18 Unique Ways Agencies are Finding Design Clients
The way agencies find clients has evolved. They’re no longer just mailing and networking; they’re trying new methods of outreach madness. Whether you work for a new design firm or an established agency, there are some ways agencies are finding clients that you probably haven’t heard of before!
We surveyed some of the agencies working with Flywheel, and they had a lot of insight and advice to give.
Here are 18 unique ways agencies are finding clients:
- Be prepared to give a pitch at any given moment
- Embrace snail mail
- Make new friends
- Give business to other agencies
- Speak at events
- Be nice to people
- Sponsor events
- Be active in online communities
- Make the most of your social profiles
- Advertise on social platforms
- Embrace word-of-mouth referrals
- Help local non-profits
- Offer consulting services before web design services
- Search online job boards
- Create quality content
- Host a unique event
- Lean into cold calls
- Guerilla marketing
1. Be Prepared to Give a Pitch at any Given Moment
While true networking events are obviously great for booking new business, it’s important to remember that you can actually find clients anywhere. WebshopMasters (an agency in the Netherlands) once found a new client during a concert, and D3 (an agency from Maryland) once found a client by talking about Facebook ads while getting a pedicure!
Inque Media made a similar connection at the perfect time. “We’ve gained a new client by starting a conversation with someone in a restaurant. Turns out, it was the owner and he owned two other neighboring businesses!” —Natalie
And even if the timing isn’t perfect, having your pitch ready can still come in handy, like this scenario from RelyOn: “I got into a car accident and while waiting for the police and tow truck, we got to talking about what we do. A few coffees later, we signed a new client.” —Thomas Berry
This is why it’s critical to always have your elevator pitch ready at a moment’s notice. If you wait for a formal event, you might be missing out on clients that are all around you every day!
2. Embrace Snail Mail
These days everything is digital, which can actually make physical ads really special! Some agencies are embracing the idea of handwritten or physical goods, as ways to get potential clients’ attention.
ONE18MEDIA, an agency from New York, is all about this approach. They recommend “A good old-fashioned note in the mail, or a gift card to have a coffee on us!”
Bonus: This a great way to show off your design skills, too. Don’t just send out a letter from the store; treat it like a portfolio piece that perfectly encompasses your brand.
3. Make New Friends
Connecting with other people, even if it’s not directly for work, can actually have a positive impact on your business! By meeting new people, not only are you expanding your circle of contacts, but you never know when your friends might come to you for your services.
Digital Elevator’s owner met a client based on a shared interest: surfing. “We found one of our most successful, long-term clients randomly when our owner was chatting with someone about surfing. The two connected and decided to work with each other, although the initial outreach was not based on either of the corresponding companies!” —Daniel Lofaso
Baldwin Web Design shared a similar story, in which they met a client while out rucking. “I just started rucking for fun and exercise. Rucking is hiking with a weighted backpack. It’s very social. We talk as we hike. Along with great friendships, I have made some business connections as well.” —Carla Baldwin
If you’re burnt out looking for new clients, maybe shift your approach to just making a new friend. You never know when they could be one in the same!
4. Give Business to Other Agencies
While this might sound counterintuitive, working with other agencies or freelancers can actually be incredibly beneficial for everyone involved. Austin Morin, for example, partners with other businesses that care about clients just as much as they do.
“We have a unique model where we partner with other small freelancers and agencies to not only grow, but also to be part of something bigger. We have a passion for helping people. We believe the business will come if you sincerely help other businesses. This may simply be a situation where you tell them they’re better off using another agency or platform. They refer your business, because you’re being honest and you care. We love to talk to people and hear their story and journey.” —Chuck Austin
By focusing on your niche and referring clients who aren’t the right fit to a different firm, you’re giving the client a better experience and helping another agency. In turn, they’ll be more likely to do the same and refer clients that would be a better fit for your services. Everybody wins!
5. Speak at Events
Speaking at events as a representative for your agency has a few perks. It can help build credibility, provides brand exposure, and gives people a reason to come talk to you later in the conference.
Luminus takes every advantage of networking at events like WordCamps. “There are typically user tracks for small business owners who want to learn more about the platform and also may be looking to find someone who can do it for them.” —Tim Bouchard
Speaking at these events on behalf of your agency may just be the conversation starter you need. Do some research into what upcoming events make sense for your industry and your clients’ agency, and get on the speaking list!
6. Be Nice to People
Sometimes the best client relationships begin with being nice to a random stranger. Random acts of kindness can start a friendly conversation that can lead to talking about your jobs and what you do for work.
Quinn Tempest in Phoenix, AZ found their first client “by lending someone a pen in a coffee shop.”
A little friendly competition never hurt anyone and for Up and Social, it led to a new client. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you do because you never know who might need your services. “We met a guy on the beach and challenged him to a game of spike ball. He ended up becoming a client.” —Scott Bishop
Be nice to people, be open about your passion for your work, and good things will follow.
7. Sponsor Events
Award shows are huge opportunities for agencies. It’s a place where you can show off all your amazing work and celebrate the industry.
This is a natural part of agency life and some agencies, like Starletti, are finding clients by sponsoring these events. “We’re a partner of a big business award show. This way we meet a lot of new businesses and find new clients.” —Harry
Consider sponsoring an event that’s important to your clients. In doing this, you’re helping fund the production of the event and giving your brand some exposure to the people you want to reach. Be authentic and intentional in choosing which events to sponsor and how those events align with your agency’s values.
8. Be Active in Online Communities
Staying active in online communities is important for agencies. It shows your brand is engaged with the community and is truly there to provide advice, tips, and feedback.
Elodin Design has taken advantage of public Facebook groups online and has gotten many new projects by simply answering an advanced WordPress question in a Facebook group. Where did it lead? “…them asking if we can just do the whole project.” —Jon Schroeder
Some agencies have even taken this a step further and offer free services or consultations in online groups, like Aperture Design from the UK. They offer free website support in Facebook Groups, a valuable service for members.
However you choose to be active in online communities, always remember to reflect your agency’s values and offer services and advice in the best way. Maybe the person you’re helping just needed an answer at that moment, but you never know when they’ll need your full services down the road.
9. Make the Most of Your Social Profiles
It’s no secret that the more cohesive and complete your social profile is, the better experience it is for those wanting more information about your agency. Many clients are looking at Instagram profiles, Google reviews, and even Facebook profiles when considering hiring your agency.
Hayes Web & Digital found a lead, or rather a lead found them, through Facebook messenger. “We received a lead from our Facebook page instant messaging. Not sure how we were found on there, but it led to a new client!” —Curt Hayes
Polish up your social profiles because the more enticing, cohesive, and professional they are, the more willing and comfortable a potential client feels with reaching out to you for your business.
10. Advertise on Social Platforms
Depending on your role at your agency, you may not pay too much attention to Facebook’s earning reports. However, if you did, you would know that Facebook makes most of its revenue from advertising, which means you have more competition than ever with your ad placement.
Starling Digital in Nashville advertised something unique and included the one buzzword that everyone loves: free. “We advertised a free 15-minute consultation on Facebook which had a link to our Calendly schedule that would allow prospects to select a time.” —Andrew
Create ads that not only catch your target audience’s eye, but stands out as different and unique for any pair of eyes. Embrace the unique and different ideas for Facebook ads!
11. Embrace Word-of-Mouth Referrals
Word-of-mouth falls into the “traditional” category of finding new clients, but agencies are embracing this tactic in new ways. They’re finding that many word-of-mouth referrals are coming from people that have only had one interaction or completed one project.
LimeGlow, based in Milwaukee, WI received an inquiry from someone looking to purchase their branding services as a unique gift for their friend who was launching an estate planning firm. That friend ended up becoming a referral machine. “We’ve now provided multiple services, including website development. He, in turn, has become a wonderful advocate of our agency, referring us to others who are now happy clients as well.” —Shane Fell
Some agencies, like Heartwired Digital Solutions, are being referred by people who’ve just heard about them from conferences they attended. “[We] got a contract with a nonprofit client in California by word of mouth by someone sitting in the audience in Orlando.” —Charles
12. Help Local Nonprofits
Giving back to the local community should be a part of your marketing strategy. Especially in 2019, more and more people care about humanitarian efforts and giving back. Not only is this great for the non-profit(s) you choose to help, but it’s also great for your agency’s employees to be part of the impact.
Agencies are taking this concept and running with it. Figment Agency in London, for example, has worked with medical non-profits which has directly led to further work in the private medical sector.
For Angela Keiser Web & Print Design, they’ve nailed down this strategy. “Doing a pro-bono website for a local non-profit has led to many paying websites based on people seeing my name in the website credits on that site.” —Angela Keiser
Note: Be sure to choose a non-profit that aligns with your agency’s values, mission statement, and let your employees in on the fun!
13. Offer Consulting Services Before Web Design Services
Show, don’t tell. What does this mean? In short terms, it refers to showing a potential client the value of your agency and its services rather than telling them your value. For many agencies, this means showing the client the value of your partnership.
Philosophie has crafted a unique approach to finding new clients. “We provide value by offering consulting in our ‘sales’ process to really help validate our clients problems prior to even starting to work with them.” —Eric Smejkal
Perhaps offering consulting services isn’t your agency’s cup of tea. Consider offering a free sneak peek at a potential logo you created just for them or an hour of web design strategy. Show, don’t tell.
14. Search Job Boards
Upwork. LinkedIn. Glassdoor. Has your agency tried searching these job boards for potential clients? Many business owners know exactly what work they want, but there’s a disconnect about where to look for those professionals.
Lecreati finds all of their clients from job boards, specifically Upwork. “The most simple way is to just go to Upwork, where they [business owners] can see the review where you can’t fake portfolios.” —Tanya
15. Create Quality Content
Content (like blog posts, magazines, and email newsletters) is how some agencies are nurturing clients to become a client. Quality content starts that initial conversation for most clients because they can read a piece of content and know within a few sentences if they’d want to partner with you or not. For Canny Creative in England, a majority of their clients come from content.
“99% of our clients come from either our blog posts or referrals. Lately, we were being interviewed for a business publication. We simply asked who was heading up the design, and found out they were yet to select an agency, so we stormed in and won the work.” —Tony Hardy
Wier / Stewart is taking additional measures to go above and beyond in the content they create. “We’ve had some self-promo campaigns that won awards and caught the attention of clients we wouldn’t normally have had the opportunity to meet. One of these was a free alt-weekly style newspaper that we self-published and featured all of our existing clients as advertisers in.” —Wes Childers
Wier / Stewart even started creating their own weekly email featuring a case study! “For over a year we have published a weekly ‘New Work Wednesday’ email featuring a mini case-study of a project we have recently completed. We have seen this consistent communication with our existing client base be shared beyond our current list.” —Wes Childers
16. Host a Unique Event
Hosting an event is typically on the list of marketing tactics for agencies (and if it isn’t, you can add it now!). Take it a step further and think about unique events that can bring potential clients to your front door.
Idea Kraft hosts “a bi-annual rebrand event called Re-Kraft where we volunteer our time and dig in for 48 hours to rebrand a startup, non-profit, or small business in need of a new identity, for free. This allows us to get our name out there, while also using our marketing budget to help the community.” –Alaina Gardner
Think it’s too late to host a unique event? Nonsense! These events don’t need to be fancy or cost thousands of dollars. Bring the whole team in on event ideas that could be good for the community and good for your agency.
17. Lean into Cold Calls
Cold calls aren’t getting the cold shoulder like most people think. Agencies are getting creative about how they cold call and are doing their research beforehand to make sure the people they are calling are the right clients.
Onlinesidekicks repeatedly succeeds with cold calls. They “search for businesses who are left behind in the 90’s and bring them up to speed in 2019. Example: Flash sites.” —Alejandro Brzovic
Down on your leads this month? Give cold calling a try!
18. Guerilla Marketing
Guerilla marketing is tried and true, and opens the door for creative ideas. Use graffiti marketing if you’re based in a bigger city (where it’s legal, of course!), put your logo on a place your clients tend to hang out at, etc. Prandible, based in Germany, has had clients find them from “a branded sticker on a traffic light.” —Paul
ImpactWorks in North Carolina used the spirit of the season to land some new clients. “Won a Halloween costume contest dressed as a marketing email. Got two new clients at that party.” —Dante V. Crescenzi
Be creative, strategic, timely, and intentional with where and how you execute guerilla marketing.
Agencies are finding clients in all sorts of unique ways that you would never expect! Take one, three, or all of these tips and use them the next time you have the opportunity to find a new client.
Know of a unique way your agency is finding clients? Reply to our thread on Twitter!