I’ve covered finding awesome clients before. It’s still the ultimate goal for any service business to work with clients that don’t just pay you, but also get you. From passion projects to assignments that are truly interesting, there’s nothing better than working with great clients.
But sometimes, great isn’t an option. For every freelance web designer, there are times when great clients aren’t the only type of clients you want to attract; when any client will do. It’s easy to panic and think that things are eternally going to be like this, but the simple truth is that client crises rarely end up being anything more than a temporary setback.
If you do find yourself without major projects to turn to, don’t give up hope. There’s no shortage of ways to reignite that sales flame and start closing major projects again.
These eight strategies have the power to help you find instant projects, be it a long-term design contract or a one-off request. If you’re short on work, itching for a new project, and out of requests, why not give these tips a shot?
1. Use Targeted Pay-Per-Click Advertising
Most designers aren’t great at advertising (or aren’t as concerned by it). It’s the result of our discipline — with experience in the very subjective field of design, data-driven actions like direct response marketing and pay-per-click advertising just don’t feel right. Cost-per-acquisition figures barely factor into the work strategy of most freelancers, although they do occasionally pop up in larger design firms.
While pay-per-click advertising may seem daunting and slightly difficult, it’s a relatively simple discipline to master with the right mindset. Build a list of keywords that your clients are searching for frequently — for most, this will be terms like "web designer", "banner design", and "business card template."
Armed with your target keywords, advertise on Google Adwords, Yahoo Search, and similar services. Test which terms are clicked on and which are ignored, slowly eliminating the less effective terms from your advertising list of keywords.
Due to the high search frequencies associated with design terms, pay-per-click advertising can be an endless source of new clients, provided of course, you’ve found a point where your clicks convert to long-term projects.
2. Partner with Another Business and Share Leads
Freelance designers are constantly worried about one of two things — not having enough work, or having too much work. The first is the most problematic situation to be in, since it generally leads to a short-term income loss and a frantic search for new clients. The second is slightly easier to deal with, provided you’re willing to occasionally turn away a project or outsource to another firm.
Find another freelance designer — a good freelance designer — and team up with him or her. Offer to share your clients with them and provide overflow work, provided they’re willing to do the same in return when their business becomes overloaded.
Great freelance partnerships can lead to a constant source of work for you, and added security for other freelancers.
3. Search Locally
Local businesses and location-dependent contracts are often overlooked by web professionals. The small business design scene is, by and large, one that’s dominated by other small businesses. While freelance designers are a force to be reckoned with online, it’s rare to see one that offers their services in a local paper or trade magazine.
If your online marketing efforts aren’t working out, consider hopping off the internet and searching for contracts locally. There’s a huge amount of opportunity amongst local businesses, especially those without a dedicated web presence.
Attend your local chamber of commerce meetings and you’ll be inundated with potential design clients, many of whom are willing to pay top-dollar rates for your services.
4. Email Previous Clients and Offer a Discount
Fixing a client shortage is a two-step process. The first step is to contact your current clients, letting them know of your availability and possibly offering a special rate on new projects for a limited time only.
The second is to look for new clients elsewhere, ignoring your current clients and marketing with your focus entirely on new long-term projects.
Why then, do so many designers attempt the second step before the first? It’s a problem that seems to be endemic to all freelancers — whether they’re designers, developers, writers or illustrators.
In an effort to search for long-term opportunities, a large number of freelancers end up passing over their most proven and worthwhile source of new work: clients they already know.
5. Use Job Boards and Freelance Web Services
Few designers speak positively of bid-based freelance websites — and for good reason. The few that aren’t loaded with spam and work-from-home scams are havens for ultra-cheap projects, generally posted by clients with an eye for low prices, not an eye for good design. It’s easy to write off job websites entirely, but doing so isn’t always a smart option.
For instance, Craigslist can be a surprisingly effective tool for finding short-term design contracts, as can other freelance job posting websites. While it’s unlikely you’ll be able to charge a premium rate for your services, it’s very likely that you’ll be able to fill in short gaps when work otherwise wouldn’t be an option.
Tread with caution, however — it’s easy to get sucked into the short-term work funnel, which can leave you burned out and lacking a desire to pursue long-term projects.
A few job boards that web developers and web designers should check out are:
6. Use Industry-Specific Advertising Platforms
Pay-per-click advertising doesn’t have to begin and end with "Adwords." There are hundreds of different ad networks out there, some of which are built around different professions and audiences. LinkedIn, for example, has its own advertising network dedicated entirely to business-to-business marketing.
Finding major clients often means marketing to large businesses. Skip the queue by using business-focused advertising platforms and content networks that put you directly in touch with prospective clients.
Buy advertising space on design websites and popular web design blogs, discussion boards for small businesses, and high-profile job network websites.
7. Encourage Clients to Refer You to Their Colleagues
Your greatest resource for finding new clients is always your current clients. Whether you focus on design for small businesses or prefer to work with major enterprises, the most valuable resource for locating new business is the database of clients that you’ve worked with before.
Keep in touch with your existing clients regularly — a single email every couple of months is all it takes to keep your email first in their contact book.
If you want to rapidly expand your design empire, consider working a referral business angle into the way you communicate with old clients. Add "referrals welcome" to the bottom of your invoice emails, or even send out an email offering a small commission to clients that can refer new projects to your business.
Few clients want to keep you for themselves — if you’re good, they’ll talk to their friends and business partners about you.
8. Work with Commission-Based Marketers and Agents
If you’ve found success with client-based referrals, it may be worth building a referral scheme for people that you haven’t worked with extensively. The design world is mostly free of commission-based marketing schemes, largely because they just aren’t that effective for freelancers and small design firms.
But if you’ve got the manpower, a commission-based marketing scheme can do wonders for your incoming client count.
Consider pairing up with an experienced marketer or working with a firm that offers a complementary service — an online marketing firm may be able to refer clients in need of a website redesign, for example.