How to get that elusive first freelance client

27 11 2008

First Job

Hi all,

I am at the very beginning of what will hopefully be a long and successful career in the design and web industry. I have begun said career by trying to gain some solid experience, working in an agency where I will hopefully learn some valuable skills and one day be in the position to go it alone and freelance with the idea to eventually start my own small agency.

But when I do finally make that leap where will my first client come from? Will it lead to more work? Could it possibly be that ever elusive super client who gives you an open brief and gains you loads of notoriety?

Well I thought I would ask a few people who have made that jump (successfully) and see exactly who their first client was and how they got that contract.

Michael Wilson

Well this is me and while I haven’t gone it alone yet I have had a few clients during my University time. My first proper paid client was a local ladies fashion shop in Bournemouth who placed an advert on a wall at my Uni asking for a logo designed.

After meeting with the owner he gave me the job and it was a great project to work on!

Jonathan Snook


Jonathan is an internationally admired web designer and developer, based in Canada. He has managed to gain over 5,000 followers on Twitter and he answered my question via the aforementioned Twitter saying:

“My first client happened to be a co-worker who needed a site for a CD-ROM he was releasing.”

Chris Spooner


Chris runs the very successful design blog Spoon Graphics where he has a huge amount of excellent posts that has gained him a great deal of respect within the design industry.

“I think my first design job was creating a Flash website for a local music festival, a friend of mine was the organiser.”

Jacob Cass


Jacob is based in Australia and created the very well known blog Just Creative Design where he publishes a great deal of very useful articles. Jacob is only 20 and is a self-employed graphic designer, who is still studying at University.

“Hehe, well I can tell you about it but I am never showing it… My first job I got was for a website design and I got it because I used to run my own website sharing photos with my friends (before MySpace or Facebook). It was like “Hey, I noticed you have your own website, can you design one for my business?”

David Appleyard


David is an award winning freelance designer based in Manchester who currently runs a number of very successful web enterprises, including Design Shack, Design Top 10 and 13 Styles

My first job was for a guest house in Harlech, Wales, called ‘Maes Yr Hebog’. I had visited the bed and breakfast with my family, and had overheard they were looking for a website designing. As a fresh faced 13 year old, I couldn’t resist the temptation to offer my vasty inexperienced services (for the measly price of £50).

The job involved a simple two column page and some truly awful typography. Here’s a screenshot from the internet archive:

David Appleyard

David Airey


David is a freelance designer from Northern Ireland, who specialises in logo design. His personal blog is an excellent read as is Logo Design Love which as the title may give away focuses much more on the art of logo design.

“My first client was my father. I was studying graphic design, and persuaded him he needed a fresh logo for his tyre business. Numerous sketches and iterations later, and the outcome was terrible. I didn’t know nearly enough to design an effective logo, and thankfully, it’s not in widespread use.

My payment? Housing and food. What else do you need?”

Gavin Strange


Gavin is a senior online designer at Aardman Animations while also being the creator of the vinyl toy series, the Droplets

“My very first freelance client was for a local skateboard shop in my hometown of Leicester! I’d worked for a design agency for 4 years but I really wanted to give it a shot on my own, but I had no idea of how to go about it.

A friend of mine knew the own of the local skate store well, and just met up with him and said “I know a great designer who’ll do you a great website, you should go talk to him”. And so I did, i went to chat to this guy who was happy for me to design him a new site.

I designed him a brand new site, in my own time, building it all by hand and in HTML (No-CMS back then!) which I was very proud of! Through that process I became good friends with the guys at the store and the owner offered me a deal – he knew I wanted to go freelance and he offered me 3 days a week working for him as a designer for the store, with my own little office above the skate shop, with my other 2 days free to develop other client work!

That’s it, that’s how my freelance career began!”

So it would seem that if you are looking for an opportunity to freelance ask around everyone you know. Once you get over the hump and get some clients to add to your portfolio then the work can speak for you.

That’s your lot for now. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who contributed to this article. I hope you found it informative. Please feel free to leave comments about your experiences and what your first jobs were.




7 responses

27 11 2008
David Airey

Glad to help out, buddy.

28 11 2008
Jacob Cass

Interesting to read peoples first clients… and hats off to David for actually sharing the job! Thanks for compiling the list.

28 11 2008
CM Cheng

Thanks for this guys. Sound advices!!

28 11 2008

I’ve noticed a trend. Almost all of them designed something for friends or family.

Excuse me, I have some people I need to call.

30 11 2008
Valetin Bora

Designing for friends or family means no problems if you produce something not so great. You won’t be ruining your reputation with it.

25 03 2009
Jonny T

I always love reading about other peoples first clients mine was a Homecare & Hospice agency. This is a great post I am a big fan of David Airey, and a long time reader of Justcreativedesigns.

5 07 2010
hermes handbags

always love reading about other peoples first clients mine was a Homecare & Hospice agency. This is a great post I am a big fan of David Airey, and a long time reader of Justcreativedesigns.

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