I recently picked up How magazine’s latest issue that’s all about self-promotion. I was looking forward to some inspiration because self promotion is an area of interest of mine and if you’re in a creative field including (but not limited to) graphic design, art, photography and even writing, it should be among your interests as well. Here’s the heart of the issue: self promotion isn’t about boasting, it’s about pushing yourself to the front of the line of your field and keeping yourself relevant and known. Creative professionals have a lot of competition from others in their fields. What sets them apart isn’t so much talent but how well one promotes his or her talents and skills over the next person.
Here’s another big problem with self-promotion: no one really knows how to do it properly. First, we aren’t taught much about the necessity of promoting our talents in school. Second, we’re often made to feel guilty about boasting about how great they are at design, photography, web design or whatever their talent may be. And last, some people do promote themselves but they fail to do it properly or frequently enough. Self promotion is something you should be doing on a regular basis, every year, almost every month.
I turn to sources like How magazine, an industry standard for designers, for ideas on how I can switch up my promotion efforts. The problem with the self-promotion ideas in How is that a lot of what they seem to consider “good” promotion seems to also be costly promotion. Sure, you have to spend money to make money but I just have a hard time believing the only way a creative professional can properly promote their talents and work is to spends hundreds of dollars and hours of their time. A lot of the designs featured in How or other websites seem to feature one-shot promotions: after they’re out there, they have no life or usefulness. So, how can a creative professional remedy this?
Let’s face the hard facts: everyone is a bit tight on the money thanks to this economy and recession. Even those who have the money don’t want to (and rightfully so) spend it all on self-promotion. Here’s a secret: self-promotion doesn’t have to be expensive. If you approach it wisely, a little investment can quickly turn into a load of money in your pocket from an increase is business or freelance opportunities. So, are you ready to start promoting yourself on a budget while not breaking the bank? Here’s some ideas:
1. Create Your Own Website: I know, for some it’s very “duh” and seems like a no-brainer but you’d be shocked by how many creative professionals are without a website. A website is like a store in a crowded block: it’s your space and sure you have a lot of competition but if what’s inside is worth seeing and worth someone’s time, you’ll make a return on your investment quick.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, needs a website. You should strive to have a site that carries your name in the domain (check out mine at www.antoinereid.com). It should be your goal to promote the heck out of your site. Why? You want it to become popular. You want it to climb up Google and eventually if someone looks you up, they find your website. What should you put on your website? Treat it like your portfolio: you want 9-10 samples of your BEST work. This is your one shot to make a great impression. If someone is looking for an awesome illustrator, you need to have what you consider to be your best drawings on display for them to view in an easy, quick 10-30 second manner. Are you a writer or copywriter? Websites could be valuable for you as well. Put up a few writing samples, description of you and your area of interest, who you’ve written for or have edited for.
There are tons of web hosts out there but I’ve found that Yahoo! Small Business to be the best option. You can expect to pay about $130 if not lower based on the plan you buy. You’ll get your domain name, everything is easy to access, you’ll have FTP access. If you aren’t a web designer, that’s okay! Team up with a web designer and let them know what you need. Web designers, in return, you should have your own website promoting your skills along with a list of the best sites you’ve designed. Presentation is everything – stop just E-mailing out a long list of sites to potential clients and make a great first impression.
My website is my main form of on-going self promotion. I update it regularly with new work and pieces that I feel show off my talents better. Already the work I’ve done and have gotten due to my website has basically paid for the site fees so it’s been well worth the investment this year especially (yes, even in a recession!).
2. Create and Pass Out Your Own Business Card: In the digital age, it seems like business cards have been pushed to the side and replaced by E-mail addresses jotted down on scrap pieces of paper or Twitter accounts. A business card is a valuable piece of self promotion. There are tons of printers now that can print 500 or so cards for UNDER $100 (my favorite being 4over4.com). A lot of printers now offer full-color printing on business cards. Some even go so far as to offer full color, both sides printing. So what should you do?
If you’re a photographer or artist, choose your best piece of work and stick it on one side of the card. On the other side, include your contact information. I’m wary of putting your full address but all in favor of including your name, what you do (photographer, graphic designer, writer, etc.) phone/cell number, E-mail address, website url and if you have a Twitter account that wouldn’t be embarrassing for a professional type you don’t know to read, stick that on there.
The thing about business cards is that they’re like mini billboards: they can show off your talents quickly and they can travel and reach people that you can’t. Give them out to your friends, family, co-workers; have some on hand when you’re traveling or going to network. You’d be surprised how your little card can land in the hands of someone you don’t know who’d be interested in having you use your talents to help them.
3. Create A Postcard: In the age of digital, print is even more powerful and effective. Think about your own life: can you count how many E-mails you’ve received in the past 24 hours? Now, can you recall what you gotten via snail mail? Even if it was junk mail, you probably can. Why? Because the stuff you get in snail mail was something you had to flip through, peruse, quickly read. It’s more effective and personal than E-mail, Tweets and your opportunity to show off your talents and reach a new audience.
Here’s what you do. Promote your talents. It’s that easy. If you’re a painter, you create a painting that’s just for this postcard- something truly amazing, eye-catching, breathtaking. On the other side you include your contact information and a call to action. Write, “let’s work together – contact me today about my services” or something more attention grabbing (just keep it appropriate and non-creepy). This idea can be used for anyone in any creative field. Copywriter? On the face of the card include some text where you’ve marked through, corrected, written in the margins and when they flip it over to the address side just create a funny, memorable message like “I can make you look good.” and circle that in read. Just put below it that you’re a copywriter, editor, whatever. You see, postcards don’t have to be dull and like business cards can travel and generate business. Unlike E-mail or Tweets, you’re creating something that can easily be saved for later reference. Oh, and just note that postcard stamps are currently just 28 cents – not much of an investment.
4. Create your own holiday cards: Want to stay at the forefront of people’s minds (them and potential clients, that is)? Then create your own holiday-themed cards by creating your own artwork and sending them out to potential clients or past associations to remind them of your talents. Not an artist? Team up and collaborate with a graphic designer or artist! It could be fun and an easy way for both of you to benefit from the same project. Imagine an illustrated Santa riding a sleigh made out of a large serif ‘a’: the perfect clash of the design world and the copywriter, editor or writer worlds. And please, even if you come up with a generic message inside the card for everyone, personalize each with a hand written message.
5. Offer Your Talents As A Gift: Need an easy way to self-promote your talents while helping others? Give your talents away to friends and family as a gift. People get married, they need announcement cards and other stuff designed. Offer to design it for them (I’m thinking for a reduced price if not for free). There are tons of other opportunities that come up with your friends and family or people they know that could call for your help and talents. Sometimes people need their reports proofread: perfect chance for a copywriter or editor to step in. People are always throwing parties or gatherings: step in and design the invite cards for them. Non-profits and charities often are in need of creative professionals who are willing to work for nearly nothing – it’s your chance to show off your social awareness You may think that giving your talents away for a cheap price or for free has no value to it. Imagine all of the different people, professionals, industry insiders your work will spread to. Be sure to, in some way, note in the design that you were the artist. Or have your friends ready to refer any inquiring business your way.
6. Get Friends, Family and Colleagues To Refer You: It’s really simple. You need to communicate to your friends and those you work with or know what exactly it is you do. Tell them about your career, what you want out of it, your interest in freelancing or adding new things to your portfolio. Then simply ask, “Hey, if you know of anyone, can you refer them to me?” It usually just takes asking and your friends can turn into a new way of promoting your services.
These are just a few ideas you can try to self promote yourself. I didn’t mention some obvious ones like Tweeting about your work, creating a blog where you display your work (and Tweeting links to it to drive traffic to your blog or website), creating a Facebook fan page. I also didn’t mention other ideas that could work like creating your own swag (pens, notepads, t-shirts with your logo, an image, your name on it) because that can go beyond the “cheap” realm, but could still be quite profitable. The overall point? Promote yourself and your talents. In today’s job market and economy, everyone needs to be able to not only promote what they do proudly and easily but they need to be able to see results. If you do something to promote yourself and get no feedback – it’s ok. You need to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to either improve it or have another plan on deck to implement.
What are some of your favorite self-promotion ideas (done cheaply)? Leave a comment and let others know!