If your trying to attract multi-million dollar clients then some of the marketing methods I'm about to discuss may not work for you. But if you're happy landing smaller design jobs, as in under $10,000, then I encourage you to give these a try.
Over the years I've used lots of different marketing methods to land business. Here, in no particular order, are ten that have helped me attract design clients.
1) Join A Chamber Of Commerce
I'm a member of three chamber of commerces in and around my area. Over the years I've acquired many new clients through my memberships including the chamber's themselves. Chamber of commerces are advocacy groups for local businesses and do everything they can to promote their members. When new companies arrive either through relocation or startup the chamber is often the first place they turn to for support. If they are looking for design help the chamber will gladly pass on your name and contact info. Not every referral pans out but those that did have paid for my membership tenfold.
2) Post A Free Online Classified Ad
I admit, this is my least favourite method of the bunch and I haven't used it in years. It did however land me a few good jobs and one client that is still with me today. Sites such as Kijiji in Canada or Craigslist allow you to list your services for free. Be prepared to turn down a lot of project proposals from unrealistic people, but it is possible to find that diamond in the rough. I would recommend this method for those just starting out and looking to build their client list.
3) Business Card Folder
This method is great for enticing referrals. Years ago I designed a simple fold over card measuring 4.5″ wide by 3.25″ high (11.43 cm by 8.26 cm) when folded. On the front “cover” I put my logo, tag line, and website. On the back “cover” I put my contact info. When the card is open the top half has the following message.
Referring me to to friends and colleagues is the greatest compliment you can give me.
Here are some cards for you to distribute to those you feel might benefit from my services.
On the bottom half I added two slits to hold business cards. Behind where the cards go I added a message telling people to contact me if they need more cards to hand out.
I place several business cards in each and hand them out to all my clients. I also include one each time I physically mail something to a client. Over the years I've received numerous referrals because of these cards. As an added bonus I've had several clients ask me to design similar business card folders for their business.
4) Befriend Your Local Print Shop
I worked as a graphic designer at a commercial printer for 15 years. I've learned that most print shops have a similar mentality. If the presses are not running, they're not making money. Use this to your advantage. Most print shop offer some sort of design service but they gear it to feed the presses. They often turn down design projects that do not include printed material such as web design or trade show displays. Many of the print shop's clients are startups looking for advice. Approach your local print shops and ask them to refer these clients your way.
5) Join a Mastermind/Business Group
Many communities have mastermind groups. They may not name them such but in essence it's a gathering of business people who meet on a regular basis to talk about how things are going. Some meet for breakfast, some for dinner and some after work for drinks. Some but not all these groups have a policy where they only allow one person from a given field to join. I once joined a group as a graphic designer. One of their existing members build websites so I was not allowed to discuss web design. I eventually left that group but still do work for several of the people I met there. Members of these groups tend to form strong loyalties and turn to fellow members before shopping around for services.
6) Advertise On a T-Shirt
Ok, this one sounds silly but it helped me get my business off the ground. When I first started out I designed a T-Shirt that said “Hi I'm a website designer. Is your site working for you?” I had one shirt printed through some website with white ink on a black shirt, same message on both front and back. I wore that shirt anywhere people would see it. The mall, sport events, my kid's school events, you get the idea. It amazed me how many people questioned me about my services. Some just wanted advice, some wanted a quote and a couple hired me right on the spot. They all left with my business card in hand. I ended up tearing the shirt and never replaced it, but it helped me get my business off the ground.
7) Get To Know Other Designers In Your Area
I've never thought of designing as a competition. I love talking to other designers in my area and finding out what sort of projects they're excited about. I've called many of them up over the years asking for one of their client's logos to add to the sponsor section on something I'm designing. Just like many of them have called me over the years for similar reasons. Through this camaraderie we've formed a network where we can refer work if needed. If you are a one man shop like I am you know there are times when you can't drop what you're doing for a rush job. In circumstances like these, instead of turning down a client I will explain the situation and refer them to another designer. Those other designer sometimes refer clients my way as well.
8) Attend Trade Shows
It doesn't matter what the trade show is for, you should be there. Walk around and introduce yourself to the exhibitors. Don't be afraid to ask them if they are looking for design services. Even if they say no leave your business card with them. And don't forget the T-Shirt idea from #6 to attract the attention of both exhibitors and visitors.
9) Attend Marketing/Business Presentations
I discovered this method by accident. I noticed my local library was offering a presentation on promoting your new business. The presenter was a local graphic designer I knew. Curious, I decided to attend to see what sort of information she was offering. I was curious about something in her presentation so during the Q&A afterwards I raised my hand and asked my question. I started off by saying “Hi, my name is Mark Des Cotes, I'm a graphic and web designer and I would like you to clarify something for me…” When the presentation was over a bunch of the attendees approached me for a business card and I acquired a few new clients. I talked to the presenter afterwards and she told me she was invited to talk providing she didn't use the opportunity to promote her own business. I've since attended many such presentations, asking questions at the end. It never fails that at least someone will approach me afterwards for a business card.
10) Visit Your Local Flee Market/Farmer's Market
Don't dismiss the small mom and pop stands at your local markets. They may not be the most lucrative clients but they're passionate about their products. I've designed websites and print material for pig farmers, soap makers, hand made jewelers, stain glass artists and many more. You never know what a quick $500 website might lead to in the future.