DT&G Design Department
Current Location: Graphic-Design.com / DT&G Magazine / Business Department / How much to charge? / Getting Clients  

Getting Clients

by Fred Showker

In the Design Cafe there's been an ongoing exchange of ideas and information about prospecting for clients and jobs. When I endorsed the DesignQuote concept as the best in the field it was met with some resistance by a number of the listees and posters. This was mainly because they either didn't understand lead sourcing (few people do) or the up-front necessity of a fee scared them off.

As a follow-up to my How much to charge? article, I did a bit of soul searching and with the help of Wesley Warren of Vexcom, I've brought together thoughts about the primary ways designers, illustrators, photographers and others in the visual communications fields go about getting new clients.

How much do clients cost?

... or, What will you spend to get a client

One of the most frequent questions that turns up in design forums and lists is how to launch a new design practice and how to get jobs. Usually the same answers float to the surface: Join the Chamber, Use the Yellow Pages, Buy some AdSense ads, Join one of those Portfolio web sites, list in the 'Talent' directories. If you have 100 people reading the forum, you'll get 50 different opinions on what's the best way to bring clients to your doorstep and actually sell them your services.

Prospecting does indeed carry very real costs. Designers must be very focused on minimizing those costs, while successfully landing the big ones that will cover not just the prospecting costs but all the overhead costs. Few designers however, tally what their real costs are in job prospecting. It's usually a shock to designer when all the costs are added. Most discover the cost of getting clients takes a good bite out of their profits.

Lessons from history

The old rule of thumb in the printing business used to be if you spend more than 5% of the bid amount to get the job, you're behind the 8-ball. In the 1980s we calculated it cost about $125 on average to get the project and service it. Good if the job bills out at $2,000 -- bad if it bills out at $350.

Another thing most designers forget to think about are the jobs they didn't get. After all, if you bid five jobs and get one, and each bid or estimate takes an hour or so, the one job you got has to pick up the costs of the jobs you didn't get. If your time is billed out at fifty-bucks an hour, then you just lost four-hundred bucks. (-$400!) So you have to make that up on the job you got.

The real objective of this excercise is to help you minimize the cost of bidding for jobs, while landing the big ones that will cover all your overhead costs. So, let's take a look at some of those methods, and see if we can dispell a few of the myths floating around these days...

Is AdWords the way to go to get design jobs?

I don't think so.

If you'll look through the pages of this web site, and many others under the topic of "graphic design" you'll see Google ads for graphic designers and design firms. What these designers have done is purchased, or 'bid on' keywords they hope will place their ads in sites where people are looking for designers. As in the case of the Design Center, the readership is largely visual communicators -- either amateur or professional -- looking for ideas, concepts, help, tips and techniques along with the usual news and reviews. This is not a place to advertise graphic design services. Just look around.

Thank goodness, many of these designer's ads get clicked -- which in tern provides the Design Center a meager financial contribution. That's good for us, but not good for the designer. I suspect most of the clicks are by other designers checking what the competition is doing, or merely idea mining. But the advertising designer pays. In most cases, Google is the only one making any real money.

Are the Yellow Pages worth the cost in getting jobs?

My experience with the Yellow Pages (YP) runs more than 30 years and has provided very mixed results. At some point in those years we decided to remove our ad. It wasn't necessarily about the money, but rather the kinds of leads the YP brought us.

In the early years we thought the YP would bring local notoriety, and therefore good design jobs. We later learned this was the wrong idea. Instead, the YP brought shoppers who didn't really know what graphic design is; students looking for jobs or 'interviews' for their class projects; or worse yet, other designers fishing for rates and sourcing information. In fact, when we would be quoting a new job, in the following couple of days we would get a series of other calls from 'supposed' clients who ironically wanted prices on a job with the exact same specifications. Hmmmmm.

So we removed the Yellow Pages ads, and the fishing and shopping stopped. Thank goodness.

Is the local Chamber of Commerce membership important?

Simple answer: Yes.

But if you think a Chamber of Commerce (CoC) membership is going to bring the kind of work you're looking for, you may be disappointed. Yes, I always advocate joining the CoC -- it's a valuable local resource that does indeed put you into networking with other local businesses. Many benefits come from this. However, in my experience an occasional referral is about all you can really count on, aside from regular networking events where you 'work' the crowd. After all -- consider that the other businesses have purchased the membership for the same reason.

Shouldn't I be in one of those portfolio sites?

The portfolio sites are a mixed bag of benefits and pitfalls. In the dawn of the internet, my partner and I cooked up the notion of a portfolio site to service graphic designers all over the world -- since nothing like it existed. They would pay a small fee and we would host their scanned samples through an automated interface.

Well, in 1993 that was a little ahead of the wave, unfortunately, or we would have made a million. At the time, designers were still trying to make the transition from traditional printed portfolios to digital ones and getting them signed up and their samples uploaded proved to be a major barrier. We scrapped the project.

As you know, of course a couple of years later, along came Portfolio.com and those guys took our original idea and made a million off of it. But does it really bring in the good jobs for designers, illustrators and photographers? Probably not -- in fact, most of the users of such sites will admit they're not getting what they expected. Such sites are good for posting your work, because they're automated and don't require a lot of the time and work involved in having your own portfolio site. Many these days are turning to the 'picture hosting' and social networking sites for the same reasons. But generating good design jobs and income? Nope.

Should I get a "Talent Directory" listing?

Yes and no.

Yes, because the listing can be added to your credentials which in some cases might prove advantageous. No, because again it invites she shoppers and fishers.

How about freelance bidding sites?

Web sites like Elance list jobs for free. But what generally happens there is a host of applicants all "bid" on the job and become engaged in a 'low-balling' bid war. This unfortunately drives down the rates and designers end up working for nothing. It's an age-old plight of designers. Yes, there are people in the world perfectly happy to do a Logo design campaign for twenty-five bucks.

They'll get the job, not you, unless you bid twenty-four bucks. - Don't forget, most bidding sites let anyone bid, they take a commission from the payment on the job, so if they charge 10% they will take $2.40 of your $24.

There's one more route you can take -- possibly the best route, and that's lead services...

Continued on the next page ... "Lead Services: Pros and Cons"


Also see:
* Business margin
* Operating margin
* Profits
* Gross profit margin

Return to the Business Department, or back to the Front Page

Do you like DTG? If you have found benefit from the content found here, why not help by becoming a Friend of the Design Center? You'll be helping us continue our ten-year tradition of quality content on the web.

Participate in your Design Center

Lots of fun and information for all... don't forget, any community is only as good as the participation of its members. We invite your tips, tricks, comments, suggestions and camaraderie.