Finding Local Clients as a Surface Designer

Finding clients in your area is a great way to build long lasting relationships and offers great opportunities for your illustration and surface design work. You can take advantage of your local network and get to know businesses, clients, and buyers personally. 

This allows you to build a strong network of repeat clients that’ll come to you for their needs. Locally, you are able to stand out with exceptional work and great customer service; you can become the go-to person for their design needs.

Furthermore, supporting small businesses fosters a sense of community, encourages local shopping and selling, and forms a connection between owners, customers, and creators. It’ll also help you understand the local needs and market better, in which competition is often less intense compared to online.

Finding Local Clients as a Surface Designer | Sketch Design Repeat

So, how do you leverage a local network for your surface design business? Let’s look at a few ways to find clients locally as a freelance surface designer.

Networking Opportunities

Find local communities and networking events in the creative field, or perhaps an entrepreneurs group. Networking helps you meet new potential clients, find support, build your confidence, and is a great way to learn about the local market. You’ll also get in the habit of introducing yourself and getting comfortable with doing so.

Showing up like this can seem scary, but is a huge advantage, as you’re able to make a lasting impression in person and get to know others on a personal level. The more people get to know you, the more likely it is that someone will need your expertise and skills, or you’ll be recommended by someone in the network.

It all starts with one client: It might seem complicated and daunting to find lots of clients or buyers locally, but it can all start with one person. Happy clients become your most valuable referrers. 

Working as an illustrator with small businesses on custom designs, I have personally benefited from word-of-mouth marketing in a local market tremendously. Becoming that go-to person means personal, genuine recommendations, as you establish credibility and trust quickly if you do an exceptional job.

Once you have a positive experience with that first client, leverage it! Ask for a testimonial, if they can refer you to others, and share process and final results online, if possible. Keep in mind that trust and exceptional customer service are just as essential as creating beautiful work.

Finding Local Clients as a Surface Designer | Sketch Design Repeat

Local Events and Communities

Apart from networking, also think about other types of events you could attend or join: Art fairs, exhibitions, conventions, and more are all perfect for meeting other illustrators and potential clients. You can participate in workshops, gallery tours, creative meetups, and more. Getting to know other designers is a great way to share your work, collaborate, share a network, and learn how to find clients.

Over the years, I have participated in local mural design festivals in my city. This allowed me to recreate some of my work on a big scale on the street, which meant a lot of publicity in local media, a great way to practice my illustration skills, and an opportunity to show what I can offer to local businesses, whether it’s mural designs or something related.

If you can’t find any local groups or events, you can perhaps start your own. It doesn’t have to be complicated; it could be as simple as a monthly hangout. All it takes is finding a common interest and a channel to spread the word. 

Share Your Expertise and Work

Once you have found your local community, you can volunteer to host a talk or workshop. This not only positions you as an expert in your field but also provides an opportunity to meet potential clients who are interested in your services, and increases your visibility. 

It doesn’t have to be complicated either; I have given talks at local typography and design get-togethers, where I shared the behind the scenes of recent lettering and illustration pieces I made. This was simply a way of sharing my perspective with others, and was a powerful way of introducing myself to the local design community.

You can also show off your work at local fairs: participate in local art shows, craft fairs, or markets to showcase your design work and connect with potential clients face-to-face. I have participated in local illustration fairs where I sold greeting cards, which simultaneously helped me get in touch with other artists plus connect with potential clients. 

Surface design by Claire van Kuijck | Finding Local Clients as a Surface Designer | Sketch Design Repeat

Advertise in Groups

I am privileged to live in a big city with access to lots of businesses, art fairs, networking opportunities, and other in-person events to get to know others. If you’re in a less populated area, you might need to use local online services to spread the word instead. In that case, you can list your services in business directories, both online and offline, like local newspapers or magazines, Google, Yelp, and more to spread the word.

Don’t forget to utilize social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram can be a great way to connect with potential clients in your area. Join local groups or use location-based hashtags to reach people in your community. Share your work regularly, engage with others in the industry to show your expertise, and share that you’re available for clients locally.

Related Article: Finding Freelance Design Jobs with Smaller Companies

Print Promo Items

Take business cards with you everywhere you go. Hand them out at networking events, classes, art fairs, et cetera. Have a look around your area and see what businesses might allow you to hang up a small flyer. I usually carry small business cards with a QR code to my socials. I also have slightly bigger postcards printed that are greeting card sized; I use these to add to printed projects, hand out to people, and hang up in local cafés, bookstores, art shops, co-working spaces, and more. You’re a designer, so you can make these prints as crazy and fun as you want!

Surface design by Claire van Kuijck | Finding Local Clients as a Surface Designer | Sketch Design Repeat

Collaborate with Local Businesses and Artists

A great way to show off your skills and show you’re open to working with clients is partnering up with another business. Get involved in community events or projects where your design skills could be useful, and where you want to increase your visibility. You could organize an event together, or offer your design services in exchange for referrals or exposure (of course, only offer what you are comfortable with and realistically have time for!). This could include designing posters for fundraisers, community festivals, charity events, and more.

I love designing for the food and hospitality industry, so when I had the opportunity to collaborate with a local patisserie shop, I took that chance. Together, we designed a seasonal fruit and dessert calendar, and a collection of festive greeting cards for their patisserie shop, which were sold at local markets and sent out to businesses in the region. This resulted in both our profiles being raised, and allowed me to illustrate for a range of bakeries, shops, and restaurants in the years to come. 

Surface design by Claire van Kuijck | Finding Local Clients as a Surface Designer | Sketch Design Repeat

A Few More Tips

Keep a list of contacts

As you meet a lot of new people, you might want to keep a list of connections organized, with their names and contact details. This way you can also follow up with people, invite them to local events, or share your ideas.

Keep your socials up to date

Even though you will network locally and talk to people in person; still make sure people have a way to find you online, and keep your details up to date. Whether that’s your website, online portfolio page, or social media, clearly state at the top of the page what you offer and make sure it is easy to understand. 

Don’t forget to share the work you’ve done, the events you’ve participated in, and the people you’ve collaborated with online, no matter how small. Showing you are active in the community, have worked with local clients, and highlighting the impact you’ve made could convince a potential client or buyer to contact you.

Share passion projects

If you’re able, work on a personal project to show what you have to offer, specifically to local clients. A personal, custom project can show you understand local needs, and make a huge difference. 

A few years ago, I appealed to the local restaurant industry by designing a collection of pun-inspired, hand drawn chalkboards and shared them on Instagram. These were taco-themed puns in both Spanish and English, which worked perfectly for a handful of restaurant franchises locally (in Spain) that wanted to decorate and advertise their spaces to both a Spanish and English-speaking audience. This resulted in me illustrating their print media and interior design for years to come.

Becoming part of local communities, attending in-person networking events, giving presentations, and more all become great ways to build strong relationships and can lead to repeat clients.

By trying out these steps and staying active in local outreach, you can effectively find and attract clients in your area as a surface designer, and grow your business. 

Surface designer Claire van Kuijck
Written by Claire van Kuijck

Instagram: @claire.makesthings

Claire, of Claire Makes Things, is an illustrator and teacher from the Netherlands, based in Madrid, Spain. She creates murals, chalkboard designs, greeting card designs and more, and teaches illustration and graphic design. She loves all things retro, cocktails, and riding her motorbike.

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