There’s an anonymous saying, used on past ads for the School of Visual Arts in New York City, “Being good is not enough when you dream of being great.”

We all have our dream of great clients that every creative wants to add to his/her client list but either don’t know how to reach them or have no idea how to even start. Promotion is not a big subject in 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 need to target your audience, efficiently and as cost-effect as possible. Let’s go over some problems and solutions.
You must dedicate yourself to wanting more work than you can handle. 

If you want to post on Facebook that you spent the day riding your horse, Milton Glaser, then just wait for the local elementary school to want another bake sale flyer. If you want people to know you and consider you a valuable contact, then you must promote yourself. If your sense of your career is farting rainbows and unicorns, may you be paid in luscious flowers and pixie piss. If you are looking at your career as a business, then, as with any business, you must promote it.

Welcome to Rainbow Ponyrider World...it's nowhere near Earth!

What is your brand? 

Let’s not confuse a logo with a brand. Your logo is your visual “name” by which people will identify you but your brand is how they will remember you as a business. Is your brand personal? Fun? Wicked? Sweet? Choose wisely because you can 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, so I’ll write about that in another theraputic article.

Have the foundation of your brand set with all digital and social networks ready to go before you hit people with your new promotions. Necessary things these days are a web site or blog site, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google apps if that’s your thing, business cards, stationery and envelopes. Your business “front” as it were. Don’t scrimp and inkjet print your own cards. If you can’t afford the amount you would spend in an afternoon at the pub for good cards, then go get a pony and ride it in the afternoons.

Identify 100 people with who you would like to work

You can crawl from small job to small job and have a fine career, if you like riding ponies in the afternoon. You dream of certain kind of work, so why not go after it? Write a list of 100 people or companies. There might be a few people at one firm you want to put on your promotion list. How do you know? Start with the company and research down from there. Go to LinkedIn. Search the company and collect the titles of the people you wish to contact. Not enough there? Click on the profiles of the people listed and 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 site like hoovers.com to get the address and more information on the company.

I like to send postcards to prospects when I visit strange places!

Your city may also have a book of companies with valuable information, as does the business section of your local paper. You have to hunt down names, network, steal, ask stray children if mommy or daddy works with designers and use family connections while still refusing to do the design for your uncle’s idea he’s pushed at family dinners for years.

Don’t forget your network. 

Your friends and fellow art school alumni are going to be the art directors, creative directors and creative managers and being on good terms and staying in touch is very important. At this point, I hope you’re keeping everything on an Excel spreadsheet because they can be uploaded to a variety of contact managers.

Have a good contact manager. 

There are many programs on the market or even native to your computer software that can give you good contact management. Something you need to track is how many times have you contacted the person and when, what did they say, did you get work, did you get a referral, etc. When dealing with a client, it’s best to be able to recall how you met, spoke, etc. so there is a feeling of a bond, rather than being just a target.

Some people prefer ACT as a manager. It’s good but comments after this article will no doubt suggest more management programs and berating me about my negative comments on riding ponies.

Ready, set…what next? 

What are you selling? What contact information do you have for your top 100? What promotional material do you have to 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?

Digital or print, you must have a digital initiative. Something you can attach to an email or link with an email. Some people think you must have a website and some think a Wordpress format is preferable…like Smashing Magazine. What ever it is, you must have one and please get a domain so there will be a proper URL instead of http://rainbowponyrider.wordpress.com” -- “www.rainbowponyrider.com” is so much better!

Rainbowponyrider@yahoo.com is an email you should avoid. While many single-person businesses use Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail and <snicker!> Compuserve, it looks like that. For a few dollars you can have a professional email with your domain name, so proudly send, sillyunicorn@rainbowponyrider.com!

Do you have a ton of email addresses to use? Here’s a fun fact from years of working in a business that depended on communications marketing statistic…only 15% or emails are opened. If you use a service such as Constant Contact to reach prospects via mass, opt-out email, your costs will go up as your ROI goes down even before you hit send. Still, it can be effective for multiple mailings throughout a one month period, which is the membership period of these services.

Sending a link means you’re giving the recipient a chore. Aside from everything else they must do, they must also actually go through the incredible motion of clicking on your link and waiting for your site to load. As odd as that sounds, it’s the world we have become. Sad, isn’t it?

Snail-mail. Believe it or not, what’s old is what’s new again! People use to rely on sourcebooks and mailings for promotion. In the digital age, the mail has gotten light. Another frightening figure from the marketing statistics people – 98% of all greeting cards are opened (the 2% was for envelopes with printed labels and metered postage). This avenue will run you between 50¢ and $1.50 USD per card when all is said and done and ready to drop into the post box. It is also something that must be done every month but no more than twice a month or it’s legally stalking and your prospects WILL feel that way. But people love getting cards! I’m constantly told my cards are up on bulletin boards at companies across the globe. Well worth the money, I say.

Don’t forget a thank-you note. A lot is at steak!

There are online printers that deliver a good product and then it’s up to you to stuff, address and stamp them. I use an on-demand-printer that has 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 and I have plenty of pony riding time left. Oops!

The company only serves the U.S. and Australia right now, but there are services like it all over the world. Worth checking out.


An audience that looks to you for information and entertainment make for good prospects. Write about your design passion. A comment on a past article was a young man upset about the lack of understanding between a designer and developer. There’s a blog. With a good writing style or the ability to link to stories about the subject, that man could have a great promotional tool and really fulfill his passion for development and respect for the practitioners.

Trends, type, design, fun, foible or whatever you really love can become a really strong promotional piece.

Google Ads and such. 

Michael Muratore, owner of Store44, an illustrator’s and photographer’s representative is the most plugged in person I know. His work with global companies and a variety of digital sources and tools made me defer to his knowledge on this subject. Michael imparts his experiences:

I’ve been a Google power user for about 5 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, it’s a bit mind boggling: Gmail, Voice, Docs, Analytics, Webmaster Tools.... I could go on. However, in 7 years of business, we never bought Google Ads. One day another invitation from Google arrived: One Hundred Dollars 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 5 regions that generated the most business for us: New York, LA, San Fran, 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 progress, and as our budget changes, so does our AdWords buying. When money is tight, the campaigns that produce the least results can be shut off easily leaving the best performers to take a greater portion of the budget. Usually that means New York and LA, since our most popular artists are fashion and music based.

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 mediums and markets. When they want to promote a series of new works, we simply turn a campaign on for them to drive traffic direct to their new portfolio. We can have campaigns using general keywords to bring people to a landing page. General keywords to bring people to a page featuring several artists. For those wanting to explore a variety of illustration styles, they would land here: http://store44.com/illustration.html but if they were looking for something very specific... like fashion editorial photography, they would land right on the artist’s page. http://store44.com/irenepena 

Costs vary with campaign, clicks, and keywords. Since we’re paying by the click, we need to take care to ensure we’re not getting bad traffic. We use negative keywords to try and 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 bucks per click. Having a variety of campaigns helps. I can easily adjust a specific campaigns 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 500-700 a month to over 1,000. When we get a call or email, I always try to find out the source. An active campaign can bring in 3-5 calls a month for 50 to 100 dollars in ad spending.

Writing for something like that Smooshing Magazine or whatever. 

Even the local paper needs articles on the design at the new town hall or someone to cover an art event. Get your name out there.


Personally, I’ve long been fed up with volunteering but you should give it a try because it does build character and usually anxiety issues. Local art organizations, local art projects, etc. Getting out there brings you to the people you need to meet. I know I sound hard on volunteering but I put in more than my time doing it. Your turn.

If not for the alien volunteers, man would never have learned to think he could fly!

Cold Calling is the hardest thing for anyone to do. 

If not for working my way through art school with various jobs, including telemarketing, 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 freelance work and you are a freelancer. If they don’t, then let them tell you so. I’ve been after a client for three years. In my top five of my 100 names. I call and leave messages. I email images. I mail greeting cards with images and a sales pitch. Why do I keep doing it? The prospect hasn’t told me to stop and go away. It’s sales, not dating.

The secret of telelmarketing is easy reading scripts. “Hello, Mr. Jones. My name is also Jones and I’m a web developing graphic designing photographer and I’d like to set up an appointment to show you my work at your convenience. May I set up an appointment with you this week?”

Mr. Jones will then either tell you to shove off, ask to be called the following week or set up an appointment. As you can see, the results are akin to torture and that’s a reason not to make a cold call.

Maybe you’ll have to leave a message for Mr. Jones. “Hello, Mr. Jones. This is Mr. Senoj. My number is 123456. Please call me at your convenience.”

Don’t tell him why you are calling or you’ll never, ever get to speak with him. Don’t hear back? Calling once a week forever is acceptable. After a while it becomes a guilty pleasure because you wonder what the person you’re hounding thinks.

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

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

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

“I really don’t have the time.” – “May I drop off a packet of my services to you and keep you on my mailing list?”

This is when they agree just to get rid of you. Use the moment to get more information. “I don’t have your correct email, would you update me on that?”

“I have all the freelancers I need right now.” – “I really appreciate the loyalty you show 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 maybe more work than the current freelance pool can handle will come in. I’d like to stay in touch and see what the future holds, if you don’t mind?”

Out of desperation I once slipped and told the man who had uttered those words of rejection that the entire staff of freelancers had all choked to death on their own vomit. When he stopped laughing he made an appointment and became a pretty good client. I still don’t recommend this approach.

Think of any objection you might hear and have 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 either tell them you already have the product or there is no way you can possibly use it, such as telling a magazine salesperson that you’re blind and do they have Braille versions. They will apologize, hang up and you will never get a call ever again.

Find a mentor. 

No, it’s not “sooooo eleventh century.” Some established professionals believe they owe it to the next generation to mentor them into replacing them. We teach and write and you all take our jobs and spit on us as we crawl for safety. You young punks! Still, we do it because it is the natural order to grow with experience and then teach that to the next generation no matter how ungrateful they are.

(Socrates said something about that -- "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, literally, but you can find someone who will take you under her/his wing and introduce you to people and teach you wonderful things. Ask a teacher for a referral or just target someone and write her/him an old fashion letter asking if they would consent to being your mentor. The practice is not unfamiliar and the good manners and request are always appreciated even if mentoring is not always possible. Referrals can set you up with a terrific mentor, too.

Do work that really impresses. 

A friend of mine once said that if you get a $200 job that should be $2,000, do a $2,000 job on it and it will lead to a real $2,000 job. I asked what he paid for his house and he replied $2,000, so the amount he uses is just a figure of speech. But it’s true. When you see that spectacular portfolio piece in front of you, remember it will make a great promotional piece.

Other crazy sh*t! 

Imagination can come up with some wild thing but think twice about an idea. My famous “time bomb” promotional piece to be mailed to prospects touting “Dynamite service with Explosive results” was dead long before I mailed my first package and faced bomb scare charges and would now be writing this from prison. Be creative but be sensible. Think about your aim; being in the front of someone’s mind when the/she has a job to assign. Is it a toy that might sit on a desk or a calendar they might post and use? There are some great possibilities.

I can't figure out why this promotion didn't go over well. I will be selling several thousand on ebay below cost!

Keep moving forward! 

The hardest thing to do is sales. You get a burst of energy, make calls and such and then you get depressed people aren’t beating down your door. It’s natural. Keep your tasks of calling, emailing, whatever you do on a regular basis. Do something fun to break the mood and be unexpected by the prospect and don’t take rejection personally. A rejection today may be a job and repeat client tomorrow. Just keep moving forward with the really sucky part of the creative business.

©Speider Schneider (all images ©Speider Schneider)

Published 9.29.2010 - Smashing