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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.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

Seek Out More Work Than You Can Handle Link

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 Link

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 Hoovers6 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? Link

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 Link

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 Link

Try Google Ads and the like. Michael Muratore, owner of Store449, 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 Link

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 Link

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.


Footnotes Link

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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

    Nice article, very inspiring. ;-)

  2. 2

    So what is the Print-On-Demand company that you use? Also, who’s a good online company for making creative business cards on the cheap?

    • 3

      Let me check on the Smashing rules about posting the URL for these companies (might be a competitor for a Smashing advertiser). I’ll get back to you.

  3. 4

    Off-topic– I like your new avatar, Speider. I think it’d be even better if it were a seven-legged spider…

    • 5

      I LOVE his site! I have to check if he still has his “communications with a bad client.” Hilarious!

  4. 6

    Great article! :-)

  5. 7

    I would like to know the print company also! Thanks!

  6. 9

    Interesting article, although I think a dose of reality is also necessary, especially for freelancers. Sorry if this seems like I’m raining on the parade, but I will try to offer a few alternatives as well :)

    Depending on what your dream client is, the sad truth is that many large companies are not going to trust large projects to individual freelancers. It’s too risky and even smaller agencies have trouble landing these big clients. Bigger agencies that can provide design and development often win out. Supplying only one or the other requires a lot of communication. Having worked on both sides (where we’ve done only design or only development), I can say that this way of working is frustrating for all parties involved, especially the client.

    So what’s a freelancer to do? I think the best solution is to focus your attention to larger agencies rather than to clients directly. Nike is a great example. The majority of their online work (in the US at least) is handled by R/GA. In this case, it makes more sense to try and get an “in” with R/GA rather than attempting to go directly through Nike. Note that this does not necessarily mean that you need to work full-time for an agency—many of them will hire freelancers from time to time, and that’s where you fit in!

    • 10

      Normally and generally, I would agree, and I think my success is due to my reputation in a specific field that allows me to approach corporate entities (and having names of people there helps). But if you have the same work that the corporation produces, such as toy packaging design, then why not treat Hasbro as a dream client?

      I have broken into corporations as a single freelancer but it took persistence and patience. Don’t make your entire list of 100 unreachable but dare to dream.

  7. 11

    You were like a cherry blossom to me today , thank you!

  8. 13

    I had been unemployed for nearly three months. I was feeling desperate. At an interview – and after the portfolio song-and-dance – the marketing director asked in a very stern voice, “Why should I hire you?” I replied, “Because I have a gun in my pocket and I’m not afraid to use it!” The guy nearly fell out of his chair laughing. I’ve been employed at this company for nearly fourteen years, now.

    • 14

      It was a 50-50 chance, as is all daring and different approaches. It still might not work out after 14 years or do they search you when you enter the office? ;)

    • 15

      @Tim — Cool :P Can i used your phrase for my future interview.. lol

    • 16

      Creative Inside

      November 26, 2010 11:12 am

      Not so sure we can use that in this day and age lol. But that is a attention grabber…

  9. 17

    Thank you for the advices. Very useful on these harsh times.

  10. 19

    Welly, well, well, Mr. Schneider! Nicely put. Perhaps you’d be interested in a promo piece I’m currently embroiled in:

    “When you care enough to promote the very best”

    • 20

      LOVE IT! There is truly life outside the corporate cult compound. ;)

    • 21

      Chris Nierhaus

      October 4, 2010 9:12 am

      Nice, Kevin! Brandlabs resides here in Rochester, MI right? I’m a freelancer who lives up the street :-)


  11. 22

    Best advices I have seen so far especially the objection-response part. Thanks for this post.

    • 23

      It’s selling, not dating…well, maybe they aren’t that different. The way I present myself is to make my 30 second speech, ask for some type of contact that will put me into their mind as a viable resource (mail, email, samples, a meeting or all of the above). It gives me a yes or two because of the options.

      I admit it is impossible to get anyone on the phone these days. Leaving a voicemail, which also could use a script, is common. My voicemail sometimes loses a message if I spaz and hit 9 instead of #. It doesn’t happen often — just to the really important messages. Most of the time the person drones on slowly and doesn’t quite get to the point but speeds up the part where they leave their phone number. The speed that only dolphins can hear.

      As in life, moderation, sense and respect for the other person can’t go…too wrong.

  12. 24

    I like what you have to say about the Google incentives and AdWords, but I don’t agree with your bit on telemarketing. I think cold calls are fine from time to time, but what you’re proposing is to nag the hell out of potential clients until they finally, dreadfully ask for your help…or scream at you to shut up and get out of their voicemail/email/etc.

    These are people you are trying to work with in the future….annoying them doesn’t help your cause.

    • 25

      a client doesn’t have to scream at you to shut up. i have to handle cold callers in my job from time to time and in most cases a confident “no” will do wonders, if you don’t have a need for something. that is accepted very positive most of the time. i understand everyone who calls (/mails or wathever he does) again, if i never said “no, sorry”..

    • 26

      Telemarketing is a VERY tough thing to do, but creatives are selling service to business people and not magazines to people sitting at home, so it is a legitimate and necessary business tool. Yes, no one wants the, “but Mr. Schneider, if you take this…” for the third time. Certainly calling to follow up after sending promotional material is acceptable and a good business practice.

      As alluded to in the article, if you don’t tell me “no” then why would I stop reaching out to you? There is stalking and bothering (I’ve had my share and it is extremely annoying — like people who say, “well, I’ll call you every week to see if there’s any work for me” or people who demand I see them in person, rather than a portfolio drop off or online submission) and there is business. Always lean towards conservative contact and await either a “no” or a “here’s a project.”

    • 27

      Trust me… If you leave a message or send a cold email, they will not even remember your name 30 seconds after they’ve deleted it.

      I read a book on cold calling recently, where a salesperson talked about unexpectedly getting the person she had been trying to reach on the phone and having a total brain meltdown. She babbled incoherently for a minute, and then hung up. Called the same guy next month, and he didn’t recognize her.

      Unless you actually enter a conversation with someone and make an actual connection, you won’t occupy more than a second or two of their attention.

  13. 28

    Maybe I’m a grumpy old man at the age of 31, but I cannot stand people who don’t take ‘no’ as an answer.

    I give them 1 more chance to make a mistake by keep pursuing, and after than, they get the bad side of me, but not before I clarify “who is this?” so that I can tell as many people as I know “Don’t do business with this guy, he relies on harassment and doesn’t respect the wishes of the people he solicits.”

    Then again, the vast majority can’t get their introduction line out to me before I’ve hung up on them.

    I don’t care if you’re cold calling, actually HAVE gotten my contact information legally or not, but no where do I appreciate this; and like spam, I can’t fathom that the method even could pull in half of a half of a half of a percent of business.

    Pre-canned responses and lines aggravate me to no end. Comcast’s online chat has this “feature”. If the rep doesn’t respond in X seconds, you get “I appreciate you holding while I get this information for you. Did you know that you can find many answers to your questions in our FAQ at ? We hope you find what you’re looking for!”

    ….HONESTLY….cut the insincerity and just DEAL with the problem! Everything else is lip service.

    I’m usually a sociable person, but something about telemarketing irks me to no end.

    • 29

      Ah, but how do you feel when YOU are trying to reach someone on the phone for a simple business (not Comcast or such products) call and you can’t have a professional conversation?

      People use to be surprised that I always answered my phone, which was rare or non-existent for a creative director or art director. It didn’t take long for me to avoid doing that. Most people have no idea how to speak professionally on the phone.

      Be polite, don’t stalk and know when to take a “no.” On the flip side, to paraphrase business author, Harvey McKay, “when you turn someone away, ask yourself if you want them working for your competitor.”

      It’s easy to blurt out a “no” and harder to consider what the future might hold with this person.

      • 30

        I don’t cold call. If I have already worked with the client and call to converse, it’s never to push for more business. I respect what business my clients have give me, and if they are happy, they’ll do more business with me or get me more business (which I always thank them by cash)

  14. 31

    I’d have to disagree with the cold calling. I think this could be very detrimental to your brand by annoying people with cold calling as they’ll remember you as ‘that annoying guy from ‘Blah blah’ agency who rang me out of the blue’.

    • 32

      It’s a delicate balance of professionalism. I would have to say 90% of creatives don’t know how to sell like an account executive, which is what a freelancer must be for their own business.

  15. 33

    Good article. I’m trying to build up my client base at the moment and need some tips for making contact with clients. I also agree with Kevin Sweeney. Sometimes it can be easier to get in the side door by offering services to bigger agencies that work with big clients. Be careful of ending up in breach of contract though!

  16. 34

    “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”

    hehe i always tell them i have the product or a similar one and that i dont even use it or like it!

    • 35

      I tell the local paper that I’m blind and need a braille version. They haven’t called me in two years.

  17. 36

    This is a great article – I’ve been a freelancer for 6 years, and have tried most of what you have written about. Most of my work now comes from word-of-mouth, however my favourite clients in the past have been ones that I have cold-emailed* because the company meant something to me. I guess you could say these are my dream jobs. I have remained passionate about their business over the years, and they always call on me when they need something creative. It’s win-win.

    When I first started out, I did a few free jobs for friends, but mostly I designed for “fake” businesses then used these in my portfolio to promote myself.

    *Cold-emailing is great, as you can send links and samples of your work, then follow up with a phone call in a couple of days time.

  18. 38

    Sean McCambridge

    September 29, 2010 4:20 pm

    That was great! Everyone needs to hear this kind of advice now and again. Especially me! lol. Really, thanks for sharing your thoughts and for the entertaining style. :)

    • 39

      I have to remind myself, too. It’s not easy and one can suddenly let days, weeks and months slip by without following up.


  19. 40

    Some great tips here…..Thanks for sharing.

  20. 41

    You give them cash? I lost you there.

  21. 42

    Great Tips here…… thanks

    Speider, is there any way for freelancer to be get paid high like an agency?……Because most of clients are choosing freelancer to spend less….even they are expecting the freelancer to deliver the same output as an agency, while the freelancer may deliver a great output too..

    And how can we make freelancers to bid higher and earn more?….. because everyone reducing their price to get projects….at last earning less for more work, it sounds bad!…. For reference you can check websites like freelancer [dot} com, how the freelancers are reducing their bid values day to day and making prices low…. how can it be stopped?…

    • 43

      It’s very competitive, on a global scale, so self-promotion, reliable service, great design and a…reasonable fee (where you don’t have to live in debt) will be the only things one can control. Sites like freelance and elance, etc. serve a simple purpose and a freelancer either has to participate or not care about the work that is being done through those sites. The practice of bidding so low on projects is a growing problem but not providing the design solutions a company would get with a freelancer who has market and consumer knowledge.

  22. 44

    Nice article until this “A great job, whatever the pay, might lead to a spectacular portfolio piece.” This kind of advice is why creative people continually fail to position themselves as experts and wonder why they attract all the tight ass clients.

    • 45

      True (as my other articles say — see “Our Own Worst Enemy?”) but someone is going to take the $50 jobs, so why shouldn’t they use it to raise themselves up a few notches? A local art school churns out a graduating class of designers every 12 weeks. There will always be the fodder for low paying jobs. I won’t take them, but someone will. Let them climb the ladder, out of that range, too!

      • 46

        I think it is a good strategy when you are starting out, but then, say, after a year, you should have an hourly rate threshhold you just don’t go below.

        Another piece of advice I would give freelancers – clients have often told me I have won the piece of work because I gave the most professional pitch. Some designers often go in with very vague costs, vague ideas of working together – I put together professional documents to show how I work with people, definite costs, case studies and recommendations.

        • 47

          The more you hold their hand, the better.

          I recently judged a local art school senior projects. They had to present to a panel and it was…inexperienced. I could see the spark of the salesperson in some of the students and some who were very talented but just had few people skills. The bane of most creatives.

  23. 48

    Nice Article

  24. 49

    Arthur Abogadil

    September 29, 2010 11:01 pm

    Good advice! Please make more articles like this.

    Arthur Abogadil

  25. 51

    I will take you up on the list of 100 people I want to work with :)

    Per Thulin

  26. 54

    No offence but you state the obvious. Being pushy may work in your place but it doesn’t mean that you’ll be remembered for your creative work. Many sites deal with users applying a 1 way communication rule: ‘look at my portfolio, I’m so good!’ but does it work? You may have many clicks on your site, do you get any cash at the end? One thing for sure is to ignore recruiting agencies who judge you by your look & age as they have no clue when it comes to design.

    • 55

      Not pushy — confident and assertive with professionalism. I’ve had my share of pushy people trying to sell me their services and it’s a huge turnoff. Professionalism is know when to call and when NOT to call and when to back off (or step up). Took me many years to know the limits.

  27. 56

    Pasqual Facundo

    September 30, 2010 5:16 am

    I use my @yahoo email address out of habit since I’ve had it for many years now. I need to start using my companies email more often I suppose.

    • 57

      It is better. I get “stock tips” from brokers with “…” and I wonder why they think I would do business with them when it looks like they work from their basement. The taboo isn’t as big as it had been in the past, but a professional URL does inspire confidence. A bit of an edge these days.

  28. 58

    Such a nice article. am working out to identify the customer pool for my prospective it-business. It is hard to tell the response from the cold call. all the same, it’s trying. it may work for a larger number of customers/clients. but one man’s meat is another man’s poison. there are those who do not work with someone they have never come together face-to-face. plan meeting them at some open events where you are free to interact.

    • 59

      The key is to expand your “network.” Face-to-face, phone, email, social media or anything that gets you a step closer.

  29. 60

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

    • 61

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

    • 62

      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.

  30. 63

    I really agree with all of this. I have been contracting as a web developer for 2 years now, and I can say that my biggest difficulty has been building a brand. The clients I work with love me, and they spread the word about my good work, but it has been tough to engage clients who in no way know me, or the people I work with. Even with a nice portfolio, I feel like clients want to see some credentials hanging on your wall. Just like you wrote in your description at the end of the article “…co-chair of the GAG Professional Practices Committee and a former board member of the Society of Illustrators.” These kinds of credentials are important to would-be clients.

    • 64

      It means I volunteered in the right (wrong?) places. I think the work and word of mouth is the best. Do you have a LinkedIn profile? Get recommendations from clients and people who know you and your work and use those. They say a lot more about a person then any award or title.

  31. 65

    Great piece, thanks for the wisdom. Re the reference to contact managers, what are people using (Mac preferred)?

    • 66

      Good question. I personally like Act but have been using the contact manager of the print-on-demand card site I mentioned. It’s better for the mailings I do. The same goes for email services. Their contact managers give you an easy way to run email campaigns via Constant Contact and such services.

  32. 67

    I laughed my ass off. This is one funny article xD

  33. 69

    Sharon Kurlansky

    September 30, 2010 1:11 pm

    Good tips, good humor, and some good stats about greeting card open rates… Thanks Speider. Am among those interested in the print on demand contact.

    I’ll share this with the illustrators I work with. We all need to keep on showing up, especially in a down economy.

  34. 71

    Over the course of 15 young and brazen years I moved to London, NYC, and SF – each time with almost no local contacts. In each city I started with the Yellow Pages and a phone, cold called starting at ‘A’ . Mind you, I wasn’t selling a brand to end clients but a skill set for in-house freelance work at agencies – but I found good jobs every time and everyone was very polite and pleased to avoid paying a recruiter’s commission.

    • 72

      We’re just people speaking to other people. There are target clients who are hard to contact and those who, shall we say are “swept away by their position/power?”

      If you get nothing with the “As” then move on to the “Bs.” When you get to the “Zs” you should have some strong clients and a sense of satisfaction for trying your best. The go back and start calling the “As” again.

  35. 73

    “on-demand printer that comes with a contact manager”
    Can you post the one you use…along with 2 others as to not offend your advertisers?

  36. 74

    I really enjoyed this article. I am actually starting my own marketing firm on the side and found all the information in this article extremely useful. I’m glad there are people out there that share their experiences in a conversational/easy to understand way for others to then use in their endeavors. Please continue to post articles similar to this as I will most definitely read them. Thanks :D !

    • 75

      Thanks, Ryan! You can find more articles like this, by myself and other authors within the archives of Smashing and Noupe. Great information for creatives!

  37. 76

    Interesting article and also want to know the print company suggestion ! Thanks!

  38. 77

    See what happens when you escape the crown?

  39. 79

    Great great article! As a intermediate freelancer looking to expand I found this article really helpful. Thank you so much for all the inspiration!

  40. 80

    Dale Partridge

    October 1, 2010 5:48 pm

    Pretty good advice for those who want to stay freelancers for ever. I used to do little jobs (under $10K) and my experience has brought me back to it’s all who you know.

  41. 81

    Regarding Store 44… For such a successful company and “plugged in” [to social networks etc etc] I’m surprised to see the stats for the site:

    ~ 5 500 000 (alexa)
    2 (PR)

    Wouldn’t such a “success” be mirrored in these metrics? To compare, I have a travel blog that is in the range: ~ 600 000 (Alexa), 3 (PR). With NO Adwords marketing or other “cool” social networking marketing tools.

    I reserve myself for comparing an agency site to a travel blog. But… With the kind of international work (described for Store 44) I’d expect more page hits on their site.

    • 82

      You are comparing apples to oranges and public search to pointed client-focused sites.

      A travel blog will get hits from those who search one of the destinations included in your content. Store 44’s strength is in people who either search out an artist’s work or those who want to immediately find Store 44.

      My writing blog, for instance, will garner many hits because the material is searched with keywords that bring traffic. My work blog only gets hits from the clients I want to find it. So, which brings me more business? My work site. It’s better to have a few hits from the right people than the ego-boosting many hits from people for vanity sake.

    • 83

      I was a bit worried when I read Speider’s article and he touted us as being all wired-in. Kind of like having people over for dinner and the house is a mess (we’re rebuilding our site).

      I know a lot of websites kick our ass in traffic, but as a boutique agency (that means small), I just wanted to show how a little bit of google can go a long way. For us, it’s not about hits and traffic, but what we convert. Targeted regions with strong keywords have resulted in a few great projects – definitely worth the price!

  42. 84

    Nice article! More of this please.

    By the way – 3rd paragraph of “Seek out more work…” should be [stationery] rather than [stationary].

    • 85

      Thanks! The way I type, I’m lucky my name is spelled correctly. The Smashing proofreaders have a warrant for my arrest and a contract price on my head! ;)

  43. 86

    @PC, nobody in this world cares about your travel blog and the Alexa pagerank means nothing at all.

  44. 87

    Hey! Great article. I’m getting back into the freelance illustration biz after a 10 year hiatus (long story) and this article (I’m feeling inventive – SMarticle :) is both timely and inspiring. Many things have changed (especially technologically – social media etc) but some things never change. Boo on cold calls. Not that they aren’t useful, I just hate doing them.

    I too vote to find out those print company suggestions :) At least let us know if you found out that you can’t do it. Although that would say that the fine folks at Smashing are “supressing free speech” and that the “democratization” that the blogosphere is supposed to offer has been diluted by commercial favoritism. Although I see their side of it too. Time for an Advil. Or Tylenol (whichever their sponsor is :)

    I know, I use smileys too much.

    • 88

      Our Editor-In-Chief is available on a limited basis until October 9th. I promise to post it if it all gets approved. The card POD company has a tie to me, so I really need to be careful and wish to remain above reproach.

      I apologize for leaving several people hanging.

  45. 89

    Very nice reading and tips :-)

  46. 91

    This was a great read and there are a lot of principles we’re going to start using at our company.

    • 92

      I’ve known companies that hire one person for all of this. It can be daunting, but if you treat it all as deadline-driven, with proper scheduling and records of contacts, you’ll find it gives your company the growth you are seeking. Good luck!

  47. 93

    Matthew Wehrly

    October 4, 2010 1:34 am

    Thanks for the great article and tips. There is a lot of great information there!

  48. 94

    Rudra Ganguly

    October 4, 2010 3:12 am

    Greate article.

  49. 95

    Best articles on Smashing Mag. Sure, there are a million “how-to” design articles out there, but not nearly as many that use teach through anecdotes and a pinch of humanity.


  50. 97

    You have to be willing to take those little $200 carrot jobs if you want the real work. That carrot is someones way of making sure you can do the work without risking the Annual Report cover. In some cases, unknown to you, that contact has been advocating for you to get some work. Many a designer has turned their nose up at those carrots and then left wondering why the contact won’t return their calls. In a corporate environment, you want proven talent. That young artist the contact went to bat for just snubbed their chance and left the contact scrambling for an artist. I know, I’ve been put in that spot many a time. The artists were labeled “prima-donna” and never given a second look. When dealing with a new client, you WANT to start with something small. You want to find out what it’s like to work with them before your house payment depends on their paying you.

  51. 98

    I do understand your point and will be the first to tell anecdotes about creatives who were…disappointing when put to the test. What if the designer has a great reputation and recommendations but won’t work for $200?

    I’m past the part of my career where I’ll submit to a “test.” Where does that leave my peers and me, with extensive experience and a proven track record? Test MY skills? How about a test of how the client runs the project and pays on time? Touché! ;)

    Simply put, be careful what you promise, do your homework on people you hire and you get what you pay for.

    • 99

      Yeah but as a corporate drone in a Fortune 500, you can’t take the risk of unproven designers. Case in point, our first website was designed by a guy who was a complete hack. The person who hired him was demoted when it launched. If he’d had the brains to give the guy something minor first he’d realized that his company portfolio was largely made up. In the mean time we had great artists beating down the door but none were getting in because they wanted the biggest jobs we had or nothing. Which is less risk for me, the corporate buyer? Nothing! You don’t make it far in the corporate world taking high visibility risks that don’t have massive pay-offs. The successful designers I know will take that $500 job, knock it out of the park and then get that $10,000 or $200,000 job. If it isn’t worth the effort to nurture the sale a little, then why should I expect good service from that designer? It’s not a charity, it is a highly competitive market. You don’t have to like it, but that is the reality of working with large companies. People rarely take chances with their careers. When you snub those jobs, it gets around. I’d get emails and calls every week, “Have you heard of XYZ?” and too often the answer was…
      “Yeah, I spent two weeks convincing senior management to give them a shot and when they got their shot they threw it in my face. Call ABC instead, he did the cover for that stock merger.”
      Multiply that by 10 and you know exactly why some buyers are never going to even give the chance to do the little stuff.

      • 100

        You are right. I also worked for a major firm (several) and it is the visibility and promise of a career boost that draws so many to you. There was a saying at one place when a newbie would get aggressive about working for us; “you don’t start your career here…you end it.”

        To be fair, there were “seasoned professionals” I hired who messed up just as badly as a newbie might. In the end, I was the one responsible for my hiring decisions and inevitably, the firings.

        Still, at least for myself, I am past the point of proving myself. I do, however, agree that it can be a big problem (and have fired creatives at sketch stage or refused delivery/payment when a deadline passes and the creative is missing in action).

        If everyone entering the field was a top-notch professional, competition would really be fierce. Luckily many are not, nor will they ever be of professional caliber. Unfortunately, the rest of us live with their legacy in the business.

  52. 101

    When will you clean up the house? ;)

  53. 102

    Thanks for the great advices Speider :)

    I am a relatively new designer compared to the professionals here. Would you think doing 1 free job for the top 100 clients is a good idea to gain an entrance into the bigger world?

    • 103

      I see your logic but I think it would be better to create a portfolio that shows your thought process in redesigning set brands, which will show those clients the most important thing you have to offer. While they might ask for a test, the top100 shouldn’t be asking for free work. When you offer free work, you are setting your rate in the eyes of clients.

      Use the time to create promotion pieces and not giving free samples. It’s a tough road but every art director/creative director I know wants to see a creative’s thought process and not what they are told to design, as will happen with freebies for clients…unless they agree to giving you complete control.

      I admit to doing a couple of freebies for non-profits with the understanding that there were no changes. When it was said and done, some board members wanted to play art director and I walked. A complete waste of time with the exception of the portfolio piece.

    • 104

      If you haven’t got the experience, try to get into a design firm. Put some time in honing your skills and working with deadlines, art directors and such. It will pay off in the long run.

      • 105

        True! If you were going to work for free, use the time to create a kick-a$$ portfolio and shop for an entry level position and build your portfolio on THEIR client’s brands. Grow, learn and move onward and upward!

  54. 106

    Thank you so much for this article Speider, just what i needed. Couldn’t come at a better time. :)

  55. 107

    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

  56. 110

    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

    • 111

      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.


  57. 112

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


  58. 113

    Thomas Strobl

    October 6, 2010 2:29 am

    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.

    • 114

      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.

  59. 115

    Matthias Benfer

    October 7, 2010 12:41 am

    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.

    • 116

      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!

      • 117

        Matthias Benfer

        October 7, 2010 3:20 am

        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!

  60. 118

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

    Rod Salm

  61. 119

    Thanks! I’m pleased you like it.

  62. 120

    hey Spider –

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

    thanks in advance, either way :)

  63. 122

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

  64. 124

    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?.



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