5 Lesser Known Tips to Find New Clients as a Freelance UX Designer

May 10, 2016

The constant search for new clients is often considered among the most dreaded aspects of becoming a freelance UX designer. Although veteran designer Matt D. Smith has already reminded us of the other important challenges to being a freelance UX designer, the fear of not having a steady income still remains a major concern. Many people stay in jobs they don’t love just because they don’t want to live in permanent job-search mode.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re good at what you do, repeat business and referrals can eventually represent the lion’s share of your pipeline. If you’re running low on ideas for finding new clients as a freelance UX designer or are considering a switch to freelance if you only knew how to keep the work coming in, here are a few original, lesser-known suggestions.

1. Do A/B Testing on Your Skill Set

Sketchnote on an iPad mapping out soft skills.

At this point, you’ve probably exhausted all the obvious channels, such as commenting on blogs at UX websites, joining UX groups on LinkedIn and calling bigger agencies to see if they have overflow work for a freelance UX designer. Either your skill set is too narrow and as a result potential jobs are whizzing past you, or your skills are so broad that any grad student in a design class could do it for free.

It’s time to start identifying your niche. List everything you can do on some social media channels. On other sites, create a hyper-focus. See where you get the most interest, and fine tune that persona. You might find that clients, especially those on the executive level, have wildly different expectations when hiring a UX designer. Be sure that they know the fundamental job scope of a UX designer and work on convincing your potential clients to invest in UX, particularly in the areas you’re specialized in.

2. Make Your Own App

An iphone with earbuds wrapped around it with a music player app on the screen, next to a notebook opened to an empty sheet and a pen.

It’s tough to beat the competition without venturing into the world of apps when we live in a mobile era. As a freelance UX designer, it’s likely that you’ve already worked on at least one mobile app project. If not, you can get started easily with our powerful design and prototyping app like that helps UX designers create fully interactive app prototypes, no coding needed.

Go a step further and make your own app. If you’re not keen to learn mobile app development, work with a developer. The point of making an app isn’t to go viral and make big bucks (but hey, you never really know these days, do you?) but to show people what you can do as a freelance UX designer.

In any case, an app certainly makes for a memorable calling card that potentially hiring clients could receive. Add a QR code to your app on correspondence or include a link on your email and online posts. People want to work with people who get things done, and an app speaks louder than any static images in a portfolio.

3. Take Classes on Entrepreneurship or Creative Writing

A freelance UX designer reading a document on her MacBook and taking notes in a notebook.

UX design is a constantly evolving field. It’s important to keep learning and growing by taking design classes to learn new tools or participating in IxDA conferences. These can definitely help you improve as a freelance UX designer and teach you new ways to think out of the box. But most of the people you will meet at these classes and events are actually your competition.

It’s time to think out of the box to pave out fresh new paths to acquire clients. Join a class to gain valuable skills that you’ll need for freelancing, like budgeting, forecasting and marketing. Or a creative writing class that could help you start an interesting blog that people actually want to read. After all, UX designers are, in a way, great storytellers. At the same time, you’ll meet people starting their own businesses or new bloggers who might need a freelance UX designer at some point.

4. Work With a Recruiter, But Not for the Reason You Think

Close-up view of a man in a smart well-tailored blue suit standing upright about to button up his blazer.

Many freelancers end up calling a design recruitment agency out of desperation or to fill in the occasional gap in work. It’s not a good option for the long term as a freelance UX designer, mostly because these companies are looking out for their own interests and aren’t the best judges of what kind of work is best suited to your unique talents. They also take too big a cut from your billing rate, which encourages clients to cut jobs short or argue over billable hours.

Instead, when you do take a project from a recruiter, network with everyone you work with on that job. Try to make lasting relationships, which will be far more valuable than the job for both your professional and your personal life. It’s no industry secret that many freelance gigs tend to come from extended networks, which explains why many working professionals pay a good amount of attention to communities like LinkedIn groups.

5. Volunteer in Your Community

A close-up shot of two huge pots of soup on a stovetop steaming in a kitchen.

Don’t do design work for free, even if you’re just starting out as a freelance UX designer. Not without a perfectly solid reason, like as a favor to your mom. This useful “Should I work for free?” flowchart maps out the possible scenarios for you. Free work tends to make people undervalue your talent and demand more than what you’re willing to give.

Instead, volunteer to teach a class on design for kids at the library. Find a charity that you care about, like a local soup kitchen, where you can volunteer and gain new perspectives to improve your design work. While you’re doing good for the community, you’re also connecting with more people in places that aren’t crowded with UX design freelancers. The best way to eliminate competition is to go where they can’t follow.

How to Have No Competition

Remember that as a freelance UX designer, you don’t want lots of clients. You need clients with jobs that fit well with what you do best. Taking the wrong job is worse for your reputation than taking none. Ideally, you should have another source of income so you don’t have to take the wrong jobs just to pay the rent.

The occasional media coverage won’t hurt, but don’t kid yourself. Social proof and publishing can help convince people to hire you, but even thousands of impressions won’t drive motivated prospects to your email. You have to find them and bring yourself to their attention more directly. Your competition is already doing that and thriving. Treat the job of finding clients like any other design job, and pour all of your creativity into it.

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