Where Do I Find Work?
I'm asked often where I find work as a freelance graphic designer. Sure, some projects feel like they fall out of thin air. Other projects are sought after and the result of many conversations over an extended length of time. What about the majority—the bread and butter? They come from referrals.
As a freelancer, you've got a lot of different spaces on the internet to manage: A website, portfolio boosters (Dribbble, Behance, Tumblr, Instagram), client-to-designer platforms (WorkingNotWorking, UpWork, Freelancer), and supplementary channels (blog, e-commerce). You want to know a secret? Only about 5% of my work can be traced directly back to one of these sites. Yes, they help build awareness around your work; they supply prospective clients with reference materials. But what none of these can do well is corroborate your personality or your fit for a client.
Referrals do something incredibly important. They do what a 800x600 pixel Dribbble post cannot— they speak to the credibility you have in a skillset and lay relational groundwork.
When I spend significant time working with my clients, they learn something about me. Together, we solve problems, we navigate new challenges that arise, and we find a good workflow to benefit the entire team. What I'm not saying is to ditch all of these important digital tools that feel essential to your engagement in the design community. Once you have a few big projects under your belt, it might be time to start utilizing the connections you've made as a primary source for future work.
Here's an example of how this works for me:
When I studied advertising in school, I was part of a tightly-knit program for students going into the creative marketplace. One of my peers (with whom I was familiar, but had not met) shared my information with an agency. The agency gave me an opportunity to fill a full-time position as a contractor. While with the agency, I worked on multiple projects with a specific team. One of the guys on this team recommended me for a project (similar to the agency job) to a friend. Upon meeting this new client, my information was shared with several other people with whom this new client was working. And there you have it! I've got a new project with a new client in a totally new network of people I've never had access to before.
Peer > Agency > Agency Guy > Friend of Agency Guy > Business Partner of Friend of Agency Guy> ** NEW WORK **
Along the way, my credibility is validated and I'm able to show new work. Like multi-level businesses, I'm building a chain of people who are broadcasting my work without my knowing. What's better is this work falls into my specializations.
If you're having trouble finding work (or finding the right work), start by reaching out to old clients. You never know what new connections could be made or who might be on the hunt for someone just like you.