How to promote my freelance design business: 4 strategies for beginners

promoting your freelance design business graphic design blender

I think most freelancers could agree that finding work is one of the hardest struggles we face – and if you’re just starting out you might not be familiar with how to get your name out there.

For you beginners: this is post for you!

And for those that have been at it for some time, this is a great reminder for what you could / should be doing to help promote yourself. (In fact, please add to this list by leaving a comment with your most effective business promotion ideas.)

There are many ways you can self-promote yourself, but here are four beginner strategies that are the stepping-stones to getting your freelance business name out there:

1. Build a strong website / portfolio that converts

Quite obvious, but this is the most important asset and tool to your freelance business.

If the user experience and/or design of your website isn’t the best possible representation of your ability and work, then you’re only doing yourself a disservice.

If you lack the skills to pull off a well designed website, look into signing up for a portfolio service like Behance or Carbonmade.

Here are some key components to having a strong website:

  • Clean design with excellent usability.
  • Consistent brand identity (across your entire online presence).
  • Easy to read “about” content that represents who you are and what you do. Don’t be afraid to display a photo of yourself either. You want to make a good first impression before you’ve even made direct contact with the client.
  • Showcase your best work.
  • Make it easy for visitors and potential client to contact you directly.

Ultimately it comes down to a clean design with great usability and easy to read and enjoyable content. If you have these things above, then I’d say you have a pretty effective website.

2. Experiment with social media and ad space

Social media plays a huge role in running any business, and I would say that it’s a necessity for freelancers.

Actively use your social media accounts! Share useful links and converse with others online. This will help build your following.

With your online accounts up and running try experimenting a bit with your followers: ask questions to interact, post photos to entertain and share what you’re currently working on to pique interests in your work.

Another way to promote your freelance business is to purchase ad space.

I personally have never purchased ad space for my business, but if you’re just starting out it could help to experiment and see if it generates any leads.

Purchasing ad space will help drive traffic to your site and then your website should generate leads if it’s built effectively.

3. Word of mouth is where it’s at

For me personally and majority of the freelancers out there making a living would say; word of mouth is ultimately where the reliable sources of client leads are.

Nothing is more effective than a family member, friend, or past client personally recommending your name and services.

Let your family and friends know what it is you’re doing and contact influential people in your life to let them know that you’re available for work.

4. Directly target the market you wish to produce work for

If you’re interested in working with a specific type of client, target them directly. Use Google, Facebook, and Twitter to research this type of client.

Find out who to contact in the company and shoot them an email introducing yourself.

If you get a reply back and they’re interested – great! But if they aren’t in need of your services at the time, be sure to keep the contact and follow-up periodically.

Maybe it’s not a specific client you’re looking to work with, but a specific type of work you’re looking to do. Find your niche – research those that would be in need of your services and again introduce yourself.

How do you like to promote your business?

There are so many creative ways you can promote yourself and I know there are a lot of seasoned freelancers reading this so feel free to share your favorite ways in the comments on this post.

If you’re just starting your freelance graphic design business and have any requests or questions, leave a comment and I’ll personally do my best to help!

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Comments

  1. says

    I’m working on a postcard currently that I will send out to local small businesses. Want to stick with the small business sector right now as I am only one person and don’t think I can handle a big contract.

  2. says

    I agree with word of mouth. It is the easiest and cheapest way to get business. You just have to remember, people will tell one person about a job well done but will tell ten people about a job done poorly!

  3. says

    I am doing the same thing as Melissa, postcards for small local businesses. A lot of local businesses are facing the same issues emerging designers are with limited funds and/or resources. It is nice to be able to work with these local business owners and helping them get something they truly need while growing my portfolio.

  4. says

    Just two days ago I began working on a plan of promoting my activity as a designer, because I would really like to give up my full-time job and dive into freelancing, so this article fits like a glove on my current situation. Thank you very much!

    Some of the things on my list are my social media accounts and my portfolio on behance (I don’t have my own website yet but it’s in the plan). Beside from the online activity, I am planning to do some research on networking events that are having place near my area. I think that this is an important thing to do, going out and talking to people about your work, wether they are also designers or potential clients. I am really excited to do that, because I get to know them face to face, and this can be the starting point of a future collaboration.

    • says

      Hi Elena,
      Congrats on your decision to go FREELANCE! It is a struggle sometimes, but also very rewarding working for yourself.
      I have been in the busy for almost 13 years as a Freelancer designer and my most significant work generators have been word of mouth and an online portfolio.
      If you need a portfolio website created I would love to work with you on that.
      Good luck.

  5. says

    Hi,
    I’m most definitely new to this! I am trying to reach my audience in the most effective way with a clean site, and interesting approaches but I don’t know my target audience. I don’t think I have one. There’s anywhere from 20-30+ who have asked me to create things for them. On my site I am going to offer services like: posters, free-hand paintings, logos etc. But I am currently revamping it because I realized I can make it look more appealing. I am careful because I do not want to overwhelm myself with too many services either. One thing I know that has been hard is for me to stay updating on social media. I run out of things to say but I will keep your post in mind. Another thing is contracts, I just want to keep things simple no have a huge list of things for people or clients to run through on my site. That can get anyone bored quickly…do you have any advice to give me? Thanks!

    • says

      Christy,

      Good luck with the redesign! For your social media accounts, the easiest thing you can do is simply share what you find useful online. Whether it’s a web app or blog post.

      As for the contracts, GDB has a useful bundle called “Contracts for Creatives” that goes over everything you’ll need to get started with freelance contracts. It also comes with some great contract templates: full in-depth, short, simple, plus more. Definitely check it out: http://bit.ly/Wm25qc

      I hope that helps.
      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment! :)

  6. says

    I have tried free classified websites. Some of them have very nominal charge for putting your ad on the top and all. I have also used Google adwords.

    Both of the above have been quite effective. :)

  7. says

    One very small – but important thing people tend to forget is always tag your work either with a little logo or just your company name on all of the things you make eg. brochures, websites, advertising in magazines, posters, cd covers, apps and so on.

    Great article buy the way.

  8. Craig says

    What kind of strategy is “Experiment with social media and ad space”? You’ve never personally used ad space – yet you suggest that other people should, and “see if it generates any leads”. What drivel. You might as well tell them to buy a billboard to “see if it generates any leads”. Well it was an experiment, right? Here I was hoping that there might be a useful marketing nugget in this article, but I guess that’s what I can expect with “social media”. Good luck.

    • says

      Craig,

      “I personally have never purchased ad space for *my business*.” I have however designed and managed ads for clients before. Ad space is a very reasonable option for promoting your business, which is why I briefly mentioned it. Maybe I should’ve clarified a bit more on that in the post for your sake.

      Also to say, “you might as well tell them to buy a billboard” is nonsense. Seeing that setting up an ad for your Facebook page can cost as low as $5 a day, which is very reasonable to reach out to a potential market. Again, maybe something I could’ve gone more in-depth about.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

  9. says

    I’m just starting out as a freelance designer. Since my portfolio is still growing, one of the ways I showcase my design skills is by having several creative business cards. Each card has a unique design that shows potential clients the possibilities. I think this is a good way to present my creative side and it doesn’t cost much since business cards are pretty inexpensive.

    • Rachel says

      Ernest

      Take a look at moo.com – they allow you to print as many different cards as you want in a run as long as the backside is the same on all of them. A very cost effective way to make a “portfolio” of business cards.

  10. says

    Business cards! A great way to make contact with people face to face and show them your smile. I sometimes have a target of giving out say 5 business cards in a day especially if work is slow and of course I try to find people who are in a position to give me work. Say hello to guy who you see getting coffee every morning, talk to new people. Even if there is no work you might send someone to your website and generate social media interaction.

  11. says

    I think the more people you know the more business opportunities you will have. I prefer to be at my desk designing but I think it is important to get out and build relationships. My target is other businesses so I recently joined my local chamber of commerce in order to get involved and meet more people.

  12. says

    Friends and Family! And neighborhood listserves! I just sent out a large email to all of my friends/neighbors/acquaintances in the hopes of acquiring more small business website jobs. I have already gotten responses from folks that talked about putting up a site, but never got around to it. Email was a nice reminder. In the twenty years of working as a freelancer, nothing beats word of mouth for work referral!

  13. says

    This sums it up. I would especially say that word of mouth has been THE primary way for me to get work or meet new clients.I always try to leave every client with the best impression possible. Because when someone from that organisation moves on to another company, they’ll hire you over there now, while you’re still connected to their old company. So now you have TWO clients. And so on and so on.

    • Jacob L. Andersen says

      I agere with Tue, some times it is a good choise to focus om the person, and not only the company, dont have to be buddys with then, but professionals together. I usally Stick to: under promise – over deliver.

  14. says

    Great to the point overview. I would especially say that word of mouth has been THE primary way for me to get work or meet new clients.I always try to leave every client with the best impression possible. Because when someone from that organisation moves on to another company, they’ll hire you over there now, while you’re still connected to their old company. So now you have TWO clients. And so on and so on.

  15. says

    Networking is big. I would recommend joining your local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau – then you have to attend their networking events, bring business cards, and be social. (Yes, myself and other freelancers I know do struggle with that.) I’ve gotten new clients this way.

  16. says

    Network, Network, Network! Build relationships with other business owners and individuals and educate them on who your target audience is. People will not refer you if they don’t know or trust you.

  17. Greg says

    Brent, I’m interested to know to what extent you do self-generated work, for example writing, maintaining a shutterstock account for uploading illustration & photography, etc. Also, do you feel Elance is a viable source for work?

    • says

      Greg,

      Good question. I spend almost every minute I’m not working on client projects producing my own work. Just this past year I’ve put so much focus on creating content – most of which can be valuable to others. I highly recommend any freelancer to find some sort of project they can produce on the side.

      See this post on the power of side projects for freelancers: http://www.graphicdesignblender.com/the-power-of-side-projects-for-creative-freelancers

      As for sites like Elance and oDesk, I’d recommend not wasting your time. I’ve experimented with almost all of them, and the time it takes to fully setup an account and even landed a job, the pay is never worth it. I’d put your focus on finding new clients, building your online/offline presence and work on a project on the side that could lead to more work or bring in passive income.

      I hope that helps.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

  18. says

    I’m going to hop on the bandwagon here and agree with the whole “word of mouth” bit. I’ve been doing freelance minimally on the side for a few years now while working part-time in other creative gigs and the clients I received were all from going to the source. I would venture out into social situations to establish those meetings and connections at some awesome venues (I worked with promotions and marketing for bands/musicians). It was a ton of fun and I’ve made some great connections through it. Don’t get me wrong, a simple email is awesome but not compared to a good, ol’ fashioned, face-to-face meeting. That’s classy business right there. Thanks a lot for this article Brent. After living on the road the past 6 months backpacking, I’ve jumped back into my freelance with new energy and inspiration and it’s people like you that help keep me going. Take care and cheers.

    Alexander Johnny

  19. says

    I’ve posted ads offering free website critique. I give a five point website inspection and offer my recommendations on improving a site. If you don’t get the job, you always have a lead you can follow up on later down the road.

    David

  20. says

    Hi,
    Thanks for the article and comments!
    I am definitely for word of mouth, however this is something what others can do for us. From our part I think postcards can be a great idea and I am also working on them now. Moreover for any kind of clients – local or in other country website/portfolio is a must.
    Regarding meetings – have you ever tried meetup.com to find business meetings in your area, where you can meet your fellows and of course potential clients? (don’t forget to take your business cards with you)

  21. says

    I like to have giveaways of graphic tees from my own clothing line ever so often to reward existing Facebook fans and gain new one. The other thing that I’m thinking about doing is giving one lucky winner my graphic design services for free to do one promotional material i.e. flyer, brochure, or business card.

    Great tips Brent. I’ll have to connect with you via Twitter.

  22. says

    Hey Brent,

    Great post with some great tips. Having a clean website is really the way to go. Let you work speak volumes and try not to out shine it with an over shmansy site design.
    Self promotion is currently my Everest. Why does it seem so hard to blow your own horn?

    Tim

  23. says

    thanks a lot for very important information, it’s really help for me to get a useful tips, really i enjoyed your post, thanks a lot

  24. chandrika says

    Hi Brent,
    Really useful article, especially for beginners like myself.
    Since I have just started out & trying to build my portfolio, do you think working on projects at places like Design crowd or 99design couldbe of some help initially? Or is it advisable to look for work elsewhere?

    Thanks.

    • says

      Hi Chandrika,

      I’ve experimented with contest and job board sites like that in my early years of freelancing, and from my experience, I’ve found the time spent could’ve been used on more effective ways of growing my business.

      You can definitely get some practice with the projects on these sites, but I think a smarter way to use your time would be to promote your own business and focus on finding actual client work.

      If you’re looking to build a portfolio, try doing some small work pro-bono. You’ll get the experience of working with real clients, while building a portfolio.

      Hope this helps. Best of luck with everything!

  25. says

    Hi Brent,

    Just recently started my freelancer service after 10 years spent in corporate company. Just couple of months back did this as a part time after that realized get into full time freelancer job. Currently I’m doing some small works only also I would like to request you to send me more mails about the business tips to move into the next level of my business.
    I strongly believe your article and your tips will move into the next level of my business. Thanks!!

  26. says

    I got my site created, I’m just trying to reach people to become clients. I’ve posted my business cards all over the place, but haven’t gotten any calls. anyone have any other ideas for me to try??

  27. John Datpiff says

    Great article, where I have found to help promote my portfolio best are at pinterest.com, facebook.com, dossiae.com, and artsyshark.com.

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