The question that every young freelancer wants to ask – how do you get clients? It’s a tough question because the right answer looks different for everyone. For me, it’s sort of been a mix of everything. Social media, joining online communities, building relationships, getting referrals, marketing myself… all of these approaches are great, well-known ways to attract dream clients. But there’s one strategy that I don’t think is talked about or praised enough – personal projects.

Maybe it’s because people think working for free on a personal project is a waste of time or isn’t productive when you could be working with a client, which I totally understand. But I’m here to help you embrace all the wonderful things that personal projects can do for your business!

First, let’s quickly clarify what a personal project could be. Simply put… anything you want it to be! It’s a project that you create on your own, not for a client and usually not for money.

Next, let’s go over some of the general reasons why personal projects are so great:

  1. You have full creative control. Nobody else is giving you their input. Just you doing what you want. (Isn’t that the dream?)
  2.  Opportunity to explore different mediums or styles.
  3. Strengthen your portfolio with more work that you love.
  4. There’s no hard deadline so you can work at your own pace. No stress.

So, we know that personal projects can be beneficial to keep us inspired and create a portfolio with more projects that we genuinely love, but how do they attract dream clients? During my first 6 months of freelancing, there were a couple of dream clients that I almost worked with, but they decided to go with another designer because they didn’t think that I had enough experience working on projects in their industry. This was super frustrating. How was I ever supposed to gain the experience that they were looking for if nobody would give me a chance first? I knew that I had the talent and skill to create something amazing for them, but my portfolio wasn’t reflecting that very well because it was filled with projects that weren’t at all related to their line of work. So I came up with a solution. For every dream client that I didn’t get, I would create a personal project based on them. That way, I could have it in my portfolio to attract more dream clients in that industry and they would be less likely to turn me down for lack of experience. Pretty clever, right? And guess what. Those personal projects have been some of my best work and have gotten the most attention! I’ve had so many great clients who on our first phone call have said that they reached out to me because they saw one of the personal projects I’ve done, without even knowing that it was a personal project! If I had never taken the time to do those fake, conceptual projects, some of my clients might not have come to me at all.

So you don’t need to wait around for dream clients to show up and give you those exciting, fulfilling projects you’ve always wanted to do. Instead, create them yourself! It’ll be some of the most inspired work you do and people will notice because all that passion is bound to make it stand out. And before you know it, another dream client will come across it and be so much more eager to work with you.

So now you’re like, “Ok Abbey, I’m sold! Personal projects are amazing and I’m excited to start one, but I can’t think of a good idea.” No worries, I’ve created a quick questionnaire to help you find what’s currently inspiring you and brainstorm how to turn it into a project! Download your personal project guide here.

So what are you waiting for?! Pick a personal project that lights you up and get started! I promise it’ll be worth it! I’ve done quite a few personal projects and they’ve been so beneficial to my business. They set a fire in me, they give me more confidence in my work because it’s work I’m proud of, they give my audience a better understanding of my skills, the type of work I love to do, and in turn, attract more of those dream clients. If you want to check out some of the personal projects I’ve done, here are my favorites:

Altid – a minimal clothing brand inspired by my time in Denmark

Seasons – a skincare line inspired by the changing seasons

Post – a collection of stamps for some of the places we’ve traveled

And to wrap things up, I’ll let you in on a personal project that I’m working on right now! It’s still in the early stages, but here’s the direction that I’m heading. Lately I’ve been really inspired by French culture since we just moved here in September. I’m especially loving the style! When we’re out in public, I love observing what all the women are wearing. One thing that I’ve noticed is how many women wear glasses and the classic, vintage style they seem to go for. Now in my work, I’ve really wanted to do more packaging and e-commerce design, since those are both things that I want to do more in 2018. So, why not a conceptual French eyewear brand? Here’s some of the visual inspiration that I pulled to get me started. I’m super excited about this project and can’t wait to share more!

What are your personal project ideas? I’d love to hear them!