Web Designer, Be Your Best Promoter

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Paul Scrivens is a passionate designer who runs Drawar and innovation consulting at Emersian. He loves design. He loves learning. He loves being wrong. That … More about Paul ↬

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Paul Scrivens knows some of you reading this are dying to get more clients or more users to the app you created. Obviously, to get more people you need to let more people know about you and that doesn’t happen unless you say something. Know how to promote yourself!

Have you ever had someone flirt with you and they did nothing but demean themselves the whole time? Did that make you attracted to them? Doubtful. Yet, this is how so many individuals seem to handle their business today.

With the advent of social media, the Web has been overflooded with individuals claiming that they are experts at everything. It has become so rampant that whenever I come to see someone label themselves as an expert, I immediately believe they are trying to pull a fast one on me. Unfortunately, many times these people get business because there are people out there who really do believe that they are experts.

How many great designers do you know out there who struggle to find clients, while the world’s worst Microsoft Frontpage jockey can’t keep client offers out of his inbox? I know some of you reading this are dying to get more clients or more users to the app you created. Obviously, to get more people you need to let more people know about you and that doesn’t happen unless you say something. Once you develop a big enough reputation, you can sit back and let others talk about you, but 98% of us aren’t at that point yet so we have only ourselves to depend on.

Being An Annoyance

The problem I find is that I don’t want to be annoying like the other people I see hawking their wares. You might have this problem as well. On Twitter, the world is informed of a new article on my Drawar blog once and that is it. On the very rare occasion I will send out another tweet hours or days later if a great discussion is happening, but beyond that I don’t want to bug my audience. I know people that have no problem promoting their articles once per hour. I don’t know how it works out for them, but I know it annoys me and if something annoys me, I try to avoid doing it myself and therein lies the problem.

When you are promoting your work it is hard to look at your acts of promotion from an outsider’s perspective. When you think you are being annoying, you might not even be registering as a blip on a person’s radar. You might not be promoting enough to get the attention of the masses and yet in your mind you feel as though the masses want to kill you for your own acts of survival. What happens if I am trying to promote an article at 10 a.m.? Does every one of my followers come across that tweet and then know to retweet it if they find it worthy? Probably not.

Be Proud

I believe we do design because we are proud of our work. We believe that we deserve a chance because we can offer the client a unique value. Internally, we believe in it and so that means externally we should show that we believe in it as well.

“If you write or design, you must believe in what you do. If you don’t believe you have something to express, there are plenty of other jobs out there. If you believe in what you do, and if you’re doing it for real, you must find ways to let people know about it.

There is a difference between being arrogant about yourself as a person and being confident that your work has some value. The first is unattractive, the second is healthy and natural. Some people respond to the one as if it were the other. Don’t confuse them. Marketing is not bragging, and touting one’s wares is not evil. The baker in the medieval town square must holler “fresh rolls” if he hopes to feed the townfolk.”

On Self-Promotion

Not too long ago, some fellow informed me that he was going to unfollow Drawar on Twitter due to my arrogance. I’m not sure if he meant me personally or the fact that every once in a while I like to proclaim how wonderful I believe the site is. Admittedly, it can come across as arrogant and can be a complete turn off for many people, but to me that is just the confidence I have in the work I am putting forth with Drawar.

You often see testimonials on product and service sites, but not design blogs and portfolios. Why is that? Compliments and praise might be the greatest self-promotion you could ever achieve. Keep track of it. Put it out there for everyone to see. If your clients aren’t saying great things about you then you know you are doing something wrong, but if they are then why shouldn’t your future potential clients know about them as well?

You can’t complain about your lack of business if you aren’t doing anything about it. If you are working hard to spread the word and it isn’t working then either you aren’t doing it right or your product simply isn’t up to par. Hopefully, people respect you enough to let you know when it is below average.

When I first started writing articles, I didn’t write them and send them off onto the Web hoping that someone would find them. I sent them to my friends and asked them to tweet it, while I did the same on my personal Twitter account. Although I still think my friends should be tweeting everything that I write, I only ask them to tweet about my articles from time to time. Once or twice I have sent my friends a tweet linking to my articles and they have been kind enough to tweet about them to their audience.

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I have also sent emails to individuals that I felt would be interested in an article and sometimes it works — many times it doesn’t. I still don’t feel comfortable asking others to tweet my stuff, but sometimes if you don’t ask then they won’t do it. In a perfect world, everyone spreads the word when you write something wonderful, but it just doesn’t work that way. We all need a little nudge from time to time.

The point is that even though I am proud of everything I write and wish that I had the audience to not have to worry about self-promotion ever again, I am not there yet and therefore have to continue to work and spread the word. This also means that when I do something I have to make sure it is quality and worth a person’s time. When you get people to commit to checking your work out and they don’t find it at all rewarding, you are going to have a hard time getting them back.

Community Participation

Dribbble isn’t just a showcase of great design, it has become a portfolio site for many designers. A large number have gotten jobs simply because someone came across their work on the site. You might work hard to build out your own portfolio with your own URL, but if you can’t find a way to get people to it then you are stuck. Dribbble helps you reach an audience that you might not have reached before.

This also applies to other communities. Blogging can help get you in the search engines and one day someone might happen upon you and launch your career. That is how Zeldman found Jason Santa Maria:

“A Google search on Illustrator and Web design led me to a post by a guy I’d never heard of. The post was enjoyably written and reflected a mature and coherent attitude not simply toward the technique it described, but to the practice of design itself. Yes, the blog itself was intriguingly and skillfully designed, and that certainly didn’t hurt. But what made me hire Jason was not the artistry of his website’s design nor the demonstration that he possessed the technical skill I sought, but the fact that he had an evolved point of view about Web design.”

One Blog Post Is Worth A Thousand Portfolio Pieces

Taking the time to share you knowledge with the community shows that you have an idea of what you are doing. When people start to understand the process you go through to design a website, it helps to build credibility in their minds. If people within the community start calling you an expert, how do you think that projects to potential clients? By no means should you attempt to write every single day (unless you really want to), but getting an article up once a month can go a long way in promoting yourself.

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Another great vehicle for self-promotion is conference speaking. You might see the same people speaking at different conferences throughout the year, but that is because many times they make it aware to the conference organizers that they are available to speak. Conference organizers look at the speaking lineups of other conferences to get an idea of who their audience wants to see.

However, if they don’t know you are willing to speak then why should they take the initiative to ask? Don’t hesitate to email conferences that interest you to let them know you are interesting in speaking for them.

Sharing Is Caring

While you should stand on top of the mountain and yell about your services every once in a while, the best method of promotion is to get involved. If you have a site, share your knowledge with the world. Visit other sites in the industry and comment. Make a name for yourself by being someone that is helpful. It’s no surprise that some of the best forms of promotion are giveaways.

If you follow Smashing Magazine on Twitter, you know that their feed is 95% links to other articles and resources. They play an enabler role of feeding traffic to the sites around them and in turn more and more people follow them. The greatest promotion Reddit ever did was to link out to the Web and not keep the stories to themselves.

If you are going to claim you don’t have time for this kind of stuff, well, then either you don’t have time to grow your business or your business is already at the point of saturation so life is good for you. I hope that you are at the latter stage, but many of you are still in the former.

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You must be careful when you reach a certain size though. Once your channel of sharing gets large enough there will be people out there that wish to exploit it. Maybe they want to fill it up with ads or you want to use it more for your own self-promotion. This is where the annoyance part kicks in and the reason your channel has been so effective in gaining an audience is because it was useful to them.

When you stop making it useful to them, then you lose them. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it for your own gain, but learn to find the balance because once they start to view you as nothing more than a marketing shill, you will find you have a hard time gaining their trust again.

In the end you will find that if you create something valuable for others, they will take over the marketing for you. I leave you with these two quotes:

“Marketing is what you do when your product is no good.”

— Edwin Land

“Business has only two functions — marketing and innovation.” — Milan Kundera

Further Reading

Smashing Editorial (vf, il, mrn)