Why Having a Blog is so Important for Freelance Designers
With competition rising among designers, using social media is more important than ever, especially having your own blog to help spotlight your talent and abilities. A blog can not only show your work but your thought process, knowledge and professional demeanor… if it’s done correctly!
The biggest question I get from freelance designers, illustrators and photographers is how they can find clients. My first response is to look under rocks at the edge of scummy ponds but no one really laughs. It’s getting more and more difficult to find clients, especially ones who want to pay for creative work. What we do may be referred to as “artwork” and not “artplay”, so convincing prospective clients that you are a professional and deserving of respect and, most of all, payment should be done before they ever email or call you. You need to show them you are a professional and obviously expect to be treated as such.
How Do You Market Yourself?
When I suggest setting up a blog, many creatives ask me why they should do that. I then have to ask what marketing they do to find clients. They usually do nothing and believe their tweets, even if just quotes from dead famous people is enough as they are, “inspirational.” From there, they believe people will “check out” their portfolio and they will become clients. That’s not enough to intrigue clients.
To market yourself, you need to show YOUR work in an interesting and informative manner but you also have to show it to the right people. As one designer once insisted to me when I pointed out his followers were all fellow designers, he said he was doing that in the hope other designers and design studios would give him freelance work. “the hope” was not working out for him, yet he was going to stick with that marketing plan.
You can gain work from design firms, although it’s harder these days with tighter budgets only allowing firms to keep all their work in-house for those being paid to stay and work 24/7. Personally, I saw corporate clients fall by the wayside in 2008 when falling profits made them dump all work on their dwindling staff numbers. It has not gotten any better and friends at former clients and employers tell me that they have half the staff working twice as hard but no one will complain as they are afraid of losing their job. So, finding smaller business clients is what most successful freelancers must do to survive.
There are a few creatives I know who use email marketing, some who send printed postcards and others who have tried using Facebook ads, which they say didn’t work. How does one find the right people who make the decisions on hiring freelancers?
Temp Freelance Firms – While it’s hard to deal with some temp agencies, Aquent, The Creative Group and Creative Circle being three of the largest nationwide agencies, many people say they are useless. If you are one of their favorite and trusted creatives, then you can get as much work as you can handle but you are giving them a high percentage of your hourly fee.
Print Directories – While I find it hard to believe the large print directories survive in the digital age, they are still around and still outrageously expensive. If you decide to gamble a few thousand dollars and can wait the 12 months before they are printed and distributed, they are still a huge gamble. Although they are supposedly sent to the “right people,” in all of my years as an art director, I never received one (and I worked for the top creative corporations).
Postcard Mailings – A long since forgotten method of marketing, it actually works quite well as long as you have a good, targeted recipient list that is kept up-to-date. The drawback is it can get expensive between printing and mailing. The good part is a great looking postcard will be placed on a bulletin board. The drawback is the cost vs. the return on investment (ROI). One big project can pay for the entire mailing but the time and effort of keeping the list fresh and targeted can be huge.
Cold Calling – targeting a small list of prospects is good but cold calling (using the telephone to contact a prospect without knowing them) is difficult for many people. Experts say it’s best to have a script you can read in a natural tone AND a list of objection responses when the prospect turns you down… if you can get them on the phone! Leaving a voicemail will not get your call returned and if you leave too many messages, you will already be considered a “pest.”
Social Media – Once again, using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and any other popular social media platform can be tricky. They can help you target the right people as long as you go after the right followers. Joining online groups and online networking for creatives should include those who are businesspeople and have the need for creative services.
Email Marketing – A time-consuming way of reaching out to a list of connections but there are rules in having people opt-in and the ability to unsubscribe. The open rate may be lower than you expect but tied into information sources, such as a blog, can make this effective. There is, of course, a cost to all of the methods mentioned in this section.
If all of these marketing avenues are less than effective, why should you bother blogging? Because it’s the most effective for creatives… and free! Blogging, of course is only as strong as your content. The biggest mistake creatives who blog make is to mirror what they see on the big design blogs, creating or reposting articles from design blogs in the hopes that they will pull in a large audience with the same, instructional and news content a site such as Smashing magazine publishes. As mentioned before, having a following of other creatives works for a design blog but not for a personal blog meant to entice and draw in prospective clients.
What a client wants to see is not just final samples of work, especially if you really, really desire to book work from large design studios. Creative thought and process is what prospective clients want to see. How did you start and proceed? How did you handle certain challenges and what is the difference between your starting point and the final design/illustration/photograph? Often the design process is misunderstood or just confusing to non-creative clients. Seeing how it’s done not only amazes a client but educates them so your collaboration will be much smoother. The step-by-step process is, as noted in this article about what makes a better portfolio, stronger when the thought process is clearly shown.
Blogging also shows your human side. A good, conversational tone in your writing, explaining the process of your work can ease the mind of a prospect who has no idea who you really are. Your blog entries help build trust in your professional abilities and how easy it will be to work with you. Most of all, by using examples of your work and thought process, it will speak to both creatives hiring other creatives, as well as non-creatives looking to hire someone who will handle their brand as they see it. Their brand is their personality and they want to be sure that whomever they hire will treat that brand with the utmost understanding.
Some Advice From People Who Deal With Hiring Creatives
Gary, the former head of creative services at Cartoon Network says:
“Be able to talk through your thought process for each example you have in your portfolio. Be ready to talk about why you made the design and creative choices that you did.”
Bhaskar, a marketing strategist imparts:
“If I were to hire an unknown designer I would look for back-stories to the logo designs. Typically every client has some expectations from their logos.”
“How did the final logo fulfill those expectations? What were the alternatives and why they were junked? What was the reaction to the logo from the client’s customers? You answer these questions and you have me as your next customer.”
Cheryl, who works for the largest creative recruitment firm in the U.S. suggests:
“If you choose to do a blog make sure it’s a professional blog geared to your portfolio only. Get rid of all personal stuff for that is detrimental to your cause.”
Now Comes the Social Media Mix
Your social media platforms will now be important to help spread your blog entries and find new clients. Articles entitled, “how I created the logo for (company name)” or “The Horrid Brand and the Ten Steps I Took to Repair it” will draw more attention to your link and portfolio than a tweet about getting coffee or something a Greek philosopher said 3,000 years ago.
Having posts on LinkedIn, properly hashtagged, will reach business owners and give them a short look into you as a creative resource. If you are a member of a business group on LinkedIn, then share your blog entry with that group (or Groups, preferably).
When it comes to choosing followers on any social media platform, aim for businesspeople who will either be a target as a prospect or will have a large following with whom they will share your blog entries. Think of targeted expansion and not popularity among other creatives because, in the end, they are your competition.
Beat the Competition!
Business is not friendship. The first time you get screwed out of a client or project because a friend stabbed you in the back, you’ll know this to be true and see it clearly. This doesn’t mean you have to become Gordon Gekko or trample others under your feet. What you need to do is be 100% focused on your own business and that should show in your blog.
If you have creative friends on Facebook who never seem to do any creative work but post pictures of their garden, the fabulous meals they made for dinner or hobbies that take forty hours a week of their time, you must look at that as the lowest point a true creative could ever have. None of those things will find you clients or make you money. Your blog, which is your marketing plan, must be as much a part of your workday as is your creative work.
Keep blog entries regular and don’t go for months or a year without an entry or prospects who find you will assume you died or stopped freelancing.
If you do something free for charity, don’t mention you did it for free. In fact, you shouldn’t put examples of lower-paying, lesser-known clients in your articles if you can help it. Aim high, work high, be high! I know how that sounds but you know what I mean.
The only thing that matters in your career is what your clients and YOU think about your work. Don’t concern yourself with the opinions or acceptance of other designers!
Stay away from time-wasters. These might be websites, games or volunteering for an organization that will sap your creative psyche. Sites such as Dribbble are a waste of your time unless you feel you need the approval of other designers for your work. If that’s the case, then how can you confidently write about your thought process or creative genius?
Even when a design direction takes an odd turn from client direction, take that as a challenge and make it the best. Imagine what a blog entry that would make!
You don’t need to be Hemingway to write a great blog entry. Use a conversational approach and tell your story but watch out for typos. Even though the New York Times has typos, it’s best to minimize them as much as possible. Luckily, in a world where spelling and grammar have gone to hell, most people won’t notice and if they do, you can always edit those typos out later on. That’s one of the great things about digital vs. print!
You’ll find, as you go on, your writing will get better and your desire to write will increase. Blogging is fun and you will also find it’s profitable. You just need to start and stay with it.
Top image ©GL Stock Images
Speider Schneider is a former member of The Usual Gang of Idiots at MAD Magazine, “among other professional embarrassments and failures.” He currently writes for local newspapers, blogs and other web content and has designed products for Disney/Pixar, Warner Bros., Harley-Davidson, ESPN, Mattel, DC and Marvel Comics, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon among other notable companies. Speider is a former member of the board for the Graphic Artists Guild, co-chair of the GAG Professional Practices Committee and a former board member of the Society of Illustrators. He also continues to speak at art schools across the United States on business and professional practices. Follow him on Twitter @speider.