The first step to starting a successful graphic design business is figuring out where – and how – to find new clients.
Trust me, I get it, we’ve all been there.
When I quit my full-time job in 2017, I felt immense pressure to to find work, and do so quickly.
After all, those bills weren’t going to pay themselves.
With time and a bit of trial and error, I was able to secure more than enough work for both myself and what would later become my own small graphic design agency.
In this article, I am going to share a handful of popular services, resources and methods for finding graphic design clients.
Some of these I use myself, others come highly recommended.
All of these methods and resources are ranked in order of what, in my personal opinion, are the most to least effective.
But I realize, your experience may vary. So I encourage you, my dear reader, to utilize as many as you can.
If there’s one thing that I really credit to my success as a freelancer, it’s that I was willing to try almost anything once. And I remained persistent until I discovered tactics and resources that worked for me and my business.
With persistence, an open mind and a strong work ethic, clients are sure to follow.
Editor’s note: Any prices mentioned below are at the time of this writing and are subject to change.
1. Word of Mouth Referrals
Clients produced by word-of-mouth referrals are, in my opinion, the best clients.
In my experience, these clients rarely attempt to haggle on price, are always eager to work with you, and tend to be more respectful of your time.
The day I quit my full-time job – after a celebratory lunchtime marg’ – I sat down at my computer and began e-mailing every professional contact in my digital Rolodex. Including past clients included.
I let them know I was available for freelance work, and that I would be grateful for their referrals.
You may also want to consider posting about it on your own personal social media.
I am a big believer in putting things out into the universe. Not because I believe in magic per se. But because I know people aren’t mindreaders.
If you want something, you have to ask for it. You never know who might be listening.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that Upwork is my all-time favorite freelance platform.
Upwork is the world’s largest freelance marketplace – which means your odds of finding work here are pretty solid.
I’ve personally earned over $600,000 on this platform alone in the last five years.
Sure, it may take a bit of time and persistence to get started, but honestly, that’s going to be the case for almost any method on this list. Success rarely happens overnight.
At the time of this writing, Upwork charges a flat 10% fee on all earnings.
For my personal tips and tricks on how to be successful on Upwork, check out my digital downloads page for downloadable resources including a free eBook.
I’m also a big fan of Fiverr.
While I wasn’t personally able to find success on Fiverr – and quit trying after Upwork took off – I’ve heard some amazing success stories about this platform.
Like this recently published story about Alexandra Fasulo who not only made $271,000 on Fiverr in 2021 alone but refers to herself as a “Fiverr Millionaire”.
At the time of this writing, with the exclusion of Logo Maker jobs, Fiverr charges a 20% fee on most earnings.
Freelancer.com is basically a lower-budget version of Upwork.
There aren’t quite as many users or jobs available. But it might be worth checking out as there are also fewer people competing for jobs.
Freelancer, like Upwork, also charges a flat 10% fee on all earnings.
5. Freelancing Females Job Board
Freelancing Females is one of my favorite online freelance communities.
And there are always a ton of opportunities available on their Job Board – mostly posted by other female business owners and entrepreneurs.
While it’s free to use the job board, there is a cost to becoming a member.
Memberships start at $18 every three months or $59 for an annual subscription.
A membership will get you access to vetted job opportunities, a directory listing on the Freelancing Females website and access to their exclusive Slack channel.
SolidGigs isn’t a freelance marketplace like Upwork or Fiverr. They are a self-proclaimed lead-generation tool.
On SolidGigs, you tell the platform what kinds of work you want, they find potential clients and alert you when they have a good match.
The rest is up to you.
You communicate directly with the prospective clients, send pitches and ideally, win jobs.
There are no percentage-based job fees on SolidGigs. But there is a monthly subscription.
It’s free to try but membership will cost you $35 per month or $21 per month when paid annually.
7. People Per Hour
People Per Hour is a bargain bin UK version of Upwork with a slightly different fee structure.
Per client billing, freelancers on People Per Hour pay a 20% fee on the first £250, 7.5% on £250-£5000 and 3.5% on £5000+.
Also, like Upwork, freelancers only receive a handful of free proposal credits every month which they can use to bid on jobs. Although, additional credits are available for purchase if needed.
Behance is owned by Adobe.
It’s a place where you can share your portfolio with other designers and find work via a free-to-use job board – at least in theory.
I’ve been in this industry for a long time now, and I’ve never had a client who even seemed even remotely familiar with Behance or how it worked.
And at the time of this writing, there are barely over 1000 jobs listed on the platform. And about half of those are true freelance jobs.
That might sound like a lot, but if you compare that number to other job sites or freelance marketplaces, it’s minuscule.
Regardless, it seems to be a popular site amongst professional graphic designers.
Honestly, some days I feel like the only designer on the planet that isn’t on this platform. So it’s entirely possible that my bias against it is neither accurate nor fair. I would just rather spend my time hanging out with potential clients rather than other designers.
Regardless, Behance is free to use and it offers a great way to publish your work on the internet, so what do you have to lose?
A competitor to Behance, Dribbble is a primarily a website where you can share your portfolio work with other designers and prospective clients.
It’s great for designers who wish to network with others in their field or don’t otherwise have a way to create a portfolio – like their own website for instance.
Dribbble also has a job board where you can browse full-time, part-time, remote and even freelance design jobs.
The main job board is free to use. However, if you want to browse freelance graphic design projects, you’ll need to upgrade to Pro Business for $15 per month, paid annually.
Editor’s Note: The next three resources on my list – TopTal, OnSite.io and YunoJuno – can be difficult to get into and are reserved for the best of the best freelance designers. This exclusionary aspect is the only reason I am not ranking them higher up on the list.
TopTal is another freelance marketplace service, similar to Upwork. But this one is reserved for highly experienced design freelancers.
In fact, TopTal claims to only approve 3% of the thousands of freelance applicants they screen monthly.
However, there’s a catch to this one: They don’t accept just any graphic designer.
Then why, you might ask, would I include them in this list at all? Well, they do accept specific kinds of designers.
Specifically, they accept Expert UI, UX, Visual, Interaction and Web designers as well as Illustrators and Animators.
So, if you’re a highly skilled expert-level designer that happens to fall into one of those niches, this one might be worth checking out.
OnSite.io is, in a nutshell, a UK-based TopTal. Only 5% of freelance applicants who apply are accepted into the program.
Freelancers and their portfolios are carefully vetted. And approvals may take up to 48 hours.
But here’s the best part, if you are accepted into the program, there are no freelancer fees.
Onsite makes their money from the clients instead.
That’s right, OnSite charges clients £100.00 per job post.
And this is the way, in my humble opinion, that it should be.
YunoJuno is another UK-based application-only talent marketplace for elite freelancers who specialize in creative and tech.
LinkedIn can also be a great place to find jobs. In fact, some designers swear by strategic cold outreach on the platform.
While I am sure cold pitches work for some, I actually recommend using LinkedIn’s Jobs page.
I tend to find that LinkedIn Jobs, like many of the other job boards on the list, cater more to part-time and full-time positions, but it’s free to use so you’ve got nothing to lose.
Alternatively, you can also search the LinkedIn Newsfeed for keywords and phrases like “hiring a freelance graphic designer” or “hiring designers” which will often reveal posts about jobs that may not be listed on LinkedIn’s job board.
FlexJobs is essentially a job board for remote, work-from-home and flexible job opportunities.
They are the Indeed of the remote work world.
While there are more regular part-time and full-time jobs on this site than freelance gigs per se, freelance and temporary work-from-home jobs are available. So it might be worth a peek.
15. Facebook Groups and Twitter Communities
While this one is a little “hit or miss”, if you’re going to leverage social media for job opportunities, I would suggest doing so using Facebook Groups and Twitter Communities.
Groups and Communities are designed to be a bit more niche. And they encourage community interaction. As a result, I frequently see freelance job opportunities popping up – at least in the Groups and Communities I follow.
Niches that frequently require design work include Marketing, Blogging and Freelance (as in freelancers subcontracting with other freelancers), just to name a few.
16. In-person networking (tech meetups)
Honestly, I’ve grown to hate the term “networking”. It’s so often overused.
I’ve seen far too many would-be freelancers fall into the trap of going out and drinking with their friends every night under the guise of “networking”.
So if you’re going to attempt a bit of in-person networking, be a bit more strategic about it.
For best results, consider attending tech meetups, or conferences related to your niche.
Speaking at conferences is also a great way to attract new graphic design clients.
Most people think of Thumbtack as a site to hire more traditional contractors like handymen and plumbers.
But you can find almost any service professional on Thumbtack – including graphic designers.
I personally used Thumbtack to find design work in the past.
I found a moderate amount of success with the platform but felt that the bidding system was too expensive and a bit unfair for my tastes.
And, I hated spending $4-$7 bidding on project with zero follow-up.
Honestly, when it was all said and done I probably barely broke even between the expensive cost of bidding and all of the cheap prospects.
The last straw, for me, was when Thumbtack refused to truly advocate for me when a client refused to pay for a logo design.
With that said, from the looks of things, Thumbtack has evolved quite a bit since I last used the program.
Now, Thumbtack clients browse for freelancers (instead of the other way around) and freelancers pay per lead. The price per lead varies depending on the project type and the competitive nature of your niche. And leads cost as little as $1.50.
Overall it sounds like it’s become a bit of a better deal than it was when I last used the platform, but with so many better (and cheaper) options out there, Thumbtack remains at the near-bottom of my list.
18. Recruiting agencies
And then we have the traditional recruiting agency route.
Recruiting agencies are great for tech professionals looking for full-time work or long-term contracts.
But they can occasionally help freelancers find jobs as well.
Just be warned, if you go this route, recruiting agencies can be pretty expensive.
According to Eddy.com, the average recruitment fee varies from 15-25% annually per placement.
Which doesn’t sound that bad until you compare it to a marketplace site like Upwork.
On Upwork, if you made $100,000 with a single client in your first year, you’d end up paying about $4,500 in commission fees. If you made $100,000 with a single client in your first year with a recruiting agency, you could pay somewhere closer to $25,000 in fees.
And here’s the worst part, with the agency, you might not even realize exactly how much money you’re losing. Some agencies won’t even tell you exactly how much they are making off of your contract. So you might be leaving a significant amount of dough on the table and not even realize it.
19. DesignCrowd and 99Designs
I’m grouping these last two together because they are so similar.
99Designs and DesignCrowd are crowd-sourced design contest platforms.
For the unrequited, contest-based freelance platforms allow hundreds of freelancers to create and submit designs to a single job post in hopes of being selected out of a sea of hundreds of submissions.
If the freelancer’s art is chosen – they get paid a percentage of the contest price. If the freelancer’s art isn’t chosen – they receive nothing.
This, in my opinion, presents a huge risk where the odds are not in the freelancer’s favor.
Of the two, I prefer 99Designs – now in partnership with Vista (as in Vistaprint).
And I prefer 99Designs for two reasons:
- They now offer a traditional freelancer marketplace alternative for people who hate design contests as much as I do.
- They are a bit more well-known and have better credibility in the industry.
But with all of that said, I do think design contests have their time and place.
For instance, I wish, when I was young and just starting out, that I had participated in a few more design contests.
It can be a great way of beefing up your graphic design portfolio while gaining a bit of real-world experience.
What are your top tips for finding graphic design clients? Let me know in the comments and don’t forget to connect with me on social media using the links below!