Promoting Yourself For Free (Part 1)
Getting your name out there takes time and effort, but does not require a lot of money. The first installment of this article discusses keeping active within the design community and achieving small publicity to the general public.
Recently, flipping through the new HOW magazine, I was surprised and pleased to see the editors not only giving appropriate credit to an editorial illustrator, but listing the artist’s URL right next to the name. While this small addition would mean almost nothing to 99% of the readership, it means everything to the minority who could use that information—potential clients can head straight to the source, avoiding a trip to Google and possible search frustration.
The key to self-promotion is attaching your name to everything. You can throw an empty hook into the ocean and hope something will bite, but it’s far more effective to tempt clients with some bait—in this case, your name and URL.
The longer I run my own freelance empire, the more I realize that free promotion is often far more effective than paid advertising. Getting my name out in the public is like deep sea fishing. The more lines I throw in as many directions as possible, the better chance I have of catching some new work.
Getting your name out there requires multiple levels of promotion: active industry positioning, networking beyond the community, residual credit and asset marketing.
Active Industry Positioning
I just invented that clever buzzword-laden phrase to encapsulate a simple concept: keeping visible in the design community. By actively participating in conversations with other designers, you position yourself as a topical expert that cares about what is going on inside the industry.
A lot of designers maintain design-related blogs, and that is a fantastic place to start. Others write articles or submit content to design publications and communities such as A List Apart, About.com, Creative Latitude, Speak Up and more. Others—far more ambitious than your humble host—have written books.
Others contribute to the community through their non-writing skills: developing plug-ins for CMS systems, giving away free graphics such as icons or wallpapers, distributing scripts, designing Photoshop brushes or giving away a small, useful application.
I have often found clients surfing through design sites, looking for something they like, and often visiting designer’s blogs to better learn about the individual. (graphicPUSH has attracted many client inquiries, several of which have turned into great, long-term projects.) Also, if you become an expert in the community, your peers will look to you when they need help in your area of expertise. (I have also had several people ask for assistance on CSS development and Textpattern installations.)
So write, give something away, or just get your name out there in the forums and comment threads. You never know who’s reading, and you never know who’s going to click your name to visit your website.
Networking Beyond the Community
This where you will cast your broadest net, as you’re actively trying to capture the attention of clients not involved with the design industry. In other words, most of the planet. It’s a hard thing to provide guidance on, since almost anything goes, but there are ways to get your name out there without spending any money. A few tips that have served me in the past:
- Always carry business cards. Always. Give them away like candy, even to people who could care less.
- Do some pro bono work for a good organization, preferably something local. The organization will be indebted to you for your hard work, and will happily pass along your name to inquiring parties. Yes, this requires your time, but it’s a truly effective means of promotion.
- Visit local business seminars. These are often sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce, SCORE and others. They are small, intimate gatherings for small business owners and provide a fantastic opportunity to get your business card in other’s hands.
- Write about design to a non-design audience. Many cities have local business magazines or websites; offer to write a simple, layman’s terms article about design, websites, etc.
- Write press releases. Those same business magazines that will publish your articles are always looking for business news, so make sure you publicize your larger accomplishments with a brief press release.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for publicity, but provides some ideas for free promotion. If you asked 100 designers for their best promotional tactic for bringing in new business, you’d probably get 100 different answers. Comments are very much welcome for this section since I can only write about what has worked for me.
The next installment will cover residual credit and asset marketing, two more effective ways of promoting yourself without spending anything.