Designer’s Guide to Promoting Yourself
You can be the most creative and productive designer in the world, but it doesn’t mean anything without paid work. Designers can rely on repeat clients but it’s important to keep meeting new potential clients and building future relationships.
In this post I’d like to share tips and strategies for getting your work out there into the eyes of clients and other designers. There is no one best method to use, and in fact you should employ multiple strategies to garner the largest reach possible.
But make a game plan and learn why self-promotion is so important. Through practice it’ll become a lot easier like second nature.
It All Starts With A Portfolio
This should be obvious but I’m surprised how many designers have a weak portfolio of work, or even worse nothing at all.
Everyone uses the Internet and there’s no reason to believe this is slowing down.
If you do any digital work then you should have an online portfolio. This includes all creative jobs whether you’re an icon designer, web designer, digital artist, motion graphics designer, or anything similar. And this doesn’t mean that you need a custom website domain (although it’s a big help).
But you can setup a simple free portfolio on a service like Tumblr, Dribbble, orBehance.
People often browse these websites specifically looking for talent to hire. Your work needs to be good to actually land jobs. But having anything online is better than nothing.
You can always delete old work and upload new work as your skills improve.
But just get yourself online and get your work up. This makes it so much easier to share your work whenever someone wants to see what you can do.
The worst situation is when you meet a new potential client that’s looking for a designer but you have nothing to show them. So if you don’t have anything up online that should be your first step.
The problem is that some designers have no work history, and therefore have nothing to put in a portfolios. In this case I recommend building practice projects and using them as work samples. These projects can demonstrate your skillset and also force you to keep practicing.
Build A Social Following
Have you heard of the Seinfeld spec script written by Billy Domineau? He wrote a magnificent spec of Seinfeld with a plot surrounding the 9/11 attacks. Within a couple weeks of posting it online the script was shared on Twitter by fans and professional writers. Billy quickly received major media coverage and offers from talent agents looking to represent his writing.
This all happened from creating one project that blew up on the Internet. Never underestimate the power of social influence. This can radically improve your career and it doesn’t mean you have to go viral to see success.
One mistake I often see is a complete lack of social media presence. Designers can be somewhat isolated people which can lead to ignoring social media altogether.
But if you create awesome stuff then people will want to follow your work. This could be on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Dribbble, or all four networks combined(among many others).
The simplest way to promote new work is to share it with an existing fanbase of friends, colleagues, or strangers who already know what you do.
With the Internet you can have followers around the world who have never met you before, but they can still appreciate your work and even reshare it to bring in more attention.
This is Billy Domineau’s story and it can be yours too.
I’m a big fan of Gary Vaynerchuk on this subject because he talks in plain English and lays out all of his social marketing knowledge bare for the world to consume. I would highly recommend browsing his YouTube channel if you have the time.
He talks about building your own personal brand online, providing genuine value, and being confident in what you create. This will take time but once you have an existing fanbase it gets much easier to keep growing.
When you think of social growth you often think of random people and vague social circles. But the concept of outreach goes in the opposite direction by focusing on direct contact with specific people.
This means reaching out and purposefully trying to build relationships with anyone on the web or in real life. The web is often easier because people can respond on their time. But this doesn’t make it any better to see results.
I love digital outreach when done properly. Don’t just send an e-mail to an editor of the NY Times asking to write for them with zero background or prior history. That seems desperate and spammy.
Instead think strategically and try to build real relationships. How could you get to know an editor at the NY Times? What value could you offer them? What sort of dialogue could you strike up that would make your conversation memorable?
These questions aren’t easy to answer and they’re much tougher with a big personality or social celebrity. It’s better to start small by contacting other designers in your niche, or bloggers that might cover your work.
Build a rapport and look at outreach as relationship building. You don’t want a one-off favor from someone only to then completely ignore them never expecting to speak again.
Outreach should help you build close-knit relationships with very specific peoplewho can help you, or whom you can help. Both strategies build your network and you never know who somebody else knows or could connect you with.
Also since most freelance jobs are about who you know this is a crucial strategy for self-promotion. If you know a lot of people and feed value into those relationships you increase your chances of serendipitous meetings.
Marketers have a different concept of outreach but it follows a similar formula(add value and build relationships). Check this post on BuzzSumo’s blog to learn a bit more.
Attend Conferences & Events
In-person networking is just as important as digital networking. But it’s also very different because when you talk in person you can read facial expressions and body language that you just can’t pick up from a tweet or an e-mail.
Almost every industry has its own series of conferences or local meetups/events. I would highly encourage every designer to attend at least one of these events to see what they’re like.
Don’t go with the expectation of selling yourself or landing new jobs. Yes you can find work, but it’s more valuable to make friends and build lasting relationships with other designers. You might end up making a designer friend that gets offered a job and they simply don’t have time for it, but they know you’re good so they recommend your name.
You’ll never be able to predict how relationship building can turn into work. It’s best not to worry about the work opportunities and instead focus on relationships.
Most larger conferences have guest speakers who impart their experience and advice working in the field. These talks can be enlivening and help you improve as a designer.
But the true magic of every conference is the networking. Just try to move past the idea of networking being dirty or sleazy like a used car salesman.
Look at everyone attending as someone like yourself. A designer who wants to get better and work on awesome projects. But these attendees are also humans with a family, hobbies, likes and dislikes.
Bring a humane approach to your networking and you’re guaranteed to see growth.
If you’re looking for a big list of design/creative conferences read this post on Quartz. It’s slightly outdated but most conferences listed in that post are annual so you can check the newest dates for this current year.
You can also search for conferences on Lanyrd to see upcoming dates, events, and venues to plan tickets in advance. Meetup is another site with smaller local meetups rather than big orchestrated events.
But all of these events have one thing in common: people. Learn to meet people and treat them like people and you’ll have a much better career as a working designer.
Promotion can be broken into what you’re promoting and how you’re promoting it. As a designer your work should always be A+ quality. But if nobody knows what you do or the type of work you can make then you’ll never get anywhere professionally.
I certainly hope this post can help you view self-promotion as a necessity to success. And if you approach it from a people-first perspective then you’ll have a lot more fun and success doing it.