Say you are currently at a crossroads about choosing a career in real life. Given that you are here (reading this), it is safe to say that you are inclined towards making a career in the field of graphic design. You have the skills, you have a gist of the industry, and you are familiar with the tools and a few basic techniques. However, before you take the final step, it is important to realize that the career you choose stays with you for the entirety of your life – mostly (sure, you can change the course, but it comes at a considerable cost).
In order to ‘do what you love’ you must first find what it is that you love doing. Before we get to it, let me preface it all by breaking a career myth: doing what you love and earning big bucks are not mutually exclusive.
Types of Careers in Graphic Design
Graphic design as a career is an umbrella term for various careers within the same. Regardless of the field that you select, for the most part, graphic designers work within a combination of technology, art, and communication. You could be a logo designer, web designer, packaging designer, and explore various other aspects of graphic design, but there is common ground amongst all these aspects and professions: communication and betterment. These are the two pillars of graphic design; through your design, you either want to spread a message such as an advertisement, flyer, quite on a t-shirt, book cover, political meme, etc, or you aspire to improve an existing concept.
Be that as it may, despite having a common ground, all these aspects of graphic design have differences too: techniques, pieces of software, technologies, target audience, and so on. Therefore, deciding a field becomes a bit more challenging than one might expect; ‘the sooner the better’ approach would benefit here.
Selecting a field is affected by numerous factors, conscious and unconscious. Without giving it a philosophical direction, based on the Japanese concept (Ikigai) for a healthy work-life balance, here are a few important factors that you should consider before jumping into a specific field within wide boundaries of graphic design:
- You love (this is something you would do regardless of results and monetary gains).
- You are good at (this is what comes easy and naturally to you; you might need to brush up some technical skills).
- Paid for (considering the industry trends, figuring out how the payscale looks for your role is mostly overlooked but is highly beneficial).
- World needs (we often ignore this, but ignoring this has led to cost a fortune to numerous companies and individuals; you could create all you want, but you also need a market for the same; consider this as your “calling” if you may).
I, for one, do incline towards specializing in one specific field of design; this shows credibility, gives structure, and has a few more benefits which you will experience down the line. Having said that, no one is to say that you cannot be the jack of all trades. Explore graphic design on your own terms, know what you bring to the table, and decide accordingly.
Actionable Strategies to Get Clients as a Graphic Designer
Regardless of the field in which you move towards, you will soon realize getting clients as a graphic designer can be tricky. This is one of the most practical and crucial elements in your journey as a graphic designer. Therefore, let’s break it down as per the same: finding clients as a beginner, and acquiring quality projects and clients throughout the while.
Getting Your First Design Client
As a beginner in the graphic design industry – or any industry for that matter – you might expect and prepare yourself to be spotless concerning your process, pricing, and so on. In fact, that is what some professionals might also suggest to their juniors or peers: how to get everything right with your first client. Nonetheless, your focus should be on getting the first client (and more), the rest falls into place and you figure out the current challenges as they come up.
You could have finished your school, or might be transitioning from another role, or simply giving the graphic design a shot; you do not have clients. Every person begins with different resources: some are highly qualified, some are good at first impressions, and some have a wide network to their leverage. However, here is are a few ways one could approach towards getting first graphic design client:
One approach to get the first client is meeting a number of people who potentially need work done in the designing field. This could work perfectly for someone who wants to gain some confidence in their work: you can begin with friends, family, and peers. Furthermore, while networking is now aligned with the internet, know that it also works wonders in the real world as well.
Actionable tip: If you want to rule out friends and family here, you could also begin with referrals through social media. However, remember to maintain the momentum as it will pay off in the long run.
Another perspective to explore is by putting it all together into your designs. Of course, you plan your designs to be articulate regardless of the approach you choose to get the first client. Nonetheless, if you are highly confident in your designs, you can move ahead by putting your work out there, and showcasing that in front of people who might need it. This approach fits best if you have additional knowledge of social media marketing, advertising, and an overall way to tap into prospective clients.
Actionable tip: Begin with blog or SEO, produce content to attract clients, and use search as a way for people to find you via your website. This also works for YouTube, but mostly Google as a search engine works better in my experience.
Read more: 25 Best Personal Website Design Examples and Resources for Your Inspiration
This is where you begin your career as a graphic designer through a community approach. You come across businesses that might need your help; this could align your price and other factors with these growing businesses. So if you live in a city that is growing digitally, this approach can be fitting to get your first design project.
Actionable tips: For this, you might want to attend events, send cold emails, and also market yourself locally.
All in all, a lot of it is mostly about trying different things and understanding which feels right to you, while also acing your metrics mechanisms. Remember, you cannot improve what you do not measure. Therefore, starting from the first client, it is important to track your processes; this will help you understand what does and doesn’t work for you as a graphic designer.
Getting Top-Tier Clients and Projects
As you get started with your first clients, and a few more, as an artist you will possibly seek stimulation to get the creative juices flowing. Moreover, as a professional, you will seek better leads and high-quality design clients.
Before we jump into the ways to get top graphic design clients and projects, let us briefly go through some things that we should rule out on a priority basis. You know, unlearn to learn.
Myths About Getting Top Clients as a Graphic Designer
In order to reach out and work with the top clients in need of graphic design services, there are certain ways to proceed. Be that as it may, below are some myths that you shall ensure not to follow in your pursuit of top-tier clients.
While we discussed the benefits of networking as a graphic designer, it does not imply that you should meaninglessly chase clients. I would also like to highlight that networking could go in the wrong way. Sending repetitive LinkedIn requests, doing Instagram Lives, and various other things can lead to no real growth if those are not centered around your work. To be precise, instead of chasing every possible client, focus on the specific service you want to provide and the specific types of clients you want to work with. In short, find your niche and select clients accordingly.
This is one of the most overrated pieces of advice many graphic designers have probably come across: create more and more, and then sell. I would suggest you explore the ‘think more, create less’ approach. Of course, you need to constantly keep working on your designs. However, it is essential to know what you want to create. Logos, websites, illustrations, and numerous other options – again, you can be the jack of all trades. Nevertheless, if you need qualified clients, you need to win their credibility by showcasing that your entire efforts lie towards a specific service, and you give it your all – in terms of enhancing the quality and quantity of your designs.
Tips to Reach and Work with Top Clients
We understand the importance of quality designs, creating more but within our specialty range, and the importance of niche. Moving ahead, let us focus on how to reach quality projects and clients without aggressively chasing them or selling designs in a similar fashion.
Build a Website
Running a website with an active blog is the best way to have an online presence and simply say ‘Hi, I do this. Come check out,’ to your ideal clients. You do not need to be a great writer or an SEO expert, all you need to do is decide which types of projects you want to take, showcase your work done in similar projects, create basic pages (about, contact, and services) and wait for the search engine to do its magic. Of course, as you proceed, you will need to manage the website better; hiring someone should do the trick.
The motive of doing this is to be accessible, show to your clients that you are all business and professional, and provide a smooth workflow journey to them. You see, a few people who had no idea about you and your work until now, already have a space to come across and reach you.
Register on a Crowdsourcing Platform
Besides running a website, writing blog articles, customizing the website, and making it SEO friendly, there is another way to reap the benefits of building a website without having to do it: crowdsourcing platforms. While managing a website can be difficult, and some agencies work with artists – in this case, graphic designers – in no different way than wholesalers shipping bulk to a retailer, registering on crowdsourcing platforms is the middle ground that might work wonders for you.
Take an Extra Mile
You could move ahead with either of the two options, but you can always do a bit more. As you get top clients, it is also crucial to maintain a stimulating and professional relationship with them. In order to do that, you must express that it is not all about the money. There are a few ways of doing this: providing free revisions, extra tips, creating an ebook, and so on. Nonetheless, all these ways boil down to one crucial focal point: providing value.
For your reference: 10 Incredible Tools for Graphic Designers
Pricing Basics for Freelance Graphic Designers
Working as a freelance graphic designer can be complicated for so many reasons. To top all those reasons, you have to consider the fact that all these reasons – a.k.a. Factors to consider before pricing – are unique to you. Your peer could be charging X amount of money for the same graphic design service you provide, that does not necessarily mean that your pricing range has to be in alignment with the same. That being said, you cannot possibly pick up a random number and expect clients to pay the same amount for the services you provide to them.
On the other hand, artists tend to undervalue themselves due to many reasons which will require us to take a deeper dive than needed. Therefore, you must know what your designs are worth and how to get the same from your clients.
Benchmarks to Look Up to
While every designer, even every artist, brings something different to the table and therefore, gets to set different pricing for the same service, there have to be some common grounds to understand what to charge the clients. One of the ways to figure it out is by looking at the current pricing.
For instance, according to payscale, the average salary of a beginner graphic designer in New York ranges from $20,000 to $65,000. As for the hourly rate of the same, it is almost $30 per hour.
You can begin to set your pricing by doing some research and understanding how certain factors such as your experience, technical skills, and so on play a role in your pricing process. Additionally, there are external factors to consider such as the current condition of the economy, your client’s budget, the duration of the project, and various whatnots. However, there are quite a number of websites such as Payscale and Glassdoor, to name a few, which would assess most of the factors and help you come up with a number.
Factors to Consider while Pricing
Now that you have a low end and high end of pricing within which you can work – remember, it is flexible – it must have smoothened out the process for you. Regardless, sooner or later, you might want to start customizing your prices. Here are some factors to consider while doing the same:
You will come across this factor repetitively because it is that important. Also, it has a few specifics. Perhaps you are switching fields within the graphic design industry. Say you are getting into animation with a decade of experience as an illustrator; in this case, you most certainly shouldn’t charge $30 for your work.
To begin with, you must decide if you want to work as an employee or as a freelancer. Moving ahead, if/when you pick up individual projects, decide if you want to set prices on a value basis, hourly basis, or project basis. As you quote your price, make sure you are as specific as it gets to save your and your client’s time and effort; from the number of revisions to the files that you would provide.
Of course, it is not acceptable to go to a client and ask them to pay you heftily because you have to pay your health insurance. However, that does not mean it is not a factor. Employment comes with benefits but freelancing does not. Therefore, you will have to carefully calculate your expenses to ensure your freelance business is profitable or at least you are floating, to begin with.
Parting Bonus: Communication with Clients
Words play a crucial role in everything. When I noticed that many people are talking about a career in graphic designing, and how it’s just bits and pieces all over the internet, I decided to give my 2 cents to it.
Again, it goes for everything, and it is even more crucial when you are beginning your career. You do not have references and experience to hold your credibility, so your words will have to show what you bring to the table: from core work ethics to skills.
Following is an instance show how to let your communication skills acquire and retain clients in long run:
Introducing yourself to clients:
A tried and tested way
Hi, my name is Mark. I am starting as a graphic designer and would like to offer you my services. When can we discuss it?
A better way
Hi (their name), I am Mark, I recently moved to LA and I heard about you from my friend. (Give them time to react). I followed your business and it seems really organized and futuristic. I couldn’t help but notice a hint of inconsistencies on social media last month. I work as a graphic designer and specialize in brand design. I have a few ideas concerning the design aspects of the same, do you mind if I run some by you and we can see where it takes us?
Certainly, the latter can be a bit too forward but that is exactly what will show the clients that you do not shy away from opportunities and work. Moreover, it helps you form a personal connection with them which shows them you are not self-serving. For instance, creating transparency via how you came across their work, it could be via social media or however you got to know about them, you can use that to your leverage with honesty.
All in all, understand that communication is more about their needs, your services, and your work ethics – in that sequence – and less about what serves you.
I wish you all the best with the exploration of your career in graphic design.
Head of Design at DesignBro and is responsible for UI/UX Design, managing the global designer community, and ensuring quality levels of both designers and designs remain high.