Maintaining your current business is essential in attracting new business. If your clients are happy with your work and your customer service, they will be more likely to refer you or write a positive testimonial about working with your company. You’ll need to simultaneously work to maintain your current clients and attract new ones. It costs five times more to attract a new client than to keep an existing one. The majority of your efforts should go toward maintaining your current clients and leveraging your relationships with them through referrals and testimonials.
Over 90% of consumers trust referrals from people they know. Referrals are an excellent way to build credibility and gain new business. Periodically reach out to your best clients and let them know that you are currently taking on new clients. You can do this once or twice a year or as needed. You may time the request with a website update or just before conference season for a little bit more traction. Face to face conversations in the form of an office visit or business lunch is often the best way to talk with your existing clients. From time to time invite your clients to lunch and discuss ways in which you can better serve their needs and ask if they know anyone else who may benefit from your services.
The best time to ask for a testimonial will almost always be at the completion of a successful project. Most clients are more than happy to write a testimonial, or may ask you to write one for them and send it to them for review before putting their name on it. Make sure that they are aware that it is a testimonial that will be posted on your website and ask for permission to show the work that you did for them. Don’t assume that your client will be ok with you posting the work. Even if your contract grants you the right to use it, it is always best practice to politely ask your client before you do.
Typically, designers will send a gift to their clients around the holidays as a sign of gratitude for trusting you with their business. We suggest going a step further than the normal fruit and wine basket and creating something memorable and unique to your brand. We also suggest sending gifts more often than once a year. If you come across a book that you know your client would like send it with a personalized note. Or next time you complete a large project send them a bottle of their favorite wine or some local treats as a thank you for their business. An occasional gift is a great way to stay at the front of your client’s mind and to show them that you appreciate their business and would welcome more.
Attracting New Clients
You don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of money on marketing to attract new clients. You can leverage your current brand and generate content that will interest and attract new clients even if you do not have much of a marketing budget. You will need to put some hours into the design and content generation, but it should be easy to structure it so that it becomes part of your daily routine. If you’re just starting out, generating leads through content sharing will not get you leads as quickly as a paid marketing campaign will. If you have the budget for it and need to rapidly increase your number of clients, you should consider working with a marketing expert to help you run and optimize a series of advertisements. If you prefer, you can experiment with running ads yourself by checking out some marketing courses on LinkedIn Learning. Brendan Kane’s, One Million Followers is a great resource for both content generation and recommendations on running paid-for campaigns in order to increase your following.
Some of the interviewees we spoke with only focus on keeping their website up to date while others focus mostly on social media posts. You can experiment with generating content for different touchpoints and see which one your target market prefers. You should keep all platforms updated and within brand, but you don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of time on every single one. There is no need to generate tons of content on one particular platform if your target market seldom uses it. Put your time and energy into the platform that will get you the biggest return. Track results for all of your outlets and adjust accordingly from time to time.
Generating content shouldn’t be a chore. There is no rule on what your content should be, but it should interest your target market and help to establish you as an expert in your field. The goal should always be to serve your market. Don’t try to use content to sell. Create and promote content that will benefit your market and the sales will come. Focus on what makes you different from other designers, what is your unique value proposition? What is it that your client is looking for and how do you provide it? Focus your content on the industry that you serve or want to serve. If you typically design for universities, then make sure that the content that you are creating and sharing is relevant to that industry. There is a lot of value in focusing on a particular type of work in a particular industry. If you prove yourself as an expert in designing for that industry, word will travel and business will roll in. Make sure that you don’t choose a too specific or small industry, by limiting your market focus you run the risk of business drying up with no alternatives to fall back on.
A few examples of content generation would be:
- Posting work you’ve done along with a quick write up of the experience and process
- A review of the most recent design software along with a unique image
- Your thoughts on a specific topic like layout with examples that you have created in the past
- Critiquing work that you consider a good example of design that fits an upcoming trend or industry relevant approach to design
Creativity is key in standing out in the market. Create something digital, something physical, anything relevant to your brand that will garner interest that people will want to share. If you are passionate about typography, you could design a booklet on the history of a particular typeface, which situations it is appropriate to use it in, and why. Print and bind your booklet then take photos of it to share. Offer a digital download of the guide on your site as well.
There is a balance between interesting content and professional content, so keep your posts appropriate, grammatically correct and more formal than informal. If you need creative inspiration and some excellent examples of client appreciation, check out Chris Do’s, interview with Errol Gerson. In the interview they discuss the course Errol teaches on contagious selling and some of the creative ways he has earned new business. Try to set time aside to write and design a few pieces of content every week.
Consistency is key in sharing your content. You can use a service like Sendible to schedule your posts. Sendible and similar services can help you get the most out of your content by posting it at times when engagement is highest. You don’t want to flood your followers with a huge amount of content at one time, try to space out 3-5 posts per week.
Once you have established a consistent posting schedule and people have started to interact with your posts, try tweaking your content and seeing if you get a better reaction to one format vs. another. An example would be to change the wording of a post from, “Check out this article about the impact of typography on digital ads” to “Proper typography can increase click rates up to 30%”. Depending on your audience, they might respond to one more than the other. Experiment often and really get to know your audience. Mix and match different styles of design and copy to see what resonates with your target audience. Some of the content you produce will be appropriate for a quick social media posts, while some content might be more successful as a longer format like a blog post. An article like “How whitespace affects perception of value” should appear on your blog and can also be submitted to appropriate content-sharing websites. Submitting your content to an outlet like Medium or another similar website can drastically increase your viewership and ultimately help you gain credibility and clients.
There is still a lot of value in real world interaction. Attending events specific to designers will help you sharpen your skills, build contacts and maybe even earn a referral. You might connect with a designer who has a client that needs a specific type of design that you specialize in or if you have a full plate of work, you may find a trustworthy designer to subcontract to help stay ahead of deadlines.
While design centered events are good, attending industry specific events is even better. If most of your clients are in the security industry, attend a security specific trade show and genuinely engage with the attendees. When you specialize in designing for a specific market, trade shows become invaluable events to expand your network within that market. These events will help you speak your client’s language more fluently, building more confidence in the fact that you understand their space and can serve them in their market.
It may be worthwhile to try to be a presenter and speak to the importance of design to the industry. If you specialize in UX or UI you could present on how important user interface is for security software for both end users and providers. You could speak to how branding can help instil confidence in a product and inspire a purchase that can protect a home or save lives. Being an advocate for design in a specific space positions you as an expert, gets your name out there, and does it in a way that doesn’t feel off-putting or overly salesy. It’s a great way to get your name and face in front of a large group of potential clients.
Attracting new clients should come as a result of properly maintaining your current clients as well as your brand and touch points. Keeping your current clients is much easier than gaining a new one. Focus on maintaining your relationship with them first and foremost and be sure to ask them for referrals and testimonials.
Attracting new clients should be an independent effort as well as a healthy extension of maintaining your existing clients. Content marketing can be fruitful but will be time consuming. Be sure to measure the success you have and focus your efforts.
Networking at events will continue to be an important part of maintaining your business. It is a great way to build a support network of other like minded designers and creative professionals. It is also an excellent way to establish yourself as a design expert in a specific market.