Our panel of experts discuss the all-important question of how they go about sourcing work – and, if they have a steady stream of clients coming to them, how they reached that enviable state
I've found the best way to get good clients is to form a network with other freelancers. That way if anyone is too busy to take on new work, or they are offered a project that doesn't fit their skills, they'll be able to recommend someone they know. When I've got availability coming up, I tell the designers I've enjoyed working with before because often they'll get a project that needs a developer.
Anna is a freelance frontend developer
At Bluegg we are lucky that the majority of our clients come to us from recommendations and word of mouth. The only way this is possible is, of course, forming relationships with clients and delivering what was agreed on time and to budget. We invest a lot of time in our clients, and it clearly works for us as existing clients come back for new projects and suggest us to others. We can't only rely on this as a way of getting new work though so our business director also does a lot of networking and travelling around the UK to meet prospective clients. Sometimes these become live clients and projects, but they tend to 'top up' the long-term clients.
The good reputation we have, which leads to recommendations, comes from 10 years or hard work and creating a reputation as a talented agency that is fun but professional to work with. We're in a very fortunate position.
Rob Mills is studio manager of creative agency Bluegg
In the four years I've been freelancing, I've been so lucky as I've never had to find work or pitch to potential clients. When I started out, I had a few fantastic mentors who recommended me to their friends. As time went on, the people I worked with would then recommend me to more people, and it's just kept snowballing.
I don't think this is necessarily because I'm the best designer or developer, but I really make an effort to create good working relationships. I think clients value friendliness, honesty and frequent communication. Unfortunately these qualities can be rare in some freelancers, so if you've got them honed for yourself, clients will want to shout about you.
I also get a lot of work through Twitter and my blog. Again, I think it's about friendliness and honesty. If people feel as though they know you through your blog posts and tweets, they're more likely to trust you with their project.
Laura is a freelance designer
We win clients by being disruptive, finding problems by researching in select industries that are on our ‘allowed’ list, and then brainstorming ideas we can deliver for them.
Our allowed list is generated by a number of key principles such as experience, credibility, whether we can conceptualise the ideas easily for example. Research comes from reading up on industry news; for instance, we know there are a great many midweek match tickets for football clubs outside of the top 10 that never get filled.
Correlate this to another interesting bit of research from the BBC that showed the annual pie costs at all Premier League clubs was highest in the top 10. We can then create a campaign around driving midweek ticket sales through pies: we did this by creating a social campaign to sell midweek ticket sales from pie vans that drive around the areas near clubs. If you could tweet the pie van and talk through Facebook about the campaign you would be offered discounted tickets.
You’re not limited to ticket sales either; it could be merchandise, grass roots initiatives and so on. We come up with ways to solve this problem using innovative and inspirational ideas that are then pitched to the client without any competition, other than any incumbents who generally look bad for not being as forward thinking.
We essentially find the pain a client may be going through, and then come up with a solution. We then market that solution to them.
By creating a company culture that celebrates experimentation and innovation we have the entire company selling, and selling great ideas. We treat sales and marketing in the same way we treat clients, by coming up with outstanding ideas on a regular basis!
Rob is managing director at Xcite Digital
Founder of Paravel
Years ago I realised that if I wanted to be hired to do something I should already be doing it. At Paravel we were taking on lots of backend development alongside preferred frontend work. Then, we made the decision to focus on the frontend and even pursued fun side projects (like www.themanyfacesof.com) to help express that. I definitely think it helped – people can't always see potential energy. Put something out there to show what you love doing & what you're capable of. The rest will follow.
Trent is founder of Paravel
At ZURB we're fortunate enough that clients seek us out – but we've been working hard for 15 years to get there. Some of the best lead generation work we've done recently have been our open source efforts and our products: by showing that we're confident enough in our skills to bring them to others through more than just services, we reach many more people and those we do reach trust our service capabilities more. Basically, giving back has been the best way for us to get new work.
Jonathan is a design lead at ZURB
The starting point has to be that you can consistently produce work to a high standard, and offer a high level of service. This will ensure referral work is regular with clients feeling confident in referring you to their network.
As your business grows it's about developing a brand. Differentiation, values, personality, understanding your client as well as track record are all key points that if addressed correctly will help bring new business to your door.
Huw is founder of Huw David Design
User experience designer
I don't think there's any magic formula to finding new work. You simply need to be good at what you do, while – at the same time – being equally as good at demonstrating to others why that's the case. Most genuinely talented people I know are usually pretty busy.
It's obviously not that straightforward, so I'll try and break those two things down a bit further.
Being first-rate in your particular discipline is obviously important, but being memorable for a client means going further. Relationships are key to gaining repeat work and referrals, so make sure your clients are being properly looked after. Someone once said "you're only ever as good as your last job" – I think there's an element of truth in that, especially if you're wanting a recommendation.
Demonstrating your value to others is arguably more difficult. Obviously you should have a clear, compelling website or portfolio (a notoriously difficult job for a lot of agencies), but it's not enough to hope they'll just come to you. You need to put yourself out there. Get involved in your community; become part of the discourse, start writing or talking about what it is you do. Finally, start meeting 'real' people, face to face. Go to conferences and events by all means – but also think about opportunities where potential clients might be, and be prepared to talk convincingly about what you do.
James is creative director at Clearleft
Inayaili de Leon
When I was starting out I pitched to many freelance job boards for several projects, and I got a few, which helped me build up my portfolio and spread the word about my work. Writing for multiple on and offline publications and on my own blog made it easier for people to know what I do and get in touch about new work. At the moment, I think it's a balanced combination of referrals from my site and word of mouth and it works well for me.
Inayaili is a web designer at Canonical
Freelance web designer
I started freelancing full-time in September 2012, and can say that by far the projects I've worked on since then have all been through the people I know and have connections with. That sounds quite easy, but in reality it has taken me years of hard work to get to that point.
Using social media such as Twitter and Facebook, going to conferences and local meetups and taking the time to get to know everybody that I meet – all of that has helped in building up my brand to a point where if people have a project and they know me, they'll hopefully think of me and want to work with me. I can't stress how important it is to have a good online presence – for years now I've been building up my Twitter presence and blogging on my website.
Your own site is one of the most important assets you can have. I recently worked on mine to evolve it. Now I have a much truer representation of me, my style and the type of work I do – and want to do! All of these things mixed together – networking, social media, personal website, writing, and so much more – have helped me to get work enquiries coming in. One last thing: don't forget to ask! Sometimes, having the confidence to ask questions, and ask for work, will bring opportunities you might never have otherwise received or expected.
Rachel is a freelance web designer
Discover 20 inspiring examples of design portfolios at Creative Bloq.