How I Find Work as a Freelance UX

The 2 questions I’m most frequently asked as a freelance UX professional are: “How do you get clients?” and “How do you sell UX to clients?”

How Do I Get Clients?

To answer the first question, I must confess that I don’t really have a strategy for finding new projects, but here are my best theories on how I think I find work:

1) I Have a Good Résumé

By résumé, I mean that as a metaphor. Rather, clients see the outcomes of my résumé — my skills, knowledge, and experience — not the actual piece of paper.

Marketing Intern – Jostens
Before graduating college, I interned in the yearbook marketing department at Jostens for 9 months. I wrote and designed 2 different guidebooks for yearbook advisers, plus worked on several smaller design projects. To get the internship, I had asked my yearbook rep if he would mind calling his contacts at the corporate office. (Thanks, Jeff!)

Communications Specialist – Best Buy
My writing experience at Jostens helped me get my first job at Best Buy as a writer and editor for internal employee communications. During my job interview for a design position, my soon-to-be new boss literally jumped out of her chair with happy surprise when she saw my Jostens writing experience.

E-commerce Manager – The Home Depot
In the beginning, I managed production for 5 different online catalogs (4 of which were later sold or dissolved). When web development was brought in-house for the one remaining catalog, my role evolved into UX, site optimization, product management, web analytics, content marketing, SEO, digital marketing, and email marketing as well as overseeing a fast-growing team. Within 7 years, the catalog site had grown from $1M in revenue per year to $1M per day.

UX Designer / Strategist – Atomic Playpen
At Atomic, I conducted discovery research and designed user experiences for dozens of Fortune 1000 companies and well-known brands. Soon, I was tagging along to — then later presenting at — client pitch meetings, estimating projects, and determining the scope of work.

UX Designer – Lifetouch
As the lone UX specialist inside Lifetouch, I quickly became proficient at all things UX. I went from occasionally conducting usability sessions at Home Depot or Atomic to facilitating them nearly every week. “Systemization” became my middle name. I also regularly created wireframes and helped my internal clients evaluate their agency’s UX recommendations.

UX Consultant – June UX
Today, I work with all size organizations — conducting user research or usabilities studies, designing user experiences, and developing digital strategies.

2) I Have a Network of Incredible Former Colleagues

Since parting with my employers, many of my former colleagues (and past clients) have moved on to various new roles — client side, agency side, and freelance.

I have been super fortunate enough to work with many of them again: Lindsay, Janelle, Brad, Dan, Becky, Jennifer, Kara, Jim, Maris, Shawna, Matt, Steve J, Steve V, Ron, Shad, Amy S, Amy J-S, Julie, Chad, Suzanne, Mike, and Bob. (Love you guys!)

3) I Sub-Contract for Web Agencies

I work silently behind-the-scenes for several Twin Cities web agencies. I am fairly certain these projects come about because of one or both of the above reasons.

4) Shh… That’s a Secret

I’m terrible at keeping secrets, so just keep reading and I’ll tell you.

5) However, I Don’t Get Work by…

  • Talking to recruiters. In 5 years, I’ve gotten exactly one project through a recruiter. I’m not adverse to getting work this way, but the stars have just never aligned in terms of my availability.
  • Marketing or advertising. I have a website with a contact form and a blog, LinkedIn profile, Behance portfolio, Facebook page, Twitter account, Google+ page, and am sure June UX shows up elsewhere on the web as well. I’ve never purchased an ad — in print or online. I know none of these brought me new work because a total stranger has never hired me. (See reason #2 above.)
  • Attending network events. I really, really wish I had time and availability to attend more.
  • Cold calling.
  • Responding to RFPs. I don’t get many, but have never won a project that way.
  • Speaking at events. Someday I’ll get there.
  • Public relations. I don’t think I was born with that gene.

How Do I Sell UX to Companies?

The short answer: I don’t.

When I respond this way, people are sometimes taken aback. How is it possible that I don’t ever sell UX, and yet all I win are UX projects?

Here is my secret: My clients are organizations that already understand and value user-centered design. I don’t need to sell UX. Instead, I sell my UX process. I sell me.

To that, I’ll share my other BIGGER secret: I socialize, socialize, socialize.

Coffee chats. Hallway encounters. Links to articles. Snapshots of whiteboard sketches. At the end of every presentation or report is a list of 5 next steps.

Whenever an opportunity presents itself, I establish and build the groundwork for the next big thing I think my clients should be doing or investigating. You may call that selling. I call it socializing.

It definitely requires the long game approach, but, socializing is the absolute #1 way I win new work.

Author: Kristine Remer

June UX is led by Kristine Remer, a CX / UX research and strategy consultant in Minneapolis. She helps companies drive significant business outcomes by finding and solving customer problems. When she's not creating customer journey maps and user personas, Kristine is either kayaking or watching her kids play soccer.

One thought on “How I Find Work as a Freelance UX”

  1. Yippee! I am famous! :) Great post, and spot on. I get UX projects from referrals and existing clients about 99% of the time – it’s all about your network. I think I’ve had one recruiter job work out, the rest are never the right fit.

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