Get Clients To Take You Seriously As A Professional Design Student

23 Oct

As a design student myself, I understand the frustrations students can have with getting clients to take us seriously. So often, they want you to do a project for free (which you should if you don’t have a solid portfolio) and then add more and more to the project to the point that it never seems to end. It’s not fair for them to expect so much for nothing. So how do you get these clients to treat you more like a professional, and pay you?

Have professional work.

This means that, at first, you need to take those free projects that we are trying to avoid. Also, take advantage of the projects you do in school and make sure all of your work is top notch. Talk with your teacher and see if you can do something slightly different in order to fill a void or add more work to a certain style of work you want in your portfolio. Most teachers in a design school will be willing to let you do this, just ask. Partner up with other students at your school who can bring something else to the table. If you are great at making designs and layouts, but not so good at crafting beautiful headlines, team up with another student who is great at making copy and headlines. Doing this will help both of you out, and can often lead to more, and better, work in both of your portfolios as you bounce ideas off of one another.

Take yourself seriously.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “fake it till you make it?” Well, faking or fooling people into thinking you are a worthy designer is certainly not a good idea and you will get exposed for it. The lesson to take from this is to know that while in the beginning, when you are getting your first paying clients, it’s ok to pretend (a little) like it isn’t your first time. Doing this will often help ease the clients mind, and it should help make everything run smoother for you.

Act professional.

This means dressing appropriately for a client meeting. Sure, some clients won’t mind if you show up at the local sandwich joint wearing some ripped jeans and band t-shirt, but many would likely prefer you to show up at the local Starbucks wearing a nice pair of pants and button up shirt. Make sure you know your client and what kind of demeanor they are going to expect, this will help you start things off in the right direction. Once you get passed the initial handshake, your stunningly good looks won’t be able to get you through the rest of the meeting. Make sure you speak professionally when talking with your clients, this is not a game of Halo 3 online where you can say whatever you feel like at the moment. Know the industry lingo, but also know that your client won’t know everything (or anything) that you are saying to them and be prepared to simplify what you mean. Do your research before the meeting and try to come up with answers ahead of time for any questions you think your client might have.

Business Cards.

These are something that can really make your client feel like you aren’t a just a student, but rather, a professional designer who takes themselves seriously. How many students do you know with business cards? Probably not many. How many professionals do you know with business cards? Just about all of them. It may seem like something so little and insignificant, but it really can help you make your impact on the client. Make sure you include at least the basic information on your business cards such as your name, phone number, and email. As design students, I would recommend that you do something extra to really spice up your business card and leave an impression.

Show them the goods.

This means create a good-looking portfolio site. You spent all that time making all that great work, now you need to show the world! Well, let’s at least make sure we show your (potential) clients first. If you know web design and some coding, I really recommend that you build your own site, it’s another portfolio piece that doubles as your portfolio. If you are a student that doesn’t know much about web design, I suggest that you network through your school and find someone that can help build you a worthy site. If you aren’t someone who is web savvy and you can’t find another student that’s willing to help you, it’s ok, just make sure that you find a good template to work with. Also, instead of making your own site you could try sites such as Behance or deviantART. Remember this is where a lot of your clients and potential clients are going to judge you as a designer, so make sure that your site shows off your work in the best possible way. Your site should have an about section as well as a contact page with a simple contact form. Doing this can really help reassure your clients that you are the right pick and it makes it easy for them to get a hold of you to take the next step.

Use questionnaires.

Send these to your clients before you start working on your projects. It saves you a bunch of time doing research, and it helps the client really think about what they want. Asking the right questions can show the client that you are taking the project seriously and can help convey that you actually care about what you are doing in a professional manor.


These can be your life saver. Do you remember those clients who love to add on more requirements as the projects go on just because you are doing free work? Well, having a contract can help save you from having to deal with that, or at least make sure that you are getting compensated for it. Having a contract lets your client know that you are serious and you mean business.

Charge appropriately.

Since you are just starting out, realize that you aren’t going to make the big bucks right away, so don’t charge $500/hr for your first project. It is your time, charge what you are worth. If you really don’t have a clue what to charge, check out some of the links below.

Set up a payment system.

After you have figured out how much you are going to charge, it’s time to figure out how you are going to collect that money. Unless it’s a close friend or family, you will rarely get cash as a form of payment. Many designers are using Paypal to accept payments, because it is simple, instant, and hassle free. Still others prefer checks or bank transfers to avoid the Paypal fees. Find something that will compliment your workflow and style of business. When charging a client for your work, it’s best practice to collect 50% upfront before you start the project. This can help save your butt if something happens to the client or they change their mind. How you collect the rest of the money depends on the situation and how you want to handle your business.

Other Tips for Design Students


17 Responses to “Get Clients To Take You Seriously As A Professional Design Student”

  1. Abhinav October 24, 2010 at 9:07 PM #

    Great article! I am also a budding freelance designer, and these points will surely help me out. 😀


  2. Jamie Wayne Guijarro October 24, 2010 at 9:52 PM #

    Very well written Chris. I too had taken the proactive side of freelancing as a student and I can relate to the part where you said to partner up with fellow students. I remember challenging the other students on collabo projects on a weekly basis and then even challenging the professor to a regional design competition.

    On a further note, it is a good idea to drop the .wordpress or .blogspot and instead use your own domain name or else clients aren’t likely to take as seriously.

    • Chris Steurer October 24, 2010 at 10:02 PM #

      That’s awesome that you challenged your professor to a design competition! That gives me an idea…haha. As far as the .wordpress goes, I just started this site a month ago as kind of a testing ground, but I will be removing it soon and getting/creating a better theme as well.

  3. Mark Wienands October 24, 2010 at 11:52 PM #

    Great article.

    Though what’s with the 5 pixel smiley on the right of this page? (About the same line as the Business Cards paragraph to the right side of the screen)

    Do i win a prize from this?

    • Chris Steurer October 25, 2010 at 1:19 AM #

      I just noticed that little pixel guy, I have no idea how he got there or why he is smiling so big. He appears to be on every page of this site, I am going to have to get to the bottom of his happiness. You win the prize of being first to spot him, now search the internet and find all the other blogs out there that have this guy smiling away on the side of their site (pretend it’s an internet scavenger hunt). Thanks for pointing this out 🙂

  4. Lee Gustin November 2, 2010 at 9:19 AM #

    Great article!! Thanks for the mention (5 tips for design students)

    • Chris Steurer November 2, 2010 at 7:05 PM #

      Hey thanks! I only like to give my readers the best, so I had to share your article with them!

  5. Aldrich November 15, 2010 at 12:45 AM #

    This article is one of the best I’ve read. Really great tips for people starting out and for people who already have experience, but forget to consider some valuable points!

    Thanks for this! 🙂

    • Chris "StoyPenny" Steurer November 15, 2010 at 8:07 PM #

      Hey, glad you liked it!

  6. Vance Unterzuber January 21, 2012 at 7:56 AM #

    Extremely revealing appreciate it, It looks like your current readers will likely want way more content of this nature keep up the good content.

  7. Jorge Guilmette January 22, 2012 at 12:48 PM #

    You are a really great author. Wish you lots of success in your endeavors.

  8. Esta Alcala January 24, 2012 at 9:38 AM #

    Yeah! Excellent piece, continue to keep up the terrific work.

  9. Houston Desharnais January 26, 2012 at 1:38 AM #

    Excellent stuff here Within the famous words of a specific terminator… il be back!

  10. Wynell Carn February 5, 2012 at 3:06 AM #

    Im glad to know this blog. Two big thumbs up, man!

  11. Kayce Millare February 6, 2012 at 2:06 AM #

    Very entertaining site. I’ve bookmarked your site and added you on my blogroll! Keep up the great work.


  1. Tweets that mention Get Clients To Take You Seriously As A Professional Design Student « Chris Steurer -- - October 24, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jacob Cass, Kornelia Rybitwa, SashaB, Rick Garrett, Chris Steurer and others. Chris Steurer said: @justcreative thanks for tweeting my article, I'm glad you liked it! RT Get Clients To Take You Seriously As A Profe… […]

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