone ‘Well done’, to knock on a door and show a potential client your latest work rather than hope they stumble across it on a social media platform.

  7. Great article, and good tips. Thanks for being an inspiration! ~ jmh

  8. I recently moved from Germany to Hawaii and found it almost impossible to keep my clients due to the time difference and sheer distance. (Often I couldn’t even arrange for Skype meetings.) So I spoke to some new local friends and they all had the same advice: go out there and join networking events.

    Now, doing any business in Hawaii is particularly centred around word-of-mouth and they organise PLENTY of small networking groups. So I started by joining a unique event called #aduphawaii. It is an annual friendly competition pitting the top local advertising professionals against each other to help local non-profit organisations.

    It was great fun! And though initially I just joined to get to know my new creative neighbourhood, my team (who I JUST met one evening before) and I ended up winning the competition. Since then more and more potential clients are interested AND great collaborations with other freelancers are taking shape.

    Aloha and thanks for letting me share my story!

    • Jim Adams says:

      That’s a great story Judith and another great example. You’re also right when talking of collaborating with other freelancers – I eventually got so busy I needed to outsource the overflow to other freelancers, and the first people I went to were guys and girls I knew and had met.

      At that point I didn’t want to just tell new clients ‘Sorry, I can’t help, I’m booked up, bye-bye’ – I wanted to send them on to someone I knew could help them out – That makes me helpful in some way to them even though I couldn’t help personally, and it also helps out another freelancer. I think we should set up the ‘freelancers charter’ here you know – a code of conduct that we all aim to help another freelancer at least once a year 😉

      Thanks for sharing and good luck!

  9. like this piece Jim. I’m learning quickly how to engage clients and it’s not by phone, email or tweets. It’s face to face. I’m even considering offering a free listing to my first customer like you did with the flyer idea. Like you, I go out door knocking and it’s a much more satisfying and sociable way of selling. More blogs like this please!

    • Jim Adams says:

      Thanks Stuart! You’re right though, you cannot beat the social side of marketing, and the irony of being told to use Social Media all the time, when frankly, its the least social method of humans interacting is not lost on me. As people, we like other people, being around them, talking to them and interacting, not tapping on a keyboard all day long hoping someone will listen or reply.

      Don’t misunderstand me, social media has its place, I for one love it in the right context, but people built businesses long before the internet was created 🙂

  10. Kim Solberg says:

    This is a great article!!! And it is very true – I have done many cold calls which have turned into many GREAT clients. This article has reinforced my thoughts on going out and meeting face to face now as well as cold calling. Thank you very much for giving me the encouragement I need to just do it!!

    • Jim Adams says:

      Thanks Kim! I’m so glad you found it useful. It really does take guts to go face-to-face, and even though not every meeting will come off, you will have introduced yourself to potential clients of the future in a far more memorable way than a flyer or email. Keep us updated on your progress won’t you!

  11. Good one boss

  12. Thank you Jim for sharing this, what an amazing read. I am an amateur designer but I can’t tell you how much of a buzz I get from putting a web site or a managing a print job together. I guess most of the readers of this blog have forgotten more than I know but please let me say thank you, I am partially disabled and this is very therapeutic for me, but here is the BUT! At the moment I need a new project and recently I met with a lady who owns a company to pick up a fee for an advertisement in a magazine I help with, I asked if she had a web site and offered to help if I could, ‘face to face’ she accepted so happy days, now my question! She asked what my rates were! This is the moment I found myself dumb, any advice from you or the boys and girls will be very, very much welcome,
    Best wishes,

  13. Sometimes “Old School” is still the way to go. Instant, immediate, quick, and easy don’t always bring in clients as you said. Take that extra mile and you should see results. Putting on that salesman hat is a tough one though.

    • Jim Adams says:

      Isn’t it just – That first time is the most nerve-racking build up until you start talking, then it becomes more intuitive and less planned as you react to questions and conversation. I firmly believe that if you love your job, that comes shining through – Something we freelancers can offer in abundance that agencies have perhaps lost? You soon discover you know a heck of a lot more than you thought you did as well!

  14. You give a new meaning to word of mouth marketing. Call it word of my mouth marketing.

  15. I think this is straight-to-the-point business advice that could lead to results for anyone. I think in our digitally centered world, sometimes it is actually more effective to go old school and cold call in person as people do this less and less these days.

    • Jim Adams says:

      Thanks Lindsay, You’re right, it’s almost becoming a novelty to meet someone as opposed to favorite, like or +1 🙂

  16. “This is a whole new ball game. It’s hard work, and it will mean rejection a lot of the time, but each time you approach someone you will learn something, be able to adjust your pitch and take that experience to the next one.”
    That to me is the key component in your post. This is advice we can apply to EVERY aspect of our lives! Kudos

    • Jim Adams says:

      Thanks Nicole! Thanks for pulling that out as that to me, was the essence of what it’s all about. Not taking it personally and using a negative as a positive helps – and you’re right, apply that to every area of your life 🙂

  17. I really like the personal ‘hands-on’ approach. Sometimes sitting here blogging, you only look for ways to increase traffic to your site but laying out a business plan to contact businesses may lead to greater things. Thanks for the good advice.

    • Jim Adams says:

      It’s the curse of the online world isn’t it Lenie, everything is digitally focussed. So pleased you liked the post, thanks for replying!

  18. James Daniels says:

    Hey Adam, I loved the blog. I have a question, well maybe not a question, I guess i need some advice. I currently work for the gov and I do web and graphics. Well i am thinking about starting my own company and as you know the first step is the hardest. The only thing that seems to be holding me back is the need to learn just a little more before taking the leap of faith. For example, i will be ready to go but maybe i should develop a few more skills before i go. As time goes on its seems like new things pop up. Should i just jump out there and go for it or should it be a slow process?

    Also another question. I noticed you provide not only web development but web hosting. What are the steps to do something like that? Do i need to run out and buy a ton of stuff? I would appreciate any advice you can give..

    Thank you for your time..


    • Jim Adams says:

      Hey James, no problem, let me see If I can point you in a few directions.

      1) Web Hosting.
      All large hosting providers have reseller packages. We use a superb UK based company as I find the really big ones offer such slow support they become a hindrance. Pay a bit more, get a lot more.

      2) Skills
      Is there a point when you know that the only way to learn is to be paid on the job – The digital world moves so quickly that you are always learning, sometimes on a clients job. This is a double edged sword for obvious reasons but if you could get familiar with the industry packages the rest is down to your imagination and there are a host of online resources to learn from.

      3) Your own marketing.
      This is key. Treat your new business as you would any paying client. Do a full branding package, brochure, flyer, stationery, website, email marketing template and advert for yourself. Within that you will learn how long things take, what to charge, and what to polish up on – We all have strengths and weaknesses and it’s figuring out what you are good at and what takes more time. For me, its HTML emails that take more time than the profit allows, so I have explored a multitude of options with success.

      At the end of the day if you have a computer, the software and most importantly the skills to use them it will all fall into place. A certain drive to succeed, the ability to work 12 hour days and a hunger to make it work no matter what is paramount.

      If the reason for going freelance is designed to make your life ‘easier’ then its wrong as it’s far harder than any salaried position I promise. If this is your vocation, you want it more than anything and are prepared for the ups AND the downs, then grab it and jump. It’s the best job in the world and you live and die by your decisions, commitment and skills.

      Wow. That turned out loner than expected haha. Hope it helps 🙂

      • If I may jump in here, Jim…

        I agree HTML emails are the devil. Most clients don’t understand that we can’t make every single email browser view an email the exact same way, and a lot of times images are blocked. This is just one reason why tools like MailChimp and Aweber are so darn worth it.

        I also agree that you are (or should be) always learning on the job, so providing a discount or lowering your rates because you’re not what you’d consider an “expert” is self-destructive in many cases. About 90% of us aren’t what we’d consider “experts,” even in our strengths…there’s always someone else we think “wow, can’t wait to be as good as they are.” Unless you’re doing something way outside your know-how, charge a little bit more than you feel comfortable with. It’ll motivate you to do a bang-up job so your client feels like they got their money’s worth.

        And Jim’s 130% accurate…working for yourself is a ridiculous amount of work. My boyfriend calls me a workaholic, which I hesitantly admit, but for the most part, I LOVE it. I used to keep an eye out for the “perfect” job opportunity that I couldn’t pass up — a government job or job with a local college that has great pay and amazing benefits. Now that whole 9-5 + commute bit with limited vacation (‘Murica! – land of the free, home of the oppressively over-worked) is hard for me to get excited about.

        Just my 2 cents. 🙂


        • Jim Adams says:

          …and what a 2 cents worth it is.

          I think ours is one of the only industries where the majority of people do what they do because they love it. You’re right, there IS always someone better and that’s what we strive to be, better. It’s what pushes you and improves you.

          But… There are a heck of a lot that are worse. We all know it, you go through your local competitors websites and you see some that you know you are better than, you care more, you provide more. For that there is a monetary reward and, as hard as it is, you MUST believe in yourself. No-one else will.

          On the flip side I constantly see designers work, nationally and locally, and ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ cos sometimes its just so damn good.

          I have also worked with, and met, some great designers that just lack that drive and determination, they think it will all come to them because they are good. Big fail. It won’t. Some great designers I worked with are now doing a job they don’t care about, want to do or care about because they didn’t care enough. That’s what drives me. I don’t want to do ANY other job. Ever. So I will work longer, harder and make each client feel valued because each and every one of them enables me to live my dream. Even the difficult ones 😉

          Passion, going that ‘extra mile’ and treating each job as special are what set freelancers apart I believe. Its not a few quid in the bank, its not just another job, it matters, because you are only as good as your last job.

  19. Great post, I really appreciate this. I’m actually doing this right now and it has already worked. Thanks

  20. Word of mouth marketing will always work. Many people are afraid to do that in this day and age. When someone does it, it’s like a breath of fresh air.

    • Jim Adams says:

      You’re so right Jason – You could argue a lot of businesses have forgotten the human interaction side of targeting clients and customers and therefore those that proactively pursue that method reap the rewards. Thanks for commenting!

  21. I’ve found that the only time I don’t need to look for business is when I’m ready to move on to another endeaver. Then the requests roll in.

  22. Hey Jim,

    We’re on the same wavelength here. Not long ago, I wrote a short piece entitle “Before The World Wide Web.” It wasn’t about advertising or marketing. But reading your sage advice — “pick up the phone, knock on a door — reminded me that a couple of decades ago, that’s all there was.

    The “make money online” movement has blinded us to reality. What worked well still works well.

    Have a great week!

    ~Vernessa Taylor

  23. At present my books are only available through the internet but I know I should be getting print done with Create Space and then I could actually give physical copies of my books. A coffee shop has already said I could put some there and someone just asked today where they could get a physical book. Time to bite the bullet-as soon as I finish the book I’d doing now!

  24. Shreshth says:

    Thanks Jim for sharing this. Yet is have a question which needs a practical answer. Hope u be able to do that. What’s with the database which you used for cold calling or direct contact ? Where you get that from ? One can’t find on internet. I mean the companies which you see already have website and logos. Why would they entertain anyone new ? If not internet , then talking to relatives and friends doesn’t solve the purpose because what if you don’t have any ? or you don’t talk much to them to ask for favor or go an extra mile for you. What to do in this scenario wherein you have talent, you know you got that cutting edge and you can work hard but ….client database is a miss . Now u can’t just keep knocking anyone’s door just like that. Isn’t it ?

    So please suggest me an answer if you got one for this and help ! Thanks once again

  25. Hello Jim Sir,

    The same situation is with me, I lost my regular paid job. Thank you very much for sharing you wonderful experience, I told my boss that ” One day I will have a bigger and better company then yours”


  26. Buck Tailor says:

    You can’t get clients when they have no money to spend. I see the same advice from every blog, but none of them say what to do when the clients can’t afford to pay you more than $20 per project. Elance and upward have the cheapest clients ever and all the jobs go to pakistan since they do work for $5 a job. Pathetic.

  27. D.R. Fideler says:

    I agree with this article 100%.

    While every business needs a website, trying to get clients from websites is very often not the best option.

    I built my book design business by using highly targeted direct mail pieces and followed up the physical mail piece with short, personal email messages, asking a simple question, with a link to my website or two.

    I got this down to an exact science, never have had to make phone calls, and have had years when I’ve had $100,000+ in sales.

    The last time I did this I sent out a cover letter with a 12-page brochure and the response rate was unbelievable.

  28. Great article! I’m a freelancer for about 1 year, and I’m using upwork mostly. It’s definitely super hard to get any decent price there. Most low-ballers are indeed from cheap countries and totally outbid everyone else. I tried raising my price in the hopes that it will make clients believe I provide quality (which I absolutely do!), but it’s not working. I waste all my month connects and get rejection after rejection. I live in a somewhat poor country and the economy is stagnant. I can’t hope to find a local business to work with… because there are no local businesses. Just the huge rich fat monopolies, and I can’t possibly hope to work with them. My only chance is the internet. And who would hire a Bulgarian girl when there’s a native English-speaking freelancer with 10+ years of experience?

    It’s quite tough to be a beginner freelancer in 2015, since most successful freelancers had already made a name. Other emerging experienced freelancers are also on the scene. I don’t have graphic design education and am entirely self-taught. Any advice for me? I have a website, I’m blogging (will improve that, I already know how, I just need the time), I’m trying to build some followers base (mostly on Twitter), but it’s very small, and I’m still no one so I have just a few hundred followers.

    So, where do you start when you have little experience, no official design education, not a native English speaker, low income (which is really pressing me hard), you’re introvert and have a hard time socializing….? I am super stressed and spend every day, 7 days a week, 12+ hours reading, working (upwork projects) and learning on how to make an improvement, but I seem to be overwhelmed by all the information and just don’t know where to start. Most people say ‘Write an ebook’, ‘Offer a freebie’ (for followers), etc. but being inexperienced, who’d want to read my stuff? It’s in a way a viscious circle.

    I’m not asking for an exact formula, but maybe more of a reassurance. Maybe an advice. Who knows… if anyone is willing to give me hand, I’d be deeply grateful and humbled! This is my email – [email protected] Thank you in advance!

  29. This all seemed so fast passed but I suppose it was much needed at the time considering the circumstances. I’ve been getting my online – act together but the push for interpersonal relations with future clients is indeed crucial. Wonderful tips and I’ll be sure to use them and pass them on.

  30. vijaykrish says:

    Very nice, Thank you so much 🙂

  31. Reginald Sunn says:

    Thanks Jim. This is really inspiring for me.

  32. Thank you! This is what I needed, currently. An inspiration to continue and move further beyond what I was right now. The hardships of starting out and getting clients to make my business working, to the point that going back for employment crossed my thoughts. Thank you very much for such inspiring story.

  33. Hello Jim,

    Great article.

    I’m a Graphic Designer from Portugal, and the local market is struggling to sustain itself.

    I was contemplating the idea of providing services remotely to other countries.

    With the selling point being the price and the use of timezone difference has a way to develop while the client or another Design company is sleeping.

    But I’m struggling with an effective way to acquire new clients.

    If my target clientele was in my own country, I would do some cold calling and some meetings with potential clients. But for a foreign market I think that I have to be a bit more creative and handle thinks differently.

    Returning to traditional mail could be a solution.

    I was also thinking about building a YouTube channel.

    What are your thoughts in a situation were simply meeting in person may not be an answer.

    Thank you.

  34. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    This is what I always search, since I also face the same problem. I don’t know how to get clients!

    Reading your post makes me realize that I have to meet face to face with any person, turn the ‘salesman mode’ on.

    And it seems that comment section is valuable as well. I will check them out later 🙂

    Thank you for sharing this, Jim!

  35. Great blog

  36. Mike D leon says:

    Inspiring…God Bless!!!

  37. thx! I really appreciate you sharing your story. I know that im a great designer and have the work from previous corporate clients to prove it but like you said, nothing is better than the face to face. and I also think business are so saturated with e marketing that going retro is the key. I dress really nice and have no problems sparking up a convo. Thank you again for giving me the confidence to get off my ass.. Waiting on my business cards to come in as we speak.. Btw do you think I should have a printed portfolio of my work instead walking around with an ipad or what have you. check me out when you get a chance.

  38. Sreejeh M says:

    Got An Inspiration. Thanks!

  39. Thanks for this article. I recently lost a major design client – they hired an in-house designer who was fresh out of college and willing to work cheap. I am basically rebuilding my business. I still have some good clients but I have a lot of income to replace. I have been making cold calls but that has gone no where. I decided I need to start going to area businesses and try to get people to talk to me. I printed a postcard type flyer and extra business cards – I am heading out tomorrow. I am scared to death but I like my house and my kids need food! ha ha. Your article reassured me that this is the best way to rebuild. Thanks!!

  40. Dear Jim,
    It was very inspiring to read your article. We are setting up a small family business in Edinburgh and it was really nice to know that there are other people who went through the same things we are going through now. The difference is that I am going to be the sales side of the work and my husband is the designer. Do you think this idea could work? My husband needs to work full time in an office job as we have two kids and a mortgage.
    All the best,

  41. Very interesting article, I am a web designer/front-end developer, I am a shy person so I tend not to be too comfortable approaching people however I have had some luck emailing companies which I have found on Google as I am wanting to become better at design and generally that has got me some work, and those people have referred me to others.

    I think you have done well Jim to go from where you were to where you are now. I left the UK (York area) to come to Spain to do more design as that’s what I love, and I especially love learning about design but am contemplating to come back to the UK in the hope I find a role which follows my passion and somewhere I can be trained.

    What I do find difficult though is if I go and approach someone selling my services, hey usually know about website templates, so finding someone who wants something bespoke is hard to come by, how does anyone get past that, I enjoy being creative and designing my own but a template for me doesn’t allow this and its hard to compete with.

  42. This piece has helped to point me in the right direction to help get off the ground. Cold calling is hard work (been there done that) but it is definitely a good way to spread the word of your business despite all the rejections. But after reading this it makes me want to go out there and get talking, and that’s what I’m going to do. Who was the client who started everything off?

    A very good read!

  43. Thanks so much Jim —
    Your piece resonates strongly with my own experience and values. I usually take the strategy of following up on face-to-face encounters when I’m out and about with a coffee date (coffee is cheap!) and then usually something flows from there…

    But, I can see the value in a more intensive, intentional going-out-and-knocking-on doors approach. (My other work is in community development so it absolutely makes sense!)

    My question now, as I picture myself putting your advice/example into action, would be — how exactly did you just “Go Out?” to meet potential clients face-to-face? Did you target certain kinds of businesses? Or just take a street and work your way down? I mean, practically every business can use some kind of graphic design, but some might be more a waste of time going to see in person than others.

    Any thoughts on this?

  44. Your article is very helpful to me, I just started my own business.

    Thanks a lot!

    • Your article is very nice. I just started my own business. I m also finding my clients.

      Skype id :- jay_designer

      Very interesting article, I am a web designer/front-end developer.

  45. sincerely speaking am not comfirtable with doing graphics at my college. this has made me a street walker looking at every design on street. just imagine I can see posters and billboards with less creativity, but still comes aquestion how did these designer get connected to their client. am so greatful to have read this article I can now see my way forward. thank you I really apreciate

  46. this a great post am setting up a new production house now i come to how to get and approach a client

  47. Yes this was awesome! Actually got out of my house and tried it today for the first time and well impressed with the outcome haha thanks jim!

  48. Thank you MR. JIM ADAMS, really it helps. Now i got a brief idea on how to get clients and i hope you can help the people who stucked, by sharing your experience and hardwork.

  49. lucas noah mogale says:

    Wow i really learned alot from what you said.i am a passsionate designer want to learn more.

  50. Thanks Jim. You inspired me to get out there and promote my mad designs skills. Kudos!


  51. I’m planning to start a design and art work team where I have nearly 20 capable ppl with skills but they need clients to work on design and deliver stuffs

  52. Thank you so much for making this article. This gives me the confidence to go out in the community, and prove my abilities. I read this because I am having trouble finding clients for my business, even though I have gotten a good response from people that I know.

  53. Charles Harding says:

    I have a print and vinyl business. I am trying to grow it, I would love to work with designers like yourself and offer my services.

  54. Hi, Mr Adams

    I read your post and believe me I jotted down some vital points to help me market myself. Thank you for this post especially the part that you said you designed a flyer for free so as you were recommended to someone else. uhm i like that.
    Im a single mum. left the printing press but still with a burning desire to do my graphic designs on my own.

    Thank you once again.

  55. Wow! Great article Jim. This article is me all the way. I am really struggling. It’s so bad, I’m wondering if my email is broken. Countless hours, I put in contacting people and not so much as a hello, I received your message. Nada! I started call calling, but after reading this, I will probably focus more time it, instead of emailing and messaging. Did you have any idea of how I could pick up some quick work? Or, any leads? I starving over here.. lol. Thanks!

  56. Brilliant and very interesting article Jim. I stumbled across this whilst procrastinating as usual rather than editing photographs… whoops!

    I do agree that face-face is the best way and I have had some of my most successful jobs come from this.

  57. This makes sense. I’ve been trying to get clients by sending e-mails but it doesn’t work. My only concern is that I am full of fears and my social skills are really bad. Whenever an opportunity comes, I get so nervous that I unconsciously sabotage myself. It’s hard…

  58. Gosh Jim, you’ve inspired me.

    I’ve been freelance 25 yrs and had a great ‘bread & butter’ client for 14 of those – they just walked all my work over to India, bit of a reality shock, and now I actually have to put some new business work in – TERRIFYING!

    Was so funny tonight, as I sat and told my (trying to be helpful) partner ‘Designers don’t just walk into businesses – there’s etiquette involved you know…’ when he suggested the same as you. You’ve made me think twice about the human aspect now and you’re right (as is my partner), people do like other people and a face and handshake and cosmic happenings lead from that.

    Shall be a portion of ‘humble pie’ for my breakfast tomorrow, but if it means even one new client, I’ll eat it with relish.

    Thanks for the human reality check. I shall come back with an update in a while…

  59. Really great article. I think this will help a lot of people out, especially when they’re starting out their business. I think that at the end of the day, everyone just needs to put the hard work in to getting their business to work. You’ll always get there in the end!

  60. Great article. I am going through this right now. I have one client that sends me work here and there, and that’s about it. I have a website, I try to tell friends/other designers to keep me in mind if they have work overflow or know of someone that needs design help. But I am not very good at selling and would describe myself as having the *opposite* personality of a salesperson. I am kind of shy and going door to door “selling” my work terrifies me. Your articles had some good pointers.

  61. Hi Jim,

    Thanks those were some sweet words of advice. Just what I needed today!

    I actually started being a bit more assertive these last months, went to a local start-up meeting for the very first time, and yes it’s not easy if you’re used living underneath a rock with your laptop, but only if it’s just for hearing some different perspectives and beefing up your social skills it’s more then worth it. It’s scary but inspiring and refreshing at the same time!

    This networking event is called StartUp Grind, and they’re organizing monthly events worldwide, I can really recommend it to anyone who’s in the same boat. I will go again next month and have my 30 second introduction better prepared 😉

    Besides that I do send emails, but with the intention to drop by their studio/office or have lunch and have a chat about ongoing projects and just to introduce myself… Having this personal click is insanely important!

    Thank you Jim, and if you’re in Barcelona I invite you for a nice cup of tea!


  62. Great tips Jim. Just about to do some of this in Cyprus where I live.

    My site is a one pager as I wanted to see if I could rank with one page! Sadly not yet even with good page optimization.

    So have started adding articles.

    Let me know what you think.

  63. Story sounds all too familiar, back to beating the pavement!

  64. Thanks man im going to give this a go!

  65. I’ve tried all, but didn’t find any clients yet. Can you suggest me how to get clients for my website?

  66. Great read! We all need to be reminded of the power of real conversations and more personal outreach tactics.

  67. Dear Jim,

    This is the exact same thing happened to me when I start my new designing agency.Each and Everything was the same…
    It was just 4 years before, me in marketing and a boy for designing, a small room, one computer 2 chairs and one desk. Not even a printer and no idea about a website developing and with zero clients… now we are a team of 10. but now the bills are big.. struggling more to survive… hmmm

  68. Hi Jim

    Loved you article! I’m at the point where you were at the beginning of this article. Left my job and starting as a freelance motion designer. Great to read that personal contact always gets you further than digital.

    Thanks for sharing.


  69. Great read Jim. It is true, sometimes without the human element of actual face to face interaction, you are stuck in your ways of a process of using the web.

    Networking has certainly helped myself and can open doors to other potential clients if you are speaking to someone who may not use your services, though know of someone who may.

  70. Great Piece you have here Jim. All my clients were gotten through word of mouth. Mostly through friends who trusted me… and those who knew I could program.

    Some times its good do some pro-bono for friends. Some times I just help out some friends and before you know it, they kept on referring me to their friends which ends on high paying jobs. Better than what you will get online.

    And I think building relationship is the key to building successful business. And once again thank you so much for writing this content…we need it to get refreshed at times.

  71. I’ve been lucky enough to branch out on my own while still working for a design agency but, like the work you were doing for the printer suddenly stopped, I fear if that will happen to me. And while I have the experience and am able to produce great work, it’s the finding new clients that’s proving to be unknown path for me. Reading this article has shone a light to this.

    Thanks and much love from Auckland, New Zealand

  72. Great article with some good points about finding web design clients.

    When I started out many years ago, I struggled to find clients and when I did find clients, they weren’t really good ones.

  73. Meenakshi says:

    Hello Jim,

    Loved the bit about the complementary flyer, not merely because you gave something extra to the client, but because you put thought into what he is currently missing and what would be of use to him. That indicates a sensitive mind, something I attach a lot of importance to and also something which is difficult to find today where most companies have a top-line driven environment.

    Personal networking is talked about a lot, and yet is highly under-used. When we started our graphics and website development company, we offered free graphics to clients so they could have a look at our work. Some of the designs can still be found in our Portfolio on our website.

    What is also important to note is the deal worked in your case because both you and the customer agreed on the price. With crowdsourcing platforms and marketplaces, customers are getting accustomed to cheap work, without realising the compromise they have to make on the quality and the service.

  74. I am a self taught graphic designer specialising in brand identity and I just recently started freelancing. I did start of with good number of projects but getting the word out there about myself as a designer is very challenging. I even promoted myself in different social platforms but its been almost two weeks now and I haven’t gotten a single client yet. Not even a single response or even an enquiry! After reading this it has given me so much hope. I will definitely follow your suggestions and up my game on self advertising. Thank you and god bless you for such an amazing article!

  75. Thank you for sharing.. I myself as a new designer in the industry I find it hard to score myself some clients. I’d get people asking me to do work for them and they ask to see my portfolio and then they never get back to me. But most people have said that my work is good.

  76. Hi Jim,

    Thank you for this amazing article! I am really wondering how to start my own design company consisting of freelance designers. I’m at the bottom and would like to seek some advice from you…

    I’m a freelance graphic designer as well who wants to start my own design company.

    Thank you!

  77. Robert Owen says:

    Very motivational I am a designer and just starting off on my own and I needed to hear what you have to say. Get off your ass hard work pays off.

  78. Hi Jim. Thank you for your great thoughts on this subject. I just started out to do logo designing. Please see my site, it is very new, just a week since I finished it. If you could give some advice I would greatly appreciate it.

    Also I don’t really get clients by using the internet so I just made an advertisement in a newspaper. Do you think that’s a good idea?

    Looking forward to your reply.

  79. santosh says:

    Very useful sharing for any struggling freelancer. I really in thrust of getting new clients for my daily wages. But now I knocking the doors as salesman 🙂 and its working… really awesome…

  80. Great article most web designers are hoping to get enough business through SEO, social media, blogging ect. Although you will get some results it won’t be enough to put you over the top. I had a top Google ranking for almost 5 years and my best clients came through personal connections. Important to remember you don’t need to go for the sale away when meeting people let relationships build naturally over time.

  81. Hi guys,

    My name is Shamila I like to be work with your team. I’m living in Dubai. please check my profile let me know what is the possibility.


  82. Hello! I just want tto give you a big thumbs up
    for your great info you have got right here on this post.

    I’ll be returning to your web sige for more soon.

  83. Double thumbs up, very impressive Jim! Sounds old-school but yes I agreed that works perfectly! 😀

  84. ciaran fitzgerald says:


    What is the proper etiquette in using past design work from current and past firms to start my own design office? Credit the work and list your role?


  85. This is all too similar. Knocking on someone’s door and word of mouth have been my bread and butter for returning clients and new clients. It’s takes a lot of courage to step out of your comfort zone and leave a for sure paycheck. I have done the same and even though I still work as a designer in the corporate world, I still freelance. I love it, my clients are great and it lets me scratch that itch of creativity that someone’s the 9-5 can’t satisfy. Great read! *high five*

  86. Want to be a freelancer designer dont know how to start

  87. Great article Jim! Thanks for sharing your experience and these great tips to getting clients for your web design business. We’ve shared our experience and tips as well in an article about the same topic and would love to hear your feeback 🙂

  88. Really enjoyed this. I’m looking at my new IMac with my second monitor and laptop thinking “I’ve got to make this work”

    I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna get off my ass and make this happen on foot patrol.

    Thanks for the words I loved the honesty and wish you every blessing in the future –

    David Dalton Graphic Design

  89. I want logo designing. Please guide or help me.

  90. Yeah. Fear had kept me back a lot, until I read this post. I am now reading it again with one client in my hands.

    You see these things really work.

  91. Thank you! 🙂 the lost art of actually communicating to real people is lost these days ☺️
    I have started a new brand design business and a wedding film business and it is so hard getting those first few clients!
    With my second baby on the way I’m extremely compelled to get this working asap!

  92. Hi,

    I started as a freelance designer 5 years ago and had worked from home for a couple years, however I am just now expanding my business and trying to generate steady long-term customers and just trying to get my business out there. I provide graphics design (print and digital), website design and development, and marketing and branding. Would you be able to take a look at my website and let me know what you think I can do to improve the look/feel or what I could do to generate the traffic/customers to get off to a great start?

    Thank you,
    Andrea Irvin
    New Life Design Graphics

  93. Dear Sir,
    I’m Asadullah from Peshawar Pakistan. Sir, I wanna learn the web designing course from you would you help me about that.

  94. Great article! I have been thinking of doing this for a long time now but haven’t mustered up the courage. Would this approach also be effective if I gave them a call? Would really appreciate some help here.

  95. Thanks for the article! I’ve just recently become a freelance web designer and am experiencing the same thing you mentioned in the beginning of the article. I’ve only been cold emailing/calling and have managed to gain some interest and a meeting but nothing official just yet. I think a lot of designers as you mentioned do not like the selling part, I’ve been quite lucky in that I am experienced in recruitment so am used to high volumes of business development. I will be definitely trying what you suggest even if it is really uncomfortable, I’ve just signed up to my first business network event for my town so fingers crossed!

  96. I’m going to start doing this, walking into businesses that I can help and pitching my services. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  97. Great article, thanks! I left my agency job 5 months ago and had a pretty good run with freelance roles working in-house for various agencies…”This freelancing stuff is easy” I told myslef…Now over the last couple of weeks those roles have dwindled and I’m sh*tting myself! This article has helped me understand what I need to do…get out of my dressing gown and go make it happen!

  98. I left my office job two months ago to go solo. Spent that time building my online presence and to no surprise nothing has come from it, nothing.

    How did you figure out who to approach?

  99. Fantastic article. I’m just starting out and searching for my next client.
    It’s great to read the honest feedback.

  100. Thanks for sharing all the awesome info and resources. The book keeping software in particular is of interest checking it out now.


  1. […] Struggling to find design clients? Here’s how I built my business from nothing – Potential clients really appreciate you going that extra mile. We can all send out blanket emails, but it requires a certain amount of conviction to pick up the phone or knock on a door. […]

  2. […] • Struggling to find design clients? Jim Adams shares why (and how) he took matters into his own hands and went knocking on doors. Here’s what happened. […]

  3. […] Traditional methods of finding clients still work…and some of them have better success rates now that they’re not “the latest thing.” […]


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