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5 Cheap Ways to Find Local Design Clients

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Thanks to this whole “internet” thing, you can have clients all over the world if you’re a designer. Blogs, directories, and software like Skype, iChat and more have completely reshaped long-distance working relationships. However, there is still a lot to be said for local clients.

Depending on your city (or town, or hamlet, or whathaveyou), chances are there are a lot of locally-owned small businesses in dire need of design work. Luckily, you’re a local designer chomping at the bit to provide it to them. But how can you find these clients (without breaking the bank), and how can these clients find you? Read on for the answers to these questions: 5 cheap ways to find local design clients.

1. BE A LOCAL CONSUMER

If you want to find local design clients, the best way to do so is to be a local consumer. By that I mean: shop locally. It gets you out in your community, gets you meeting people and more – these are the cornerstones to finding local clients. Instead of ordering your new dinner table online, why not go to that small boutique furniture store down the street? If you go in there as a consumer, looking to give them business, they will be a lot more receptive when you [smoothly] let it slip that you’re a graphic designer.

In fact, that very situation happened to my wife & I when we were shopping for a dining table. We wandered into a locally-owned furniture store here in Edmonton, and walked out with a gorgeous new dining table and a web design job. How? It came up in conversation that we are designers, and she happened to need a website.

The moral: if you are a local consumer, you increase your odds of finding local design clients. It’s that easy.

2. PICK YOUR CLIENTS

There are a lot of businesses out there who need design work, and the scope is huge. From construction outfits to floral shops and everything in between, you need to ask yourself: what kind of work do I want to do? Once you have the answer to that question, you go find those clients. Do a bit of research on them, prepare your pitch, and contact them.

For example, say you were looking for clients in the publishing industry. How can you find them? I’d start by hitting up the Yellow Pages, Google, friends, family, and so on. Every possible avenue that might lead to discovering a potential new client is an avenue you want to explore. Besides, most businesses can be ‘found’ through any combination of the above-mentioned methods – if not, they REALLY need your help.

Let’s say I found Peter’s Publishing Inc thanks to a Google local business search. Venturing over to their current website, I am greeted by flashing gifs, falling hearts & various other crimes of design. It’s evident that Peter’s Publishing is in dire need of a website update – but how do I pitch that to the client short of saying that their current website almost made my eyes explode? That’s your department – you need to massage your words and make sure not to come off condescending or know-it-all-ish (like I talked about in How to Get Your Clients to Use a Design Brief). If you come off like a know-it-all jerk, they’re not going to want to work with you.

So you’ve written and rewritten your pitch a few times and have it perfected – you come off cordial, and mention that you think your design services could help in a revamp of their website that could lead to increased sales. Awesome. Now pick up the phone and call. That’s all there is to it.

As well, don’t be distressed if you get shot down. These things happen, and not everyone has a website redesign (or whatever you’re offering) in the budget right now. Be nice; keep the contact; call the next person. Because you didn’t just get Peter’s Publishing’s information, did you? No, you got lots of publishing places. It’s a numbers game – don’t forget!

3. ASK FOR REFERRALS FROM PAST LOCAL CLIENTS

I don’t know why, but some designers seem almost scared of asking past clients for referrals. Don’t be. If you did a good job, and it’s clear that your client was happy with what you did for them, ask them to pass your name on to anyone they know who might benefit from your services. They won’t get mad at you; they won’t throw you out on the street (or cyber-street, if you’re asking via email).

Remember, we’re all in the same boat here. I’m a designer local to Edmonton; a lot of Paper Leaf’s clients are small businesses in Edmonton. We all benefit from word of mouth, and sometimes it takes a little push to get that word of mouth going. For some clients, referring people they’ve worked with in the past comes naturally (we call those clients AMAZING). For others, it doesn’t – and that’s fine. It’s not like they’re out to get you. Those are the clients you need to approach and say “Hey, I really enjoyed working on your project. I was wondering, if you had a minute, if you would be willing to pass my name along to any of your contacts who might be looking for web design/logo design etc. I would really appreciate the referrals – it’s how I get most of my business”.

Chances are, they’ll be excited to help you out. People like helping other people out. People like being able to give advice (in this case, “Oh hey, I know this really handsome great graphic designer. You should give him a call!”). So use that to your advantage, and ask clients to refer you – because you’d return the favor, right?

4. USE SOCIAL MEDIA

Yes yes, we’re all sick of everyone from your ancient Aunt Agnus to CNN talking about ‘tweeting’. However, if you want to find some new local clients, it’s in your best interests to use social media. And luckily for us, we work in the best industry in the world – it’s visually interesting, and thus there are a lot of people who care about it.

Start a Facebook page for your business, and keep it up to date. When you have a killer new portfolio piece, add it to your page & change your status so people know where to find it and why you’re excited about it. Then hop over to your Twitter account and put a link up to that killer design piece. Then write a blog about your design process and post it. Then submit that blog to some blog aggregators. And so on, and so on.

See where I’m going with this? You need to spread the word about what you’re doing. Yes, Twitter & Facebook both reach much further than your local coffee shop, but you know what? I’d bet most of the people you’re friends with on Facebook are from your city, or used to be. People you met at a show, people you went to high school with and so forth. These social media tools allow us, as designers, to keep reminding people what we do. By doing that, we’re building brand awareness. And it might not immediately result in a multi-thousand dollar design job (although I wouldn’t complain about that), but down the road it could very well turn into something. Who knows? Maybe that guy who used to huck spitballs at you in Biology is friends with a guy whose uncle owns Peter’s Publishing – and through that [convoluted] chain, Peter’s Publishing saw your newly posted portfolio piece and wants to talk to you about a website redesign job.

Similar things have happened for Paper Leaf in Edmonton – so get out there and use social media. Remind people what you do – in a non-aggravating fashion – and that you’re good at it.

5. ADD YOUR BUSINESS TO THE GOOGLE LOCAL BUSINESS DIRECTORY

Search engine optimization is tough these days – there are so many sites, so many keywords etc. How can you help your web presence show up to your potential local clients? One way is to add your business to the Google Local Business Directory.

Why does this matter? Well, if a client is looking for a local graphic designer on Google, chances are he/she will search “[Your City] Graphic Design” or something similar. When a search like this is entered, the first hits that come up in Google are based off of location – Google Maps – and Google’s Local Business Directory. So even if your business is on page 47 of the keyword search “[Your City] Graphic Design”, it will have a better chance of being near the top of the Local Business Directory. This increases the chance a client will find you, as well as providing a valuable link back to your site.

As well, you can ask clients of yours to add reviews about your services on your Directory listing, which helps ease any insecurities potential clients might have about hiring an unknown designer. The only downside to this is that you have to give your address out – and if you work at home and don’t want your address floating around the internet, you’re outta luck. But let’s be honest here – it probably already is, in some form.

If you haven’t noticed, most (if not all) of these tips involve making it easy for people to know who you are. By getting out in the community, you can make face to face contacts with people who could turn into direct clients (or indirect clients, giving you referrals because you wooed them with your people skills). By making use of social media & the internet, you can provide another avenue for potential local clients to find you. You could be the greatest designer in the world, but if you just sit in your home office and seclude yourself from the world, nobody will know who you are. So don’t be afraid to tell people what you do. Don’t be afraid to get out in your community and get active. Don’t be afraid of using social media and the like to promote yourself. You’ll meet people, and the more people you meet, the better chance you have of finding local design clients.

Hope this helped – now go forth and find local design clients! If you enjoyed the article, please share and/or subscribe to the RSS feed here.

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