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First project, first client, first award — there is nothing quite like the boost you get from those first wins.

In this edition of Business Perspectives, leading creatives share strategies to secure your first client independently. And community is at the top of their lists.

Andrew Edgecombe RGD, Independent Creative Director: 

I started by leveraging my existing network; reaching out to friends and colleagues. I told them about my services and requested referrals. This helped me gain a few initial clients who were willing to take a chance on me. At the same time, I focused on expanding my network. I attended industry events, joined professional groups and actively participated in online communities. By establishing meaningful connections and demonstrating my knowledge, I gained the trust and interest of potential clients. Additionally, I made sure to have a professional website and showcased my work online so that potential clients could find me. A combination of these three strategies helped me lay the foundation for freelancing and future growth. 

Ashe Green RGD, Independent Creative Director

I'll never forget the feeling of landing my first design clients. So much nervous excitement! In Prince Edward Island, word-of-mouth is incredibly valuable. I began by reaching out to instructors, peers and family and I also sought out local organizations and networking opportunities such as the Chamber of Commerce. I shared my work online consistently from day one; family and friends became invested in cheering me on and spreading the word about my work. At networking events, I led conversations with my genuine enthusiasm for design and business. I've always found the hard sell challenging, so I just hoped I was memorable. Remembering someone's name, referring them to others, investing in their success, getting excited about their work and sharing their accomplishments has been my super-power from the beginning. 

Gillian Hickie RGD, Principal at GOOD Company

When we launched GOOD Company in 2012, we thought about the kind of clients we wanted to work with, the kinds of projects we wanted to create and the impact we wanted to make with our work. We began to very intentionally seek out the communities, businesses and networks connected to that vision. We had coffee meetings with those generous enough to give us their time—and talked about shared goals, explaining how we genuinely wanted to use our design skills to help. We volunteered with grassroots organizations and even a political campaign. The result was that we got experience and portfolio pieces relevant to the work we wanted to be doing and made long-term connections with people who went on to help us secure more projects—either through their own business or by spreading the word about us. 

Andrea Rodriguez RGD, Senior Graphic Designer, Art Director, Lettering and Mural Artist:

Before becoming a full-time freelancer, I took on side projects from friends, colleagues and the RGD. This helped me build a strong reputation in the field and a foundation to venture on my own. Finally, I reached out to my former employers to see if they'd hire me as a freelancer. One particularly influential art director, who had given me invaluable knowledge, responded with an enthusiastic "YES, PLEASE!" This response gave me the confidence boost I needed to quit my job. The key to my successful transition into freelancing was the relationships I had built in the industry. My advice to aspiring freelancers is that you build a solid community. There is ample work for everyone and embracing a mindset of community over competition can only enhance one's prospects. 

Jennifer Taback RGD, President & Partner at Design De Plume

When we started Design De Plume, we did it right out of college and did not have any idea how we might get our clients. At the outset, the best thing we did was reach out to family and friends to see if they knew of anyone who needed work or could pass on some contact information to help us get started. One of my family members was working for the Toronto Zoo at the time and helped us land our first large booklet design and printing contract. It was tough work at the time, but having just one significant client under our belt really opened the doors for other work.

Andrea Rodriguez RGD

Andreacataro Creative Services

I am a passionate designer and art director based in Toronto with over 12 years of experience in the field. My approach to design is to create solutions that communicate a meaningful message. I prioritize typography, respect the grid and ensure that each piece serves a purpose, following the fundamentals of design. My specialties include illustration, lettering and digital campaigns. I take a 360-degree approach to design that focuses on concept development and visual storytelling. I am committed to working with not-for-profit organizations that support women, minorities and marginalized groups. My education in Canada and France has given me a unique perspective that blends international experience with a commitment to enhancing Latin American representation in Canada. My philosophy is to design with a purpose and create work that my clients and their audiences can be proud of. I also specialize in creating vibrant and whimsical murals that transform spaces with joy and colour. My designs are inspired by the rich tapestry of Latin American culture, especially my Colombian roots. I celebrate nature, lettering and wildlife in my designs, fostering community identity and well-being. My aim is to enrich public spaces, making art accessible and enjoyable for all.

Ashe Green RGD

Hijinks Branding + Design Agency Inc.

Gillian Hickie RGD

GOOD Company

Gillian is Co-Principal and Creative Director of GOOD Company, a values-forward creative agency specializing in branding, publication design, marketing and digital/website design and development.

She holds a Bachelor of Design from the Alberta University of the Arts (formerly ACAD) and has more than 20 years of direct experience in the graphic design industry. Before co-founding GOOD Company, Gillian worked as a designer at mid-sized corporate firms while committing her skills to local arts organizations in her free time. She has worked on dozens of projects for regional and national non-profits, local grassroots community initiatives, social enterprises, cultural organizations and educational institutions. Client highlights include CCUNESCO, Children First Canada, Calgary Arts Development, to name a few.

Gillian is a member of the Certification Committee with RGD and Calgary’s Mount Royal University’s Industry Advisory Group. Still passionate about the arts, Gillian holds the role of President of JUNO-nominated Land’s End Ensemble.


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