Editor’s Note: Welcome to the latest installment of our Build My Business series, in which our in-house experts, hobbyists, and insatiably curious marketers show you how they would use LeadPages® to launch a campaign for a very specific—though hypothetical—business purpose. In this post, designer Taylor Wegner assesses the struggles designers run into when they go freelance, and proposes a marketing plan to make things easier.
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You’re talented, creative, driven . . and terrible at promoting yourself.
If that sounds about right, you might be a designer.
I can say that, because I am one. And most of us don’t go into graphic design because we’re naturally gifted salespeople.
As a designer at LeadPages®, I can usually leave the mechanics of marketing to the rest of the team, but it wasn’t always that way. With hindsight on my side, I decided to create a hypothetical marketing campaign that other freelancers could use to build a larger client base with just a few simple and inexpensive steps.
Personally, I spend my money only where I see the highest potential return on investment (otherwise known as being unabashedly cheap), so my recommendations reflect that.
To get a complete breakdown of the cost-effective tools I’ve used in this campaign—plus 4 extra time-saving tools and resources I love as a designer but wasn’t able to cover here—make sure to grab my free marketing for designers reference sheet. Click below for a PDF download you can save and refer back to as you plan your own marketing:
In 4 steps, here’s the plan of action I’d recommend to take your work from the depths of your portfolio into the hands of clients. I’ll be focusing on web design in my examples, but many of these tactics could work for freelancers of different stripes as well.
Step 1: Define Your Audience
A freelancer just starting out can rarely afford to seek work from only one source. So different parts of my marketing plan will focus on connecting with different groups, primarily:
- Small business owners who may be interested in a site redesign: Some of my marketing efforts will target small businesses that are established enough to have some web presence and that are potentially ready to take their design up a level.
- Creative directors at marketing agencies: The most likely source for consistent contract work for me will be marketing agencies, so some of my marketing efforts are designed to help me get noticed by people who have the power to contract designers.
- Other designers: Call it networking for slackers. If I can build relationships with other designers online, they just might think of me the next time someone approaches them with work that they don’t have time to take on or that falls outside their area of expertise.
The next step in my marketing plan will be important for connecting with all 3 groups.
Step 2: Build Your Online Portfolio
Key tool: Cargo
Regardless of your medium, it’s imperative that you have a well-presented, up-to-date online portfolio. My favorite platform is Cargo, a freemium membership site dedicated to hosting creative portfolios with as little effort as possible. It’s also nurtured a great design community around it, which will help expose more-established designers to my work.
I’d start by posting at least 4 of my absolute best projects, including process shots and explanations. Then I’d make sure any potential clients who land here have an easy way to contact me.
Key tool: LeadBoxes®
To do that, I’d create a LeadBox™ 2-step opt-in form. Since LeadBoxes® can go anywhere you can paste a string of HTML, it’ll be easy to let a link, image, or button on my Cargo page trigger the form. I’d use it to collect the bare minimum of information from potential clients that would still let me get a sense of the scope of the project they’re hoping to commission. Here’s what they’d see:
I’d set up this single LeadBox™ to send the information it collects to 2 places: into my inbox via Lead Notifications (so I can prepare notes for an estimate and reach out to schedule a conversation ASAP), and to my email service provider. (The latter will come into play later.)
Now I have a portfolio online that looks great, is easy to maintain, and even entices potential clients to contact me.
Many designers essentially stop here. But for me, this is just the beginning.
Step 2: Set up Landing Pages
Key tool: LeadPages® landing pages
My portfolio gives a great overview of my design work, but it doesn’t put the majority of its energy into driving leads for me (though the LeadBox™ certainly helps). So in most of my marketing, I’ll want to drive traffic to a more focused page.
I’ll use LeadPages® to build 2 pages: one very short and targeted, and another that can serve as my main business presence. Here’s the first one:
And here’s a peek at my services page design, made with a different LeadPages® template.
Note that in both cases, the call-to-action button asks people to contact me for an estimate—my first step in establishing any client relationship.
In the next section, I’ll explain how to use each of these landing page types.
Step 3: Drive Traffic to My Landing Pages with Engaging Content
Key tool: Medium
Lots of marketing advice recommends blogging to get attention for your business. But what if you’re more of an image guy than a word guy? And what if you don’t necessarily want to devote a huge chunk of time to maintaining yet another web presence every week?
Rather than setting up a blog that I can promptly start neglecting, I’ll publish articles only when I have both something to say and a strategic reason for saying it. To do that, I’ll use Medium.
Medium is the casual alternative to traditional blogging. It’s a fantastic (and well-designed) platform to publish and share your ideas on the web.
It also incorporates elements of a social network and a web magazine, which will be helpful for my marketing. People can follow topics they care about by clicking on tags—here are some that could apply to my industry:
I’ll start off by writing 2 different articles to target my 2 different primary audiences.
To connect with small business owners, I’ll write a post that answers the question, “How Much Should I Pay For A New Website Design?” and include a couple of links to my short estimate opt-in page throughout. In the context of this post, I could segue into something like:
Curious how much your project might cost? Get a free project estimate from me.”
For agency clients, I’d write something quick and digestible that creative directors might be motivated to browse on their lunch break—maybe something like “6 Ways To Improve Your Morning Inspiration Routine.” A post like this could link to my services page.
In addition to writing stories, Medium users can also leave extensive (and also beautifully designed) responses to others’ work. Once I establish a presence, I can leave occasional, thoughtful replies to posts about small business marketing and web design. Readers who encounter them can click through to my own posts.
Medium also has an editorial team dedicated to curating the best stories. If readers and Medium staff think your piece is interesting, you may see it promoted to the front page—a huge boost in visibility.
Finally, because I have all the space of long-form posts to play with, I can also include relevant search keywords so that my posts are likelier to turn up in organic search results. By using Medium in different ways, I can connect with prospective clients and share thoughts with the design community at large.
For the times in between these longer posts, I’ll make additional connections via social media.
Key tool: Hootsuite
I want maximal social reach for minimal work, so I’ll use the social-media management dashboard Hootsuite. Its free plan will let me manage my Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn accounts in one place and schedule all my posts in less than an hour each week—then post them at the prime time for maximum impressions.
I’ll publish my most important updates to all 3 channels, but I’ll also use each one in a few different ways.
Key tool: Twitter
Twitter is ideal when you want to reach several audiences at once. With no expectation to tell a unified story, I can post on small-business-related topics and design topics to reach my various audiences.
To connect with the design community, I’ll also follow my favorite design studios and businesses so I can retweet their most interesting content (always with my own comment). To make things easier, I’ll use the Crowdfire app to automatically make and maintain the most promising connections. (Check out my full Freelance Designer Marketing Stack for more on this neat little tool.)
Finally, I’ll tweet about my own work, posting whenever I:
- Publish a new article to Medium
- Add a new project to my portfolio site
- Post a video to YouTube, such as a web-design case study
- Want to drive a few extra landing page views (which I can do regularly as long as I space out my posts and give each one a slightly different spin)
Key tool: Instagram
My presence here can reach other designers while also serving as a less formal, socially accessible alternative to my portfolio site. I’ll start with some nicely composed images of my latest paper prototypes, then go on to post other images that highlight my creativity in a cohesive way.
I like Instagram over Pinterest for marketing for designers because it’s easier to curate a single, coherent channel that’s focused on you.
Key tool: LinkedIn
LinkedIn is not not exactly considered the home of trend-setting designers. But that’s exactly why it’s a great place for me to get ahead of my competition and connect with the business owners and decision makers that cut the checks.
In addition to posting the same content I do on Medium and Twitter, I’ll also scope out a few local small-business groups. By chiming in on discussions of design-related matters, I can act as a voice of helpful authority—someone business owners might seek out when they need to put their design plans into practice.
Step 4: Keep the Conversation Going
Key tool: MailChimp
Remember those email addresses I’m collecting from people who opt in for a free estimate? Email is a great way to keep the conversation going with them, and MailChimp is hands-down my favorite email service provider for designers. Beyond powerful analytics tools and a scalable pricing model (the basic service is free), it’s easy to make emails that look good by starting with one of the default templates.
I’ll start by creating a master list of the contacts I get from my free-estimate opt-in points. Then I’ll use this subscriber list to send out a “Regular Campaign”—essentially a newsletter—once a month to update subscribers on what I’ve been up to lately and show them content they can use right away, such as video tutorials and case studies.
Any leads who didn’t convert to customers will now have me in the forefront of their mind for their next design project.
With these elements in place, I have an easy-to-manage marketing plan that’ll bring in prospects from various sources as I focus on developing high-quality client relationships.
And I didn’t even have to attend any uncomfortable networking events to make it happen.
To see a full breakdown of the tools I’ve used in this campaign, plus 4 few bonus tools that’ll help you be a more efficient freelancer, download my full Freelance Designer Marketing Stack below: