You Always Remember Your First
Lessons of Getting Clients as a Freelancer!
Disclaimer: This is not professional advice for getting your first client. Rather this is a narrative of my personal experience and the lessons I learned along the lines. This is purely my opinion and you can select whatever you want to keep or throw away.
In the beginning …
Every person that went into design school, at one point will dream of starting things on their own firm. It seems to be an inclination of the highly creative. Most likely, you will also start off as a solo-act. A freelancer. A jack of all trades. An army of one.
I was in the second year of Architecture school when I decided to take steps towards this. Starting and succeeding as a solo-act, in any business, can be daunting. The first question really, is where do you start? For myself, it was simple: get clients.
The profession I chose is inherently a service industry. At its core, architects provide services in design for the built environment. So the “client” is the lifeblood of any service-oriented business. So, therefore, that list needs to start sooner rather than later.
So how do you meet them?
For myself, I found my first Client in 2010 through an advertisement at the notice board of my campus. I found a “help wanted” ad for a local grocer located in Martinborough, New Zealand needing some plans drawn up for his warehouse. Part of the brief is to record the existing condition of the warehouse and a proposal for a new office on the mezzanine of the warehouse.
Simple enough brief I thought. One catch is the fact that I haven’t drawn anything serious in terms of construction projects. As far as the training of a second-year Architecture student is concerned I have only really drawn basic floor plans showing the organisation of spaces.
After a few emails back and forth and a site visit (which a friend drove me up to), the client and I agreed on the terms of my service. It was an hourly rate, estimated to take ~2 weeks. This is even with the fact that I really did not have an established business system. That is, in the real of marketing, finance or standard operating procedures.
After this, there was a series of other freelance work, mainly in graphic design, that I got from the part-time work that I was doing in hospitality (bars, restaurants, etc.). This is mainly in the realm of front-end web design, logo and menu layouts.
In the present …
Now it is 2020 and it has been 10 years since I have been progressively varying my clientele and the service I provide. The services range from graphic design, interior design, 3d modelling & visualisation and generally designing the architecture for both new and renovation of private houses.
But it has narrowed down and now I am simply focusing on providing services in the built environment. That is architecture and interior design. There is still that odd graphic design work and I think that is still a gateway to the commercial side of building design, but for now, I am focusing on the craft of Architecture.
So what have I learned in terms of getting those clients?
Always be on the hunt
It really doesn’t matter where you get those clients as long as you get them. They can be through a recruiter, through freelance websites, ads obscurely described online, it really doesn’t matter.
You just always need to be hunting for them.
For my profession, specifically, I often them through word of mouth and recommendations within the industry through people that I have previously worked with. This is in the capacity of either a contractor, consultants, or previous co-workers.
Lately, it has been through industry conferences, freelance websites (freelancer.com, UpWork, etc.), online ads, and social networks (e.g. Instagram).
Which brings me to the next lesson.
Establish and maintain a network
I am not exactly talking about going to network events, although some people have success in that. I have about a 10% success rate in those type of scenarios for some reason. Maybe its because everyone there is also selling their business and not really trying to procure yours. And at one point it becomes a screaming match. But I digress.
We meet people all the time and I personally like to keep a tab on everyone I meet. Either via social networks ( … and yes LinkedIn is a social network) or just simply keeping in touch. Their industry does not necessarily have to be the same as yours. The strategy here is to simply let people know what you do, impart knowledge so you can demonstrate competence and hopefully have them remember in the first instance the moment they need service your particular area of work.
This is not necessarily highly strategic or targetted but the most part it has worked for me as I know exactly how I can contribute.
Which follows to …
Know your skillset.
This is really important as I keep working on building work for my own. Clients that need your skill set will find you. One way or another. Of course, it is always good to advertise this but you still need to know what you are selling in a sense.
For me, people already know what I do for a living and the ways I can contribute to a project. I am an Architectural Designer with extensive expertise in residential design both in renovation and new builds. I usually get repeats in job referrals because of this as this sector of the market is very hot right now in New Zealand, and specifically in Auckland where I currently live.
I don’t think this is unique to Auckland, or New Zealand for that matter, but to be able to know what you can offer in terms of a service (in my case) is a great way of attracting the right client.
Know your medium of advertisement
Nowadays, there is a lot of options to choose from when it comes to this and this by no means an advertisement on the right option. Rather, I am advising you to focus on a medium that you yourself are engaged in and know to actually manage.
For myself, I currently have a website, a crafted LinkedIn profile and recently I have established an Instagram page. Albeit, I have one image. It’s a slow start I have to admit, but starting and the momentum after that is what counts.
So the question is: what type of advertisement engages you? It is a high chance that that would be your best medium, too!
The above are lessons learned from a decade of trial and error. For now, I have a steady stream that I can handle. No more no less. I know myself more now and therefore, I am happy to the opportunities that I say no to.
If you are just starting out as a solo act, don’t be discouraged by the slow start. You already made the hardest step by starting.