Creatives reveal how they found their best clients

It's all very well offering advice in theory, but how do freelancers and studios actually find their dream clients in practice? We asked the Creative Boom community, and we share their best stories here.

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

When you look at your list of clients, we all have a favourite. They may be a big, global brand that pays well and gives you kudos. They may be a small mom-and-pop shop that you personally click with and get a deep sense of fulfilment from helping. Or they might be anything in between. Either way, you can't believe your luck in getting them as a client, and they make a huge difference in making you feel good about your work and career.

Or perhaps not. Maybe you've not yet reached that nirvana and are instead still plugging away with flaky clients who mess you around and keep changing their minds about projects. And fail to pay on time.

In which case, we'll start by saying: it gets better. Keep working hard, following the freelancing tips and advice we share on Creative Boom, and having a good attitude, and ultimately you'll end up landing your dream client.

Often, that will happen pretty much by accident. "One of my favourite clients was landed through a still unbelievable series of random factors, along with a case of mistaken identity," says design consultant Liam Fitzgerald. "It was a match made in heaven, but the connection was not planned."

Creative director Catherine Casalino tells a similar story. "So many great clients have come to me through weak ties," she says. "They're people I've worked with in the past who pass my name to others in their network: both people I've hired and those who have hired me. Sometimes, it's several degrees of separation."

At other times, though, it takes positive action to find your dream client. So to give you some inspiration, we've asked the Creative Boom community to share the stories of how they did it. We share the highlights below, and you can read the full Twitter thread here.

1. Networking

We'll start with the obvious: to find your dream client, you must get out there and meet people. "My biggest clients have all come from networking," says commercial photographer Kris Risner. "The more I put myself out there, the more I had coming in."

When you think of networking, you think about attending events, joining online communities, and connecting with people in your industry. And that's all good. But it's important to remember that networking can happen anywhere.

"Just take a deep breath and talk to people," advises graphic designer Tony Clarkson. "I found my dream client out on a cycling club ride alongside someone considering setting up his wine business. We chatted about things we liked. I said I'd like to have a go at the design work if he did go ahead. His is still my favourite work to date."

Designer and creative director Tom Muller also turned a personal passion into successful networking. "I used to hang out on comic book forums telling people politely I could do the design of their books better than them and that we should work together," he recalls. "More than ten years on, I'm still working with most of them, and it has opened many doors."

UX designer Duncan Buchanan-MacDonald followed a similar path. "I worked for the band Mogwai, and their label Rock Action for years," he recalls. "It all started when I got chatting to another non-drinker up the back of a gig one night. He turned out to be the label manager."

2. The direct approach

Networking is a relatively loose, scattergun approach to finding clients. But if you already know who your dream clients are, then why not contact them directly? It's pretty simple, really: just send a tailored email introducing yourself and your work.

This worked for illustrator Samuel Rodriguez, anyway. "I reached out to my dream client's creative director and asked to learn more about what they do," he recalls. "It just so happened that the person I contacted knew about my work and had a project fit. Good timing and great people to work with."

Illustrator-painter Louise Gouet has had similar experiences. "The boring method has always worked for me: my favourite collaborations to date started with cold emails," she says. "I make sure to keep them targeted and personal. Some won't reply, and some might have a dream project."

You may, of course, have to be patient. Illustrator Lily LK found her dream client by "playing the waiting game. Cold email, Instagram-follow and waited three months. Plus, I posted work similar to their usual content."

The thing to remember is that if they're your dream client, chances are that you're their dream freelancer too. So lean into it. "Reaching out to clients with personal work that speaks to me as what I want to do has been foolproof for me," says illustrator Amy Lauren. "It attracts clients who also love that subject, and then they keep me in mind for sister projects or recommend me because the whole experience was so genuinely passionate."

3. Use LinkedIn

While we at Creative Boom still love Twitter, many of you tell us it's no longer such a good place to hustle for work. With algorithms continually being tweaked, we also hear that Instagram and Facebook aren't so useful either. So where are creatives heading? Well, increasingly to LinkedIn. And many of you say it's where you've found your dream clients.

"Linkedin helped me a lot," says UI/UX designer Maiane Gabriele. "I had this crush on a company, so I started connecting with strategic people. I didn't say a thing, just sent a connection. Meanwhile, I started posting things related to the company and their niche. Then they contacted me."

David Webb of We Are Beard tells a similar story. "We found the right person on LinkedIn, made a connection and waited a little while before sending work showing what we would do if we ever got the opportunity," he recalls. "It was a slow burner but eventually led to a great relationship with ongoing work."

4. Be humble and open

Sometimes a dream client doesn't appear so at first glance. So it's important to stay humble and open. Because what might at first look unpromising, well... it may turn out to be worth sticking with.

Interior and architecture photographer Jak Spedding recalls the unlikely way he found his dream client. "I got a phone call from a lady who was distressed because she couldn't sell her house, as the agent's pictures were rubbish. This wasn't my usual line of work, but I wanted to help. The lady got an offer on the property three days after the pictures were changed. So she put me in touch with her marketing team, and I've made around £80K off that one phone call since."

Freelance copywriter Laurence Blume tells a similar story. "I took a call from a slightly disorganised small retailer," he recalls. "He wasn't clear on what he needed. He clearly wasn't a big player. But he was friendly and engaging. And even though I didn't expect anything would come of it, 17 years later, and under different owners, that business is still my client."

Similarly, saying yes to something small can sometimes lead to something big. Brand designer Ozan Karakoc says, "One of my best clients today reached out to me for a very small project eight years ago. It was an email invitation for an internal employee appreciation event. I was busy with other projects, and I could have easily said 'no'. Instead, I said 'yes' and created five alternatives."

Sometimes a dream client doesn't appear so at first glance. So it's important to stay humble and open. Because what might at first look unpromising, well... it may turn out to be worth sticking with.

5. Share personal projects

Personal projects are fun, a way to kick back, and a great way to expand your creative horizons beyond regular client work. Plus, sharing them can often end up landing clients who wouldn't otherwise have discovered you.

Creative director, photographer and filmmaker Xavier Portela has found his best clients this way, he says. "Personal projects can show your creative range and style and attract clients looking for something unique," he points out.

Illustrator Dave Flanagan has learned this lesson too. "In lockdown, I went into a panic, thinking I wouldn't get another illustration commission," he recalls. "So I decided to try something brand new and mocked it up as a Nike advert. I posted it on Twitter. And I got an email the next day inviting me to work on murals for the LeBron Nike Innovation Centre at Nike HQ." So his advice to others is, appropriately enough: "Just do it!"

Illustrator Tim Easley agrees. "All my most interesting commissions have been through someone following me on socials, seeing some personal work I did, and asking for a similar thing for their brand," he says.

6. Follow what makes you happy

If there's a theme that runs throughout these stories, it's summed up best by designer Stanley Vaganov. "Do what makes you truly happy because it will yield the best results," he advises.

He explains how a dream client came to his studio via their website form. "They wanted a series of services, and we kept saying no to most of it. They got aggravated and said: 'Why don't you offer all these services your competitors do?' I said, 'Honestly, because it doesn't bring us joy. We love doing this one thing, and you will get the best out of it because of the love. You can then hire all the rest to do the other stuff.'

"They loved that concept, and it has been the best experience with the client. Because we acknowledged our love for the things, we are experts in and left the noise out of it, which resulted in some amazing outcomes."

Form Play Animation add this timeless advice to the list: "Share work in the style you want to be hired for. Clients often cite our studio-led films on Instagram as their chosen style direction, leading to our best commissions. For us, these short animations are often better at generating new business than our work on big brand names."

Artist and illustrator Carina Lindmeier adds: "Always be open and nice to people. Doing the job is one thing, but being a nice person to work with is the cherry on top."


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