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Taking your design business international.There are many ways to attract international design clients. You can travel the world and talk to people about your business. You can invest in an international marketing campaign. You can become an SEO wizard and draw clients from around the world to you. Or, you can do what I did and give something away for free.
My first international client, without even trying.
If you listen to the Resourceful Designer podcast, you may have heard me mention bits and pieces this story, but I don’t think I’ve ever shared it all in one place.
I started podcasting in 2013 doing TV Fan Podcasts for some of the television shows I enjoy. I have podcasts covering the TV shows Under The Dome, Orphan Black, Killjoys, and The Expanse. You can find all of them on my podcast network at solotalkmedia.com
Unbeknownst to me, the journey that led me to have international design clients started with my podcast for the television show Under The Dome. While making that podcast, I met Wayne Henderson from California and Troy Heinritz from Illinois, two friends who were podcasting together about the same Under The Dome TV show. You might think that two podcasts talking about the same TV show would become rivals but the podcasting world is different. Podcasters are mostly outgoing people, and we like to help each other out, even when our shows are on the same topic. It didn't take long for Wayne, Troy and I became friends. In fact, Wayne is the man with the sultry voice you hear at the beginning of every episode of the Resourceful Designer podcast.
How does this relate to designing for international clients?
I'm the type of designer that doesn't like creating things without purpose. Any time I test out new software, buy a new Photoshop or Illustrator plugin, acquire a new font, or obtain anything else, I like to test them out on real projects. Often those projects are current client projects but if I don't have a client project suitable for me to “experiment” on I will find something else that may need a redesign and experiment on that. Even if it's not something I was hired to do.
Like many podcasters, Wayne had multiple podcasts. One of those podcasts was on the subject of Voice-Over Artists. I don't want to sound mean towards a friend, but the artwork for Wayne's podcast was horrible. So when I purchased a Design Cuts bundle and acquired a fancy new font with multiple variations for each character, I decided to experiment with it by designing a new logo for Wayne's podcast.
My goal wasn't to design a new logo; it was just to experiment with the font. But if I ended up creating something I liked, it might as well be something useful, and that's what happened. After experimenting for a while I liked what I had created, so I decided to spend a bit more time fine-tuning the design.
The artwork was useless to me so I offered it to Wayne free of charge and told him he could use it if he wanted to, no obligations. Wayne loved the artwork and immediately replaced his old artwork with my new design. Not just that, he was so grateful for the unexpected gift that he started telling everyone in the podcasting space about the great artwork I created for him.
A month or so later, I subscribed to the stock photo site GraphicStock (now StoryBlocks). While searching through the stock images, I saw one of a football on turf that caught my eye. A design idea popped into my head, and I downloaded the image.
By coincidence. Wayne and Troy have another podcast together for their favourite NFL football team, the Green Bay Packers. Once again, the artwork wasn't the greatest.
So using the stock image as inspiration, I designed new artwork for that podcast and gave it to them. Again, with no obligation for them to use it. Both Wayne and Troy were so pleased that once again they started sharing what I did on social media and the two became ambassadors for my design business.
After that, every time they saw a post in a Facebook group where someone asked a question about a design they would share my name. I would get a notification that my name was mentioned, and I would join the conversation. Most of the time I would just help the person out with advice or give my opinion on a design they already had. I didn't try to sell my services.
After a while, people started to notice that every time there was a design related question, I would provide a useful comment. It didn’t take long for one of those people to reach out to me to have something designed. The first was a woman from California. I created podcast cover art and a website for her. She was so pleased that she started sharing my name on both her podcast and on social media.
I was then contacted and hired to create podcast cover art by a couple of her listeners who heard her talk about me with high praise. One of them was from Hong Kong and another from London, my first overseas international clients. The client in Hong Kong liked working with me enough that he hired me for another project of his that was not podcast related. This project was in partnership with someone he knew in Japan. A couple of months later the man from Japan asked me to design something for a side project he was starting. And so on and so on.
Most designers agree that the bulk of their clients come to them via word of mouth referrals. That's precisely what happened to me but on an international scale. I've now worked with clients on every continent except for Antarctica. Most of them stem from those first two artworks I did for free for a couple of podcasting friends.
This all started in March of 2015. At that time almost all of my clients were local except for a couple in the USA. Now, over 80% of my clients are international. Half of them are linked somehow to the podcast space.
What exactly did I do?
- Instead of wasting time experimenting with design, I chose to experiment by designing something useful.
- Even though I was experimenting, I made sure to produce good work. Designs I could be proud of.
- I gave the design away for free to people who would appreciate it. Please keep in mind that doing free work is not the same as working for free. I can guarantee you that if Wayne or Troy had come to me asking for the artwork, I would have charged them for it.
- I provided good work that people appreciated, and it made them want to spread the word about me.
Now, three years later. My name is recognised in the podcast space as that podcasting graphic designer who understands the podcast industry. And who do people turn to when they need a designer? Someone they know, someone they’ve heard about, someone who understands them.
We’re lucky that we live at a time where it’s so easy for someone in California to have a conversation and share knowledge with someone in Scotland, Brazil or Australia. We're also lucky that boundaries have been broken. It wasn't that long ago that people were fearful of hiring someone from outside their borders. Now, most people do it without a second thought.
How does this apply to your design business?
How does this apply to you? Easy, if It worked for me, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work for you. In episode 54 and episode 93 of Resourceful Designer, I talked about Niches and how they can help grow your design business.
That’s what I did without even realising it. I went after the podcast niche. It took me three years to get to the point I'm at now, and no, not all my clients are in the podcasting space, but by ingraining myself in that niche I've built an international design business, and it keeps gaining traction every day. Now I've partnered with a podcast production company who contracts me every time they have a new client that requires either podcast cover art, social media branding, website or any other design work.
This method can work for you.
If you have a passion or a hobby, I encourage you to get involved with others that have the same passion or hobby. Attend events related to your hobby, follow them on social media, join facebook groups or sub-Reddit groups, even forums if they still exist. Get to know the people in your space, help them out if you can, let them know what you do but don't sell yourself. By offering valuable information and showing that you know what you're talking about, I’m sure that eventually, you will get work from it just like I did.
Gary Vaynerchuk has a book called Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. In his book, Gary explains that you will be more successful at selling yourself if you've continuously offered help before. Be helpful, and when the time comes people will repay you for that help.
As I said at the start, there are many ways to attract international design clients. This is the way that worked for me. It took three years but it was well worth it, and I can't wait to see what my client list will look like three years from now.
Be helpful, Do good work, Treat your clients right and be patient. It will work out for you as well.
How do you attract international design clients?
Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.
Questions of the Week
Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.
This week’s entire episode was based on a question I received from Nayda. This is what she asked.
Recently I listened one of your podcast in which you said that most of your clients are not locals in Canada. That’s why you set as one of your 2018 goals to gain more local clients.
I was wondering, how do you find overseas clients? Recently I stumble upon the “Upwork” platform. In Puerto Rico, where I am from, they developed something similar after Hurricane María hits us. It’s called “Shop & Hire”.
Did you use a platform similar to these to get your overseas clients? Also, what are your thoughts about the use of platforms such as the one I mentioned?
Have a great day!
This article is part of what I discussed on the podcast. Listen to the episode for the full story.
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Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org