How to effectively win more freelance projects as a designer.

A hands-on approach on how to increase your chances of winning clients.

Clearly, the easiest way to win a client when you’re a freelancer is to have experience in that specific field the client is in.

Just to give you a quick example:

John has a car repair shop and he wants to give his clients the possibility to book appointments to get their cars repaired.

Let’s say two freelancers apply for this job:

Alex — Has 10 years of experience designing websites/apps for various industries. He is super talented, it has a diverse set of skills, but he didn’t design any website/app for a car repair shop.

Helen — Has 2 years of experience designing websites/apps. She has only a few projects done during these years but one of her projects was a car repair shop website.

Guess who will win the client?

🥁🥁🥁Helen 🎉 🎉 🎉

Is it fair? Probably not, Alex would say, but it doesn’t matter what Alex thinks. In this case, having something in common is more important than skills and experience.

What Alex can do instead to win this client? Well, he can try one of these approaches:

Find things in common with the client, even if is not something tech/industry-related, and try to push as much as possible on those common things.

I will use myself as an example.

Recently I have applied for a project related to the mental health space. So, my situation feels very similar to Alex’s from the first example. The chances are that someone else competing with you to win this client worked on a project in the mental health space. Here is what you can do now is to try to find things in common:

Google the company, learn about its culture, and try to find the team behind it. Try to look for a stakeholder social media profile, or try to look for some blog posts or press articles that might reflect some similarities with what you have done in the past, or maybe just a common interest.

What worked for me, was that when I was in college I was working as a volunteer for an NGO which was helping people with mental disabilities to get integrated into society. So, I realized that I could tell them that I have worked with people with disabilities before and I know a thing or two about the mental health space and I can help them with this project.

To my surprise, telling this story to my “soon-to-be” client worked wonders and it created that sense of empathy, of having something in common.

Having something in common even on a more personal level works great. It is not surprising that we tend to like people who are similar to us, and there is a large body of research that confirms this.

Create conceptual work. Take an existing product in that space and try to reimagine it.

As I said in the beginning, the most effective way to win a client is to have similar work in your portfolio.

There are three possible ways to approach this:

1. Design Dribbling

Let’s say you find a project you really like and you think you can add value to it but unfortunately, you do not have any work to show in that field. What you can do to quickly get your foot in the door?

Go on and find a current product similar to what your client has and try to reimagine something as small as a feature. Be bold, be creative, dare to create a different experience, and try to make it as real as possible. Again, I will use myself as an example.

Let’s say your client it’s a big e-commerce platform that tries to reimagine the browsing experience. The problem they solve is:

Browsing on Asos website for men t-shirts will show you 5090 products. Imagine, how exhausting and stressful might be to browse all those pages.”

Go crazy, try to reimagine it in a totally different way. What is great about this approach is that you can tackle a lot of industries in advance and whenever you want to apply to a project you might have something to show in that specific industry.

“Perspective view” in e-commerce.

💡When to use: This approach is best suited for small projects which are very specific and don’t require a long-term commitment from you.

🧠How much effort: Find out the level of commitment they expect, duration of the project, and see if it’s worth risking maximum few hours of work.

🚦Client difficulty: Small clients with little to no experience in design. Mostly small business owners.

🚨 Alert: If you share it publicly there might be other designers who will try to blame/mock/shame you because you are not a real designer because you are doing unsolicited redesigns. Be careful!

2. Document your thought process.

Using the same example as above you can try to show more on your thinking rather than visual artifacts. 
It might seem intimidating at first, but if you treat it as a Whiteboarding / Onsite / Take-home exercise. You work with assumptions.

To go through this process, you can answer six questions:

  • Why am I building this?
  • Who am I building it for?
  • When and where will it be used?
  • What am I building?
  • How could I measure it?
A v1 draft of your thought process.

💡When to use: This approach is best suited for medium to long projects which are broader in scope and require a long-term commitment from your side.

🧠How much effort: Find out the level of commitment they expect, duration of the project, and see if it’s worth risking from 1 hour to 1 week.

🚦Client difficulty: Experienced clients more educated on design. Mostly, well-established companies or startups which might know a thing or two about design.

🚨 Alert: If you share it publicly there might be other designers who will try to blame/mock/shame you because you base your decision on assumptions and this is not what a professional designer do.

P.S. I didn’t get into details of how you can approach each one of the methods above because this is not the scope of this article, but if some of you will want to see a hands-on approach to doing this, please let me know on my Twitter profile.

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