The beginning of the year is a time when many freelancers go in search of new clients. In these rocky economic times, having a broad base of clients can help ensure new projects keep arriving in your inbox. But finding a steady stream of new people to work with isn’t just a smart business strategy: it’s also an important way to avoid getting stuck in a creative rut, and of furthering your style and honing your skills.

Setting aside the time to cultivate new working relationships can be a challenge. Here, three creatives share their tips for finding new collaborations.

1. Be organised

Bex Glover (severnstudios.co.uk) has a structured approach to finding new clients for her illustration and graphic design work. She researches companies she wants to work with and finds exactly the right person to approach.

“Each year, I set aside some time and budget for one or two self-promotional projects to send out to potential clients,” she says. “This year I designed a fold-out mailer and was part of the Mighty Pencil Volume 01 book of illustrators [themightypencil.com].”

Whatever your strategy, it’s important to review its effectiveness. Bex says she likes printed promotions but finds they may not work as well as regular updates to your online profiles and portfolios. It’s nice to be able to do both, but you have to ask if the likely new work justifies the time and expense.

2. Get online

For creatives of all stripes, the Internet is an essential shop window. Social networking allows you to reach out to peers and potential clients in a relaxed, informal way, whether through Twitter, Vimeo, Behance, Facebook or LinkedIn. But given the huge range of tools, it’s better to maintain one or two profiles well than spread yourself too thinly and end up with bitty, half-finished CVs on many networks.

As for setting up your own website, “A presence online and some semblance of professionalism are essential,” says animator Robin Davey (robindavey.co.uk), “but you needn’t spend forever on a flashy website unless that’s your specialism. For an illustrator or animator, a blog that presents your best work clearly and concisely will more than suffice.”

Stills from the animation Maf the Dog (top and bottom) and the game zOMT, by Robin Davey

3. Network in the real world

Social networking isn’t just limited to digital contacts: in the creative sphere, as in other areas, word-of-mouth recommendations are invaluable. This means getting out there and establishing new connections.

“In my experience clients, when hiring, will always favour a personal reference over an unknown quantity,” says Robin. “Much of my work is done in collaboration with other freelancers, be they designers, coders or fellow animators, and overwhelmingly it’s from such contacts that my recommendations come.”

This means that you are effectively your own best advertisement – and professionalism, as well as kickass work, makes all the difference.
“Be yourself,” says designer Steve Price (planbstudio.com). “Say please and thank you. Be polite and treat people how you’d like to be treated.”
And remember to share the love: recommend others for a job you can’t take on, and watch them return the favour.

Ballet by Bex Glover

4. Know your worth

In the eagerness to impress a new client or to snare a juicy project, creatives often forget about the bottom line. That’s a big mistake.

“Early on I made the mistake of working for low rates, on the promise of ‘exposure’ that never really materialises,” says Robin. Steve adds: “Don’t work for free, unless you absolutely see some future value in doing so.”

It’s a natural temptation, and one that canny clients are quick to capitalise on. “I can’t argue strongly enough against this,” Robin continues. “It devalues not your labour, but the industry as a whole.”