Are you a go-getter that wants to get more freelance clients as an illustrator, photographer, designer or creative generalist? There are multiple ways to go about finding new clients, but the one way that I have found to be most useful is by leveraging social media platforms. We live in the digital age now and it is so easy to meet and introduce yourself to new people all over the world just by sending them a message.
I've spoken with creative directors, designers, photographers and illustrators on my podcast and they have all mentioned how things have changed so much since they first started out. On one of the podcast episodes, Rich Tu the VP of digital design at MTV, mentioned that he actually found the phone number of the New York Times creative director and called to schedule an interview. This led to some of his first paid freelance jobs. I also spoke with Alex Center who is the founder and creative director of his design and branding agency Center. Alex mentioned that he is always using social media to connect with talented designers and individuals to work with on future projects.
Social media is a powerful tool that can be used to find more freelance clients and grow your creative career. If you’re not currently leveraging platforms like Instagram and websites like LinkedIn then you are surely missing out. This should not be your only way of gaining clients but should be one of the more familiar tools you use while searching for new and exciting clients to work with.
If you’re not quite ready to take on clients and want to gain some experience first then check out our article on gaining exposure and growing your network.
What’s wrong with cold calling and emailing?
Some creatives actually had to pick up the phone and call to schedule an interview to get their work in front of creative directors and business owners. Can you imagine that now? Cold calling businesses and asking to work with them? There are a lot of businesses that do this today and it is still very successful. However, in my personal experience this is a very hard wall to climb as a creative. Especially when you are just starting out. If you put yourself in the shoes of a business owner just for a second. How would you react if someone told you over the phone that they make really great work and they can make great work for you. It sounds like a very likely story but with anything visual, you need to see the work. Not to mention that you would have to go off and find a ton of phone numbers to call first.
What about email?
Yes, email is very much a thing and it’s what businesses run on today. Owners and employees are sending off emails to clients, vendors, partners and a slew of other people to make things happen. I have gotten a few inquiries from other creatives through my email and all I can say is that things can get pretty noisey. Yes, there is a chance you will get in touch with someone within an organization and hear back. You are also likely to have things fizz out over time and lead to nowhere. Another problem with relying entirely on email is that you won’t always reach the decision maker right away. There is nothing more uncomfortable than emailing someone that has nothing to do with what it is your ‘selling’.
Bottom line, email is meant for transactions and it’s no longer the best way to start off a business relationship as a creative. So what do you do?
Use social media to find your ideal clients
Yes the very same apps and websites that the media warns you about can be used to actually find more clients as a freelancer. A platform like instagram is like having your phone/email and combined with your portfolio into one tool that you can use to contact potential clients. LinkedIn is the perfect scouting ground to find employees and individuals that deal exactly with the kind of work that you do. Sure it does require some work and it is not instant but it is way more relevant for today’s culture that can lead you to success.
So where do you start?
Create Your Ideal List of Clients
First thing you're going to do is create 3 separate lists. The first is going to be made up of brands and companies that you want to work with. The second is going to be made up of creative agencies and studios that you admire and also want to work with. The third and final list is going to be individuals or other freelancers that make awesome work that you love and would love to work with and learn from.
Why these three lists?
The first list is brands and companies because this where you will see opportunity for larger budgets and projects. This list can also lead to repeat work later down the line but can sometimes be more difficult to break into. The second list is made up of creative studios and agencies because these are the people that are always looking for help with projects. This is going to be the list that you should really put a lot of effort into. Creative businesses love to keep their overhead and expenses low and bring on new individuals as needed. Alex Center mentioned this in his podcast episode. Just because the creative agency or studio doesn’t have any formal career openings listed or available does not mean that they aren’t looking for talented people to help on projects. The third list is made up of freelancers and individuals you admire because these are people that will help you out at some point in the future. You may not get business right away from this list but more than likely if that person is busy they may just refer you to the project instead.
Creative Freelance Checklist
Before you proceed to finding contacts, you want to make sure you have these three things in the best shape possible. You will need these to send to your contacts once your conversations progress.
- Your portfolio website - We’ve talked about this before but your portfolio website should be your top priority! This is your calling card or storefront for your creative services. Make sure you have at least 3-4 projects on your website if not more. I recommend a maximum of 6-8. Each project should contain detailed descriptions throughout, along with great images to show off the work you completed.
- Portfolio PDF - Your portfolio PDF is something that isn’t always public facing. You will send this directly to contacts through email as an introduction to show off your capabilities. Similar to your website, I like to recommend that your PDF has at least 3-4 projects all with detailed descriptions and amazing images. For some reason people will visit a website and scroll through rather quickly but will browse over your PDF more carefully in my experience. We created a portfolio template here to get you started quickly.
- Resume - Yes I am suggesting you have a resume put together before you start contacting. Maybe even think of it as a one sheet that people can browse over quickly to know who you’ve worked with before and what your skills are. You might find the need to tweak this over time to better fit your style but in any case it is a nice thing to have. We also put together a resume template for that you can download for free here.
Once you have these three items in a good place then you are ready to begin contacting your potential clients!
Finding client contacts from your lists
Major Brands and Companies
Brands and companies can sometimes be difficult to find emails of employee’s that work there. This is where LinkedIn comes in. On LinkedIn you can search for that brand or company’s LinkedIn profile page and then click into the employees that work for that company. In that employee list you're going to want to find the individuals with titles either in marketing, design or whatever field is relevant to your service. Once you find those individuals you're going to want to connect with them.
Now usually this is where everyone messes up. On LinkedIn when you hit connect it provides you with an option to send a note. You should always send a note with a short introduction. You are allowed 300 characters and these can be the most important 300 characters in this whole process.
Your note should include a sentence about yourself and what you do. It should include what you admire about the company or individual. Most importantly what you can do for them! This has to be super succinct. The more generic your note is the least likely you are to make a lasting impression.
For this list you are going to chip away on LinkedIn primarily. This doesn’t really work for Instagram. I would recommend doing this until you hit at least a 100 messages and then re-evaluate your situation.
Creative Agencies and Studios
Creative agencies and studios can be the sweet spot for trying to find more opportunities as a freelance creative. Similar to the method for brands and companies, you can use LinkedIn to search for contacts. You can also search for contacts using Instagram.
More and more agencies and studios are creating Instagram profiles to showcase the work that they have completed for their clients. Through their social media profiles more often than not you'll be able to find people that work for that company. This is where you will want to follow these steps:
- Follow that person’s profile if it shows their creativve work. I personally stay clear of connecting with individuals if their profile shows more of their personal lives to be respectful.
- Comment on their posts and message them when they share stories relevant to your field. These are both good ways to begin gaining some traction.
- After you complete step 1 and participate in step 2 over the course of at least a week or so. You should message them directly and introduce yourself. Yes I did say over a week or so! This process is not meant to be rushed and definitely not meant to result in instant work so it is going to require some discipline.
If you don’t know where to start the conversation then checkout our creative tool kit templates here that can help with just that.
This is the last list because nowadays more and more people are stepping out independently as creative freelancers and providing services to clients. These people sometimes have a large-ish social following as well and get work through a number of different places. You want to connect with these people because they probably get more work inquiries than they may have time for. This is where your opportunity lies.
Similar to how you would connect with a creative agency or studio. You want to engage with this person on the platforms they hang out on. My suggestion of course is Instagram but don’t be afraid to replicate this method on something like Twitter. You should genuinely be interested in the work they create and the style that they produce. If you’re just doing this to try and find a quick paycheck. You are very likely to fail at this.
When you do decide to message this individual, you should mention why you admire them and their work. Be upfront that you are also beginning as a freelance creative and just starting your journey(if this is the case). Make sure to include that if there are any opportunities to work together in the future you would absolutely love to do so. Definitely include a link to your work/website and ask them for any feedback but leave it at that! Do not get too anxious and oversell. Again this is going to take time and will not result in immediate work. You should do this for 100 people and then re-evaluate.
What do you do next?
Once you have gone through each of your lists, messaged individuals relevant to your field and progress in your conversations. Ask if there are any new and exciting projects that you can help out on. Ask if they are struggling in any specific areas of the business. Ask questions! Being curious about a business shows interest and usually means you might have some ideas about how you could improve it.
If you’ve connected with some of the contacts from your lists and are waiting for them to reply. Take the opportunity to create something over the next day or so as a sample of your skillset. Go the extra mile here to show again that you are very interested in their mission or business.
If you’ve messaged 100 people from each of these lists and don’t hear back from anyone at all. Then please contact me here and I will personally help you try to figure out where the disconnect is. Maybe it is something with your website or your initial message. We will figure it out together.
Who would’ve thought that you could use platforms like Instagram and LinkedIn to find more freelance clients? The one thing to understand in this whole process is that this will not result in overnight success. However you will be drastically ahead of the game by making these connections.
When trying to find more clients using social media make sure you start with creating these three lists of your ideal clients.
- Brands and Companies
- Creative Agencies and Studios
- Talented freelancers and creative individuals
In addition to making your lists, make sure you are genuinely interested and connecting with each individual in a meaningful way. I highly advise against creating a templated message and sending that to everyone.
Lastly after you do connect with your ideal client, make sure to ask questions relevant to their mission and businesses.
Have you started to use social media to find more freelance clients yet? Comment below if you have any other tips that you are finding helpful in the process. Sign up for our mailing list here to get more articles just like this sent directly to inbox so you don’t miss out.