How To Get Your First Client As A Self-Taught Designer

Recently, after a one-to-one Adobe Illustrator workshop session with a learner of mine, she asked me “Liyana, now that I know how to design, what’s the next step? How do I get people to trust me and become my first client?”


As a service-based business, I personally think it’s not as straight-forward as selling physical products.

You will need to establish a certain level of trust with clients for them to engage you and this then begs the question – how do you get clients to trust you if you’re new at it and have little to no portfolio to show at all?

In this post, I’ll share three things that worked for me when I first started out. These may actually work for you working professionals looking to start your own business too!

1. Reach out to your friends and family


If you’re fortunate to have friends and family who are ready to help, get them to help you! Let them know that you’re providing this service and that you’re looking for customers.

If they engage you, that’s great! But even if they don’t need your services, at least you know that there’s someone out there who’s spreading word about your business.

2. Price your services really affordably

As a disclaimer, I don’t support the actions of clients who ask professionals to work for free, in exchange for “exposure” because that’s just not right – exposure doesn’t pay the bills.


However, if you’re totally new to the industry, with no solid portfolio to show, pricing your services really low or even volunteering to design something for free is a great way to attract clients and build your portfolio.

Competence builds confidence so the more work you do now, the better you get and the more clients you can attract – via word-of-mouth reviews or your improving portfolio.

3. Make your own design portfolio


If you’ve got no portfolio, then make your own portfolio! Unlike other service businesses where you may need to fulfil criteria or get a licence to provide that service, it’s a lot more straightforward to enter the design industry.

One of the ways you can do to build your portfolio is to come up with an imaginary company – let’s say, a childcare centre – and create a full branding kit for that company: from logo to banner to website design.

first-graphic-design-client-portfolio1-lookeesan A mockup of a tuition company

So, yup! If you’re an aspiring designer or if you’re starting out a service-oriented business even, take note of these tips. Everyone’s gotta start somewhere anyway so don’t be afraid to take the first step!

What are some other ways do you know of that can attract the first client? Let me know what you think!

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