20 Freelancer Designer Tips

A guest post by Ben Fellowes,a design and marketing professional and chief blog writer for NextDayFlyers

1. Be Active and Get Seen

Shrinking violets don’t succeed as freelance designers. You have to “get out there” and get yourself noticed. Attend meetings and seek out local professionals to inform them of your business and services, i.e., the Chambers of Commerce, gallery shows, and local business events. You should also go as many business trade shows as possible to network with potential customers (if you’re a designer, every industry trade show has customers that need your services.) Social gatherings are also a great place to network and get seen and heard (you’re not going to get customers sat at home watching the TV) bookstores, schools, churches, coffee shops, etc, are necessary destinations for meeting and greeting potential clients. You don’t have to pester anyone! Natural conversations always turn to, “what you do for a living!”

Depending on your knowledge and experience, you may also consider contacting colleges and organizations about classes or seminars that you can speak or teach at – great word-of-mouth exposure for your business!

2. Cross-Promote

This is a biggie! I’ve got so much design work business through cross-promotion. Be direct and convince a contact or business associate to cross promote in their on or offline promotions, i.e., a print designer could promote themselves via a web designer, photographer, or copywriter, etc.

3. Referral

Offer your clients and customers a referral fee or discount for referring customers to you. It works for big companies and there’s no reason why it won’t work for you!

4. Buddy -Up With Other Graphic Designers

Make friends with other designers online in networking sites, and other online design communities and make design friends in the real world at expo’s and conferences. It’s one of the easiest ways to get collaborative work, referrals, or hired!

5. Sell Online

There is a whole online world of shopfronts and other places like etsy and threadless to flog your design and artwork in which you can sell or receive royalties for original designs. Avoid the 99 designs and crowdspring style of competition sites as they’re a total crapshoot!

Here are 5 of my personal favorites (that I’ve actually made money from):

  • graphicriver.net (templates and designs)
  • graphic leftovers (photographs, vectors and designs)
  • brandcrowd.com (logo design)
  • artsprojekt.com (t-shirt, mug, iphone case, etc)
  • society6.com (poster prints, t-shirts, etc)

6. Blog Away

  • Okay! Don’t all shout at me at once! I know I am being totally obvious with this tip but how many freelancers blog effectively? There are a few essentials to creating your own blog that you might have overlooked:
  • Your blog should not be on a separate domain with a different URL! I have seen so many freelancers with separate portfolio and blog site. This makes no sense. All that lovely content that you may be writing about your designs and experiences will go to waste if you create a separate “blogger” site (I’ve seen this done so many times.) Your blog must be tied to your own domain and URL! Make a separate header for it on your website which should be a one-stop-shop for ALL your design and business information
  • Fully utilize SEO tactics like title tags, meta info, and H1 tags – you should also tag every image and post with relevant terms, i.e., if you write a post about a logo design for a butchers shop, tag the post and the image with every keyword surrounding “logo design” and “butchers shop” you can think of!
  • Make sure you include the following share tools – RSS feed, digg, facebook, stumbleupon, pinterest, twitter buttons (displayed prominently)
  • The other alternative to creating your own blog is to “hit-n-hope” by creating interesting, madcap, funny, or bizarre video or online blogs for sites like tumblr! You never know, you might start getting thousands of visitors and a mass of business opportunities!

7. Old School Business Listings

As a freelancer, I would hope that you’re already rocking a thousand graphic designer job listing and directory sites but I would also suggest looking into an old school marketing technique that is much ignored and often overlooked. I worked as designer for yellow pages for a year of my life, creating ads for everyone from the local pet stores to major ad agencies. You’d be surprised how many businesses still use offline trade directories. It’s really cheap to advertise too!

A similar old-school strategy would be to post in the local newspaper listings. Print is not quite dead (yet!)

8. Coupon Coding

Include a discount coupon for your design services on the back of your business card, flyers, etc. However ‘old-school” this may seem, nothing resonates more with other businesses than the thought of getting your services for cheap!

9. Magazine Pitch

You have to be a serious design expert to get published in magazines such as Advanced Photoshop and How but you will get a cavalcade of links and business interest in your work. Plus, you will be seen as an expert in that field. What a lot of freelancers may not realize is that these magazines rely on graphic and tutorial input from designers and freelancers (such as yourself) for their content. Digital Arts Magazine, for instance, has a whole section devoted to new and upcoming designers that needs your design work! Don’t be shy…get pitching your tutorial ideas and portfolio work.

10. Give Free Design Consultations

I can sense some freelancers getting very hot and angry at this suggestion but it makes sense in the long-run. I’m a firm believer that when a client meets with you, they are also giving up their time and effort! And anyway, you’re not a doctor or a lawyer – you should design consult for free. It’s worth the time and effort (even if you don’t get their business, there’s always the chance of a referral for a different project!)

11. Wear Your Business like a Badge of Honour

Put your coolest, hippest and most commercial design on a t-shirt and turn yourself into a walking advert for your company. It’s pretty inexpensive to do and worth it for all the “where did you get that shirt” questions you’ll receive. At worst it’s a good exercise in company branding (give them out free to all your friends and relations so that they too become walking advertisements for your business!)

12. Guest Blog

If you’re a good writer and can write interesting content about freelancing, design, and other industry related topics, then contact relevant site administrators and guest blog. Ensure you get a link back to your own web pages from specific design-related keywords or personal brand keywords.

13. Send a Press Release

If you’ve created some brilliant design work for a local charity or a piece of design work that you think is truly original or groundbreaking, send a press release about it. Press releases get widely distributed and may even get picked up by a local or national news organization. (A paid for press release is way more effective but there are free press release organizations out there, such as, free-press-release.com)

14. Always Send Follow-up Emails

Always thank customers who hire you, friends who refer you, and people who have helped your business. It’s just poor business practice to not email a client after delivering a project? Personally, I go one-step-further and write a hand-written note rather than an email. Keep in regular contact with clients after you’ve finished a job (you are NOT being a pest, it’s just normal business practice!)

15. Email Promotion

An online newsletter, or e-promotion has become an essential way to promote any business, big or small. It’s also a great way of getting contact information from potential customers. Ensure that you create a subscription button with your promotions.

16. Actively Seek Out Poorly Designed Print Materials or Web Sites

When you notice bad print promotions or you come across web sites that are poorly designed, don’t ignore them or turn your design nose up at them! The likelihood is that the client is fully-aware that they have inferior promotions. Contact the business owner immediately and offer your design services (be forthright but tactful)

17. Submit to Others!

You will get a lot of traffic if you get your work listed on popular design and design resource sites. You may also want to think about creating some freebie design backgrounds, vectors, brushes, or web templates (drupal, wordpress, etc) to draw attention to your work and website. Target popular design sites that rely on free resource materials for their own web traffic to get a truckload of new visitors to your site and your work. Something that I’ve recently done that you might want to consider is designing your own font as a giveaway to some of the major font websites as a means of getting some great link and design exposure (make sure you get your links displayed prominently with all your resource submissions.)

18. Find and Approach New Businesses in Your Area 
Do some serious web research.

Look at the local papers and make a conscious effort to find out about new start-up businesses in your area. You could also simply drive round your locale to see if there are any new shops or restaurants that need design or print services. New businesses need design materials.

19. Send Your Work to Agencies

Don’t let anyone convince you that you shouldn’t cold-contact agencies and clients! Make a CD, postcard sampler, or mini portfolio and send it to ad and design agencies, or other relevant businesses. It’s way more likely to get you remembered than a typical email shot-in-the-dark!

20. Google AdWords

This doesn’t occur to most small businesses and freelancers but ALL businesses who have an online presence should consider at least testing the waters of paid search out. Create a small ad campaign on Adwords and see what happens! What have you got to lose? It will cost you usually about 5 cents per clickthrough.

Ben Fellowes is a seasoned design and marketing professional from the UK who now lives and works in California. He is currently the chief blog writer for NextDayFlyers – a major web and print company that provides flyers, business cards, and other prints.