You aren’t afraid of hard work or even great expense in figuring out how to get new clients. You just don’t want either your time or your money to be wasted. I don’t have all the answers to this dilemma, but I do have the benefit of taking a deep look inside 650+ design firms in the past 18 years, and that naturally equips me with certain advantages.
For one, I know what does and doesn’t work when determining how to get new clients. My assessment won’t be some passing comment at a convention over a beer where someone boasts about their new program and exclaims “how well it’s worked.” For another, seeing inside these design firms helps with a fresh mix of old and new ideas for finding new clients.
Yes, you need a graphic design marketing plan, though something that will fit on the front and back of one napkin will work fine. Yes, you need marketing materials for communicating with design clients. Yes, one person needs to be charged with making this graphic design marketing plan happen.
But there are four things that will do more than anything else in making you successful at figuring out how to get new clients. If these four things are present at your design firm, you’d actually have to work very hard not to succeed at finding new clients.
Finding New Clients
- You need a compelling positioning statement.I probably could take your current positioning statement (in other words, “what makes you unique in the marketplace”), hand it to your competitors, and they could say all the same things. Most design firms are much better at differentiating their clients’ products/services than they are their own. They typically make these three mistakes with their communicating with design clients about their positioning statement:
- They talk about what’s true but not necessarily what’s different (“We think strategically to provide graphic design solutions”).
- They rely on things that are not demonstrable during the dating process, confusing why clients come to them with why clients stay with them (“You’ll like working with us”).
- They emphasize the wrong things (“We’ll do things on time and on budget, and you’ll work with senior staff”).
So that’s the first mistake: a positioning statement that sucks, that’s no different from those of other design firms and is just marketing gibberish. You may be able to bust into any room, but if you don’t have compelling things to say when communicating with design clients, you’ll lose their attention quickly.
- You need personal confidence. Successful people exude confidence and (potential) clients relax. Do you really believe you are different (see above)? I mean, do you really believe you are better at what you do than most of your peers? If you don’t really believe that, find another field of work where it can be true. If you do believe that, act like it. Get out there and make credible claims, price your work accordingly, and then deliver with solid graphic design solutions. Remember: great graphic design solutions come with deep expertise in a repeatable fashion.
- You need connections. In spite of our grandest plans, most great clients come not from your direct efforts but from your indirect ones. These indirect ones include a client connection, vendor connection, employee connection or supporter connection. If you don’t believe me, list the top five clients you’ve ever had and then tell me how they came to be a client. Probably two-thirds of them were not tied directly to your marketing plan or your staff sales person. Immerse yourself in their world, not the world of your peers, if you’re being realistic about how to get new clients.
- You need to be intimately involved in the process of finding new clients. As the principal of your design firm, even when you get old you should be wheeled into the corner where you can drool intelligently and communicate the weight of this meeting only with your presence. This process of finding new clients is not like account service, like project management, like accounting, or like IT; finding new clients demands your personal involvement. And notice that I didn’t say anything about cold calling. No professional design firms do that.
There are many other things to pay attention to in learning how to get new clients, but these are the four essentials.
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