When you decide go freelance you have to do more than just design. You have to run your business. I won’t lie, running a design business can be tough, but it can be a lot of fun too.
Now, I’m not just talking about the fun of hearing a client go ‘oooh’ when they see your gorgeous comp. I’m talking about the fun can be had with that little thing called… marketing.
When I started off I needed clients desperately, but I hated the idea of sales. Somehow I got the idea of turning my marketing into a creative game… a game I was going to win!
And it worked.
It didn’t take long before I started to love marketing just as much as designing. It’s hugely creative if you approach it right. For example, when I needed to create awareness in my service and build a client base, I focussed my marketing around 5 creative ideas: Talk, write, film, disrupt, and if all else fails… pull a stunt!
Intrigued? Let’s jump into my list fun and easy and PROFITABLE marketing ideas; who knows, you might want to steal a few ideas for yourself, so feel free!
Connect with local business groups. Suggest you talk to their group and offer some valuable branding advice for small business. Talk to anyone who’ll listen, because as a designer ANY business can become a client… except other designers. Other designers, though lovely, aren’t going to give you business, so speaking at design conferences won’t help your bottom line. Oh and when you do eventually get a speaking gig, don’t freak out! Just let your passion for design show; and let your love of getting RESULTS for clients show even more. It’s best to be yourself, whether you’re bubbly and loud or serious and considered, just go with that. Authenticity and offering value is the way to new business.
Build your online presence. That means you need a blog on your site. My advice here is to think about all the usual questions you receive from prospects, and then write around those topics. Don’t get too fancy talking about design principles as most clients don’t know a thing about it. Keep your focus on you being the solution to their business needs, talk about the struggles your clients experiencing, and how can you help them. For example professional branding issues, how to choose your logo, how to get noticed with a professionally designed website… that sort of thing.
Of course, it takes time to get Google traffic to your website, so you’ll need to borrow someone else’s audience if you can. So here’s what you do: look for opportunities to write on sites where your potential clients are hanging out. Not direct competitors of course, but why not ask to guest blog on your local chamber of commerce’s website? You could become their graphic design specialist. I’m the resident web specialist for Australian Businesswoman’s Network. I get some leads which is great, but I also get a percentage of that readership coming to MY blog to read more. All up, it’s an enjoyable for me to talk about what I love, and it’s good for my business.
Film video tutorials and guides. Do you wanna be in pictures? No I didn’t either! The whole idea freaked me out, but I did it because it works. Early last year I created a free website starter kit video series for small businesses. It’s my highest sales-converting resource so it’s paid me back in spades.
Your videos don’t need to be big budget, you don’t need a camera crew, you don’t even need an expensive camera. Sure I’d recommend a cheap photographer’s light, but even that’s optional. The name of the game here is create content. Videos you can embed on your website. Videos you can upload them to YouTube and Vimeo for extra traction. Don’t just do the ‘promo-style’ video where you talk about what clients can expect when they work with you, make sure you’re creating content that’s valuable; something your clients would want to know. For example what about ‘how to choose the best graphic designer for your business’ or ‘how to choose a logo’?
Set yourself apart by being controversial. You need some cojones for this one! For example, my Web123 reseller program uses the tagline ‘we just ditched your developer’. It’s part of our marketing message. Now, I know I’m alienating all the developers out there but, so what? I’m not saying they’re horrible people, in fact I’ve had some fantastic developers working for me and my business wouldn’t be the same without them. The controversial ‘ditch your developer’ is simply our SMP (single minded proposition) and it sets us apart. It also describes exactly what the product does for non-techy designers… and that’s my ideal target market (partly because that’s me too so I understand what it’s like!).
I’m not winning a lot of developer friends with this tagline, that’s for sure, but I’m not losing business either; because, let’s face it, developers weren’t going to choose us anyway! My ProPartner program is for designers who want an easier way to build web and an easier way to build profits. And it’s working a treat so far, well, except for the death threats written in HTML. Joke! :)
So, do you see my point? Don’t be vanilla, take a few risks. You gain far more by standing out than you do by blending in with the crowd.
5. Pull a stunt.
How about the ‘surprise’ tactic of guerrilla marketing? Everyone’s always talking about Facebook and online advertising, and as a web entrepreneur I’m all across that; but what if you don’t have those digital skills and you don’t have the budget to pay an expert? You gotta go ‘ol skool’. So many of your peers will overlook the non-digital approach so this is where you have a chance to really stand out. Create an event (or a spectacle) of some sort that gets people talking. Get creative. Put yourself in the trendy loafers of Sir Richard Branson. Ask yourself, what would Branson do?’. And I mean the young and plucky Branson, well before he was a gazillionaire! But don’t think your idea has to be expensive; it doesn’t require a cast of thousands.
You could also make people pay attention by doing something interesting and designery on your front window like Apple did…
Don’t have a shop front? No worries, why don’t you go sit in the busiest park in your business district at noon on a weekday with a sign ‘free design advice’, I bet you’ll strike up a lot of conversations and some of those will become clients. Stranger things have happened!
6. Bonus tip!
I got my first 20 design clients in 48 hours. I walked into local stores and pitched them my big idea; and once I discovered I didn’t shrivel up and die after my first refusal, it became a lot of fun! (Read : How I got my first 20 Clients in Under 48 Hours)
What to do if the idea of putting yourself ‘out there’ gives you hives…
It occurred to me that what I call fun might not be fun for you, especially if you’re less extroverted than me. It’s ok, I understand. Believe it or not, some of my best friends are introverts and they’d cringe at the thought of talking to large groups or pulling ‘a stunt’. Having said that there’s a hell of a lot of famous people who identify as introverts but still push their brand, or their cause, and they push it hard.
If you believe in what you do, and you refuse to go quietly into the dark, cold night of poverty, you need to find a way to be seen and heard.
What if you’re an introvert?
You can do this too, just do it your own way. Have you heard of Susan Cain? She’s an introvert, and an amazing public speaker. Check out her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and she wrote a great article where she reveals some of the best public speaking advice she’s ever gotten.
So, are you ready to have fun? What are you going to do TODAY that pushes your agency in front of new customers? Let me know in the comments on this post!