It’s not a client’s job…

A majority of the clients who source design have marketing or communications in their title. They may be an Innovation Officer (especially if the organisation has a design thinking focus) and sometimes we may get direct contact to the CEO. Regardless, I think it’s fair to say all would have broad job descriptions covering a myriad of tasks, some inward looking (like internal comms), some external (like stakeholder relations).

Which is a round about way of saying clients are responsible for many things.
But you know what they’re not responsible for?
You know what is not their job?

Finding work for suppliers is not their job. It’s not our client’s job to envisage ways we can work together.  It is not their job to think of how they might use design to solve a business challenge.

The fact that it’s not their job to source our work is a problem for those designers waiting for client’s to knock on their door. While some new business can and will come through referrals, as a previous article explains, referrals are not fail-safe. And yes, clients can find designers through a website search, but that too has issues.

So, if it’s not a client’s job to find work for designers, whose job is it? Of course (it’s a rhetorical question) it’s undoubtably our – the designer’s – job; and here are three of great examples how it can be done well.

Three great examples where creatives have used (formal or informal) empathy mapping to finding gaps where a service-add could help an existing client.

Example 1: the need to look good online

Elizabeth Bull is a photographer specialising in working with people. (I know Liz because of our Business of Design breakfasts.) One of Liz’s services is an uncompromised, but economical method of shooting corporate portraits. Within a week of lockdown Liz posted this on LinkedIn:

I’m sure, like myself, you are finding yourself online more than ever considering the current climate. My profile portrait is now popping up on webinars, facebook communities, zoom meetings and even the online gym classes I’m attending! More than ever my online profile photo is a representation of myself. This may be the perfect opportunity to work on building and expanding your online presence. If you are a previous Lizzy C Photography client and finding you could do with some extra images from your session, please get in touch. I can send you through your proof images and you can purchase the extra images you would like.

I think this is brilliant because

  1. Liz has identified an immediate problem and offered a solution,
  2. the only work Liz will do to earn extra revenue is access her archive.

It is truly a win:win.
The solution makes clients look better.
Liz gets more work.
What’s not to love?

Example 2: Building a brand

Sharon Blance is another photographer at our Business of Design breakfasts. Sharon, along with her partner Brence, focusses on human-centred photography for brands and businesses. They shoot people-centric images for all kinds of clients, from small start-ups to large corporates; agencies and designers. Sharon recently shared an article (yep, on LinkedIn) about post-covid photography. She introduced the article by saying:

It’s interesting to consider how existing visual assets (brand imagery & videos) depicting pre-COVID behaviours (e.g. large crowds, hugging, handshakes) will quickly look out-of-date in the COVID-19 era. The challenge for us in the photography industry is to be able to create new ‘COVID-aware’ visual assets for clients whilst embracing best practice safety protocols on shoots like social distancing.

This is a a great conversation starter between designers and clients.

It’s relevant because words such as progressive, agile and relevant are commonly used to describe brands. Problem is, in a COVID-world, an image depicting hikers with their heads together gathered around a map, or a group of workers huddled around a computer screen does not communicate a progressive, agile or relevant brand. Instead, it reflects our world pre-covid. A world we no longer live ‑ and those in the know say we’re not going to live it for a while. Safe distancing is here to stay.

We all know it’s all about perception, so those brands that quickly update their image library to reflect the real world will have the edge.

The other value to Sharon’s share is that it demonstrates she knows stuff. If I was a client choosing between two creatives, I’d choose the one that does the thinking for me. In this case a supplier who has thought about and solved the challenges of directing, lighting and shooting while maintaining social distancing.

Example 3: proactive online delivery

Juli Bellinge is a Perth-based designer who recently shared an article – yep, on LinkedIn – about the real cost of an under-performing website. We’ve talked before about the value of a website audit. What I like here is that Juli is quoting robust research. It’s no longer a designer advising their client on the perils of an under-performing website. It’s a designer sharing research that proves the (rapid) return on investment from auditing a website regularly – something that is especially relevant in our current (and continuing) online shopping world.


These are just three examples of creatives proactively finding more work from existing clients. Three examples where creatives have revisited work done with existing clients to analyse and explore where they can provide an additional service – in this case gaps that opened because of COVID:

  • the need for more than one profile shot
  • the need for images to reflect the current situation
  • the need for websites to be continually audited for 404 errors.

Any of these new jobs are not crucial, and could easily slip through the crack, but in a world where many designers are looking for additional work, they’re perfect. And I feel sure most client’s would be open to the suggestions.

They’re also great examples of why it’s often easier to get work from existing clients than to find new ones.


Carol Mackay

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After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, Carol pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry. Now with the Design Business Council she uses her experience, and research, to 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 mentoring breakfast meet-ups, informative UNseminars and practical workshops in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

An archive of her design work at
Her current work can be viewed at and

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