9 Tips for Establishing Your Own Marketing Method as a Freelancer

Being a freelance designer brings great opportunities for creating a working environment that matches your particular lifestyle, but without enough clients to support the business it will be an unsuccessful venture. Many freelancers go into business because of their technical skills and a desire to bring great end results to clients, but marketing is usually not given much consideration until it becomes a necessity.

Because there are so many designers out there competing for work, knowing how you plan to market yourself is critical. Some freelancers who have had a few years to establish their businesses are fortunate enough to generate most of their work through word-of-mouth marketing, but this is the exception, not the rule.

In this article we’ll look at the subject of marketing yourself as a freelancer, but the information will also be applicable to small design studios. Regardless of whether you are just getting started as a freelancer or whether you have a good bit of experience, giving consideration to your marketing efforts is a worthwhile activity.

1. Consider Your Ultimate Plans and Goals

For some, freelancing is a temporary gig that will be used to build a portfolio and ultimately to find full-time employment. For others, the goals may include branching out and turning the business into something more than just an individual freelancer (see this interview with Matthew Jurmann of CHROMATIC for some good insight). And still for others, freelancing may be a long-term plan, something that you see yourself doing 10 years down the road.

Whatever situation you are in, these goals and plans should be kept in mind as you attempt to market yourself. Different purposes should result in different approaches. For example, if your primary goal is to build a portfolio to help you land a full-time job, setting up an attractive and effective portfolio site is a must. Many students who set up a portfolio site for this purpose will even list their graduation date and availability for hire. Taking low-priced work or starting personal projects in order to add something of quality to your portfolio may be necessary, whereas if you have other long-term goals this may not be something that fits into your plan.

2. Have a Branding Approach

Branding is usually associated with companies more than it is with individuals, such as freelancers, but it can be equally effective when used properly. How do you want potential clients to remember you? Adii Pienaar successfully marketed himself as a WordPress rockstar and became recognized as one of the leading WordPress designers. After the reputation had been established, he teamed up with some other talented designers and started WooThemes, which quickly become one of the leaders in selling premium WordPress themes. I’m sure that Adii’s branding helped WooThemes, especially in the early days of it’s existence.

Take some time to consider how you want to be viewed as a designer, and think about what it will take to get you to that point. Your marketing approach should be steering things in this direction.


3. Consider Name Recognition

The importance of name recognition for freelancers can be debated. In my opinion, it’s not necessary for success, but those who do have well-established names in the industry will certainly benefit in a number of different ways. In terms of marketing, this is an area where you should again consider your ultimate goals. If you’re planning to freelance only in the short-term, there are other things that are much more important than building strong name reputation, which can take a considerable amount of time. However, if you are planning to be an independent designer for the foreseeable future, or if you hope to use your freelancing career as a springboard to other opportunities (such as writing a book or speaking at conferences), name recognition is important.

4. Consider Your Ideal Client or Target Market

One of the first things any new business owner should consider during the planning stages is the target market of their product or service. However, many designers haven’t given sufficient amounts of thought to what types of clients they would like to work with. Having a clearly defined target market can make all of your other marketing and promotional efforts much easier. Once you have a better idea of who you would like to work with, you can do a better job of optimizing your site for particular searches, branding yourself in a particular way, advertising in certain places, and more.

Some things to consider when working on narrowing down your target market include, geographic location (do you want to target local clients?), type of business, specific type of work that you want to do for them, CMS or platform, budget, and anything else that can be used to describe the clients or the work that you want to land. Keep in mind that this is just your target market, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be able and willing to take other work as well.

5. Consider Specialization

As a freelance designer or developer you may be able to offer a vast amount of options to your potential clients, or you may choose to focus or specialize in certain types of work. There is no right or wrong answer to the issue of specialization for freelancers, but it is something you should think about in terms of how it could impact your ability to market yourself, land clients, the rates you can charge, your ability to stay up-to-date in the field, and your own satisfaction in your work.

Perhaps specializing in something like e-commerce design or development for a particular CMS would bring significant benefits to your business. While there are plenty of reasons to specialize, there are also some drawbacks: you may not like doing the same type of work all the time; you may be limiting the number of potential clients; and if the type of work you specialize in loses its demand for clients, you could struggle to find work.

6. Develop a Small Advertising Budget

Most freelancers and small design firms invest nothing in advertising, and if you can run a successful business without it you may be ok. However, there may be times when your workload slows down and it would be nice to have a little bit of money set aside for advertising. It doesn’t require a lot of money to advertise a freelance business. You may be able to get some excellent results with a targeted PPC campaign that shows ads to well-qualified potential clients. These ads are great for freelancers because they can quickly and easily be turned on and off so that they are only running when you are in need of work.

Of course, PPC is not the only advertising option. You could purchase banner ads on targeted sites for relatively small amounts of money, or you could move offline and try other methods (although most people looking for a web designer will focus their search online). Think of your marketing budget as an investment in your business, and don’t forget that business expense can be tax-deductible.

7. Work on Finding Partners

Although freelancers are independent workers, they do not have to be disconnected from other professionals in the field. In fact, most successful freelancers have built a strong network. You may find that developing connections with others in similar fields may be great sources of new clients and mutually beneficial relationships. When I say “work on finding partners” I’m not referring to finding others that will become your official business partners with whom you share ownership (alhough that is a possibility). Rather, I am referring to finding others that you can work together with in some capacity.

As an independent designer, I sometimes receive inquiries for work that would not be a great fit for my schedule and my skills. In these cases I may refer them to another designer that I think will be a better fit. However, I don’t search for specific designers for these jobs, I’ve just had the opportunity to network with many talented people over the past few years and the relationships have developed naturally. Work on building your network and keeping an eye open for those who you could partner with in some way.

8. What’s in Your Portfolio?

Most potential clients who will be considering your services will be evaluating your online portfolio, and the work that they find will be a huge influence on whether they contact you or move on to another designer. Is the work in your portfolio beneficial to your marketing? Is it relevant to your ideal client? Does it represent your best work?

If your portfolio is out of date or lacking in these areas, your marketing efforts could be greatly impacted. It’s a good idea to get your portfolio to a level that you are satisfied with before investing considerable time and/or money marketing yourself.

9. Consider Blogging

There are any number of ways that you can get people to see your portfolio, but blogging has proven to be very effective for some designers. Blogging can be an excellent way to build name recognition, to brand yourself, and to network with other designers and developers. Personally, blogging has been more influential on my career as a designer than just about anything else.

If you’re in need of exposure to potential clients, consider blogging as a means for gaining that exposure. Maintaining a successful blog does take time and effort, but using it to market a freelance business does not require so much time that it is not possible. In addition to starting and maintaining a blog on your portfolio site, you could also consider writing posts for various blogs that accept posts from freelancers.

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33 Responses

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  • aledesign.it, July 15, 2009

    good post, interesting..thanks for sharing..We know about ARTICLE MARKETING?..

  • Sarah Lynn, July 16, 2009

    Great information here. I like the point you make about specialization. As a designer, it is hard not to be seen as jack-of-all-trades, especially when it comes to web design. It’s incredibly difficult to market yourself when you don’t know who your targeting. Specializing in a market such as restaurant design or e-commerce as you mentioned can give you that aim you need. It’s better to be great at something than mediocre at a bunch of things.

  • Raymond Selda, July 16, 2009

    Nice tips here. Optimizing your site for search engines can also help with advertising. It’s always nice to receive an inquiry from someone who saw your site in search engines. Blogging in turn will help you again with SEO. Thanks for sharing.

  • Blogspot to Wordpress, July 16, 2009

    Very true being a freelancer I understand the importance of branding. Blog is the best way to brand yourself and showcase your work.
    The catch is Freelancer needs to select a niche and with time they need to refine their skills.

  • Shanmuharajan, July 17, 2009

    Thanks for your nice and useful 9 Tips. The point number 2 is really very very useful for me. I think Blog and twitter are best way to brand our-self. If we don’t brand our self, others will brand us as they like ! My twitter id is @techedots

  • Ofek, July 18, 2009

    Thank you for these gr8 info..Blogging and twitter are the best way to brand ourselves.

  • Cody, July 18, 2009

    Being a Freelancer and trying to make a name for yourself, you need to take all your projects twice as far as what your client will imagine.

  • shravan mishra, July 20, 2009

    I am a freelancer myself and these are some great tips. Thanx for sharing

  • SEO Services Neveda, July 25, 2009

    These are very good & beneficial tips for SEO methods…
    Grate Work…

  • Wade, July 27, 2009

    This has been very helpful, thank you so much for sharing this with those of us who are just starting out in this business.

  • Jenny Miller, July 28, 2009

    Great post. Thanks for the information, this will help me a lot.. more power to your blog..

  • Miroslav Nikolov, August 6, 2009

    Very useful. I am reading it for a second time.

  • windows 7 tips and tricks, December 9, 2009

    Beginning with freelancing and i don’t think could have found something like this place to start with my freelancing journey .

  • Renata Swigonska, December 22, 2009

    A good piece of work, concise and well written

  • SMiGL, December 23, 2009

    good post, but where the practice!

  • samphaul, February 15, 2010

    I respect your thoughts.. This is really wonderful and useful suggestion. I haven’t tried but my fellow partner has very good experience with freelancer.

  • The Marketing Manager, August 30, 2010

    From a marketing perspective, freelancers can easily market themselves by getting in touch with design houses, PR firms, and the social medium is always a great way to start off. Open up communication to these firms who will always be informed of what you do as a freelancer.

    The fact that you can run your own business and market it through means of communicating what you do, is one of the best forms of marketing especially in freelancing.

    We have been utilising freelancers on that note in recent months, and its been fantastic to be able to work together on successful projects.

    My advice would be to sell yourself personally to people around you, and get involved with social media.

  • Web Development, December 14, 2010

    Hi,

    Thanks. I read all 9 Tips for Estabilishing your own marketing. I found the first 3

    1. Consider Your Ultimate Plans and Goals
    2. Have a Branding Approach
    3. Consider Name Recognition

    are very valuable to any online marketer.

    Thanks,
    Mani Nagappan

  • Roy M J, January 17, 2012

    Thanks for the info.. I am a freelancer and these are great tips to start our own venture into this field..