Maximizing Your Work Exposure to Ideal Clients for Freelancers

Have you wondered why, even after doing everything “right” — having a website, circulating through all the social media channels — you’re just not getting as much notice as a designer as you feel you should be? It probably has something to do with the approach you’ve been using to market yourself and your work.

Today, we’re skewering each of the bad, ineffective ways designers try to market themselves, and looking at alternatives to try instead that have a much higher success rate.

What Doesn’t Work: Endless Social Media Followers

Yes, it’s true. While social media can be a great way to connect with other designers and professionals in and around your industry, it usually provides pretty dismal returns when compared with other methods of getting yourself out there. There are many popular designers with thousands following them on Twitter or Facebook, yet the majority of their business comes from elsewhere.

Sure, you may get a few clients trickling in through social media. In fact, I’d say it’s likely if you have any kind of substantial following. But if you really want your pick of the most ideal clients that are best suited to your business, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

What Works: Email (And Snail Mail) Marketing

You have to go to where your clients are. These days, there is no better place to reach potential clients than in their inbox. Creative, opt-in email marketing is an easy and effective way to promote just about any type of business, freelance design included. If you’re courting brick and mortar businesses, this tactic can even extend to snail mail.

An interesting mailer showcasing your abilities, even if you do strictly web or digital design, can catch the attention of whoever sorts the mail at the company. And if you think mail room employees don’t share interesting things with the rest of the office… um, have you ever worked in an office? Trust me, they live for that stuff.

What Doesn’t Work: Guest Posting About Design

Guest posting can be an effective way for you to get noticed by the design world. But, like with social media, its effect is severely limited when trying to reach actual clients — people who want to pay you for your services.

Think for a minute about who usually reads written blogs about design. That’s right: other designers. In other words, your competition. Unless your services include writing about design, doing guest post after guest post probably won’t do much for you in the client acquisition department.

What Works: Getting Seen On Prominent Design Sites & Curated Lists

Design clients, by and large, don’t spend much time reading up on the industry through blogs. They do, however, spend plenty of time looking through examples of beautiful design work. Sites like Dribbble and Behance, as well as top curated lists on Tumblr and Ffffound, draw in potential clients in huge numbers.

If your work is out there, getting seen in the best places, you have a much better chance of someone finding you and offering you work.

What Doesn’t Work: Blogging For Other Designers

If you have your own website, it normally follows these days that you have a blog as well. Blogging is one of those things that can either help or hurt you in the search for clients. It depends on the type of services you offer, and more importantly, what you choose to blog about.

If you blog mostly about new developments in the design industry, or if you offer tutorials and other tips to help your fellow designers, you won’t really be speaking to potential clients all that much. Again, these types of topics are of less use to clients as they are to other designers.

What Works: Blogging For Your Actual Clients

If you really want to capture clients’ attention through your blog, you’ll have to write about subjects that are of interest to them, not to designers like yourself. How to hire a designer, what to look out for when negotiating your first contract with a freelancer — these are the types of things potential design clients want to read about.

They also want to read about the impact of design on their own industry, which is another reason why it’s so important to have a niche to cater to.

What Doesn’t Work: Business Card Free-For-Alls

Think about this: how many business cards have you accumulated over the years? Now, ask yourself how many you’ve actually used. That’s what I thought.

99% of the time, business cards do nothing but sit at the bottom of someone’s drawer, or languish in their wallet, bag, or pocket until they’re cleared out 6 months later and dumped in the trash. You’d think that such a waste of paper would be more effective at getting people work, but alas. It’s typically just a waste, period.

What Works: Being More Selective

The business cards that do get used are those that have a real relationship attached to them. They weren’t just handed out willy-nilly to anyone who asked for one, or forced on people who didn’t care either way. It’s important to make people eager to have your contact information. People value information much more if they are the ones seeking it out.

What Do You Think?

What methods of marketing yourself have been most effective for you? Got any interesting experiences or counter-examples you’d like to share? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.