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4 guaranteed ways to land your first design gig

Emily Belden's Layout avatar

Landing a design gig isn’t always easy, especially if you’re just beginning your design business. For starters, there’s a surplus of people who consider themselves graphic or web designers, meaning there is plenty of competition when you go to market your services. Secondly, the way the web is evolving, it seems that almost everything a designer would typically be hired to do can be automated with a (sometimes free) template or cookie-cutter option. While this may seem like a good option for the end user, there’s simply no substitution for great design and there are still many people who are looking to hire for just that.

That being said, there are a few key ways to ensure that you break the mold when it comes to landing a design gig. Here are my top tips to try!

Network in person

“As old-fashioned as it sounds, getting yourself out there goes a long way. ” I can think of a handful of people who discovered some of their best clients just by grabbing an appetizer and a drink after work at a professional get-together. Although it can seem intimidating, a good networking event will have hosts who can help break the ice, making it easy to start a conversation with anyone and introduce yourself and your work style. Now, to be clear, this doesn’t mean you should print out samples of your work and show them off like a job interview. Instead, find ways to work in what you do to naturally in the conversation.

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It’s also important to mention that networking events themselves have evolved tremendously over the years. Gone are the days of awkward socializing in a small room; now there are things like speed-networking or networking at unique venues with performance art or impressive speakers. Bonding over something exciting and creative is a great way to get to know like-minded individuals and the perfect opportunity to get a taste of what it would be like to work with them.

Be memorable

After you’ve made a solid connection at a networking event, the logical thing to do is exchange contact information. Sure, it is very simple and affordable to have typical business cards professionally printed, but take the opportunity to use your business card as a mini portfolio. Again, this doesn’t mean to show off everything you’ve done (especially because it’s such a small space), but rather everything you’re capable of. Think of a creative shape or format, maybe work together with a copywriter, and have a piece printed on nice paper so that you are presenting a memorable takeaway.

Ensure your online presence is sharp

If you’ve met a potential client in passing, such as at a networking event or through a recommendation of a colleague, it’s important to make sure your online presence (website, social media, LinkedIn profile) is buttoned up. Do you have samples of your work? Do you have a bio or about section? Is it easy to contact you for more information?

There really is no such thing as a hard-sell anymore when it comes to getting your creative services off the ground. But you can count on your potential leads to look up your online presence, and this includes your social media streams. A general rule of thumb: “If you wouldn’t want your mother to see it, don’t post it (or delete it if it’s too late). ”

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Follow up creatively

Finally, when it comes time to close on the project, try to remember something the potential client said in initial talks that hits on a more personal level. This could be anything from what kind of dog they have to where they went to college to what they seemed to enjoy eating at the mixer. From there, figure out a creative spin on roping that personal connection into your follow up message.

For example, if the potential client seemed to really enjoy the white wine served at a networking event, grab a bottle and redo the label on it with a customized graphic. Doing something like that shows off charm and chops – the two most important things for hooking new business.

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What do you think about networking events as a way to land a gig? What have you done to score a client? Or better yet, what has someone done to you to win over your business?

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