Tips For Designers

The Homework of Finding Clients

I used to think the days of cold pizza and warm root beer were behind me. I had been ready to burn any college-lined notebook in a blaze of glory. I thought I was done Googling answers for everything. I was sadly, sadly mistaken.

Turns out, just because school is over doesn’t mean the homework stops.

In my journey of freelancing, I’ve learned a designer’s job doesn’t begin with sketching, but rather with homework and research. My clients are the bread and butter of my business, so it would be sloppy of me to take them on blindly. So if you’ve ever been curious how deep a designer goes into research, here’s the top four things I look at when scoping out a potential client:

Their Validity:

I get a lot of messages from people who appear to think they’ve founded the next Apple. As much as I would love to believe they’re Steve Jobs reincarnated, I’ve learned it’s best to do a little digging before hanging my hat on their dreams. The first stop I take is LinkedIn.
(Tip: If you want to land a quality designer, ensure your LinkedIn presence is professional and appealing.)
Unless you’ve never had the joy of connecting to WiFi, you no doubt know that LinkedIn is the professional’s Facebook. I usually don’t feel secure if a client is not found on it, because it speaks to their level of investment in their company. While there’s always a rare case, the lack of a LinkedIn profile gives me great levels of doubt.
My second stop is always a Google search. If someone has had bad press, or terrible reviews, it’s hard to hide it from the all-seeing Google gods. I like knowing as much as possible about a potential client before even initially responding, so a few minutes looking into their company or even whatever personal information is available helps me begin to determine if we’d be a good fit.

Their Mission:

Sometimes I get an email that gives a wonderfully detailed outline of what someone is looking for. Sometimes I get five words. I treat both with the same homework. A very important aspect I look at is the client’s WHY. If they’re asking for a logo, I want to know WHY they’re asking. Do they already have one but it looks outdated? Are they a single mom who’s decided to take her basement business to the next level? Are they unhappy with their current designer and need a fresh take?
If I’ve learned one thing from freelancing, it’s that no two projects are the same.
So I spend time trying to find out the why, usually through a website or social media presence.

Their Size/Reach:

If you’ve spent any time on my blog, you probably know I’m not a fan of free work. It devalues the industry, and I believe the best creativity arrives amidst acknowledge respect. But there are MANY people in the world who disagree, which is why I often am asked to do work for no reward other than “exposure.” You can find many students who fall for that, and I used to be the same way. But if you get burned once or twice, you learn pretty quickly that exposure is almost never equal to cold, hard cash. But I am often willing to work at a reduced rate for certain clients, such as:
  • Non-profits with a cause I believe in
  • A project that I don’t have much experience in, but I want to gain more
  • A super-fun project that reaches a massive audience and gives me creative freedom and direction from a company that is proven to be successful and respects the skills I bring to the table

A lot of people think their project falls into that last one. I’ve learned that kind of client is the unicorn of the industry: as rare as they come. So more often than not, the promises of “exposure” and “unlimited future work” fall on seasoned ears, and I maintain my rates.

Their PR:

I’m very aware that my name and my business is attached to my work. So I’m very careful of the kind of clients I work with. I’ve turned down work if there’s anything risqué or unsavory involved, since that’s not the type of work I want to produce. I’ve turned down work if it goes against stances I believe in, because I have the freedom to choose what kind of work I invest into. I also evaluate a company’s public relations standards. If they have a lot of negative reviews, they go on Twitter rants, or they bash competitors, I don’t work with them.
This is a tip to fellow freelancers: Money isn’t equal to the headache that can come from being associated with a bad company.
I view my clients as partners, so I take time to ensure that I’m partnering with the right people. If you’ve received some helpful info, or you have any homework to add to this list, please share, comment, and like!