How to find the right clients – keys to upleveling your design business

Upleveling your design business is about more than raising your prices. To be successful, you need to take action to improve your marketing game. Not sure where to start? Read on.


Time for some straight talk about up-leveling your business. I’m tired of marketing gurus and business coaches who tell creative entrepreneurs to just raise their pricing dramatically and everything will change for their business. It’s as if doubling the sticker price is the magical formula for success.

Some people fall for that advice… while others shake their heads in frustration. Why? Because when you’re discounting your services and marking down your packages just to close a sale, a sudden price increase can’t possibly be the answer, can it?

Here’s the thing… raising your prices is part of the answer, but first, you need to master finding the right clients and drawing them in as leads. THEN – and only then – does the price you charge factor into the equation.

So – how do you find the right clients? Read on…

Step One: Fix your own website.

Your website needs work. I’m confident it does… without even looking at it. How do I know? I’ve been there. I’ve put up a site that’s “good enough” to land my first few clients. I’ve made incremental changes here and there as I’ve had time and energy. I’ve taken shortcuts with my own copy (even though I’m a copywriter) and pushed my website to the bottom of my task list because client work felt more important. So, no judgment, okay?

Here’s the thing » The quality of your website is directly linked to the quality of client you attract to your business.

Every time you settle for second best… or take a short-cut, or cobble something together haphazardly… you lose money. You keep yourself stuck in a cycle of low-budget, high-maintenance clients and you limit your ability to really grow your business.

Here’s what you need to do…

  • Refresh your branding – move from your personal preferences to branding aligned with how you fascinate others and how you’ve positioned your business. Not sure how to do this? Start with the free brand fascination test by Sally Hogshead. You’ll get some great guidance. Combine that with running your own business through the same branding process you use with clients. You will likely gain some interesting insights.
  • Tighten up your execution – fix the line spacing, increase the white space, simplify the design. In other words, do your BEST WORK. Make sure your site is crisp, clean, and mistake-free. Upgrade your photography with a new headshot and high-quality stock photography that doesn’t feel like you downloaded it for free.
  • Invest in professionally written copy – yes, I know I’m a copywriter and this might seem for a moment like a sales message, but trust me. It’s not! You don’t have to hire me to write for you… but you need to hire an experienced copywriter to make your copy as crisp and compelling as the revised design. Can’t afford a copywriter? This is an excellent opportunity to barter. Lots of copywriters would love a professionally designed website. So, trade if you have to, but make your copy a priority.
  • Upgrade your portfolio – move beyond just slapping together a few screenshots and a link to actually telling the story of your work with clients. You don’t need a full case study, but a few words to give prospective clients some context is super helpful. Need more information here? Check out this post.

Step Two: Select a primary marketing channel and master it.

Last year I had a yard sale. I spent two days getting my old stuff sorted, priced, and ready to sell. I set up tables in my yard and put up canopies to shelter people in case it rained. I went to the bank and got small bills and change so I was ready to break larger bills like a pro. On the morning of the sale, I was incredibly disappointed. Why? Because only a few people stopped to shop my sale.

The problem with my yard sale is the same problem many designers have when trying to attract new clients. They don’t advertise… and as a result, nothing special happens.

You MUST MARKET EFFECTIVELY if you want to have consistent results.

Fixing your website won’t truly be effective until you get the right people to visit. That means marketing.

You truly only need one primary marketing channel for your business. I wrote a post on this a while back – you can read it here if you like. In fact, trying to be effective across multiple channels is a recipe for disaster. You’ll burn yourself out, confuse your message, and struggle to be consistent. Don’t do it… instead, select a marketing channel that feels comfortable for you and then master it.

Here’s the key to finding the right channel…

  • Discover where your ideal clients hang out – I’m not talking about your current clients. You know how to find them, right? I’m talking about your ideal clients. The ones who have the budget to pay those higher rates. The ones who are interested in a full website package and are in your preferred niche. The ones who will understand your value and be willing to invest. This takes a little market research… a little stalking or info gathering. My advice? Start talking to people in this group. Don’t try to sell them, just ask questions about how they consume content, use social media, and engage with others. You’ll get some clues.
  • Decide how you want to be visible – I love to talk and I’m not afraid of public speaking. I like being visible in live workshops/online trainings, or at in person events where I’m on stage commanding an audience. But, for some strange reason 1:1 networking is tough for me. I enjoy writing and creating posts like this one that share information and help others. I enjoy engaging in Facebook groups answering questions and interacting. BUT – I don’t like posting about myself. And for some reason I really dislike LinkedIn. So, I intentionally align my marketing efforts around the ways I prefer to be visible… and I don’t engage in ways that I don’t prefer.
  • Find the intersection between the two points above – The right marketing channel for you is the one that honors the way you prefer to be visible and connects with your ideal clients. So, while my ideal clients are on LinkedIn, it is not a good fit for me. But, my ideal clients also attend live trainings and in-person workshops. BINGO. I can speak at something like this or host a live training and connect without the 1:1 stuff I find draining. See what I’m doing here? You can do the same for yourself.

Once you have selected a primary marketing channel, it’s time to master it. I recommend you study best practices, read books and articles, and get some help from others who use that channel effectively. You can also learn by trial and error… which I actually recommend. Put yourself out there and get started. You’ll learn a lot that way.

Resistant to marketing altogether? My guess is that this is due to either a bad experience with marketing (which happens to everyone) or concern about attracting attention in a way that feels “salesy” or awkward. Unfortunately, upleveling your business requires you to uplevel your marketing skills. In other words, it’s time to put on your big boy/girl panties and get to work. 🙂

Step Three: Raise your prices incrementally.

Boost your pricing significantly with your next proposal. How much am I talking about here? Select a number that feels a bit scary… but not completely terrifying. Maybe it’s 10% higher… or 20% or 30%… there’s no magic here. The trick is to increase your pricing without expanding scope or adding deliverables. For example, if you charged $1,000 for a full website package in the past, take that same package (no changes) and quote $1,300 next time.

See how it feels… and see if you get the job. My guess is you will…

Once you’ve sold 2 at the new rate, raise it again. Sell 2 more. Repeat. Keep repeating until you get to the number you’re dreaming of right now… won’t that feel great? You can do this.

Here’s the thing… when your website is professionally presented and your copy is amazing, and when you’re consistently drawing clients with a higher budget to your business, it’s easy to raise your prices.

Questions about what I’ve shared? Not sure where to start? Head over to the Drama Free Design Community and tag me. Let’s talk about it!

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