Self-Promotion for Freelance Designers – How to Frugally Market Your Business

by Shaun Crowley

The 7 tips in this article show you how to promote yourself as a freelance designer, covering business cards, your online portfolio, direct mail, who to target, contact strategy, and how to conduct yourself in pitching meetings.

1. Get the most out of business cards

Business cards are your most important publicity items. They tell people how to contact you (don’t rely on email signatures—clients will wipe off your emails without hesitation and will not be able to contact you when a job comes up).

Executives normally keep vendor business cards in a case or card-box. Make sure you’re in it. And make sure your card has ALL your details: mailing address, telephone, cell phone number, email, and website address.

Your business card should be smart, clean, and easy-to-read. Don’t be too flamboyant. I know a designer who had his details printed from left-to-right on one side, and his details printed backwards from right-to-left on the other side. Whilst filing it away, his biggest potential client clipped it onto a backer card inside out. When she called upon it later she couldn’t make sense of it. Consequently she trashed the card and called another designer.

Print plenty of cards. An extra thousand won’t break the bank. Give several cards to new prospective clients at meetings (they may give them to their colleagues), and if you have existing clients or contacts, make sure they are well stocked with your cards so they can recommend you. Add a few cards in with your invoices. Leave a few cards in company reception areas, at sports clubs, and anywhere where your prospective clients are likely to congregate. Get them in people’s hands.

2. Create an online portfolio

Unless you are a web-designer, creating your own website is not essential, although it does give you some advantages. A website will help you to communicate your portfolio via email without sending attachments (clients will be suspicious of emails with attachments from unknown addresses—a link to a website is preferable). A website is also a good opportunity to sell yourself with some hard-working copy. Good copy can help you to win new clients, so buy yourself a good copywriting manual and learn the basic copywriting tricks of the trade.

If you have no experience of designing websites, or you don’t have time to create one, don’t be put off, you can buy inexpensive templates online. is a good place to start, where you can buy smart website templates for around $60. Buying a address and uploading it onto a website browser should cost around $30.

3. Market yourself with mailer-postcards

You may want to print some mailer postcards at the same time you print your business cards. Direct mail postcard designs are a great way to show off your creative talents and get noticed. In an age when executives are familiar with receiving emails from scouting freelancers, postcards received through snail-mail are a novel and memorable way to sell your freelance services.

Showcase your best visual/visuals on side one, then write some marketing copy to sell your services on side two (and remember to include your full contact details). Your copy should focus on the benefits your clients will get from using you.

For help writing your mailer postcard, take my free tutorial.

4. Think about who you are targeting

While you are waiting for your cards to print, you need to research the kind of companies to target for freelance work. Aim high; large corporations with multiple departments make better leads than small or medium-sized businesses. The work you get from a big company is likely to be more lucrative and on-going. You may also get internal recommendations across departments. One company can be a client for life and effectively pay off your mortgage.

Do a Google search for all the big companies who have offices within a reasonable driving distance, and examine each website for contacts. Build yourself a database of contacts in a spreadsheet including the names, titles, email addresses, mail addresses, and telephone numbers of all key sales and marketing contacts within your target companies.

5. Follow a rigid marketing strategy

Start by sending out your postcards to all the addresses on your database. A week after drop-date, send each of your contacts a personalized email asking if they use freelancers and requesting a meeting to discuss your offer. Include a link to your website so contacts can view your portfolio. If you don’t have a website, ask your contact to reply for samples of your work, then send a maximum of three pdfs or jpegs that total under 2MB (anything over this will be deleted when inboxes get crammed).

There are three things to consider when you are sending emails to prospective clients on your database. First, always send personalized emails to one contact at a time. Never send a round-robin. Second, keep your first email short and polite, asking for permission to send over some samples. Never attach visuals to your introductory email, your email will be deleted as spam. Third, set up an automatic email signature, so your prospective clients can quickly access your contact details. Although most people use business cards to find vendor addresses, some people use email to look up contacts.

Follow up your email with a phone call the next day to get the contacts’ feedback to your samples. Ask if the department uses freelancers and what creative requirements the department has. If your contact regularly uses freelancers, request a meeting to discuss your full portfolio. If your contact doesn’t use freelancers, ask for another contact within the organization who does. Use your database to keep track of all the people you have contacted and when you contacted them, so you know which people to follow up on and when.

Contact plenty of people, and the law of averages states you’ll get plenty of meetings booked.

6. Present yourself as client-focused whilst pitching

The key to a successful pitching meeting is to be well-prepared and client-focused. Before you travel to the company office, examine the company’s website so you know what kind of brief your contact is likely to give you. Tailor your portfolio for the company by ordering your most relevant work first (a good reason why you should use retractable sleeves in your portfolio, allocating one project to one sleeve).

At the meeting, make sure your pitch is relevant. Ask to see the company’s existing publicity, then talk about your most similar graphic design assignments.
Give your prospective client enough information to help them see what you can do for them. With each item of work you present, summarize the original brief, say how you creatively interpreted the brief, and give a sense of how effective the project was. Don’t go into a full project analysis unless asked, and don’t assume your prospective client will want to know the intricacies of your portfolio.

At the end of your meeting, ask if you can meet colleagues in the same department, ask for contacts in other departments, and hand out plenty of business cards. When you get home, send a thank-you email to your contact, reminding them of your availability, and update your activities in your database so you know when next to contact them.

7. Be persistent

It’s important to remain visible. Promotions controllers are more likely to outsource work to people they meet in person. Pretend that you will be in the area one day and ask to ‘pop in’ for a brief chat—you may have more luck arranging informal ad-hoc meetings than formal put-it-in-your-diary meetings. When you visit a company, remember to take your portfolio and plenty of business cards. You never know who you might meet.

You’ll find that prospective clients often say things like “I have no projects at the moment, but I’ll keep you in mind”. Don’t get frustrated, and certainly don’t beg for work on the phone. Just make a note in your database to keep track of responses, then send reminder emails to contacts every month, just so they really do keep you in mind. Give them a phone call every couple of months; sooner or later they will give you work.