It can be a little strange trying to devise a marketing strategy when you run a creative business. You’re used to the process of pitching, putting out ideas and revising them to suit feedback, but now it’s your future on the line, and there’s no client to assume ultimate responsibility.
But you can overcome that discomfort, and find a way to bring your design skills to bear and touch upon all the things that make your business special.
The goal of this piece is to give you a succinct process for building an effective marketing plan to take your graphic design agency (or freelance operation) to the next level.
So let’s get started!
1. Codify What Will Make You Different
A lot of businesses struggle with differentiating themselves. What makes them stand out from other businesses of their kind? The advantage of being in graphic design is that you already understand stylistic nuances and have some techniques and approaches unique to you.
What you need to do right at the beginning of this process is formally note down all of your signature elements. Don’t hold back from being extremely specific here, because niche services can be highly effective (plus you don’t have to base your plan on everything you write down).
Try noting down your answers to the following questions:
– Do you lean towards particular colors, palettes, or shapes?
– Do you enjoy making specific elements (e.g. logos, headers, infographics, etc.)?
– Do you like to design by hand, or through a tablet, or using a mouse?
– Do you understand any industries unusually well from a design standpoint?
– Do you like to draw people, or animals, or storyboards?
Think about your favorite designers, and everyone who has ever influenced your style. What will your main selling point be? What will make people remember you?
If the answers you come up with don’t reflect what you want to make you different, then take it as an opportunity to change the way you approach your work. You can develop a new style if you want to. Do some research, find some inspiration.
2. Identify Your Target Clients
So you’ve decided what you’re going to be offering; now you must determine to whom you should be offering it. This isn’t just a matter of figuring out who would want your services; it’s also about deciding what kind of clients you want to work with.
After all, while you may very rarely find yourself in the situation of simply handing over a first design and having it accepted without complaint, the average booking will inevitably involve drafts, amendments, and iterations. And the more back-and-forth there is, the more important it will be that you and the client are able to communicate effectively and amicably.
Like before, try answering some questions:
– Are there specific companies or brands you’d like to work with?
– Do you like deadlines tight or relaxed?
– Do you want to have a lot of small projects or a few big ones?
– Would you prefer to work with a big team or a few individuals?
– Do you want your clients to be very hands-on or hands-off?
Once you’ve decided the kind of clients you’d like to be working with, you’ll be in a position to start figuring out what will appeal to them.
3. Collate Some Killer Work Samples
You work in a visual medium, and visuals are processed much more quickly than words, which puts you at a huge advantage relative to other industries when it comes to advertising— but only if your work is excellent.
If you enter into a marketing campaign with a muddied identity and work that’s just alright, you’ll be completely ignored. There’s no shortage of glossy visuals in the world, whether on the internet or in magazines.
So go through any portfolio work you have, any client work, and any personal projects you feel really show your style, and collate the best pieces. They won’t form the core of your efforts, but they should be featured in case studies, in testimonials, and as a subtle indication of your ability in the designs of your marketing materials.
4. Choose Your Avenues of Attack
Each social media channel has a different kind of appeal. Twitter is snappy, Pinterest is showy, Facebook is an all-rounder, Instagram is personable, Reddit is wonderfully niche. Then you have websites: yours, and those of your industry peers. Experts, critics, and competitors. And then there are news sites, and old media, and print collateral, and TV, and…
The point is that there are so many different routes you can take with marketing, and which one you choose should depend largely on what you took from the first two steps. When you’re just starting out, you should focus on doing just a little bit of marketing, but doing it really well. Think about sticking to a few platforms and trying to establish yourself as a force to be reckoned with.
You could try doing alternate versions of existing work and circulating them on Twitter and relevant subreddits, or distributing content about what goes into your design process, or making YouTube videos about previous projects. And use tools like Feedly to help you curate content on steroids.
And don’t forget about email campaigns. You may not have a huge list of contacts early on, but you can get started by designing a customized email template that will serve you well when you manage to establish an audience. To use time most efficiently, try presenting custom graphics through a responsive email template system like that of Moosend to avoid having to worry about cross-platform functionality.
5. Give Value— but Ask for Reciprocation
It’s odd to feel that this point needs making, but I do: you’re ultimately looking to be profitable, and exposure in itself will only get you so far— I’ve seen plenty of fledgling businesses make the mistake of setting a precedent of offering their design work for free.
This is dangerous for a couple of reasons: firstly, people don’t like change, and if you figure that you’ll fulfil some free requests for promotional purposes before monetizing later on, you may find that people are more aggrieved by the pricing than they would have been had it been there from the start. And secondly, opinions aren’t particularly rational, and we have the bad habit of assuming that expensive services are great and cheap or free services are poor.
People won’t be against you if you openly promote right from the start. You don’t want to make everything a sales pitch, obviously; your short-term goal should be to entertain and inform. Just give your audience a glimpse of what you do, tell them your story, and let them know (subtly or blatantly) that you’re open for business (get business cards in circulation, for instance!). That should be plenty to get the ball rolling.
The marketing process is lengthy, arduous, and complicated, but it’s largely a matter of improving incrementally. Start off on the right foot with a signature style, have plenty of work to show off, and announce your presence to the world so everyone knows what exactly you do. As time goes by, it’ll be the quality of your output that makes all the difference… so make it great!
AUTHOR: VICTORIA GREENE
Victoria is an ecommerce marketing expert and freelance writer who can’t draw but can Photoshop fairly well. You can read more of her work on her blog Victoria Ecommerce.