After years spent working at various studios and freelancing as a designer and CG generalist, 3D artist Amador Valenzuela started his own business, Black Book Studio. Now in his fourth year of entrepreneurship, he shares the secrets to successfully acquiring, managing – and most importantly – keeping great clients coming back for more.
Don’t let them forget about you
My process to get clients is the same as it was from day one. I have a network of people who I’ve worked with in the past that recommend me to people they know. Most of the work that I get comes from word of mouth.
These days, I try and maintain a presence online and on social media, but I’ve had very few clients call me out of the blue. It’s always a referral of some kind. Because of this, I’ve been trying to get out to meetups and conferences more often. Working from home can be isolating, and you have to make an effort to see people in person and stay in touch. Otherwise, they forget about you.
Timing is everything
It’s hard to go after clients because the timing is always wrong. You can introduce yourself now, but they may not need anything, so you’re quickly forgotten. I find it useful to check in from time to time to stay fresh in their minds, but clients usually find you when they need you.
Don’t just be on social media, be active on social media
Very few companies ever just “find” me, but I have had a few clients stumble on my site through Linkedin, Twitter or Instagram. It’s usually a direct result of an interaction I had with someone they knew. They’ll say, ‘I saw your comment on this, and I happen to click on your profile which led me to your work.’ It’s good to be on social media, but it’s important to stay active on it. I have to remind myself of this every day because I tend to get busy at times, which keeps me offline.
Keep your portfolio diverse
Nobody is loyal when it comes to business. At least not in my experience. Even if they like you, they may not think you’re a good fit for every project. Most clients only know you for that one kind of specialty they hired you for. It’s difficult for them to see you as something different unless you can show them. I try to diversify my work as much as possible, but it remains a challenge.
Don’t say ‘yes’ to everything – not all projects are right for you
Sometimes I turn down work because it’s just not the kind of project I like to work on, but more often than not, it’s a scheduling or budget issue.
I’ve learned that my “bandwidth” is three or four projects, but this depends on the scope and budget of each one. Even if I have four with healthy budgets and decent schedules, it can be difficult to stay focused and direct each one accordingly. I prefer one or two with the right budget, but it’s hard to turn down work.
Occasionally, you’ll have to invest before it’s a sure thing
Sometimes you need to spend money to land a project. I’ve worked on pitches that have gone on for weeks before having a signed contract. Within the production, I try and keep things rolling by having fewer client check-ins, but sometimes that’s not possible. This part does get better with time. If you have returning clients who trust you, they’ll usually let you work.
Single bids are also great with returning clients. If you’ve already proven yourself, they won’t want to waste time finding other studios for you to compete with. That saves time on both ends, which is ideal.
People spread the word, not companies
I find it better to build and nurture relationships with people rather than companies. Certain producers I’ve worked with at agencies have moved on to other places, and they tend to spread my name around when they’re at the new company. I don’t do much once I’ve made a connection other than staying in touch and connecting on Linkedin or other social media platforms. If I see that they’ve moved to a new agency/studio, I’ll send them a message and make sure they still have my contact info.
…but not all is lost when they don’t come back
When I first started, I thought it was weird if a company didn’t come back [for another project]. I would overthink it: Maybe they didn’t like the work, or perhaps they didn’t like me. After a while, you learn not to take it personally. It’s just business. Most times it’s a budget issue or scheduling conflict. I’ve had one-off clients refer me to new clients which have resulted in long-term relationships.
Deliver quality and love what you do
Always deliver the highest quality work possible. Being a good collaborator is important, too; they’re hiring my team and I for our creativity and technical skills, but there are plenty of talented people out there. You have to be easy to work with, and you need to be as passionate about their project as they are. I dive into everything and obsess over details because that’s what I’d want from someone I’ve hired.