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how i went from zero clients to booking out months in advance

JULY 20, 2019

Since before I'd even graduated, I knew I'd love to one day work as a freelance designer. Art school taught me a multitude of sins things, my first junior design role taught me even more, but the thought of failure held me back from pursuing my dream.

After 7 years working at a design agency [and two children], I found myself at a point in life where I didn't have much of a choice. I was nearing the end of maternity leave and my eldest child was close to starting school. The design studio I worked at was a 40 minute drive each way meaning I'd barely be able to spend much time there after the school run (and then having to leave early for pick-up). It felt like the right time to go for it, though I had little confidence and not a clue if I'd succeed.

It's now been 3 years since I started a new journey setting up on my own and I've learnt so much about running a business; you can know the ins and outs of everything design-related, but starting a business will teach you more than you ever thought possible. I've learned about the importance of building solid foundations with clients, marketing and promotion, networking online when physical networking just isn't a possibility (thanks, kids!) and thanks to all of the above, I'm finally booking jobs in at least a month in advance and earning a constant wage working on projects that I really love. Here's how I went from zero clients to booking out:

1. Find your niché.

When I started out as a freelance designer, I didn't know how to limit what I could offer my clients. As designers, we are able to offer a variety of different skillsets; we can design leaflets, advertisements, posters, focus on print and artworking or we can design websites, social media graphics and everything digital. We can design logos, build brand identities or we can stick to lettering, creating illustrations or inventing typefaces. To grow, you need to appeal to your dream client and to do that you must narrow down your niché. What is it exactly that you're best at and what do you enjoy the most about being a designer?

I finally realised that my talent lies in designing logos and brand identities for small (mostly female-run) businesses, so I got to work on targeting my website and the packages I offer to those particular clients. I filled my portfolio with brand identities I'd worked on as well as conceptual projects for when clients were scarce and I put together a branding package that included everything a small business would require for their identity when setting up a business. If you only showcase the kind of work you want to be working on, you'll find those are the types of projects you start bringing in.

2. Grow an audience.

It's no easy feat to build your own audience via social media. As I'd been running a blog previous to setting up my design business, I had a small audience to begin with. If you're not able to physically network, you need to get good at digital networking. Focus on 1 or 2 social media networks (I mostly post on Instagram and Facebook, occasionally Dribbble) and make sure you regularly post about what you're working on, showcase your designs and interact with your audience. Follow like-minded folks (designers that are doing the same thing as you) and talk each other up.

Join appropriate Facebook groups, such as 'Small businesses in [your location]' and other small business networks. Groups such as Societygal and The Creative Gal Gang are a great place to make friends with other designers, share your work and comment on others. The number one rule is to interact in these groups; don't just spam your work as no one will be interested, but if you offer help and advice, commenting on as many threads as you can, other group members will remember you and eventually start coming to you or recommending you to others they know looking for a designer. Interacting in Facebook groups has been a complete game-changer for me with getting enquiries from potential clients.

3. Convert enquiries into bookings.

Now you're starting to get enquiries coming in, you need to convert them into bookings (lots to think about before you even get to designing, isn't there?). When I first started out, I'd reply to any enquiry by simply firing off a few sentences outlining my rates and time and time again I wouldn't get any replies. After reading an article (one I wish I'd bookmarked), I realised why my enquiries weren't converting into booking clients.

If I were on the receiving end of this email, would I really want to invest £XXX in something that I don't really know much about? How could I know how much time and effort goes into designing a brand identity behind the scenes? How could I be sure I'd be happy with my investment? I couldn't. All of those potential clients were seeing was a price without knowing what it would actually get them.

So, one evening I wrote down each stage I go through from the start to the finish of any project I work on, from the intial discussion to creating a moodboard and strategy for the brand, to the design process and any deliverables my clients can expect to receive. I took it one step further and started to attach any moodboard/strategy documents and brand concept presentations I'd created for previous clients so that potential clients would be able to see exactly what they would be getting in return for their investment. It took about an hour to write, revise and perfect, but now I am able to simply paste into any email when receiving an enquiry.

Since making the above changes, I now tend to book around 85% of enquiries as opposed to the 15-20% of bookings I was making before. I continue to market and promote any projects I finish working on and I slow down only when I'm booked a month or two in advance. I also start to consider increasing my rates when I'm booked 2-3 months in advance and as demand grows for my services.

It took years for me to start consistently booking clients but as long as you're doing what you love and what you have a passion for, stick at it and you can get there. Most of the time, I have no idea what I'm doing but hard work really does pay off and you'll soon realise that things are steadily improving, even if at times it doesn't feel like it. I now wake up everyday realising I'm living my dream job and I'll be forever grateful that I never gave up.



kaye did an awesome job! she was patient with me throughout the editing process and helped me bring my vision to life"


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