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7 points on Client acquisition

I stumbled upon a curious post by James Martin, also known as Made by James, on Instagram, titled “How I got clients”. A title like this catches everyone's attention and I went and read the text, where he addresses, in 7 points, his process of attracting clients.

If I were starting to work now, I would be absorbing all this knowledge sharing as if it were the last Coca Cola in the desert (Portuguese expression). However, I always like to read these kind of posts to compare with my own reality. Even though we have different ages and completely different backgrounds, I ended up discovering that there are a few similarities. I'm not going to list James' points, I advise you to follow him, he really is a unique personality and it's really worth seeing and listening to what he has to say. But like him, I will list in 7 points my strategies for attracting clients. The channels I use, how I approach potential clients, the almost infallible actions for success and some of my own tips that may prove to be useful.

Firstly, I have a background that someone starting out now doesn't have. I worked for 21 years in various agencies and with that I created a certain image and reputation for work and consistency, as well as meeting a lot of people. In the first year of working on my own, my planning was divided between some direct clients and agency clients. Thanks to my past, what I did was call or email people I knew at certain agencies and say I was on the market. Fortunately, it wasn't too difficult to find work. During Covid, after the disappearance of several clients, a contact made during the agencies' time approached me for some work and it has been more than 3 years of collaboration.

Secondly, my main concern was having an online work showcase, my digital office, so building a website was always a priority. Over the years, the website stopped being just a portfolio showcase and became something a little more dynamic, which includes this blog with articles in Portuguese and English, a podcast and social networks. So I'm not only showing my graphic design services, but also strengthening my reputation among those who don't know me, that is, outside the agencies.

One thing to keep in mind - do you remember a few months ago that Meta and its applications were inaccessible for a few hours? The panic it generated? How many businesses based entirely on Facebook or Instagram were left without access to the outside world during this time? Bet on a website…

Thirdly, something that goes hand in hand with the previous point, which is social media. I come from a time when social media wasn’t really a thing, so, thanks to a certain illiteracy on my part and also the fact that social networks when appeared were not as dynamic as they are today, it was only more recently that I started to look at certain platforms as valid channels of communication and propagation of my services and achievements. It's impossible to be on all the networks and I still haven't woken up and quite possibly will never wake up to many of them, so, after having tried a few, I ended up concentrating my range of action on Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube. Thanks to LinkedIn and, also to a smaller percentage, Instagram, I can make enough noise to attract the attention of some companies or decision makers, thereby achieving some conversions. I see social media exactly this way, as tools to make noise, to say that I exist and that I do what I do. I don't have an aggressive strategy of contacting people left and right and directly imposing my services. I prefer that the stars align and there is a need for the client to look for someone with my profile.

Fourth, networking. I've already mentioned in previous episodes that networking is a really useful tool. During 2019, I was in a networking group that met every week at 6:30 in the morning. As they used to say in these meetings, “we are closing deals while the competition sleeps”. And it wasn't a lie at all. To be able to participate in these groups we have to pay - everything is a business, I'm not going to lie to you. Between registration and weekly meetings, the investment I made throughout the year was something around €2000. But it gave me access to a list of potential clients, which I would never have been able to gather in 10 years of social media. That investment paid off in my specific case, as just one contact and one first job paid off for the entire year. And that contact ended up becoming a client with whom I still collaborate today. In total, I earned a little more than €10.000 just through calls in this group, 60% of which came from this single client. The remaining 40% came from 18 or 19 other clients - small jobs costing a few tens or a few hundred euros, but as they say, crumbs are also bread - another expression I learned through networking. I ended up leaving the group, because the effort I was putting in with these clients was too much for the gain. And charging higher prices would end up alienating the vast majority of them, if not all. Strategically, it's not the kind of client I am looking for, with all due respect for people and their areas of activity. Then the pandemic came and that's a topic for another article.

Fifthly – word of mouth marketing. It's so important and so overlooked, because it's never seen as a customer acquisition strategy. When I started working on my own, I spoke not only to my agency contacts, former colleagues or bosses, but to friends and family. And doesn't that work? Then there is always someone who knows someone who needs someone with the skills that we happen to have. Work that came through an uncle and that friend who knows you well enough to recommend you, time and time again. Or the client who has a friend who needs the supplier in your area of expertise. And, BANG, conversion…

Sixth, the diversification of services. It's nothing new, but the more services I can provide, the greater the chances of conversion. I have invested in my professional training, whether through the e-learning platforms that proliferate on the web, or through my curiosity. But I don't want to be a jack of all trades. I am complementing my more specialized offer with more solutions. I can achieve an increase of 10 to 30% in a project, by incorporating services that complement my offer.

And lastly – be accessible. What does it mean to be accessible? It's being able to talk to the widest spectrum of people, from the owner of a small commercial establishment, to the Marketing Manager of a multinational. I can't speak the same way to one as to another. I have to know how to adapt to different realities. For example, the micro company client does not have time for positioning. What he wants is conversion and as quickly as possible. A larger company understands the importance of careful positioning. Therefore, being accessible also means knowing how to channel the right effort and energy to the right person. Always take work and client management seriously, but know how to communicate in the right way with different clients.

Don't use the same formula for everyone.

We are not serving coffees - once again with due respect to those who do so - our work is not just black and white. There is a considerable spectrum of grays in between.

When working alone, we have to do a little bit of everything. We live in spectacular times if we can abstract ourselves from the constant crises we are experiencing. I can't always be proactive, but when I am, I take almost everything forward. And working for myself, if I'm quiet and waiting for things to happen, I might as well roll into a ditch and stay there. By this I mean that whenever necessary, we have to leave our comfort zone and venture into the unknown to gain from it.

Thank you for making it to the end of this article and will I see you on the next one?


This article is an adaptation, translated from the script of the 10th episode of my podcast Graphic Design in Portuguese

Video cover of the 10th episode from the podcast

P.S. While I'm reviewing this article I'm listening to the Deluxe Edition of Dead Bees on a Cake by David Sylvian. What a wonderful, wonderful album, what marvellous melodic music.


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