How to start finding work as a creative

At a glance

Research small businesses in your area

Work on your pitch for small business owners to make sure that your work gets noticed by people who have the authority to approve a freelancer. The more people in a business, the more likely that your pitch gets lost somewhere between the person who reads your email and the person who can authorise your work.

Demonstrate value

When you pitch, don’t just tell them how your work can benefit them, demonstrate it. That means creating something high quality that they can use without having to spend first. This will make you stand out from your competitors.

Meet face-to-face

A cold-calling email is easy to ignore, but someone standing at your desk is much harder to dismiss without at least hearing them out. Get out from your desk and meet people.

Rinse and repeat

Keep following these steps and you WILL land a client – either through word of mouth or directly through one of your pitches. Someone that offers quality work and spends time to build rapports is impossible to ignore for too long.

Let me try starting this article by walking you through a train of thought that has REGULARLY stopped me from moving on from jobs I’ve hated into my dream of freelancing in an industry I find much more appealing.

If you can relate to anything in this next section, then this article is for you. Here goes:

If you’re reading this, then chances are that at some point you’ve been sat at work and thought “screw-diddly-ew this job, I’d so much rather be doing X”.

Then you picture yourself doing X, and you see yourself working confidently on some epic client project, in an industry that has plenty of room for you to grow in. 

That image is great.

Since there are few things that can kill a passion for a subject faster than formal education, X is most definitely not something you studied or have any experience in.

So what tends to immediately follow that thought, is the crippling realisation that if someone were to right now put that client project you’d been visualising on your desk and tell you to crack on, you’d have no idea what to do next.

Uh oh header

That doesn’t quite add up….because you looked confident while you were picturing yourself doing that new work. The kind of confidence that comes from knowing exactly what you’re doing and that what you’re doing is exactly right.

I mean, who realistically daydreams about themselves as they’re JUST starting out in a new job?

You know the drill, where you don’t know what the hell you’re doing and are desperately pretending to look productive in front of your new manager but have no work so you’re just marathoning through random folders in your yet-to-be-filled inbox to simulate productivity.

So then the kind of confidence you pictured at first can only come from having built up a body of experience doing many similar projects beforehand, and there’s no shortcut around that.

If you’re like me, then this makes you feel anxious, and that anxiety is enough to make you resigned to put down your head and get back to working on that job that you decided to screw-diddly-ew in the first place. 

F*ck. That.

The job you can barely stand can wait. We are going to fix that anxiety right here and now, because I’m going to give you a breakdown of exactly what steps you need to follow to build that experience.

First we need to recognise that your anxiety is coming from the fact that you probably don’t know how to get from here* to there**.

Inkbike‘ s contextual dictionary



adverb: here

  1. In, at, or to this place or position
      • Used to describe a time in your life and career whereby you lack the experience or confidence to tackle a project or piece of work in your ultimate career fantasy with a sense of certitude that you know exactly what you are doing throughout (thus leaving you in a position to marvel at your own brilliance and the enjoy the feeling that you are a brilliant part of a brilliant industry that is lucky to have you).



adverb: there

  1. Used to gesture to a place or to an intended point (in time and in your career)
      • The description of a time in your life and career whereby you have the experience, confidence and expertise to be an absolute legend in the field you want to work on.

        You’re about to win awards for your work on this project, and then you’re going to take that award and slap your current manager with it because you’re an absolute unit.

Here’s how you’re going to do it:

What you’re looking for first is businesses where the owner or a senior manager is based on the premises – this is to ensure that when you pitch to them your services, they are able to make a decision themselves rather than have to seek approval from someone else. 

For your first clients, it’s important to avoid looking into business that own multiple premises (especially where they are across multiple cities) – pitching to a larger business presents a bigger challenge, especially when you are just starting out.

When you’ve found a business that looks to be the right size, you’re going to start researching their brand. As part of this, you’ll investigate the following:

  • Their social media platforms
  • Their website
  • Any printed materials they might have on premises (if you are able to access their premises) i.e. for a restaurants or cafe look at their menus, any flyers or posters they have on display

What you’re looking to understand is whether the business has an established tone of voice, visual style and most importantly, whether it looks like an experienced creative has been anywhere near their brand.

If after all of your step 1 research, you feel confident that you are able to create something that the client will love and is either on par pr better than the creative materials they already have then you’re going to design something quality to give to the owner of that business for free.

No matter what your creative discipline, make something for them;

  • If you’re confident in web-design and you feel that your would-be-client could benefit then create for them a holding page.
  • If you’re an illustrator then draw them a poster.
  • If you’re more about social media, head over to Canva and create some graphics which would look like fancy new furniture in their Instagram profile house.
  • Videographer or animator? Make them a 1-minute reel for their social media.

You get the idea. 

The point is, in the beginning you might not have a massive portfolio to show them, or be able to get your name out there through word-of-mouth, so you have to make something quality for them to build their confidence that you can provide value to them and their business.

So create something for them like you’re being paid £1,000 to do it – aim to create the absolute best thing that you possibly can.

Business owners are used to being pitched at all the time by people who think that sending automated or templated messages offering the same deals (think of every 30 day trial you’ve ever read about) is the best way to land new business. 

By including in your initial ‘pitch’ something which is entirely bespoke, quality and free for them to use without any strings attached you are immediately setting yourself apart from the usual noise – you’re letting them know that you’re something different and that’s going to make them take notice.

If you’re like any of the number of people I’ve spoken to about this during the time I’m writing this, your first thought is “great idea genius (I choose not to read this as sarcasm by the way), but what if after all that time I’ve spent crafting the Michael Angelo of whateverImades that I don’t end up with anything? What if they don’t even respond to me?”

I’m not going to lie to you – that’s a very real possibility. Business owners are busy and so they might forget, not have time to or just not be inclined to get back to you. Your question becomes, what can you do to retain the maximum amount of value from this time.

First thing your going to do is add your finished piece to your portfolio, or let it be the first item in a brand-spanking-new one. 

The second thing you’re going to do is factor this idea into your initial contact…we’ll get to that in one second.

Do what your competitors won’t.

Your average competitor will send an email to someone they want to work with/for and let that be the end of it. Your less commonly courageous competitor might even be willing to pick up the phone.

What 99% of your competition isn’t willing to do is head down to speak to the client they want face to face because that takes time and effort and they can’t be bothered to put in either.

The reason why you’ll do it is because speaking directly to someone you want as a client is brilliant experience, and because speaking face to face makes building a rapport much easier.

Still not convinced or feeling like you’re too shy to do anything other than email? Let me put this another way.

Just think about that WhatsApp group chat on your phone with 83 unread messages in it. I mean, those are message you’ve ignored from people you actually know, consider how many fewer f*cks you’d give about reading and responding to those messages if they were from people you’d never even heard of.

Just imagine that the business owner you’re contacting has likely got 83 messages from people they’d never heard of trying to sell them something (because they likely have that many or more), and that by sending an email, your message is just another message amongst the noise regardless of how much value you actually offer.

Get it? Great! Back to rapport…

That rapport, combined with that piece of excellent work you’ve created for them is the reason why they’re going to choose you for their creative project.

What’s also important to remember is that you’re not going down to sell them something –  nobody wants to be hunted down in their workplace to be pitched at. That’d be about as welcome as a Greenpeace street fundraiser walking into your living room unannounced and yelling their pitch at you while you’re trying to watch Netflix.

Instead what you’re going to tell them is that you were researching local businesses and you loved their brand, you think what they are doing is excellent or that you wanted to support a local business. 

Whichever way, you made something for them to have for free to use on their social media/website/on display in their premises because you wanted to support them and because you are trying to build up a portfolio of work for use in your own efforts to find your feet as a freelance creative.

You’ll reiterate that you aren’t looking for any money, but if they do end up using what you made, you’d appreciate it if you could reference them in your portfolio and include the piece you made for them.

That’s it. When you’ve finished explaining who you are, why you’re in their building and what you’re hoping to get out of it you’ll thank them for their time and you’ll leave.

No-one likes a pushy sales person – especially one that’s come unannounced. Also, if you’re new to this sort of hustle then chances are being self-promotional isn’t going to come naturally to you so don’t feel the need to risk all your hard work by throwing yourself in the deep end. 

Be brave enough not to give a pitch, trust that they will see value in you and the work you’ve created.

Do what your competitors won’t.

If you follow these steps and you keep going after your first pitch – I guarantee you, you will land your first client. 

It might not be the first person you create something for, or the second or the third, but if you follow these steps you will eventually land one who’s willing to pay you to create something more for them – either directly or through word of mouth.

After all that hard work, it feels like landing your first client is job done, mission accomplished; time to relax and marvel at the fruits of your hard labour.

Trust me on this one, after about one evening of celebration, the feeling is quickly replaced by a panic that you don’t know what’s supposed to happen next. 

You have the feeling that you should be leading things in this client/creative relationship since you were the one that headed out and brokered this thing in the first place.

Having gone through this process myself both as the hired creative and more recently as the customer – I’ve created templates which you can use to structure your initial meeting as well as present your work. 

Check them out here.

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