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.