Starting a freelance web design business likely means that you will have to make a lot of sacrifices to get your business up and going. Long hours, less pay, and uncertainty about the number of clients you will have are all common for new designers in the initial months of freelancing. So without a huge budget for advertising, how to build your brand and attract clients? In this article, we review a number of quick and easy ways to get your name out there. Many of these methods are completely free, while others might cost you a few bucks.
Market Yourself in the ‘Real World’
Marketing in person and in print most certainly is not dead. In fact, some of the best marketing you can get occurs wholly offline. Word of mouth, local advertising, and design events or conferences all represent excellent opportunities to promote your skills and services. Marketing in the ‘real world’ is also far more personal and can help you make long-lasting connections with people in your community.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to market yourself is to encourage current clients to chat you up with their colleagues, friends, and families. Approach a recent client and ask them to give a quick shout out to you on their social media channels or request that they refer a friend to you. Ask for a testimonial that you can put on your website or send out on your own social media channels. Having a few words of support from a satisfied client immediately gives you credibility while also taking advantage of the power of word of mouth.
Find a Place to Mingle
Reaching out to other people in the design industry is an excellent way to get connected and promote yourself. Offline events like design conferences and industry gatherings offer a treasure trove of potential leads. Look for anything that designers or agencies might attend, from a free Photoshop course at a local college to a national event like the annual AIGA Design Conference. Anything that puts you in a room with other designers and creative professionals will give you the chance to pass out your business cards and drum up potential business.
But be wary of being ‘that guy’ who slithers around design events, shoving his portfolio in everyone’s face. Your networking should be extremely organic and unforced. Be your genuine, personable self and seek to make a real connection with others in attendance. Ask questions and show genuine interest in what they do. Demonstrate your passion for design. Networking is about expanding your reach so you’re better positioned to hear about potential jobs. People will be far more inclined to send business your way if you truly engage with them rather than sliding your business card in their pocket as you walk by.
Don’t Forget About Print
Although old school, an ad in your local newspaper is still a great way to promote yourself in the community. Ads in local papers are generally pretty inexpensive, running just a few cents per word. But if you want to limit your marketing to freebies, posting fliers in the community is another viable marketing option. Many popular local hangouts, such as coffee shops and bookstores, offer areas where locals can post free ads. Designing a nice, eye-catching flier to post in such a location could easily catch the eye of a potential client.
Hitting the bricks with some fliers can be highly effective marketing as well. Put a few fliers under windshield wipers of cars in the parking lot at the mall to entice individuals that need web design work to contact you. Or walk through your community’s downtown area to distribute fliers to local small businesses. Small business owners often have a strong desire to have an online presence, yet lack the skill or time to create a website on their own. Introducing yourself and briefly offering some insight into the services you provide can generate buzz and get the requests for proposals rolling in.
Every creative professional – every professional for that matter – should have a business card. It has long since been the go-to marketing tool and still offers all kinds of promotional power. You can easily design your own card, or utilize an online tool to create, print, and ship your cards for a very reasonable price. Carry a few with you at all times to take advantage of those situations in which you overhear the person behind you in line at the coffee shop talking about how they need a new website.
Give Out Freebies
A great way to market yourself is to offer people free stuff. Perhaps the simplest method of doing this is to curate a blog that offers free resources. Do some research and find the best free WordPress templates or locate some nice PSDs for graphic or web design. Web Designer Depot does just that, offering their readers dozens of free resources like vector packs from around the web. IM Creator curates a growing collection of creative commons images for people who need them for blogs, websites, or design projects. Hongkiat also offers a wide collection of freebies, including many graphics for personal and commercial use. There’s no reason why you can’t follow their lead and offer some freebies on your site.
If you have the budget, have some pens, magnets, or t-shirts made with your name or logo and hand them out whenever you can. Leaving your pens behind when you eat out at a restaurant is a subtle way to ensure you get at least a little business exposure. Magnets are something functional, useful, and easy to include in a mailer to local businesses. Post-it notes, calendars, USB drives, hats, and bags are other possible promotional materials you can give out. People love to get free stuff, so why not give some things away and get some great exposure while you’re at it?
Harness the Power of the Internet
As many opportunities you have to market yourself offline, they tend to be more limited in their scope. While networking at conferences and posting fliers in local businesses are both highly effective marketing strategies, their reach just isn’t what can be accomplished online. To really get the word out about your abilities and services, you’ll need to harness the power of the Internet.
Freebies are also great online
Web designers, graphic designers, and other creative professionals are always on the lookout for fresh material they can use in their own work. Get some PSDs, icons, or website templates going and offer them up on your blog for some self-promotion. Also get in touch with major blogs like those mentioned above to let them know you’ve got some good free resources. You never know when they might feature some of your work, which would be excellent exposure!
Blog and Blog Often
Content is king, so getting your blog game on is a great way to promote yourself while driving traffic to your website or portfolio. You don’t have to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning author to have a blog that attracts readers. Having a quick post now and then about a project you’re working on, offering some guidance and tips for other designers, and reviewing industry news are great ways to get your name out there as a designer who knows what he’s talking about.
If you feel comfortable in front of a camera, think about creating video content for marketing as well. The popularity of YouTube makes it a marketing venue that’s hard to pass up, and creating video blogs is super easy with their intuitive platform. Many creative professionals have created popular YouTube channels in which they offer tips, tricks, and advice for people learning how to use Photoshop, WordPress, and a host of other design-related programs. Offering up some insights on that front demonstrates to potential clients that you’re a helpful, well-informed designer, and it might just get you some business. Having a blog (video or written) is also a great conversation starter when you attend conferences or other networking events.
Toot Your Horn on Social Media
Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and all the other commonly used social media networks present an incredible opportunity to market your services. Even if you only have a handful of active followers, anything you hashtag, post, or Tweet has the potential to be reposted, liked, commented upon, or re-Tweeted by someone else, thus expanding your exposure. The picture you post to Twitter of a site you’ve designed could be re-Tweeted by your friend Tim, whose colleague Jody sees it in her feed and calls you to do some work for her growing company. It may sound far-fetched, but it happens all the time.
That doesn’t mean you should bombard your followers on social media with non-stop self-promotion. In the social media world, occasionally mentioning an amazing site you’ve designed or showing off some graphics you’ve created will be much more effective than posting daily calls to action or information about a great sale you’re putting on. Your content needs to be engaging, but turning your networks into an online version of an infomercial will send your followers (and potential clients) packing.
Furthermore, your social media marketing will be much more impactful if you take the time to learn how to use the idiosyncrasies of social media to your advantage. If Twitter is your primary outlet, research popular hashtags related to design and find people in the industry to follow in order to leverage Twitter’s marketing power. On Facebook, create a page for your business and invite your business contacts to view it. To get maximum exposure on Facebook, develop a steady posting schedule so your brand is consistently in your followers’ feeds. Also think about purchasing a Facebook ad. They are inexpensive and highly targetable to a specific audience. They also have a good click-through rate.
Develop an Email Campaign
If ‘Email Campaign’ sounds too complicated or formal, just think of it as a fancy term for sending out a newsletter. Maintaining contact with your clients and colleagues is paramount if you are to have a sustainable business, and sending a few newsletters each year is a great way to do that. Newsletters can highlight projects you’ve been working on, conferences you’ve attended, and new skills you’ve acquired. A newsletter is also a great way to give a shout out to a colleague or thank a client for their business. Email campaigns can take on a more promotional tone than the things you put out on social media or your blog, so don’t be afraid to mention your services and prices, as well as how awesome you are at creating websites.
Marketing is likely not something that you learned in design school, yet it is a critical component of building a freelance business that sustains itself. The best approach to marketing is to dedicate time each week to Tweeting, writing emails, networking, and participating in the other marketing strategies we’ve outlined here. Granted, you won’t have time each week to take part in each marketing activity, but if you get into a schedule in which you rotate your focus, you can hit all the marketing high points in any given month. The point is, promoting yourself can’t be something that only happens when you feel like it. Take 20 minutes here or an hour each day to engage in marketing and you will be able to reap the reward of having constant business.
What have you done to market yourself as a freelance web designer? Tell us your favorite strategy by leaving a comment below. And for monthly tips and tricks to help you grow your business and learn new skills, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
Image Credits: Man With Pink Slip at Occupy Wall Street by Timothy Krause via Flickr Creative Commons Meeting by Financial Times via Flickr Creative Commons More Power to Ya by Jes via Flickr Creative Commons Social Media by Sean MacEntee via Flickr Creative Commons Email by Sean MacEntee via Flickr Creative Commons