How clients prefer to meet designers

This is the first in a series of articles reporting on feedback from our ‘What clients want’ survey conducted during August 2020. This one discusses the responses around a simple question: How would you best like to be approached by a prospective design supplier?

The question was included because of two reasons; it was included in similar research conducted in the UK and we asked it of three ‘guest clients’ at our 2019 What clients think UNseminar. It was too good an opportunity, we wanted to compare responses.


The one takeaway point…

48% of clients said their preferred method to meet a designer is ‘referral from a colleague’.

Another 20% said they didn’t want to be approached at all, they preferred to find their own design suppliers.
And 7% preferred to meet a designer at a networking event.

That makes a whopping 75% of prospective clients who would rather not be approached by a designer directly.

How does this compare with how UK clients want to meet designers?

This response does correlate with the UK What Clients think survey produced during 2019-20. Their findings were based on face to face interviews with over 500 clients.

  • 78% of clients said they are generally not receptive to direct cold new business approaches.
    The message they gleaned was that clients are too busy to respond to cold new business approaches.
    There are always exceptions, of course, but the old methods of developing business are not working.
  • 89% of clients say they are too busy to see speculative agency credentials presentations.
    The 2019/20 figure is higher than previous years, confirming clients are generally too busy to window shop.

But that said, not all our results correlated with the UK survey, or our previous research.

Here’s what we found

When asked: How would you best like to be approached by a prospective design supplier?  in a multiple choice question, the results were:

  • 48% of clients chose by referral from a colleague
  • 20% of clients chose not at all, I like to find my own supplier
  • 14% of clients chose by an introductory capability / credentials email
  • 8% of clients chose meet at work / networking event
  • 4% of clients chose by a physical innovative presentation / credential package sent by snail mail
  • 4% on LinkedIn so I can check credientials / backgrounds*
  • 2% of clients chose other. One said they we have a panel and another said mixture of all (obviously someone with a commitment issue!)

How does this compare with previous Australian research?

Some of it contradicts…

At our 2019 UNseminar ‘How to think like a client‘, Coca-Cola’s Natalie Cukerman, Bank Australia’s Fiona Nixon and Good Shepherd Australia and New Zealand’s Elisabeth Tuckey gave valuable insights from a FMCG, corporate and not-for-profit perspective. Even though they worked in completely different areas, all agreed the first contact from designers was too often generic, it didn’t treat them as individuals. It may be because of that, two out of the three ‘hated’ being bombarded with email pitches – to them it’s the equivalent of receiving ‘junk mail.’ The preference was for individual handwritten despatches.

So while 14% of respondents to our survey suggested they like a capability email, our anecdotal experience is they don’t answer nor act upon the email. It may be preferred because it’s the least intrusive of all methods

More interesting is the low number of preferences for LinkedIn (just 4%).

This is in direct contrast to the UK survey where 93% of clients claim to be on LinkedIn and to use this platform, specifically because they can check credentials (and connections). This number has remained constant – even climbing a little – over the past 5 years. UK clients see LinkedIn as by far the most useful platform for business development purposes. It’s the platform where many clients say their agency should be more active.

So, what does this mean?

Maybe it means designers should ask for referrals from existing clients.

How many of us do that? … ask an existing client for a referral; to one of their peers, to a contact on LinkedIn or to a colleague in the same company but different area? Few would be my guess, which is odd when nearly 50% of all clients said that’s the way they would like to meet a future design partner. And in the UK, 29% of clients said they would happily introduce their design agency to a colleague but have never been asked so it’s pretty safe to assume the same here.

Referrals are such a simple new business device. It costs nothing, and is the perfect way to make contact with existing clients.

And the value of getting out and networking cannot be overlooked. While we didn’t include this question specifically, it’s probably fair to say the networking doesn’t have to be at work. It could be at a school event, a sporting club or at a dinner party.

Bottom line is cold calling is not invited, nor enjoyed. Clients would much rather build a partnership with a design partner, and the first step to a partnership is getting to know a little about the supplier from another source (referral) or proactively (by themselves, or networking).

So, we just need to get out there.


Want more?

Here’s three more articles about thinking like a client:

  1. A summary of our 2019 UNseminar – we invited three clients to be grilled by designers.
  2. Making it easier for clients to give feedback using RASQUI.
  3. How to help clients make decisions – we don’t all come to decisions the same way.

As always, happy to discuss, just email.

Carol Mackay

Want more information like this delivered to your inbox every Wednesday?
The Design Business Review is Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers. Best of all, it’s free.

After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, I pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry. Now with the Design Business Council I use my experience, and research, as a design mentor and coach. I help designers build robust, sustainable businesses, and help businesses integrate, and profit from, design.

The core of the DBC is the building a design community – over 85% of designers work in businesses with less than 5 employees, many less than 3. That means designers don’t have the same support network of other professionals. The DBC’s solution is supplement paid gigs with research, mentoring breakfast meet-ups, informative UNseminars and practical workshops in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

An archive of my previous career is at
My current work can be viewed at and

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.