Top tips for getting that first paid client

One question I often get asked is “How did you get to do this as a full-time job?”. The answer is a series of faith leaps, all-nighters and a very supportive girlfriend! Breaking into the creative industry is by no means easy; it’s all about playing to your strengths and making use of your networks and contacts. We decided to do a nice thing and collate our top tips for getting your first clients.

A crucial part of setting up any business is knowing who you want your customers to be (AKA your target audience). It’s no good trying to get every Tom, Dick and Harry on your books, as you might not click with each other. Nothing personal, you might just have very different ideas!

Tom might think Comic Sans and clip art are the pinnacle of modern design, if that’s not what you’re about, it’s okay—you’re just not right for each other! Instead, Target companies you feel that you could click with, and the whole process will be a lot more enjoyable!

It’s not me, it’s you.

do good work

Sometimes when you’re sending out emails to potential clients, it’s easy to forget who you’re
talking to. You become so focussed on making sure you add as much in about yourself that you don’t always remember to talk about the client.

Human nature dictates: every business owner you’re pitching to has one thing in common – they want more business! If something can help them bring in more sales, make them look more appealing or would just work better for them, then they’re willing to listen.

Try changing around your emails and tell the potential client something that they currently do
that you think could be done better, why and how. They’re more likely to engage with the email if it’s about them and it might just lead to a new client for you.


power of free

The controversial topic of doing work for free. Now, I’m not suggesting that you do work for “experience” over and over again. Instead, what about pitching to a potential client and giving them a generous discount on the first piece of work you do?

Alternatively, if the lead is unsure of whether you are what they need, prove yourself! Offer to do some of the work for free or for a hefty discount and if they like what you do then they haven’t lost out and you get a returning customer. Yay!

If you do offer something for ‘free’, ask the client to write you a recommendation, it takes five
minutes to say some nice things about someone who’s done a good job, but the more of these you build up, the more likely you are to get more (paid) work!

Print isn’t dead.

print isnt dead

In our digital world, there aren’t many people who send out proposals in the post anymore, and to a potential client, this may just be the edge that makes you stand out from the rest. Choose a few potential clients that you think you’ve got a shot with and send them out a personalised media pack in the post. A few things to include are:

  • Personalised letter
  • Example work on high quality paper
  • Potential design examples that you think could work for them
  • Your card or contact details
  • Perhaps a small gift—some sweets, branded stickers or a plant, maybe?

You can be really creative with this, no matter what your budget. Try to justify the relevance of the send out, and ensure your actual media pack/pitch is spot on, a creative idea can quickly become a desperate gimmick without thought! Pinterest has hundreds of suggestions to help!

Insights and more

buy this book

You can never read enough into customer acquisition techniques and getting that first paid client can be a challenge. A book I would suggest reading is “The Levitan Pitch. Buy This Book. Win More Pitches.” by Peter Levitan. Although this book is aimed at how advertising agencies can win more pitches, it has some great insights into how to market yourself differently which can be applied to all in the creative industry.

These are just a few of our top tips that have worked well for us in the past. To read more about us, and to see some of our client work, visit us at Got any great tips of your own? Leave them in the comments below!


19 Mar 2015 22:32
Seems like doing some work for free is still a necessary evil...
Stuart Glegg
20 Mar 2015 08:54
Work hard and be nice and you wont go far wrong
Sophia Shaw
24 Mar 2015 16:22
Good info! I am an illustrator, been thinking about sending out some literature for a while but it's a scary step and I accept there will be plenty of rejection, hence the hesitation on sending stuff!! Its a mean world out there!! ;)
David Brookes
05 Apr 2015 05:11
I remember asking for money the first job I did. I was so nervous. Now its a lot easier :-) Good tips for people starting out
14 Nov 2016 10:59
Yes, sometimes it's well worth spending time for free if it's generate new work.

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