How to get the first orders in design, when there is no portfolio and experience

    How to find first customers?

    This is one of the most popular questions that novice designers ask me. And this question is absolutely logical, because he cared for me, when I was just starting my professional path, living in a dormitory, without a MacBook, special education and almost nothing in design.

    In this article, I will share my personal experience only and will not collect scraps of information from popular design blogs, whose materials often have little relevance to the real world.

    I will not call my experience objective and I do not think that everyone will be able to apply it. I did not set myself such a task. My goal is to honestly tell you how I received my first customers, who became the foundation for further development in the food sector.

    First projects

    I try to answer all the questions that designers ask me in social networks. And recently, the following dialogue took place:

    It seemed to me that every designer in the blood independently came up with his own tasks and realized them in a free style (even if detached from the real world). But it turned out that not all. Therefore, I will talk about this in more detail.

    I started my journey in design by copying popular concepts. Rather, trying to copy, as the quality of my work left much to be desired. After that, I began to invent my own tasks, but I still regularly looked at other people's works, trying to reproduce various visual effects. (I did not understand then that the essence of the designer’s work was different.)

    Thus, in practice, I tried to figure out a new case for myself. I did not understand the essence of the projects that I copied, but, nevertheless, I filled my hand in the visual part of our work.

    Having made another project, I compared it with popular concepts and tried to figure out why my work looks worse. And little by little he began to understand the importance of properly selected indents, colors, contrasts, the logic of the arrangement of elements and much more. I liked the design of services more, so among my projects was an email client, notes, task lists and CRM systems.

    I published all the works at Behance, despite their quality. I do not know why, but I was not afraid of negative criticism and I was not ashamed. Perhaps because I could not adequately assess my level and considered him worthy.

    I see that many designers are embarrassed to put their work on display and ask for feedback. Sadly, since without this they will grow much slower. If at all.

    Any initiative is developed through iterative improvements. In other words, evolving. This is how the world works: you do something, after you receive feedback from the real world, draw conclusions and try again. Those who are able to go through this cycle many times will be rewarded.

    First sentences

    As time went on, I regularly practiced, deleted old works, replaced them with new ones and at some point began to receive offers. No magic or secret advice. I just developed in design for many months, showed it to the world, and at some point he began to answer me.

    The biggest project at that time was the automation service for Swiss clinics. This project is from Russia, but since the development was conducted abroad, I had to communicate mainly in English, although I did not have a deep knowledge of the language.

    Despite the lack of experience, I managed to earn a record 50 thousand rubles a month at that time, and I went to rest in Spain. (A few years later I managed to earn the same in 4 hours).

    Then I did not understand what type of projects I publish in the portfolio, and I will receive such type of customers. Looking back, I see that this is exactly what happened. As I did the design of services, I still do them today, which I like much more than creative concepts. To each his own.

    This does not mean that you should go my way. Choose a topic that you like best and practice in it. If you do not know what you like best, experiment.

    Do not focus on trends. You can prove yourself in any field, so start working in the one that you like best. Life will become much more pleasant, believe me.

    Quality of work

    It's funny, but during the preparation of this article, I wrote the same client with whom we were engaged in medical services. He asked permission to transfer my number to a potential customer. And this is not the first time when old ties return after several years. And they come back for two reasons.

    First, because I did my job well. Without this in any way. The client should be satisfied, and you yourself should be sorry to waste your time, so always try to do each project better than the previous one. Only in this case you will grow.

    Secondly, I showed myself as a reliable performer. Working on financial services, it happened that after a workshop with business representatives, I would go home, promising that by the morning my work would be done.

    And I still remember those nights when I designed banking services before 4 am, and after two hours of sleep I went to the office of a well-known payment system and demonstrated the service to the focus group, after project managers, and at the end presented it to the bank's board. (It even happened that in the car on the way from the office to the conference hall of the hotel, I worked on an interactive prototype).

    You understand that at that moment I was responsible. But assessing my attitude to work, customers were ready to return, despite the fact that they could easily find a designer at two times cheaper.


    Without the right presentation, your, even brilliant ideas, will not be heard. At the start of a career, I did not understand this and could simply send a mockup to a client and wait for a backlash. Now I understand that this approach is in most cases utopian.

    Imagine a developer sending you a code to check. Can you evaluate how effective it is? Of course not. Similarly with the design. Most often, the client does not understand our craft, but will certainly want to express their opinion. Therefore, your main task is to competently present your work.

    In short, the essence of the presentation is to raise the problem in the first part, and in the second to show that your concept solves it in the best way.

    Think in advance what questions the customer can ask. Thus, you can find flaws in your work and prepare logical answers.

    I have been involved in product design in startups for several years, and here the presentation skill is no less important. Just instead of official presentations, you argue your decisions in collective conversations.

    What i do now

    Above, I described how I managed to get my first customers. And now let's ask myself what I would do now if I only started my career and would like to earn my first money in design.

    But, before setting out a concrete plan, I will share one important thought, the understanding of which greatly simplifies life.


    Reaching goals, you get something else, no less important than the result itself. You will gain an understanding of the mechanism for achieving goals. And its essence is insanely simple, but for some reason few people believe in it.

    The main secret to achieving meaningful results is to start doing something and not to stop for a long time.

    It is so simple, but I constantly think why most of us cannot use this advice.

    I will give an example.

    Gary Vaynerchuk launched the WineLibrary YouTube channel with 0 subscribers, like all of us in our business. (In my Telegram channel there were also 0 subscribers, and after three months more than a thousand designers read it). But Gary understood that success can only be achieved through disciplined work, so he recorded more than 1000 releases of his show. 1000! Think about what it cost him. Today, Gary is an entrepreneur and one of the most popular people on the Internet.

    Think now about yourself. Have you made at least 10 projects?

    I do not know how you answered me, but I know that nowadays successful designers nod in agreement at this moment. Because this is true. Quality comes only with experience.

    Look at the portfolio of the best designers and imagine that at the beginning of their career, their work was terrible, and profile pictures were not taken in the studio. Hard to believe, but true. And only one thing made them better - patience.


    And now back to the question:

    What would I do now if I wanted to establish myself in design?

    I would choose a specific area (services, websites, applications, animation, motion, graphics) and set myself the task every week to publish one project in the portfolio for at least three months. And would fulfill this plan, despite the lack of endorsement, the presence of negative and trolling, recessions of motivation, a bad horoscope and new series of the beloved series.

    Where to get ideas for projects? Study the work of other designers and try to copy them. Think about your dream project and try to realize it. Think about how you can improve the services that you use yourself.

    Friends, the world is created by people, not smarter than us. The services that you use every day were made by the same specialists, who you are, just a little more experienced.

    If you want the coming year to be more successful than the outgoing one, appreciate it every day. Keep your time in the toilet, flipping through endless tapes and browsing popular blogs.

    As stated in the movie "Fight Club": "This is your life, and it becomes shorter every minute."

    Time cannot be controlled. It has existed for billions of years and is not going to stop yet. It can only be used or lost. The choice is yours.

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