Monday, February 4, 2008


Tamsin Ainslie recently posed an interesting question to me in the comments on one of my previous posts, and I have been mulling over an answer since:

“What do you find is the best way to promote yourself as a designer/illustrator?”

I am not sure that I am the best one to ask here, as I am still working this out for myself too, but I am happy to share what has and has not worked for me so far.

Then it got me thinking and wondering what others do to get out there and promote themselves - to get the work flowing in.

So if you are keen to share, then please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments, or I am happy to post links if you want to write about it on your own blogs. It’s always good to share this stuff!

Like most creative people that I speak to, I am really uncomfortable about this side of my business, but I also know that if I am to survive in this game, then I need to “feel the fear and do it anyway”. I read that somewhere once and it’s always stayed in my head!

Anyway – if you can endure this crazy phase I am going through to share everything I can about my life as a freelancer (and you actually DO want to know more), then please click on the link below. And thank you Tamsin for sparking this discussion.

I feel like I am still establishing myself as a freelance artist and my goal in self promotional activities, is always to get my folio in front of the right person.

As a graphic designer I understand the function of creating flyers, brochures and a host of other materials to promote what I do, (and I have some of these sort of things to leave with clients) but at this stage of my career I am finding that the best way to get jobs is to get out there and meet with the right people and to get my folio seen.
This usually means good old-fashioned knocking on doors, and picking up the phone!

After all of these years, I finally have quite an established track record of fulltime employment, working with some great businesses and on some wonderful projects. This has helped me gain some credibility, and I am sure that it has played a big part in some of the opportunities I have had to get my folio in front of the right people.
If I am sending samples of my work to anyone I always back it up with a resume as well.
I know this can seem a bit old fashioned as a self promotional tool and many of you will no doubt have much of this information on your websites, or blogs anyway, but sometimes it can save people effort of searching if you just present everything up front.

“RANDOM” mail outs have NEVER worked for me. I have never had anyone contact me when I have sent out self-promotional packages to businesses – WITHOUT MAKING ANY CONTACT WITH THEM FIRST – and I really do think that this makes the difference.

I have read about artists who got noticed by sending clever calendars of their art, or other unique self-promotional items, but I have not really explored this option –YET!

I think that I will use self promotional printed materials such as stickers, calendars etc to remind clients I have already worked with (and who I may not have heard from for a while) what I can do for them, and to keep them updated with my latest work.

I am astounded to have realised that one of the most effective marketing tools I have used in self promotion has been the phone!
This amazes me because I hate the phone and don’t really use it much, even with my family and friends – I’d much rather chat in person. I am also REALLY REALLY uncomfortable in “cold calling” in relation to potential jobs.

However, that said, I have also realised how necessary it is if it means I get to continue doing what I love.

Yes, I have literally gone through the phone book and picked out businesses I would like to target, and called to speak to the product manager! It’s terrifying, and not always encouraging, but it does actually work!

I have found that most people who do use freelancers (at least in the product industry) are keen and willing to see more folios. It’s tougher in the publishing industry as I guess they see so many folios and hopefuls (but check out the section on “Using Industry Recognised Resources” further below, for more advice on this one!)

If they don’t have the time to see me, or seem a little hesitant, then I usually ask if I can at least send some samples of my work and a resume, which once again, I find most people will be open to.

I feel like my blogging is all about me as an artist and illustrator, and have deliberately kept it as a self-promotional tool that shows my unique and individual style.
You may have noticed that while I talk (seemingly endlessly!) about projects that I am working on, I rarely reveal much of my product/design work here.
This is partly because of copyright requirements, but also because much of it is in a style and handwriting that many of you who are familiar with my blog will not recognise as mine.

I get quite a lot of work from the variety I have in my style and I really value maintaining my links through the various industries that I have worked for, by continuing to adapt my style to suit their requirements.

I am aiming to build up the recognition and market for my own unique style and I guess this is part of the reason for me starting a blog.

This split skill base is also part of the reason that I don’t have a website yet. I have not yet worked out which side of my skills to promote and am unsure whether showing all would just be confusing? What are your thoughts?

Without a website, I rely on setting up meetings and getting my folio in front of people.

Without doubt the best marketing tool for my design/product work has simply been my networking. Many of my freelance design/product opportunities have come from people I have worked with over the years. I think that you need to work harder at this if you don’t have that background of experience, but that is where things like blogging and the internet can be so great too!

The first thing that I did when I left my fulltime work was to contact most of the people I used to work with over the years to let them know that I was available for freelance work. Much of my work in this area has resulted from these contacts, and as people change jobs and move into new businesses they tend to take you with them as a recommendation.

In relation to my book illustration work, once I got that foot in the door (recommended by a fellow freelancer that I used to use when I was a product manager- networking at it’s best!) then I promised myself that I would make the most of every invitation to network that became available to me.

I can be quite shy at times, so this has been quite an effort for me, but when I was invited to going away parties of people leaving the business, I went. When invited to Christmas parties. I went. Drinks? I went.

I had only been working with one of my publishers for a few weeks when the Christmas party invitation came along, and even then I had not met any of them – just talked on the phone and emailed, but I went - and had ball! I met several other artists and authors who all work with various other publishers and swapped phone numbers with some of them. I did not even think to bring business cards, (maybe because I still don’t have any!!) but we just put phone numbers and emails straight into our mobile phones!

One of the first things I did when starting out was to get my folio assessed by an industry professional. Not only did this result in some wonderful feedback, but it gave me a great chance to learn a little about the industry, as well as potential markets to target my work to.

Perhaps more importantly, I also walked away with a list of 8-10 contact names of editors and publishers who I could contact directly to try to organise a meeting/folio showing with. I was even invited to use the industry professionals name as a reference! I am not sure that all folio assessments work this way, but I have had some great meetings result from this opportunity, and I still have only contact 3-4 names on that list!

This folio assessment meeting also encouraged me to apply for inclusion on one of the publishing industries most recognised illustrators websites “The Style File”. Participation on this site has also resulted in work for me, and is how I got my first contract for illustrating a children’s book – which resulted in a 6 book series!

I have always kept my eye on the FULL TIME job market as it’s amazing how much information you can learn about various companies, in terms of who uses freelancers or how a particular company may be experiencing growth or need extra hands!

I have even taken advantage of opportunities to show my folio to businesses who may not necessarily be looking for freelancers, but who are obviously currently going through the processes of looking at folios at that moment anyway. I am always very clear if I am only offering my services as a freelancer (despite the ad requiring a full timer) and some have agreed to meet with me anyway.

I even had one person who contacted me to say that while they did not use freelancers, her husband actually worked for a children’s clothing company who did need freelancers, and could she pass my details onto him. We set up a meeting and before I knew it, we had several jobs underway!

I’d love to hear other people’s experiences with self-promotion and I obviously have some work to do on developing my own strategies, but I guess this is a bit of an overview on what I have done to get to this stage in my freelancing.

No doubt everyone has their own approach and ideas depending on the type of work that they are looking for. I guess the best advice I would have would be: to be persistent, and to do what works for you. What are your thoughts and experiences?


Tamsin Ainslie said...

Thank you Danielle! That has been very helpful. I will think about what has worked for me and perhaps write a little post too, good idea, cheers.

Chickengirl said...

Thanks Danielle, for sharing! So much info here, it will take me a bit to digest everything. I would love to share some of what has worked for me too.

Kristine said...

Hi Danielle,
Just found your blog and have loved reading your recent posts.
In essence I agree with all you have suggested on self promotion and there is lots of food for thought. As well as a creative side it seems like you have a very sound business brain too!
Although my business is a little different to yours in that I target end consumers, I particularly agree with you on the networking. (I'm naturally reserved so think you're very brave to accept all party invitations though.)
One of the great bonuses that I have enjoyed from my little business is all the great friends I have made who are also small business owners and entrepreneurs. I'm all for connecting with other people who are doing interesting things as you never know where that connection may lead. This is also something I've learned from my husband who is very entrepreneurial. He thrives on bringing people and ideas together in lateral ways.
Regarding your question about the website, I would show your whole range of work. I would also include text that points out your versatility as an artist and 'wide range'.
And to answer your other question about what has worked for me, I would have to say it's my database of customers. A previous customer is a captive audience that I can speak directly to, remind them my business is there, email them with occassional emails about specials, sales, etc. In fact often a sale is just an excuse to remind my customers that my little brand exists. An email to my database always, always generates business.
I look forward to reading more of your blog. All the best.

Danielle McDonald said...

Thank you all for your comments! I look forward to reading more!

Kristine, thanks for taking the time to write and share your thoughts. Your blog is beautiful and anyone reading this should click on Kristines link here to check out her amazing talent. What an honour to have such an experienced artist share her thoughts here.

I will let you know if Tamsin and "chicken girl" find some time to write on this topic.