Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Promoting Yourself For Free (Part 2)

Two keys for free self-promotion are leaving your name behind when you’ve done some great design work and then marketing yourself to an established clientele. Making a small but consistent effort into getting your name out there can have huge payoffs.

Continuing from the first article, we examine two more means of free self-promotion.

Residual Credit

If you’ve ever wondered why credits to movies are so long, it is because the workers of Hollywood live and die by their experience, and getting their name on the credits of a feature film is the single best way to provide future producers proof of their skill. Since many of these workers have no means of self-promotion, that rolling list of names provides the ideal calling card for prospective employers.

Web design—and design in general—is not much different. It is common for web designers to have a link back to their site via the footer of the site they designed, and in fact, you should specify this in your contract. But still make sure the client understands this ahead of time. More than once I have added credit to a site and the client complained loudly; I pointed out it was in the contract, but in the end removed it because it’s simply not worth fighting about. 90% of the time, if you ask nicely, the client will not have a problem with the link, as long as it’s subtle.

Print design is a bit trickier. After all, adding a design credit to a brochure is a bit tacky. But there are certain pieces you can get away with, like album designs, book (or ebook) designs, or any type of illustration. Again, always clear this with the client ahead of time, not after the piece has gone to press.

(One interesting trend I have noticed is that the larger and more corporate the client, the less likely you are able to plug yourself. Small businesses, one-person shops, bands and the like usually have no problem, but try working for a company like Cingular, Boeing or Yahoo and getting public credit. Not likely to happen. My guess is that they want to retain the illusion the work was done in-house.)

To follow the fishing analogy, residual credit is like trapping shellfish. You simply leave the goods and wait for them to find you. You don’t have to maintain the links—they simply exist as doors to your website. Some causal wanderer might pass through, fall in love with your work, then send you a lot of money for his own project.

Asset Marketing

I had a hard time coming up with a term for this, so forgive me if the title sounds a bit pasteurized. Basically, “asset marketing” tries to describe promotional efforts with resources you already have—in this case, your website and your existing clients. The beauty of asset marketing is that you’re communicating across established lines.

Your Website

First, your website. It needs to be better than great. Whether it’s green or red, fixed width or fluid, flash or static HTML, one page or 1,000 is irrelevant. These details do not matter. This is what does:

  • It reflects your personality.
  • It clearly lists all your skill sets. People familiar with one of your services (like web design) might not know you also specialize in something else (like identity and logos) until they browse your site.
  • The portfolio section is current, easily navigable and relevant.
  • Prospects can easily contact you. This means a short contact form (not a plain e-mail address) at the minimum, plus a phone number and an address if possible.

One could argue the order of importance of these, but I would earmark them all “critical.” Your site must reflect you; don’t try to be something you’re not, especially in listing your services. The portfolio section is just one giant pretty resume, so make sure it’s rockin. And if clients can’t contact you, you might as well cancel your hosting service now, because you’re wasting money.

Your Existing Clients

Any business and marketing person will tell you it’s easier and cheaper to sell to existing customers than selling to an unfamiliar and unwelcoming audience. With this in mind, it’s imperative you keep in touch with your clients. This is done several ways.

  • Keep a master contact list, and periodically send out a brief newsletter. Keep clients informed of recent successes, feature a short case study and let them know of any office or equipment upgrades that will make your business more efficient. Did you recently win a design award? Did you attend a design conference? Let them know.
  • Periodically ping your clients individually. This doesn’t have to be a long e-mail—a sentence or two will more than suffice. “How is everything going with your new website?” “How is your advertising working?” “You should know that I always receive positive feedback from other clients about the logo I did for you.” You get the idea. I have found that directly asking a client “got any work you need done?” is not a successful tactic. Approach them with reference to accomplishments already made, and let that discussion segue into any new work that might need to be done.
  • Send your clients a holiday card. Maybe not Christmas, but at some point give them some goodwill without any attachment to business. It’s just a friendly reminder that you’re always at their service.

Putting Time Into Self-Promotion

A business that doesn’t require advertising is a rare and lucky place to work. My guess is most of you aren’t that fortunate. Clients come and go, and it’s imperative you take proactive steps to keep in the public eye to maintain a healthy stable of business associates.

This requires time and effort. You don’t need to buy a business book to tell you that putting a small but consistent amount of self-promotion into your business is a key ingredient to long-term success. Freelance work tends to be feast or famine, and it’s easy to forget to advertise when you are feasting. Make a commitment to get your name out there every week and those famines will be fewer, shorter and farther between.

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commentary + criticism

Leo Jacobs

wrote the following on Thursday August 10, 2006

superb piece of advice… great work by giving such info to newbies like myself in this business..