Design insights & tutorials.

Blank Canvas: How Do You Promote Yourself?


Self-promotion is a must for any self-employed or freelance graphic designer or illustrator. This installment of Blank Canvas asks our readers: how do you promote your services?

Cold calls? Mailing lists? How do you use the internet for your marketing? Social networking? What works best? What have you tried and abandoned? What services or methods do you recommend as the most effective?

I’ll start things off with my own approach. The bulk of the promotion I do for my illustration services is online. The main thrust of this is by proper, Google-recommended search engine optimization. Nothing shady, just good practices for the content of your website. And by content I am referring to the text content. People search using words, so you need those words to be on your website.

A big part of this is not just on my own website and blog, but also being an active participant in online design & illustration communities and artist/designer blogs, collectives and related websites. I also create accounts on as many relevant online portfolio sites as I can and I regularly submit my work to photo-sharing sites such as Flickr.

One drawback to this approach is that I am limited to clients who are searching for an illustrator. Certain portions of the industry such as children’s publishing, editorial/spot illustration for magazines and websites and apparel design/illustration are most likely not out there doing a Google search for illustrators. This is where a direct-mail marketing approach or cold-calls might fare much better.

The upside to this approach is that you have built-in interest from the potential client. Typically these clients are starting up a new business, which also has the potential for additional design work for branding and other marketing materials for the client’s new company or service.

For the past year I have been considering a direct-mail approach, but currently my online marketing keeps me busy enough that it hasn’t been a priority.

One aspect of reaching out to larger companies that is a big lure to me is the added exposure of your work which can come from working with a larger company, as well as the name-dropping you can do when promoting your services to future clients. I do have some “dream clients” I would like to work for, which is the biggest impetus for me to strike out with this approach. I love the clients I work with, but getting some “street cred” is appealing.

And getting an “in” with a larger company also has the added benefit of ongoing work. If they like your work, you’re likely to get more of it. Probably keeps the stress levels somewhat lower.

Your turn — Go Media wants to hear from the readers, please let us know in the comments section below how you handle your self-promotion and marketing. Go!

About the Author, George Coghill

George Coghill isa freelance humorous illustrator/cartoonist specializing in mascot cartoon character design & cartoon logos. His cartooning & illustration work can be seen at and at his cartooning and illustration blog. Be sure to follow me on Twitter here!
Discover More by George Coghill


We want to hear what you have to say. Do you agree? Do you have a better way to approach the topic? Let the community know by joining the discussion.

  • Unik Ink Specialty Printing

    We post on on a daily basis which is where the majority of our web traffic finds us. We have also entered and won contests sponsored by Impressions Magazine, which is one of the largest industry magazines for decorated apparel. Having industry recognition has led to contract work from other screen printers that do not have the all over printing capability. Social networking sites generate leads as well. We have completely taken ourself out of the phone book, as the screen printing market is very competitive locally and the ads are expensive. Specializing in high end printing has created nationwide business for us eliminating the need for local dependence.

  • Aaron Heinen

    I have been doing freelance Website Designing for only about a year now and I can honestly say my main source of work comes from my own ambition to make other businesses websites, better. I do not wait for work to come to me, rather I surf around for websites that are not up to date and then brainstorm how they could be improved. I then make a mock-up of how I would like to see it and e-mail it to the Webmaster.
    I recently did this with and we will be releasing the new website I developed within the coming week.

    I have a strong belief in letting your work speak for you.

  • wurkshop
  • owenvideo

    I'm a wedding videographer (I appreciate good design, so I follow these blogs) and that term comes with a gigantic stigma attached to it. People think of their uncle that aimed a camera at the stage for their own wedding. So rather than advertise too heavily, I posted my services locally on Craiglist when I was starting out and landed two weddings that way. I kept my services ridiculously cheap for those first two and they were willing to take a slight risk on me. In the end, they LOVED my services, (because I spoiled them like no other to get the reviews high early on) and sure enough, it paid off in positive word of mouth. They tell not only their friends, but brides-to-be on The Knot forums and other wedding blogs about me. I produce a “trailer” (highlight video essentially) of each wedding when I'm done so that potential clients can see my work, and that has scored me a lot of the referrals.

    I don't spend any money on advertising on sites like The Knot. I have used Twitter to aim at clients, but that has proved a better tool to network with other vendors, and I have made some great professional friendships that way.

    Honestly, it was slow at first, but now I'm slammed. Though, linking my site on this design-based blog, I'll probably get crap for my simplistic website…but nonetheless:

  • George Coghill

    Interesting approach, does it pay off well enough based on the work you need to do vs. how many clients follow through with your services?

  • George Coghill

    So it sounds as if the bulk of your work comes via referrals?

  • owenvideo

    Essentially. I have a website, a blog, a Facebook Fan Page, and a Twitter account all dedicated to this, and again, I started out by using Craigslist, but really in the end it's coming down to word of mouth from one happy bride to the next. And each one has been more and more excited to write referrals and recommend friends.
    The social networking tools are just that, they keep me networked. They aren't gaining me a lot of work though. But each has been helpful in different ways. I found a mentor through Twitter, I post trailers on my Facebook fan page and brides can share it on their profiles (leading their friends to me), and the blog is for the more voyeuristic-types to get an inside peek into the going-ons of my process.

  • OverIthisWire

    I have 2 signs up in the town, placed an ad in the yellow book, and word of mouth. I get a good amount of my work from my signs. Since I've opened up I've gained a lot of clients. At first it was one or two, then i kept getting calls from people saying that they were refereed to me from my last client. It has been like that ever since. I'd say about 50% of my work comes from the signs that i have up and the other 50% are returning clients or referrals. I also have my van lettered- so i park the van in a “hot spot” for the day. In fact, whenever i do a van park i usually get a few calls that day or the day after.

    So i guess you can say my best way of promotion right now is my signs. I get the initial client from the sign, then it builds from there. The yellow book ad has gotten me one job- it was a big job but it was only one so far.

    I have yet to dive into the web world for promotion. It's something i need to get on!

  • Simon H.

    Mhmm. Commenting on websites and blogs about design (Er…), with a website (, with a lot of presence on social networks (from Flickr to Facebook, with lots of others in between), with business cards and just networking networking networking by meeting new people all the time!

  • anchormedia

    I've been freelancing for about 4 years or so now. I started out working in my local music scene doing stuff for bands around the area. People and friends saw my skills develop overtime, and I turned into the number 1 guy to go to for professional grade work for the bands in my area. Luckily for me, and possibly soon changing, I haven't had to do any sort of hard promo and most stuff has come via word of mouth. I'm very thankful for that, but to be practical, I know it can't continue forever.

    I plan on doing alot of street promo; handing out flyers, sending out media packets etc. My biggest deal is I want to hit people alot of designers look over, and that's the grass roots small businesses.

    Keep up the good work GoMediaZine


    I liked the materia valew ai brother and this is surely a portal quality

  • Daniel Nelson

    I recently started a graphic design blog ( where I share inspirational work by other designers. A lot of the inspiration that I share end up at other design blogs and inspiration sites such as imgspark and ffffound, and they link back to me. And from my site I try to have so much information about the original artist as possible. I find this a good way to get people to visit my site while promoting other great designers. And naturally GoMedia is represented! ;)

    Today its all about sharing what ever knowledge you have.

  • Kevin

    I just started my own business in Holland ( so all the tips i will get from here could be very helpful.
    I have made a letter that i am going to send to new starting businesses where i introduce myself and my services.

  • andy marshall

    This is something we're thinking of doing too – already got a couple of sites on the hitlist!
    There was a very interesting article I read that put us onto this approach –

    Having said that, we've not done that yet, and so far all our work has come about through referral – as fun as networking canbe, its not bought us any significant work – we just get people contacting us saying they saw our other work and want in.

    Which is cool!!

  • jakestevens

    I have a good relationship with the sales team at my day job that works out great for my freelance design work. I'm the art director for Watermark (Central/West Florida's LGBT newspaper; and we have a sales team that actively goes out and searches for new advertisers for our newspaper, website, and special publications. I have a good relationship with my sales co-workers and they will often pass my contact information onto their clients that really like the ads that I create in-house for them. I really enjoy being able to do this, because it doesn't involve a lot of work on my part, and I can create a better quality product that isn't inhibited by the “we want it yesterday” mindset of newspaper production.

    I also do a lot of work with non-profit organizations that have a good amount of exposure. I've worked with Come Out With Pride ( for the past 3 years and starting up my fourth in the next few days. I get to have my work exposed to 50,000+ people each year. The best part about working with COWP is that it's put on by the Metropolitan Business Association. So anyone that is a member of the association knows me and my skill set.

    The best part about being in charge of a newspaper is that I basically have an instant portfolio that has over 14,000 copies spread out over a good chunk of Florida. When someone asks about my skills there's usually a newspaper right close by that I can snatch and show them.

    This is my portfolio site:

  • rosymarshal

    I found this site today and boy am I glad I did. This segment was great and it gave me some ideas about what I could and can’t do. It was great seeing and perusing. I will keep tuned in and keep up the good work!!

  • Eugene Capon

    I keep connections with groups of past clients who send me work on a regular basis. Often I put in more effort than is professional, and my clients see it. That has been the key to my success.

    Plus it helps to leave your web site posted around the net, like so:

  • brian tom

    i love hearing about how people promote themselves. as a freelance designer spending most of my time at home, it can be a daunting task to find ways to get my name out. fortunately for me i have enough work coming in to keep me busy so i dont have to just yet. the best way for me: do great work for every client you get, and most likely they will refer you to people they know and also go back to you for future work.

  • InkBrigade

    We're a screen printing shop in portland oregon. We get some hits from Craigslist. Also a little bit from google ads. We only spend like $25 a month on google ads. I must say though a majority of our work comes from referrals. It really pays to go the extra mile for customers. It makes them happy, and they refer us to their friends. It's win win for everyone!

  • Jaime Radar

    exact same situation for me, and now ive gathered a few other artists with their own specialties (video, photo, illustration), so that we can grow together. being a go-to artist locally is awesome, and paying bills with music industry work rules, but it only gets so big. we've opened a screen print shop as well to keep people in our circle from beginning to end on any campaigns they might be doing to promote a tour or new record or whatever it may be. since then, our work rate hasnt much increased, as much as our clients have just gotten bigger, but its also all been word-of-mouth. soon, we'll start with the flyering and hard marketing.

  • George Coghill

    Very interesting to hear how much work is being secured by referrals, that's a good sign that you are doing quality work.

  • David Silva

    I use the same sites most of you use and read alot of blogs… twitter, facebook, the gomediazine among many others… I even keep my own blog at, but the truth is that none of this has landed me very much “DESIGN” work as a direct result. It's ok because I enjoy all of this anyway. It has, however, allowed me to learn alot more about design.

    My real work all comes from word of mouth. I meet friends of other friends and find out that they need a site and get them interested in letting me work on it for them. My largest one so far in the works is going to be getting ongoing referrals from a screen printing shop. They have agreed to outsource all of their web and even some random graphic jobs to me that they don't normally take.

    Talking to people in person is what lands me my jobs and what I do online shows them that I am capable, active and can help them understand what they themselves don't. That is my MAIN selling point. I teach them what they don't know about the online world.

  • Melody

    I have a list of the top 50 design/marketing/business related websites that I try to go on everyday, since I type fast it doesn't bother me much…The ones with great community support and subscribers usually end up on my site..

    I've had to alter this list several times though, usually because some sites don't post every day (5 days/week) or certain niche sites work out better for me..

  • sknerem

    I've been working the freelance gig for a while and for the longest time I thought it was about cranking out work but had my epiphany a year ago that the old saying of “It's not what you know but who you know” is so true.

    2009 has been a networking year for me and I have at least gained great connections.

  • youtubeline

    I thought it was about cranking out work but had my epiphany a year ago that the old saying of “It's not what you know but who you know

  • Oscar Cole

    Usually most of my work is handed to me by other design firms or print shops. Second would be word of mouth. I have tried advertising here and there but being so small, that gets expensive, and it gets expensive real fast. Its a slow going process, and usually I have a crap load of work, or I have absolutely nothing going on. I have yet to find a “pocket comfortable” steady and worthwhile form of advertising.

  • Hunny

    I'm not really sure where to begin… well I've been designing since 2005 and have learned so many new stuff online that it’s amazing. I've opened up a flickr account today and I've always visited this site for articles or really neat font effects. My design site represents what I've been doing these last couple of years and designing celebrities on just about anything BUT I have I have finally crossed over and been working a lot in Illustrator as of lately and LOVE IT… Flash I did the other day but it’s coming along fine.

    My site is

  • youtubeline

    nice comment youtube

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  • Dan

    Excellent job..
    dizi izle

  • Jimmychoosale

    I like very much the writings and pictures and explanations in your adress so I look forward to see your next writings. I congratulate you.

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  • panax

    Very cool and interesting article