How I got my first clients as a junior freelance designer

Going freelance is something a lot of designers wish to achieve. But, the funny part of it is that most of us started at it out of pure coincidence.

Some designers started working in the field as full-time employees. Others were getting into design, and suddenly a close relative asked for a website. They randomly said ‘Sure, I can make a website for you’, without even thinking about the consequences.

That’s exactly what happened to me.

I was 19 when I joined design school. 6 months later, I knew basic HTML and CSS, and had very little experience in designing interfaces.

One day, my dad’s friend texted me: ‘Hey Juan, it’s Charly. Do you remember me? Your papa told me you make websites. I need someone to make a website for me. Could you do it?'.

Obviously, my thought should have been ‘I’ve never done something like this, I should think about the price, about the deadline, about the process, about the deliverables’.

Well, it was far from that. My response was ‘Sure, tell me about what you need’.

A couple of emails later, the guy asked me for a price. Instead of researching (well, Googling), I mentioned the pricing matter to my dad. He replied: ‘the other designer he contacted would charge $250’.

Well, thanks daddy. If someone else is charging $250 for this project, I should charge $200, because I want to get the gig.

I eventually got it.

What I expected to get done in 3 weeks ended up lasting over 4 months. While doing this project, I learned about many things, from technical to non-technical. Some of them were:

  • Using FTP to upload files to a hosting
  • Understanding domain setup
  • Basic design prototyping
  • Time management
  • Productivity
  • Client relationship and communication

A 4 month project became not only my first working experience of my life, but also a huge learning time for me.

After this, the word started getting spread within the family and close friends.

The second client was my aunt. The third client was another dad’s friend. The fourth client was my best friend’s aunt. And it kept going on.

It’s all about spreading the word

I see people almost every day asking about finding/getting clients. Yes, there are a lot of online tools out there which might be great. But getting freelance projects within your personal relationships is way bigger.

Here’s why: you don’t need to have the kind of formalism people look for on the internet. Besides that, no one will hire you through the internet without having at least a basic portfolio and some reputation.

Freelancing when you are just starting out, and working for people within your personal network allows you to build that basic experience you need to start offering your services on a more professional level.

It also allows you to keep learning on more of a ‘low profile’ way. You get better while no one realizes about it.

Setting yourself to a word-spreading mindset

On a random sunday, I was having lunch with my girlfriend's family. Suddenly, her relative asked me: 'What about you Juan? What do you do for a living?'. This happened last year. I was 20.

I was just starting out a business with my best friends. I absolutely needed to have a word-spreading mindset.

You see, people need to know about what you do. How else would you get clients other than doing the most obvious thing?

Well. Just…..share what you do.

Back to the story, I should have given a pretty deep answer. But I was using my damn phone. All I did was raising my eyes and replying 'I'm a web a designer and a design student'. All he replied back was 'Oh, good for you'.

The conversation would have been completely different if I were on a different mindset. What if I had replied to his question with total honesty and passion for what I do? Maybe, he would have become interested in the subject and started asking me deeply about the stuff that I do every day.

After that, this relative would have left the family lunch thinking 'How interesting this guy Juan is. He is getting into a pretty fun thing. At least that's what it looks like from the outside'.

Obviously that's not what happened.

I know, getting him to get that opinion about me doesn't mean he would have become a client. But at least he would have gotten information about what I do. Deep info. And that's a hit.

Because maybe, a week later, that relative could have been talking to a close friend about 'the new technologies', and 'starting a business in the 21th century', and 'promoting yourself online', and I would have loved my name being mentioned during that conversation.

That's how you get referals. That's how you start getting yourself out there. That's how you are supposed to spread the word.

Referals won't only come from previous clients. They will also come from people you see every day. All you have to do is sharing your story.

My name is Juan, I'm a 21 year old designer and I struggle with this matter every day. So, I wrote an article as a little reminder to myself to keep sharing my story. Every day. At every second.

Written by

I help startups and entrepreneurs scale visibility through Product Design and Strategy /

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