PLEASE HELP! how do you find design leads?

Hey GDF Family! I am new around these parts and I wanted to post a question to all you awesome design masters. I will briefly introduce myself so as to make the answer as easy as possible to formulate:

I am in my 40’s, design part time as its not lucrative for me yet, have a one man band I naïvely named “an agency” (Thinking I was going to grow super quick blindly following design gurus) and I have about 20+ years on and off designing.

I focus on brand identity design, logomarks, patterns, icon sets, typography choices and official colors. I use brand strategy to create these assets from a user persona and brand archetype perspective and I charge inconsistently due to lack of clients. ($350-$1500)

My question is where would you awesome people suggest I find clients? I have tried Dribbble, Behance, My website, and in the early days social media. I either make terrible work, don’t know how to get this thing running, or lack the ability to use my brain apparently lol. PLEASE THROW ME A BONE!

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You find clients through a strategic mix of marketing communication potentially including but not limited to: formal networking events, informal networking, trade organizations, trade shows, public relations, positioning, a web presence, a social media presence, traditional advertising (potentially including but not limited to direct mail, broadcast, and out of home), online advertising, SEO, cold calling, third party websites, and referrals.


I’m very curious as to what design gurus you, by your own admission, blindly followed. I know of several out there promoting their programs, and you dropped some key phrases in your introduction. So please, if you don’t mind, share who you’re following. Thanks.

Hey Steve_O, I appreciate your reply. I was actually reading another post and missed this reply. I was self taught for many years, then starting following Chris Do from The futur, some of The win without pitching manifesto author Blair Enns, and other “youtubers” that led me to believe I was going to destroy the game with my badass creative design skills! Bullshit until now, non realistic advice like: “Charge 2x more every gig” or “make a course about how to do stuff and make all this side money”

It in retrospec blinded me to the truth that customers are mostly catfishes and designing is a tough heartbreaking, soul shattering trade.

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I have made truck wraps, window decals and signs, busniness cards and menus, hundreds of logos, brand books, cd covers, been on vegas triniton screens and more. Never making any kind of real money, being used and discarded and frustrated with my life.

I got 2 design degrees (translates: bullshit online courses that taught nothing) and ended up getting an education in electricity where I do and teach electrical work as my day job now.

I just want to do design part time, couple of clients a month to help offset my bills and debt. I can show you guys my work, I can answer any questions you have, I know you guys don’t mess around and are cold hard truth speakers. I appreciate that and your time!

Based on my 30+ years of experience, there is a delta between what some of the online folks / YouTubers say and the real world.

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I am starting to see the truth slowly but surely…

Blair Enns and Chris Do are smart, talented people. I’ve read the books and seen the videos.

I largely agree with both on many things, but they’re both in unique situations, and their advice reflects what has worked for them in their experiences.

Unfortunately, in practice, much of what they convincingly and authoritatively say sounds great, but isn’t always practical advice for most people in most situations. I’d recommend that most any designer (especially freelancers and business owners) pay attention to both these guys because they are worth listening to. However, I’d also recommend remaining skeptical about the absoluteness of their confident opinions, which are far from the final word on the subjects and often not universally realistic.

Thanks for weighing in Just-B,

What advice would you give a person in my situation as a lot of the traditional advice I have applied hasn’t been very lucrative?

I don’t have a physical shop which deters local companies that need signage/ large projects, and I don’t really have a deep understanding of marketing so I don’t get inquiries or leads…

I love the design field, especially the beauty of marks. I want to help brands grow, cultivate, etc. Just can’t seem to find them…

I appreciate the insight, I can’t help but feel some of the traditional methods you mentioned seem unreliable nowadays. For example print marketing / online ads / broadcasting seem to be something people don’t trust / use for buying decisions.

Larger brands using them mostly for repitive branding resources.

Whats your personal experience with these mediums?

The key word in my initial post was “potentially.” I don’t think traditional broadcast media would be a wise way to go at all. Online ads? Probably not the best ad spend. Print marketing? If done right, this can be very effective.

Part of the reason I gave such a big list is because there isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution. You have to figure out who you are, what sets you apart from the competition, who your target market is, where your target market is looking, and a message that will make them respond.

Let’s say there is a designer that works on invitations and announcements. Their target market is young, engaged women. It would make sense for this designer to have a booth at a bridal fair and do a lot on social media. That’s where their target market is. If I show up to a bridal fair and set up a booth to show my corporate communications work, it’s not going to go so well.

You have to get the right message in front of the right people the right number of times. Setting up a Behance page and waiting for the clients to come rolling in isn’t going to cut it — as you’ve found out.


First, your work needs to be of stellar quality (or good enough to impress the clients you’re after).

Most independent designers’ work seems to come from referrals and word-of-mouth. When starting out, though, that’s not going to work.

I’ve spent 40 years in this field, but a recession meant the agencies weren’t hiring after graduating from design school. I spent a couple of years on my own doing freelance work. I called up all the ad agencies and told them I was available for freelance assignments. The work was sporadic, but it paid OK. I also made lots of good longer-term industry contacts by doing it. I also looked through local magazines and found ads from local businesses that I was sure I could improve. I’d sometimes walk into their places of business, ask to speak to the owners, then make a pitch to them. Surprisingly, this worked about a third of the time. Sometimes when I’d buy something at a small store, I’d ask to speak to the owner and make the same sort of pitch.

Add all this up, and I began getting calls from people needing work.

After those couple of years, I got a real job. Every few years, I switched jobs. I also maintained a small freelance side business where I made additional contacts.

A couple of years ago, I ended up on my own again, but I was in a position where I could leverage all the clients and contacts I had made over the years. It started out slowly, and I sometimes resorted to doing work for clients on UpWork. A couple of them turned out to be great clients who I’m regularly working directly with today.

I guess what I’m saying is that finding clients is a lot of work and that the work builds on itself over time. I don’t know of any easy, quick or fail-proof way into it.

However, I think the most surefire way to start is to do what most designers absolutely hate — contacting people you’d like to do work for and asking them about it. This can mean cold calling or, better still, doing the research before contacting them with personalized messages about how you can help them, how you’d love to work with them, and whether you can meet them at their convenience.

There are also various civic organizations where you can meet business owners. There’s volunteer work to build up portfolios and make contacts. Direct mail still works if you personalize it specifically to a real person and their real situation.

Unfortunately, all this stuff involves what most introverted graphic designers (like me) hate to do. For a sales personality, it’s pretty easy since it doesn’t phase them if 19 out of 20 contacts don’t pan out or hang up on them. A 95% failure rate at making successful contacts seems pretty dismal and is the kind of thing that would have most designers shaking in their shoes, throwing up in the bathroom, and hiding under the covers at night. For a salesperson, it’s business as usual, and that one person out of 20 who bites means work and money, which is all that matters. So even assuming a 95% failure rate at landing new clients, all it really means is having to contact 100 leads to get five viable clients, which can turn into ten or 20 over time.

As I said, it’s hard work, but it’s doable if you have a thick skin, persistence, and the design and marketing talent to back it up.


Fantastic advice thank you very much for your time. Could I possibly post some of my work on here and have you veteran designers decide if I have what it takes or hang my gloves up?

Im sure you heard the phrase:

The shoemakers children go without shoes…

I can facilitate a strategy session to get to the core of the target market of the client, make the moodboards, make the marks, and design the stylescapes. And all that comes with branding a client.

But when I try to do it for myself I suddenly turn into a brain dead monkey smashing 2 sticks together to make a fire. Its sad really…

I will try harder to figure out who the heck I am trying to speak to as per your advice. I literally find it easier to cold call or speak to a absolute stranger in their business than make my own strategy… weird right???

Great advice as well by the way, forgot to state that.

The best clients are going to be the ones who are local, and have ongoing needs. When they’re local you can take them out for lunch, get to know what they do, they get to know you. You can make small talk about local things of common interest. They can see that you’re a real person and there’s a type of personal connection you can establish that you’re not going to achieve through emails with some internet stranger client 1000 miles away.

In the US, every legitimate business has to register with the government at some level, and those are public records. When you are starting out, that’s a good place to look. People who are starting a new business are going to be more likely to need identity and a whole suite of marketing. Here in California, those new business lists are available at the county level. Every 5 years I’m required to re-register and every time I do I get bombarded with snail mail and email offers targeted to new businesses. Fire alarm installation, HR services, business credit cards, credit card processing, web design services… that’s how those companies find new clients.

Networking, speed networking, for local businesses. You show up and meet a lot of people and spend a brief amount of time explaining what you do, and exchange business cards. The local chamber of commerce usually sponsors that sort of thing, but you can also find events on Meetup.


You initially asked how to get clients, and you just answered your own question.

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I hear you, this is why I am here, locally businesses are doing bad, closing, trust issues for “home freelancers” vs design houses, and lack of funds to pay me on time or at all…

I guess I should have named it: “how to get better paying clients in this bad economy” :thinking:

Its just hard for small timers with no university or agency experience. So I will have to keep it part time for a long time I guess…

Thank you so much for your feedback the system made me wait a day to respond.

I appreciate the wise words.