Breaking Down Doors: Promoting Yourself To Dream Clients


There’s a saying that the School of Visual Arts in New York City once used in its ads: “To be good is not enough when you dream of being great.” We all have dream clients that we would like to add to our portfolio, but either we don’t know how to reach them or have no idea how to even start. Promotion is not a big subject at art school, and I know way too many creatives who stare at the phone and wonder why it’s not ringing.

There are many ways to promote yourself, and as with any product, you have to target your audience as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible. Let’s go over some problems and solutions.

Seek Out More Work Than You Can Handle

If you want people to know you and consider you a valuable contact, then you must promote yourself. If you look at your career as a business, then as with any business, you must promote it.

What is your brand? Let’s not confuse a logo with a brand. Your logo is the visual “name” by which people identify you—your brand is how people remember you as a business. Is your brand personal? Fun? Wicked? Sweet? Choose wisely because you could be married to your brand forever and ever. Use peers and non-creatives as a sounding board. I had a brand that creatives thought was cool but clients just didn’t get (which I’ll write about in another therapeutic article).

Prepare your brand for all digital and social networks before hitting people with promotions. Essentials these days are a website or blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Apps (if that’s your thing), business cards, stationary and envelopes—your business “front” as it were. Don’t scrimp, and inkjet print your own cards. If you can’t afford what you would spend in an afternoon at the pub for good business cards, then you might want to get a pony and dedicate the rest of your days to riding it.

“Welcome to Rainbow Pony World! Nowhere near Earth!”

Identify Top 100 People To Work With

You could crawl from small job to small job and make a fine career out of it… if riding ponies is your thing. But you dream of a certain caliber of work, so why not go after it?

Write a list of 100 people or companies you would like to work with. You might want to put a few people at one of those companies on your distribution list. How do you find those people? Start by researching the company. Go on LinkedIn and gather the titles of those people. If there’s not enough there, click on their profiles to see who they’re connected to, or use the “Also viewed” feature to stalk—er, hunt down the names you need. Use Google or a website such as Hoovers2 to get addresses and more information about the company.

Your city might have a book that list local companies, which could offer valuable information, as might the business section of your local paper. You have to hunt down names, network, steal, ask stray kids if their mom or dad works with designers, and take advantage of family connections (while still refusing to design that idea of your uncle’s that he’s been pushing at family dinners for years).

Don’t forget your own network. Your friends and fellow art school alumni are becoming art directors, creative directors and creative managers, and being on good terms and staying in touch with them is important.

At this point, I hope you’re at least keeping all of your contact information in a spreadsheet, because it can be uploaded to a variety of contact managers.

Get a good contact manager. Many programs are on the market, and even some native computer software will give you good contact management. Track how many times and when you have contacted someone, what they said, if you got work, if you got a referral, etc. When dealing with a client, you should be able to recall how you met, when you spoke and so on, so that they feel a bond, rather than feel like a target.

Some people prefer ACT as their contact manager. It’s good, but the comments following this article will no doubt suggest more management-oriented programs (after berating my negative comments about pony-riding).

Ready, Set… What Next?

What are you selling? What contact information do you have for your top 100? What promotional material can you send them? Are you ready for a follow-up if you do speak to someone? Are you ready for me to stop asking questions and get to it already?

“The Wright Brothers could never have flown if not for the drive and spirit of innovation among aliens.” (by Speider Schneider)

Even if you have print promotional material, there must be a digital component—something you can attach to an email or link to. Some people think you must have a website, and some think the WordPress platform is best… like, say, Smashing Magazine. Whatever the platform, you should have one. And please get a proper domain so that you’re not advertising; is so much nicer!

Also, avoid for your email address. While many single-person businesses use Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail and (snicker) CompuServe, don’t be one of them. For a few dollars, you could have a professional email address with your domain name, like

Have you accumulated a ton of email addresses? Here’s a fun fact from years of working in a business that depended on communications marketing statistics: only 15% of emails are opened. If you use a mass opt-out email service such as Constant Contact to reach prospects, your costs will go up as your ROI goes down even before hitting “Send.” Still, it can be effective for multiple mailings during a one-month period, which is the membership period of such services.

Sending a link gives the recipient a chore. In addition to everything else they have to do, they must now go through the super-human motion of clicking on your link and waiting for your website to load. As sad as that sounds, this is now the world we know.

Snail mail. Believe it or not, what’s old is new again. People use to rely on source books and mailings for promotion. In the digital age, mail has gotten lighter. Another frightening figure from the marketing statistics folks: 98% of all greeting cards are actually opened (the 2% is for envelopes with printed labels and metered postage). This approach will run you between 50¢ and $1.50 USD per card when all is said and done. You also have to do it every month, but no more than twice a month, or else it’s legally stalking, and your prospects will see it that way. But people love getting cards! I’m constantly told that my cards are up on bulletin boards at companies across the globe. Well worth the money, I say.

Some online printers deliver a good product, leaving you to stuff, address and stamp the envelopes. I use an on-demand printer that comes with a contact manager and allows me to create campaigns and then do bulk mailings using my handwriting font and signature and auto-name-insertion. A few clicks and my 100 cards go off within 24 hours, leaving me with plenty of pony-riding time. Oops!

“I send postcards from vacation spots. What fun for a prospective client!” (by Speider Schneider)

Print-on-demand websites are intuitive, and you can upload images for full-bleed jobs, if you so desire. The fonts on these websites are limited, and you cannot control kerning or leading. Best to create everything in Photoshop and upload it that way.

Advertising And PR… For Free

Blog. An audience that looks to you for information and entertainment makes for good prospects. Write about your design passion. A past article of mine drew a comment from a young man who was upset about the lack of understanding between a designer and developer. There’s a blog right there. With a good writing style or by linking to stories on the subject, this person could develop a great promotional tool and really serve his passion for development and respect for its practitioners.

You could turn trends, type, design, fun, foible or whatever you really love can into a really strong promotional channel.

Volunteer. Personally, I’ve long been fed up with volunteering, but you should give it a try because it does build character… along with anxiety issues (but that’s another story). Try a local art organization or art project. Getting out there helps you meet the people you need to be meeting. I know I’m being hard on volunteering, but I’ve put in more than my fair share of time. Your turn.

Write for something like that “Smooshing Magazine” everyone’s been talking about. Even the local paper needs articles on the design of the new town hall or coverage of the next art event. Get your name out there.

Advertising And PR… But Not So Free

Try Google Ads and the like. Michael Muratore, owner of Store445, which represents illustrators and photographers, is the most plugged-in person I know. His work with global companies and a variety of digital sources and tools force me to defer to his knowledge on the subject:

I’ve been a Google power user for about five years now. As an agency catering to artists and advertising agencies, we can get hundreds of emails a day. The more I used Google for my business, the more beta invitations I received. I use so many Google services on a day-to-day basis that it’s a bit mind-boggling: Gmail, Voice, Docs, Analytics, Webmaster Tools… I could go on. However, in seven years of business, we have never bought Google Ads. One day, another invitation from Google arrived: “$100 in free AdWords advertising if you connect your Analytics account to a new AdWords account.” A hundred bucks? Sold!

It’s brilliant, actually. One hundred dollars is the perfect amount to get started, figure out how it works and experiment a little. Of course, when it’s all dialed in, it’s time to add more money.

The real epiphany for me came when I started managing campaigns by region. I started with the five regions that generated the most business for us: New York, LA, San Francisco, Chicago and Phoenix. With region-based campaigns, I could see where our ads were most successful, based both on clicks and inquiries. As the campaign progresses and as our budget changes, so does our AdWords buying. When money is tight, the campaigns that produce the fewest results can be shut off easily, leaving the best performers a greater portion of the budget. Usually, this means New York and LA, because our most popular artists are in fashion and music.

We use this same regional system when advertising our Facebook page.

Of course, it’s not just about regions. Different artists in the group have sets of keywords specific to their media and markets. When they want to promote a series of new works, we simply turn a campaign on for them to drive traffic directly to their new portfolio. We can have campaigns using general keywords to bring people to a landing page that features several artists. For those wanting to explore a variety of illustration styles, for example, they would land here:; if they were looking for something specific, like fashion editorial photography, then they would land right on the artist’s page.

Costs vary with campaign, clicks and keywords. Because we’re paying by the click, we need to ensure that we’re not getting bad traffic. We use negative keywords to try to eliminate the irrelevant traffic (words like “schools,” “lessons” and “royalty-free”). We keep a base budget of $3.00 a day for a set of general keywords in our best regions. Three dollars is not much, and some keywords are very expensive to get on the front page. “Logo design” often fetches $10 per click. Having a variety of campaigns helps. I can easily adjust a particular campaign’s budget if an artist wants to spend the money on traffic.

A weekly graph comparing overall traffic to AdWords traffic.

Bottom line? The AdWords campaigns bring the website’s unique views from a usual 500 to 700 a month to over 1,000. When we get a call or email, I always try to find out their source. An active campaign can bring in three to five calls a month for $50 to $100 in ad spending.

The Most Difficult Thing For A Creative: Telemarketing

Cold calling is the hardest thing for anyone to do. If I hadn’t worked in telemarketing as one of my various jobs to put myself through art school, I would dread cold calls. Cold calling, for those who aren’t familiar with the term, is calling someone you don’t know to sell them something. Sounds easy, right? It is. They are just people like you and me. They need freelancers, and you’re a freelancer. If they don’t need a freelancer, let them tell you so. I’ve been after a client for three years; they’re in my top five of 100 names. I call and leave messages; I email images; I mail greeting cards with images and sales pitches. Why do I keep doing it? Because the prospect hasn’t told me to stop and go away. It’s sales, not dating.

The trick to telemarketing is to work from easy scripts:

Hello, Mr. Jones. My name is also Jones, and I’m a Web-developing, graphic-designing photographer. I’d like to set up an appointment at your convenience to show you my work. May I set up an appointment with you this week?

Mr. Jones will then either tell you that he is not interested, or ask you to call him the following week or set up an appointment right then and there.

Maybe you’ll have to leave a message for Mr. Jones. “Hello, Mr. Jones. This is Mr. Senoj. My number is 123-4567. Please call me at your convenience.”

Don’t tell him why you are calling or you’ll never, ever get to speak with him. Haven’t hear back? Call back. After a while, it becomes a guilty pleasure because you’ll wonder what they’re thinking.

Look at it this way: the client I keep trying to reach probably has a great story about this persistent person who calls, emails and sends cards. I wonder if anyone has ever said, “Why don’t you just talk to the guy?”

Another telemarketing ploy is called objection-response, and telemarketers make three responses before they stop asking. Have a script or two for that, too. Here’s some classic objection-responses:

Objection: “I don’t have time to meet.”
Response: “It will only take 15 minutes, and I’ll even bring coffee.”

Objection: “I really don’t have the time.”
Response: “May I drop off a packet of my services and keep you on my mailing list?”
(They’ll agree just to get rid of you. Take advantage of this by getting more information: “I don’t have your current email. Would you update me on that?”)

Objection: “I have all the freelancers I need right now.”
Response: “I really appreciate your loyalty to your regular freelancers, which makes me want to work with you even more. I understand and wouldn’t want to displace anyone, but people move on, and more work than your current pool can handle might come in. I’d like to stay in touch and see what the future holds, if you don’t mind?”

Don’t forget a thank-you note. A lot is at steak. (by Speider Schneider)

Out of desperation, I once told a person who had uttered those words of rejection to me that the entire pool of freelancers had choked to death. When he stopped laughing, he made an appointment and became a pretty good client. I don’t recommend this approach, though.

Think of any objection you might hear, and prepare a response of a sentence or two, printed out in large type in front of you. It really helps.

By the way, the best way to get rid of a telemarketer is to tell them either that you already have the product or that there is no way you could possibly use it. They will apologize, hang up and never call you again.

Not Such Crazy Ideas

Find a mentor. Some established professionals believe they owe it to the next generation to mentor them into replacing them. We teach and write, and then you take our jobs and spit on us as we crawl for safety. You young punks! Still, we do it because it is in the natural order of things to pass on our experience to the next generation, however ungrateful it is.

Socrates had something to say about this:

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

Plato had Socrates, and you should be able to find someone who takes you under their wing and introduces you to people and teaches you wonderful things. Ask a teacher for a referral, or just write someone an old-fashioned letter asking if they would be your mentor. You won’t look strange, and your good manners will be appreciated, even if the person is unable to mentor you. A referral could hook you up with a terrific mentor, too.

Do work that really impresses. A friend of mine once said that if you ever take on a $200 job that should pay $2,000, do $2,000 worth of work and it will lead to a real $2,000 job. He also told me that he paid $2,000 for his house, so don’t take these amounts at face value. But his point is valid. A great job, whatever the pay, might lead to a spectacular portfolio piece.

A wild imagination can come up with some crazy ideas, but think twice before acting on them. Thankfully, my infamous “time bomb” promotional piece, touting “Dynamite service with explosive results,” died long before I mailed the first package, or else I’d have faced bomb scare charges and might have been writing this from prison. Be creative, but be sensible. Think of your aim: to be at the front of someone’s mind when they have a job to assign. Could you send a toy that sits on their desk or a calendar they keep handy? There are some great possibilities.

Keep moving forward! Sales is the hardest thing to do. You get a burst of energy, make all your calls and then get depressed when people aren’t beating down your door. It’s natural. Keep up your task of calling, emailing or whatever you do on a regular basis. Do something fun to break the mood, surprise your prospect, and don’t take rejection personally. A rejection today could be a job tomorrow and a repeat client further on. Just keep moving forward with the sucky part of the creative business.



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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 and telling frightening stories that make students question their career choice (just kidding).

  1. 1

    Dear All this article has been very informative and is really depicting a picture of e-marketing which is now the biggest form of marketing media being utilized by organizationsto promete them, I my self has done this activity to increase my clientage in business and for this purpose i utilized services by
    Mornington Peninsula Website Design Services

  2. 154

    Great article, thanks

    One question, when researching the company, who do we target? e.g. Executive Creative Director, Creative Director, Head of Planning, Business Development Director, etc

    • 205

      I would hire you on the spot for your name alone! Unfortunately, I won’t share my pony.

      Start with the creative director and art directors at larger firms. If you can find one ear who will answer questions, find out if there’s an art buyer or freelance coordinator. Here’s a secret tip that only a few know; get friendly with the receptionist at big agencies and design firms in your area. Walk in, smile and, using your best manners, ask if he/she has a list of art directors you could have or ask who would be the best to contact. If phones aren’t ringing off the hook and you are pleasant, you will get a wealth of information. By the same token, if you are interviewing with a company, be VERy nice to the receptionist. He/she may be asked how you acted while you were waiting for your appointment (he texted and cursed a lot and asked if “the idiot” was ready for his appointment).

      Ask for referrals as much as you can and don’t forget your network! Best place to get names. Just today, a marketing person I worked with many years ago (one of the good ones), hooked me up with a creative director she knew and it’s a good, solid connection. When he and I communicate, I will ask him for referrals to anyone else he thinks “might be interested in my work.” The most he can say is, “no!”

      If you follow tips and trace them via internet or network sources, you can land some solid contacts and then just work from there. Don’t forget smaller firms! They can have clients who you might not think you can target. Perhaps ABC Design services Disney/Pixar? Might be nice to have some of that work in your portfolio.


  3. 256

    jeez. I have to admit that I hate reading long articles. but anyway there’s just no way I could ever stop reading a speider article. apart from its high quality content it’s the style and humour that keeps me busy reading all of your stuff. pal, do me a favor: just don’t stop. honestly.

    • 307

      I can’t write note under 2,500 words. ;)

      Thanks for the kind words. Do you know my articles also appear on (Smashing Network)? Those are just as…long.

  4. 358

    It’s not easy to make me read articles as huge as this one, as long as no one stands behind me with a gun at my head. You are one of these people who knows how to entertain. I always wonder if it’s just the writing style which automaticly makes the article entertaining, or do you work at every joke, anecdote, metaphor and so on to get such a quality? In other words: My prof always said: “Your not born creative kids! It’s hard work!” – And hell now I know that its right. But does this count for your articles too? ;D

    Ah well.. like always sorry for my bad english.

    • 409

      Your English is better than mine!

      Thanks for your kind words. When I write, I have my basic idea in mind and then start typing. I tell a story, add what I did or should have done and BING! — long article with the same voice I use when I speak. The humor and such are inherent parts of my personality, so it comes through in my writing. Not so much a Hemingway but a highway.

      I somewhat disagree with your professor. Some people are born creative and the heavy use of the right brain doesn’t allow them to use the left (business part) part of the brain. There are left brained people who are not creative but work very hard (and smart) and do extremely well being “creative.”

      Either way, hard work wins out in everything!

      • 460

        Ah yes. I can remember our first lesson in typography. The prof gave us straight orders: “Don’t even try to calculate something! Get a calculator! If you write something, ask somebody to correct it! Half of you are dyslexics and the rest doesn’t even know what a prime number is! But don’t worry – that’s why you want to become designers.”

        The “Work hard”-hint came from the advertising-prof. With work he meant brainstorming, scribbling, … Nobody – or just in very few cases – gets a task and immediately comes up with the ultimate idea.

        Whatever! Thanks for your answer and keep up the great work!

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    I’m bookmarking this post to re-read frequently, thank you!

    Rod Salm

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    hey Spider –

    did you find out if you can tell us about the printer?

    thanks in advance, either way :)

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    I take it they won’t give you approval? Or is it still pending? :)

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    I always follow the old folks saying “When in doubt, use serach box in Smashing mag”. And yes there he is. Like a medic on a battlefield of bad economy , mr. Speider running with this article to assist those who need help. Those who need to overcome the first barrier.

    Great article indeed.

    I also have a question. Is there a free contact management app out there?.


  9. 817

    You give them cash? I lost you there.

  10. 868

    yeah really, umm…i guess, so you are paying your clients for paying you?

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    Probably means giving commission for new referrals, which I use as well.

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    A small, one person firm gets a commission or referral. A person on staff at a larger company gets a kickback and that’s illegal. Still, as they say in “Goodfellas,” nothing personal, it’s just business.

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    See what happens when you escape the crown?

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    Do we ever truly escape?

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    When will you clean up the house? ;)

  16. 1174

    Money couldn’t come at a better time, too! ;)


  17. 1225

    Thanks! I’m pleased you like it.


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