The Journey to Finding My First Client
Where can a single young freelancer find a handsome client with a decent budget to pay her for a design?
It’s a tough world out there.
Online dating sites are just terrible. So are those massive online job-hunting platforms. They give us the illusion that there are tons of options out there for us.
I’m not saying there aren’t any decent clients on those sites; the problem is that they are hiding between options that are not promising at all. Most of them are not too serious – people who only want to get a cheap design and treat you like yesterday’s profile once they find a designer who will work for less.
So where can I find potential clients?
They say that having connections is key. When you’re just starting out, you don’t really know too many people. You might have a few friends who work in the industry but you can’t rely on them alone to bring you your next opportunity tomorrow morning.
You already have your portfolio live and shining on the internet. You even posted a link to it on your Facebook wall, letting everyone know you enjoy long walks on the beach and are available for work. Still, nothing seems to be happening. Sitting and staring at your inbox won’t make messages pop any faster. Trust me, I tried it for days.
How can you get things moving and get offers when starting from scratch? Here is what I learned from my own journey finding my first client.
Let everyone know you’re up and running
Which you are. Just because you don’t have a paying client at the moment doesn’t mean you don’t have any work. Working on side projects of your own, researching the software you work with, educating yourself about freelancing in general, improving your skills – I consider all of this to be work.
From the first day you decide you’re going to go for it, you should see everyday as a working day. Your home desk is now your office and when you make your way from the bedroom to your study, this is your commute to work.
Set goals and tasks every week, create a schedule and do the best you can to stick to it. By embracing that state of mind, you’ll be projecting it outward and you will appear more serious and professional without even noticing.
Social media is a good start, but it’s definitely not enough. To be honest, this is the laziest thing you can do to promote yourself.
Tell your family and your friends in every gathering. Talk about your work. The fact that you’re working will stick to their minds better if they actually hear it from you rather than notice it on their newsfeed.
Even if your friends and family have nothing to do with your industry, next time they will meet someone who is looking for services you provide, they will remember you. Many projects I’ve worked on came from friends of friends who were looking for a design or a video for their product.
Attend social gatherings, meet new people, spread the word – you’re available for work! It’s too easy to get caught up with work and forget to leave the house and socialize. You get tired and feel as if there are too many things to do which are far more important. The best way to create waves and make a change in your own pond is to throw in some tiny rocks every now and then.
Meeting new people creates a huge chain reaction in your life. It only takes one person to lead to something – to lead to someone – to lead somewhere – to lead to that one opportunity you are seeking.
Stepping out of your shell every now and then is necessary to give your mind a break from the thoughts you accumulate by sitting by yourself at home, working. You don’t have to attend every party in town screaming you’re a designer.
I feel OK with making sure I’m out at least twice a week either with friends or by myself. Day or night, doesn’t matter. If I manage to engage in some small talk with a single new person, I feel like I’ve done my share of networking for the day.
Show real and genuine interest in the person in front of you. Really listen to what they have to say about themselves and their work. You will be:
- Meeting someone new, which by itself is amazing, even if you don’t get anything out of it, so to speak.
- Creating an opportunity for them to show interest in your work. At this point you can easily slip into the conversation something about what you do and even casually say, “sure I have a portfolio! I would love to show you my work, I’ll send you link”.
Later that evening – once you guys are Facebook friends for life – send them a message. “Hey, it was nice meeting you today, wasn’t that concert awesome?? This is my website by the way.”
Done. You have no idea when this might come in handy. Lately I’ve been getting offers through people I met in this way months ago.
Talk to someone experienced
I have a friend who graduated a year before me and has been freelancing since. I sat down with her and asked her how these things work. She encouraged me a lot, gave me tons of helpful advice and helped me figure out my next moves.
Another friend introduced me via email to her friends who have their own business and work in my field. Once we were introduced, I emailed that person and asked to stop by their office so I can ask them some questions about how things works out there. I learned new and valuable information, and got to meet new contacts, which is even more powerful than just emailing them my portfolio and hoping something will just happen one day.
Try to initiate a barter
You need to meet some new people and add cool stuff to your portfolio. There are tons of potential projects around you. Maybe that funky restaurant around the corner inspired you with ideas for really cool menus, maybe some friends of friends have a band that can use some album art, a new logo or a cool design for their next concert poster.
Problem is, if they wanted to invest their money in a design, they would have hired someone already. The chances of them wanting your services are pretty slim. So now what?
You can offer to work for free. They will surely agree. But then they won’t appreciate it, you will feel used, those projects will take too much time and effort and you will lose interest in them really fast. Unless it’s for your mom and dad or a reaaally close friend, working for free is a bad idea.
Instead, try to offer a trade:
- A friend of mine took some photos for a juice bar and enjoyed one month’s worth of fancy muesli dishes for breakfast.
- I edited some footage for my hairdresser and got my hair done 5 times in return. I felt like a real movie star getting my hair done so often :)
Make sure these projects have a workload proportionate to what you are receiving. That way both sides are giving and gaining something. By initiating this move you earn experience, meet more people, and most importantly, you are keeping yourself busy while working on bringing in the opportunities you are looking for.
Moreover, taking initiative boosts your confidence and proves that you can always take action and shift stuff in your life without having to wait for things to happen.
Some shit will inevitably hit the fan. Embrace it.
My last barter attempt was an amazing learning experience.
That’s because it was terrible. A total failure. I did every mistake possible.
I wanted to edit a showreel of my videos and couldn’t find music that I can buy online that I liked. I decided to contact a musician, offer to design his CD covers, Facebook page and logo in return for him composing a cool track for my reel.
It didn’t work. Today I know I agreed to give too much for too little. As it turns out, I also picked the wrong person. He didn’t quite follow through once I was done with his CD cover. He was very demanding in the process. So demanding, in fact, that he persuaded me to make more revisions on the day of my grandfather’s funeral, saying it’s crucial it’ll happen that day because it has to go to printing.
He promised me he will make it up to me and give in the best work he can. You can guess how that ended (hint: he did nothing).
I felt so shitty and so stupid. I literally hated myself for a week. Do I regret any of it? Hell no! I despise this person and am extremely grateful for him walking into my life at the same time. I learned lessons that it would have taken me ten horrible clients to learn, all in just one person. That’s a major time saver and a crazy springboard for my own personal progress and character building.
Had it worked out partially, it would probably take few more processes like this to teach me how to define my boundaries properly.
Through him I also met another person who encouraged me to start writing. I can definitely say he changed my life. When I look back at what I had lost, it can be summed up as two weeks’ worth of work and an ego temporarily bruised. Comparing that to the life lessons I learned and the people I met thanks to this encounter, I see this incident as a positive one.
Don’t stop yourself from making moves and taking chances with people because you fear messing up, getting disappointed or feeling like you’ve been screwed. It sucks, but if we really take in the lessons we can learn, then we have more to gain than we have to lose.
When all hell breaks loose
I came back to town all ambitious and ready to work. I told everyone, and went everywhere I could and met new people. I even got job offers, but those only arrived months later.
At the time, I wasn’t seeing anything happening for me and I’ve been out there for two months already. The money I had from my summer job was starting to run out. I felt really stressed and frustrated.
One day I lost it. “Screw it all,” I said, and went to the beach with two friends of mine. I went on and on about how hard everything is, how this and that person has done me wrong, and how I’m tired and upset, and feel very sorry for myself.
After a few rounds of going in and out of the water and trash-talking life a little more, I got tired and went home. I knew that my next move was either to surrender, go get an office job which I definitely don’t want, or see what else I can do about my freelancing career.
Either way, I thought, I’m too tired and beat up at the moment so I might as well go binge watch some new season of a TV series or go to sleep and deal with it tomorrow. Letting the evening pass by when all I have left is my negative talk from the beach is very comfortable and easy. It’s also dangerous. Because it leaves me with nothing to look forward to the next day. It increases my chances of waking up even less hopeful and procrastinating instead of making any kind of move.
I sat at my desk, still covered with sand, with a piece of paper and a pen. I wrote down a title: “3 people I can message right now to help me find a project”.
Below I wrote 1, 2, 3. After half an hour going through my entire list of Facebook friends and my phone’s contacts, I managed to fill in three options.
- Email those guys from that studio I once did a small gig for
- Text that friend from the tech industry who told me of friends of his who might need videos for their products
- Message that relative who moved abroad and I haven’t talked to in years, who I know used to do something in the tech industry.
I messaged all three of them. It took five minutes. It left me knowing that despite my current situation, I made a move. Unlike five minutes ago, now I could believe that there is a slight chance my situation will change.
Things started to turn around
The first two contacts kindly replied they don’t have anything for me at the moment. My relative, though, replied more positively to my messaged on Facebook. I told her I wanted to start working as a designer and I want to create videos for apps. I asked her if we can schedule a Skype meeting so I can ask her questions about the market and how things work.
We had a talk the next day. And guess what? Things started moving in the right direction.
Not only did she give me tons of helpful information, she introduced me to awesome new contacts, and was also launching at the time a product of her own, had a real budget, and happened to need the services I offer. Yes!
Finally, I had it. A first big project which represented the exact goals I had in mind. Creating a video for a cool and inspiring product, for a decent budget and not for pennies… and definitely not for free!
I got a good contract that puts money in my bank account from the minute I start working instead of having to wait until the end of the project. I got my happy ending, which was also just the beginning.
Never give up
Always know that for every problem there is a solution, and three more creative solutions in case that first one didn’t work. There is always something you can do, or someone you can call to ask for help if you’re facing difficulties with getting what you want.
Be bold, and don’t forget to have fun while you’re out there. At least try…
PS. We’ve put together a twenty-step checklist for getting your first client. It lives here.
Sivan is a freelance videographer based in Tel-Aviv, with a passion for motion design, storytelling and stretching the boundaries of visual effects. Graduated from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, she creates commercials, music videos and aspire to create moving content for moving ideas. Here is her email address: email@example.com
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