Are you a service-based business owner trying to figure out how to get your first client online?
You’re in luck because today, I have a special guest for you — Sophie from Simply Sophie Designs — a small business mentor and businesswoman behind a marketing and design agency that helps brands tell their unique story through eye-catching designs and powerful messaging.
Today, Sophie will be sharing with us her secrets to getting clients online, as well as her inspiring story of how she turned her passion for design into her dream business!
Sophie is the designer behind Simply Sophie Designs, a marketing + design agency that helps brands tell their unique story through eye-catching designs and powerful messaging. Simply Sophie Designs started with Sophie selling custom portraits from her college dorm room to classmates in 2019. Her business has since grown and evolved into a service-based business, which allowed her to quit corporate and pursue her own dreams full time in 2022. When she’s not creating one of a kind pattern designs, beautiful illustrations, social media posts, or writing and designing marketing emails for her clients, she can also be found teaching a module in her signature course, the Creative Entrepreneur Accelerator — a live, cohort-style class for business owners.
Sophie is also the co-host of creative entrepreneurship podcast, The Art of Small, and has had her illustration work published in magazine spreads and books alike. She currently lives in Indianapolis with her husband and their bernedoodle, Dolly (affectionately named after Dolly Parton).”
Simply Sophie Designs’ Resources:
The Art of Small Podcast Instagram: @theartofsmallpod
The Art of Small Podcast: theheartofsmallpod.wordpress.com
Ways to connect with Simply Sophie Designs:
Questions answered in this interview:
- When you started your business, what was your journey to getting clients for yourself?
- Can you tell us a little bit about cold pitching for those who have no idea where to start? And share some examples too?
- Can you give us some mindset advice when it comes to cold pitching clients or collaboration partners?
- Tell us a little bit about your journey. How did you start your business and how has it evolved over time?
- How do you define success in this season of your life & how has it changed since you started your business?
- What are some final takeaways you want to share with small business owners?
When you started your business, what steps did you take to first gain clients?
One of the most helpful ways I gained clients when I started my business was cold pitching to the businesses I wanted to work with.
Sales is a numbers game. It’s funny because when I graduated college, I told myself I’d never want to be in sales. But when you’re a small business owner, you ARE in sales, whether you realize it or not. Yet it’s very different when you’re selling something you believe in and you’re passionate about. I live in Indiana, surrounded by cornfields, but some of my first clients were based in New Zealand and Australia.
At the time, I thought it was crazy that my work was reaching people on the other side of the planet! Yes of course social media played a part in that, but I think a lot of people are discouraged right now because the Instagram algorithm is making it hard for our content to be seen.
Thankfully, there are so many other ways than just social media as avenues to gaining clients — and it doesn’t require you to have 10,000 followers on Instagram either.
Recently, I put together a guide with all the different strategies I first used in my business to gain and attract clients, including some things I still do to this day. It’s called The Client Magnet Blueprint: 5 Power Moves to Score Your Next (or First) Client.
I highly recommend checking that out if you’re interested! And there’s a big bonus tip at the end that goes more into cold pitching and how to do it.
Showcasing and talking about my work
Another way I’ve gotten clients is by simply talking about what I do. I’ve noticed this from entrepreneurs and my own students too — they’re worried about talking too much about their business and coming off as annoying. But what most people don’t realize is that only a fraction of the people that follow you are actually seeing your content every day. You need to talk about it — shout it from the rooftops! — to anyone who will listen.
Utilizing in-person connections
If you’re in this in-between stage of entrepreneurship where you’re still working a full-time job and someone asks you what you do for a living, don’t leave out your small business! When you actually start telling people about your business, even if the person you’re talking to isn’t necessarily an ideal client, they may know someone who needs what you have to offer.
Yes, social media was definitely great for finding clients when I first got started. But honestly, there’s so much in-person connection that is valuable to growing your business. Even though there’s something exciting about working with somebody on the other side of the planet, I’ve realized how valuable it is to start local and utilize the resources I have in my own area.
Can you tell us a little bit about cold pitching for those who have no idea where to start? And share some examples too?
I love this topic! Sometimes cold pitching can feel a little taboo in a way because it feels like cold calling. One of the first jobs I had in high school was cold-calling people who didn’t care about what I had to sell and it was awful! I promise cold pitching is nothing like that.
Cold pitching is simply drafting up an email to a potential client or collaborator you want to work with. Start by making lists of some industries you really want to work with, find businesses that match up with those lists, and eventually go for your dream clients, even if it feels unrealistic. The worst anybody can say to you is no.
Examples of cold pitching
As an example, earlier this year there was a coffee shop I really wanted to work with. They were getting ready to open and I felt really drawn to this business because it was local and we actually had some mutual connections (so that always helps).
That doesn’t mean you can’t reach out to somebody if you don’t have any mutual connections. I know it’s called “cold” pitching, but your cold pitch shouldn’t actually be cold. You should be building touchpoints and personalizing how you connect with them.
For this coffee shop, I reached out explaining who I am, what I do, and why I’m specifically drawn to their business and letting them know I have some ideas I’d love to talk with them about. I never want it to feel pushy and I always let people know a conversation is zero pressure. If you can get an in-person meeting, great. If you can’t, I always recommend a video call to create that connection. After the initial outreach, your goal should always be to get somebody on the phone.
A lot of people think cold pitching is all about me, me, me, me, me. There is some of that, but honestly, it’s more about the client, listening to their exact needs, and seeing where you can fill in the gaps. There’s a lot more detail I go into with my students and through my program Creative Entrepreneur Accelerator, but also in The Client Magnet Blueprint: 5 Power Moves to Score Your Next (or First) Client freebie.
Let’s say you’re a product-based business and you have a line of greeting cards you would like to get into a coffee shop. The same rules apply.
You can replace “client magnet blueprint” with whatever business or collaborator you’re trying to connect with. You can then use the same framework to build a relationship with another business so you can get your products in their store. It’s all about relationship building. Building connections won’t be as easy as someone magically finding your Instagram page and, BOOM! Instant partnership — you’ll have to put in a little bit of legwork to build the foundation, but it’s so rewarding. As a business owner who loves entrepreneurship, cold pitching is exciting to me!
Can you give us some mindset advice when it comes to cold pitching clients or collaboration partners?
There’s a bit of delusional confidence that has to come into play here — believing that when you reach out, it’s possible that the client wants to work with you or the collaboration will happen. Hearing the word “no”, as much as it can feel painful at the moment, means you’re one step closer to a yes.
Like I mentioned before, statistically, sales is a numbers game. If you reach out to enough people, eventually, you’ll find somebody who’s interested. If someone’s answer is no, I look at it as if the client or opportunity wasn’t meant to be. It’s the Lord’s way of protecting me from something I didn’t need to be involved in. So if it’s not meant to be, I don’t want it. Trusting in that helps me a lot.
Business isn’t necessarily just about talent. It’s about who’s willing to work the hardest. There are so many people who are talented, but they either don’t have a business mindset or they don’t have the perseverance to keep going when they’ve been told “no” for the 5th time in 3 days.
Because I didn’t have a graphic design degree, I heard “no” plenty of times and had to figure things out on my own. But I always kept the mindset that there was nothing I couldn’t Google or figure out. That’s the kind of mindset you need as a business owner — just figuring it out as you go. None of us have it completely figured out. You shouldn’t count yourself out of an opportunity before you’ve even had the chance to explore it. Nobody is saying, “You can’t do it” except you. And if there are people in your life saying you can’t do it, well, those are opinions you don’t need to be listening to anyway.
Tell us a little bit about your journey. How did you start your business and how has it evolved over time?
I started my business in a college dorm room. When one of my good friends who was going to school for graphic design showed me the ropes of Adobe Illustrator, I made custom digital portraits for friends and classmates, charging $20-$25 for them.
My senior year of college I was flooded with Christmas orders and that’s when I started posting my work on Instagram. After working with an advertising agency for a little while, I eventually landed a job working for a corporate company to support their marketing team.
Once I graduated, I continued to slowly build my business on the side. Things shifted in 2020 when other businesses noticed my work on Instagram, asking if I could create something similar for them. That’s when I pivoted from selling stickers to doing illustrative projects for companies and brands. And things were going great!
But In 2021, I faced a big season of burnout. I’m not kidding when I say I’d work my 9-5, come home, and work all night. I cried to my husband one late evening, telling him I felt like I’d been working on the business while working my corporate job for three years with nothing to show for it. Then immediately within the next week, I brought in three of my biggest clients ever. I ended up getting a new corporate job that allowed me to work from home and I did that for a year, but eventually, it got to a point where I couldn’t keep doing both. Something had to give. It was time to take the leap and go full-time in business and I’ve never looked back.
My business has definitely evolved over the years. When I first started my business, I thought I was going to be a product-based business because I wanted to have an Etsy shop and be the one packaging orders all the time. I still do illustrations, but it’s not my primary work anymore.
After helping a client with social media illustrations, many also asked me if I could make graphics for their website or write content for their social media. So eventually, I expanded my offerings and dove into work I really enjoyed like brand design — which is a huge part of my business today.
Sometimes I cry at my desk because I can’t believe I’m getting paid to make art. It’s been a really rewarding journey and it still doesn’t feel like real life.
How do you define success in this season of your life & how has it changed since you started your business?
That’s something I’m trying to figure out right now. When I first went full-time with my business, I was very motivated by the numbers and watching them trend upward. I chased financial goals every single month, hitting them, and surpassing them, which felt amazing and I’m so thankful for that.
But I started to realize it’s true what people say. Money isn’t everything. So now, I’m really trying to hone in on the type of client I want to work with. Not just anybody who has a budget for my expertise.
Even though it’s something I’m still trying to figure out, I do know that I started this business and took it full-time because I didn’t want anyone telling me what to do anymore. I know it probably sounds silly, but that gives me life every day. Not having a boss breathing down my neck feels like success to me. Also, having a chance in the middle of the day to walk my dog and take a break feels like success to me. Having free time to work a half-day on Friday feels like success to me. And you know what? I’m not in a season with my business right now where I can take a half-day off — but I want to get there.
So yes, I’m actively trying to answer that question right now by trying to figure out what I want next year to look like, like if that means taking on fewer clients for example, because money isn’t the only piece of success that matters.
Above all, I want a business that gives me free time to devote and be present with my family, my husband, and support whatever our journey looks like growing our own family someday.
What are some final takeaways you want to share with small business owners?
Not everything you see on social media is reality. There are a lot of people on social media who share content that says, “I make $10K a month traveling the world and I’m on vacation in Italy right now. I’m making money from my phone. I’m making money in my sleep”
It sounds appealing and major kudos to them, but it leaves out a pretty significant chunk of running a small business. Yes, people are doing it, but they aren’t sharing all the details, which can give entrepreneurs just starting out an unrealistic picture of what it looks like to start a business. And it can feel really discouraging.
Owning a business will require you to work hard and stay up late sometimes. And I talk to my students all the time about how important it is to define the season of business they’re in. On social media you hear all the time about anti-hustle culture, and don’t get me wrong, I’m all about rest because rest is productive. But I’m also here for the hustle because honestly, that’s what it took for me to get my business off the ground and take it full-time.
So when you’re having those nights when you’re exhausted and just want to go to bed, of course, honor your body and the rest it needs. But also remember that where you lack talent, you can make up for it with hard work. If you’re willing to put in those hours and be consistent, it won’t be for nothing.
If you’d like to learn more about how to attract more clients to your business, download Sophia’s freebie, The Client Magnet Blueprint: 5 Power Moves to Score Your Next (or First) Client. If you’d like to dive deeper into this interview, tune in to today’s podcast episode here 🎧.