How to Get Your Very First Clients in Your Online Design Biz


Getting clients in your design biz is pretty much the one thing that actually makes your business legit. If you’re not getting clients, you’re not really a business, at least not a successful business anyway.

Landing clients can be one of the most daunting topics when you’re just starting out, because landing clients = making money and we ALL want and need to make money in our businesses for them to actually work.

The good news and bad news is, getting your first clients is the hardest part. After that, everything starts to fall into place and landing clients starts snowballing (the good kind of snowballing!).

When I first started my online design biz, I really started completely from scratch. I had no audience, no one knew who it was, I was truly a big fat nobody! But the important thing was, I was determined to make my business work.

I knew that if I could just land a few initial clients, then everything would start getting easier. So I put my head down and did anything I could to get those first clients

But here’s a truth bomb: If you are nobody like I was, it’s unlikely that your first clients are going to be your ideal, dreamy clients. It’s also unlikely that they’ll be paying big bucks for your services. While that will start to happen eventually, right now you probably don’t have a very full portfolio, or any social proof or testimonials from previous clients - your first clients have no reason to pay premium prices for you. 

Note: If you do have those things already, then technically you have had first clients, and this blog post might be a bit beginner for you.  

So today I’m breaking down what I did in my online design business to get those very first few clients. 

Offer up some discounted work

If you haven’t had ANY clients in your business yet, this is the fastest and easiest way to get some real client experience under your belt.

And like I mentioned before, if you haven’t had client experience, there’s no reason for people to pay you full price.

Some people are a bit anti this method, but I couldn’t be any more for it.

Sidenote: If you can get full paying clients right out of the gate, that’s fantastic, go you! But if you’re struggling to get some, which is totally normal, I recommend using this method

The benefits of getting your first real clients is not only experience, but also referrals, testimonials and work to add to your portfolio. So although you may not be making too much money off of these first clients, you’ll be gaining all of the things you need to be able to charge much more in the future.

I used this technique to land my first clients and I’m so so glad I did.

I was planning to offer brand design and web design in my biz, and I had literally never done those two things for anyone, ever. So to get more confident in it, I offered up some heavily discounted packages. 

I got a brand design client and a web design client in a matter of minutes, and the experience I got from those two clients were absolutely priceless. I was so much more confident about my designs, my processes, my skills and everything that I needed to be to charge a bit more next time.

How do I find these clients?

I recommend Facebook groups, this is where I found my two first discounted clients. 

I posted in a couple of business Facebook groups that I was offering up heavily discounted brand design and web design, in exchange for a testimonial and feedback.

Some business Facebook groups that you could post in:

The thing is, when anyone sees the words “heavily discounted”, they are attracted to it. It took me literally minutes to find my first clients this way.

Facebook groups and advertising your services generally never works, and is actually usually not allowed. But if you’re coming at it from more of a “I help you, you help me” angle, then that should do the trick. 

I would write something like:

“Hey! I’m Erica, and I’m currently trying to get my design business off the ground and I want to build up my portfolio and testimonials. Would anyone be interested in a heavily discounted brand design package in exchange for a testimonial and feedback? Thanks!”

Then, if you have multiple people interested, make sure to choose the people that suit your business the best. Is this the kind of person you want to work with in the future? Is this the kind of job you want to be working on? Will this get you suitable work for your portfolio? If you get enough replies that you can afford to be picky, ask yourself these questions and choose by which would be best for your business long term.

Tell everyone!

Friends and fam

One of the fastest ways to get clients in the beginning is by reaching out to family and friends.

When I first started my business this felt like the hardest thing to do, like, what was everyone going to think? But I did it anyway, because I was serious about making this thing work.

Your family and friends SHOULD be your biggest cheerleaders, if anyone wants to see you succeed, it should be them!

Not only will they be potential first clients, but they’ll also be the first people to refer you to their friends, or share your social media posts.

I avoided doing this for a while, for fear of failure. But I soon realized that if I didn’t do it, I would be much more likely to fail!

And turns out, everyone was incredibly supportive and they immediately reached out to their networks to see if they could find anyone for me to work with.

I actually got some of my very first clients through friend and family connections. They weren’t the most ideal clients, and the design work wasn’t particularly exciting, but they helped me get more experience and pay the bills, which is crucial in the beginning of any business.

Extended network

Once you’ve reached out to your immediate friends and family circle, you can go even further!

Make a list of people that you know, that aren’t your immediate friends and family, that may need your services or have connections that could be beneficial to you.

When I was doing this, I emailed a couple of my old bosses that I had a good relationship with, some extended family members and posted on my Facebook page. I even DMd some old friends from school on Facebook that I saw were starting businesses.

And guess what? I landed 2 branding clients through just reaching out on Facebook and seeing if they needed any design help. Yup, that’s more experience under my belt and more bills paid.

Just start reaching out and networking. Tell your hairdresser, tell your cable guy, tell your Mum to tell her hairdresser. Tell anyone you want. 

If you have a list of people to email, I recommend sending something professional, yet personal, and to the point, like this:

Hey [insert name here]!

How are you? I hope you and the kids are doing well!

I’m reaching out because I just wanted to let you know that I recently launched my own design business called Big Cat Creative ( where I design Brands and Websites for creative entrepreneurs and small business owners!

I’m just getting started with it but so far it’s been a blast and I’ve created some awesome things for some amazing clients! 

Anyway, I just thought I would let you know so if you knew anyone that needed a new brand suite or a great website you could pass on my information. I would be so grateful for that!

Let me know if I can do anything for you, happy to return the favor! And would love to catch up next time I’m in town.

Thanks so much, hopefully talk soon.

Erica Hartwick,


So that’s it! How I got my very, very first clients in my online design biz. From there, I started to get higher paying clients and my business really started to take off!

After you’ve landed your very first clients, check out these posts for ideas on how to get more clients:


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How to Get Your Very First Clients in Your Online Design Biz - Design Business Tutorial by Big Cat Creative | Getting Clients as a New Designer | How to Get Your First Graphic Design Clients | Finding Clients as a New Designer | Freelance Web Design Tips | Freelance Graphic Design Tips | Tips for New Designers

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