We are graphic designers. We have the know-how and creative ability to promote our own business like no other businesses can. We can tweak our websites to get the absolute most out of them. We can go out and network until the cows come home, (whatever that means).
And yet, even with all of our know-how and ability to promote ourselves, nothing feels better than getting a call from someone looking for a designer and hearing that you were referred to them by a satisfied client.
I don’t know the actual statistics, but I can almost guarantee that when it comes to freelance and home-based designers acquiring new work, referrals is the number one way by far.
Maybe you’ve been in business for several years like I have and have an established client base. Or maybe you're just starting your graphic design business. You chose the perfect name for it. You’ve designed a bunch of marketing material to help you promote it, including a stunning website with a great About Page. You’ve even figured out what your pricing strategy will be. Then you go out into the world, or more likely your local area and land yourself those first few elusive clients.
After creating some stunning designs for them you sit back and keep your fingers crossed that they'll spread the word about your amazing talents and start sending referrals your way.
In this episode of the Resourceful Designer podcast, I discuss one strategy to get people referring you. A strategy that I’ve used recently for getting design referrals with great success.
This strategy works best if you are part a niche you want to work in. Preferably something you know a lot about. A hobby, group or interest of yours. It’s not absolutely necessary. However, it will work better if you are.
Go to where like-minded people in your niche hang out. It may be in person or it could be online like in Facebook Groups or on Reddit.
The first thing you want to do is make friends and start creating relationships with them. Then offer help the people in that space by sharing your knowledge. Try to solve people's problems by answering questions about design and websites you come across.
Over time this will create social proof that you are an expert in your field and people will start to recognize you. Then, when they require someone with your skills they’ll know who to turn to.
Here’s the strategy that has been a game changer for me and the reason I’m getting so much work in the podcasting space, my niche of choice.
No, I am not suggesting you should work for free. If someone contacts you asking for free work turn them away quickly unless there’s a very valid reason why you should work for free.
What I’m saying is offer a completed design to someone who could use it even though they never asked for it.
Let me explain. As graphic designers, we are constantly learning new things, expanding our skills, and exploring our creativity. Whenever you decide to test out some new technique or tutorial, try out some new Photoshop plugins or actions you just acquired or play around with a new font. Instead of just fooling around with them, try designing something for someone who needs it and offer it to them at no obligation to use it.
Don’t tell them their current design is bad. Simply tell them you were trying out a new technique or such and decided to use their “brand” as a gunnie pig. Since you can't use the design for anything yourself, they might as well have it.
Here’s the payback. The person you offer it to will either love it and tell everyone about it. Or they will thank you but decide not to use it, but they will still be grateful nonetheless that you thought of them and tell everyone about it. The next time they hear of someone who is looking for a designer you can almost guarantee they will mention you.
The bonus thing is you didn't waste your time designing the artwork since you used that time to learn a new skill or technique.
Face it, If your work isn’t good you won't get any referrals from it.
This strategy works best if the person you offer the free artwork to already knows you. That's where offering help and advice to those in the niche pays off. The more you participate the more your name will spread amongst the community and become better known which is another benefit that will help garner referrals.
Once you finish a project for a client and you know they’re satisfied, ask them to refer you to anyone else they think could use your services.
If you’re not comfortable asking them outright here’s something you can do. Set yourself a reminder for two weeks after you either finish the project or two weeks after the event the artwork was designed for took place. When that time arrives, send your client an email asking them either how the event went, or how the project you did for them is working out. Mention that you enjoyed working on the project with them and ask them to contact you when (not if) they have more projects for you. Then tell them, in the meantime, to please feel free to refer you to anyone they think could use your services.
What this does is put you fresh in their mind again. If they do know someone that could use your services they will let them know. Plus it has the added benefit of building that relationship with them. You didn’t forget about them or their event once the project was done. The next time they have a project they’ll remember your effort and contact you.
If you do all of these things an amazing thing can happen. People will start referring you. What’s even more amazing is some of those referrals may come from people you didn’t even work with. Especially if you’re focusing on a niche where people like to share and help each other.
So whatever your hobby or passion is, be it motorcycles, line dancing, butterfly collecting or basket weaving, connect with other like-minded people online or in person and offer design-related advice whenever you can. Build those all important relationships.
If you follow this strategy the time will come when you will be rewarded with all the referrals you could dream of.
Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.
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This week’s question comes from Sulley
Sulley has a question about working online as a freelancer. I easily get overwhelmed when presented with a job offer such as designing a logo for a company. Mainly because I try to take the professional approach and I don't know where to begin. When is the right time to give a questionnaire? When do I create a mood board? How does a proposal come to play and how do I submit finished works?
I'm still learning to be a good designer. I started working for people sometime in the last year and I don't feel like I'm taking a professional approach which might hurt my design works in the future. Any advice from you will be of great help to me. Thanks for taking time to read all these. Hope you have a wonderful day.
To find out what I told Sulley you’ll have to listen to the podcast.
Tip of the week: Update your email signature.
I mentioned back in episode 2 of the podcast how it's possible that your existing clients don't know everything you can do for them. Help ease that confusion by including bullet points or a short sentence in your email signature briefly explaining what services you offer. If you're lucky you may just pick up some new projects because of it.
Send me feedback
Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org