How to Get Your First 20 Design Clients In Under 48 Hours

View Comments by Bianca Board on 18 October 2013

I think it’s safe to say that the scariest things about diving into the land of the self-employed designer is the sheer terror of how you’re going to get your first few clients. All those fears, questions and doubts start flooding your mind… all the ‘what if’ scenarios. The panic starts to set in and your feeling of excitement is now a feeling of anxiety and self-doubt.

Breaking out in a cold sweat, you think to yourself “WTF have I just done?”

  • How do I get my first few?
  • What if I don’t get any clients?
  • What if I they hate my work?
  • What if I can’t pay my bills?


I had ALL those feelings 10 years ago when I started out. So, whadoyado?

 

Here’s how to get 20 clients in just 2 days.


Okay so picture this…

I’m 24 and living in Sydney working as a graphic designer. I call my dad to tell him I’m moving back home to country Wagga Wagga to start my own business. I can’t afford to do it in Sydney but it’s my lifelong dream and I’m ready to make it happen.

Then I explain that I’d like to live back at home with him and Mum for a while until I get it up and running.

The first thing he says to me is: 

“No way! That’s a waste of your education Bianca, you can’t come back here to Wagga, there’s no opportunity here… you’ll never make it.”

No joke, that’s what he said.

Now picture this: Red rag to a bull! 
 

If you know me at all by now, you know I take the bull by the horns when faced with any challenge so after I calmed down, I talked to my mum and thankfully, she was all for it. 

So I packed my bags and moved (for the 9th time in 6 years) to set up shop in my parent’s lounge room and start my first ‘real’ business.

Dad wasn’t talking to me but I didn’t care.1

I was so excited at what the business world had to offer me; I could barely wipe the smile off my face the whole 5-hour drive back to Wagga. (Needless to say I had very sore cheeks by the time I got home.)

So I landed back in my hometown, borrowed some cash off Mum, bought a computer, installed my software, fired it up and started my typing my business plan.

I wanted to do my due diligence so I headed to our local government’s business advisory centre to get the right advice on starting a design business. What a mistake that was!

I copped the same response I got from my Dad. The actual guy in charge says to me: 

“You’ll never make a go of it here, Wagga doesn’t need a ‘design’ business, they won’t pay. They just get their design done at the newspaper. It’ll never work. Get a loan, go back to Sydney and start it there…”

This was a small business advisor! No joke. I was like “Are you for real? You get paid to give this sort of dream-shattering advice?”

Enter red rag number #2!

Now I’m even more determined to make this a success so I put my thinking cap on.

Despite my dad’s best efforts to convince me I should have a ‘Plan B’, I’m a stubborn bull and I flat out refused. 
 

"Failure is simply not an option. Stuff Plan B, I'll just stick here with Plan A until I succeed." 
{Click to tweet}

 

So how am I going to prove them all wrong and get a ton of clients?


Enter ‘the bull’.

As I sit back down at my new desk sporting my best concentration frown, I get to scribbling: 
 

 

Don’t forget, this is 10 years ago before Facebook was a word! (Well technically, they were just getting started but there were certainly no social networks in country Wagga!)

Then Mum handed me a calendar that a school in Victoria had organised as a fundraiser and said to me “Why don’t you do something like this?”

God bless you Mum! I could have kissed her. Actually, I did.

So anyway, I crunched some numbers, did some rough workings of ad sizes, scribbled some drawings and decided to do a local calendar for the shopping area near my house. It was late September so it was the perfect time to promote an annual calendar for the following year.
 

My idea was simple:

  • Sell 20 x advertising spots in the calendar at various sizes and prices.
  • Design the calendar and all the ads for the various businesses.
  • Use the money from the ad sales to pay for the printing.
  • Print 4,000 calendars and give them to my advertisers so they could distribute to their customers, thus promoting their local shops and all those who advertised.

Of course, I had a few big ads in there for my new design business and on every page was ‘Designed by BRB Creative’. Hey, I needed to leverage off this as much as I could if my idea was to work.

I wasn’t in it for the profit, just the clients, but I did leave $500 spare in my workings for sundries.

Remember, I had no money when I started my business. I had a computer, that’s it.
 

My desired outcome:

  • Fast exposure for me and my new business.
  • Snag my first few clients and impress the socks off them.
  • Get my business into 4,000 households, 365 days of the year, and cheap.
  • Have enough work to get my business off the ground. (I was happy to just have enough for the first month. I hadn’t thought much past that!)

 

Okay, so I had my plan, and then came the scary part.  Now I had to ‘sell’ it.


Enter ‘the fear’!!!

I quickly got some business cards printed then I created a one-page flyer with a mockup of the calendar showing the ad spaces available. I planned to sell them on the spot by letting the first signups know they could pick the best spots. First in, best dressed!

I was implementing the ‘scarcity’ tactic before I even knew it was called that.

Anyway, I hit the streets. I was going to start door knocking unannounced and make a name for myself. Look out Wagga Wagga, the bull is coming!

(Just for the record, I was a nervous wreck under all my bravado. ;-/)

I had no idea how many businesses I’d have to visit in order to fill my 20 spots but I was determined. I wasn’t stopping until I had them all sold… whether it took me a week or a month. I just kept chanting to myself:
 

“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”  
 Babe Ruth
{Click to tweet}

 

The first one was the hardest. I got a gruff “Nope, not interested.” The guy wouldn’t even make eye contact with me.

Shaking like a leaf, I went into the next shop where I was told, “Sorry, the owner’s not here, come back tomorrow”.

Okay, I’m getting warmer.

Third one, BAM!

I was greeted by a friendly bald guy2 who was in for a chat. I got to practice my nervous pitch at last and he was sold! 1 down, 19 to go!

A win!! Re-energised, off I went, almost prancing down the street.

And then I knocked…. and I knocked…. and I knocked.

97 businesses later and just under 2 days, my calendar was full. I was exhausted but I was totally booked and that’s all I cared about. 2 days is all it took. 2 days!

I’ll never forget that rush. It was like a drug.

I was going to be successful, rich even! My business was going to have clients. I had restored my faith in myself. I was on a high! (Take that Dad!).

I started organising briefs, designing ads, collecting money and executing my idea. The calendar was a hit (despite some major printing dramas) and the advertisers loved my ad designs so much that I’ve never had to look for work since.

Here’s the tipping point... 

I worked so hard to really impress those first few design clients and what I offered was so much better than what they’d experienced before (remember it was country Wagga over 10 years ago) that they asked me to do more work for them, pretty much immediately. I started designing brochures, logos, catalogues and more for my 20 calendar advertisers and business was booming.

My clients started telling other businesses and before too long my phone started ringing non-stop.

Then the calendars hit people’s homes and I started getting inbound leads from that too.

Within 6 months, I had so much work, I had to move out of my parent’s lounge room, get a proper office and hire my first employee.

I’ve never looked back. 

>>> Insert fist pumps at Mr Government Advisor here!

 

 

But that was 10 years ago, what about now?

I know what you might be thinking….

“Surely there’s an easier way now with Facebook, LinkedIn, SEO, PPC, websites etc” but do you know what I think? I say:
 

"Forget about all the modern-age marketing channels and focus on forging real relationships with people."
{Click to Tweet}

 

I read this post the other day over on one of my favourite blogs, Graphic Design Blender. The owner, Preston D Lee, wrote a similar story about what he did when his leads started to dry up. The blog’s titled: ‘How I got tons of new design clients with this small freebie’. (You should go read it now; it’s actually what inspired this post.)

To get more clients, Preston wrote a book called “10 Elements All Web Sites Should Have” then printed copies and went and dropped them into businesses in person. Not an eBook, a good ‘ole fashioned printed book! Don’t you just love it?!

I think this is a brilliant idea. And that creativity, effort and personal delivery scored Preston a ton of new credibility AND clients.

I know it’s 2013 but old school totally works because it’s unusual. It stands out in today’s crazy clutter… and you need to stand out if you want to grab clients.

 

My final pearls of wisdom on getting clients.
 

  1. Get creative;
  2. Think old school;
  3. Be fearless;
  4. Brainstorm a way to get in front of people face-to-face;
  5. Persevere; never give up until you reach your goal. Good enough isn’t;
  6. Let your passion ooze out of your pores, every door you walk through;
  7. Keep smiling, even if you’ve just been hit with 20 ‘no’s’ in a row. Keep it up;
  8. Every ‘no’ brings you closer to a ‘yes’;
  9. Practice ‘scarcity’; and
  10. … don’t always listen to your dad. ;)


So forget ‘modern day’ marketing for right now and go old school. That’s what’ll make you stand out. It’s a rarity these days. Take the plunge, polish your boots and get in front of people; they love the personal attention.

 

What tactics have you tried to get new clients? Or if you’re a total newbie, leave a comment below with your ideas and I’ll see if I can help you develop them further.

 

Footnotes:
1I proved my dad wrong and we’re talking again now. I still give him shit about it thought every chance I get. That along with the fact that in Year 10 he made me drop Art as a subject and do Economics instead. He said, “There’s no money in art”. Can you believe it? I have a bit of sport with the old fella these days, that's for sure!
2The bald guy is still a client to this day!

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