If You Build It, Will They Come?
When speaking of your own website, the answer is no. That is, until you do something about it. You've spent all that time and energy building or buying the sweetest looking website out there, but how will people know about it? Either you are a skilled networker and use your social contacts to create interest in your website, or you engage in some of the many search engine optimization (SEO) strategies used to rank high in natural search results, or you spend time and money marketing your website through traditional channels such as print ads, postcard and email campaigns or online ads - whatever your strategy is, you need a strategy!
A good marketing strategy will leverage each of these marketing channels to create a marketing plan for the year. Set a budget, and then consider what will give you the best targeted reach for your time, effort and money. Consider buying a list and running an email and/or postcard campaign to a segment that would be most interested in your services. There are a number of list services out there focusing on creative buyers. Keep it simple, graphic and count on the email not always being delivered, opened or noticed or the postcard hitting the recycle bin. The response rate is generally low, so volume is important. But often you only need one good client to make this channel pay off.
Advertising in magazines can be a good strategy, but costly. Time your insertions around the events and/or special editions that will draw the most targeted traffic to the magazine. Annual showcase books can draw a larger readership than other editions and have a better shelf-life, so plan your insertions accordingly.
Online advertising is increasingly important and is a very cost-effective channel. If your website is not ranking well with modest SEO strategies, consider keyword buying with one of the major search engines. Your keywords should be specific enough that you target the type of client you are looking for. Generic keywords can be competitive and expensive. Also consider advertising online on websites that attract the people who would be most interested in your work. Banner ads can also be costly, but could be effective if the website is highly targeted to your audience. Make sure you look over the press kits and demographics of the websites before you commit to spend meaningful dollars and find out what sections of the website you will be marketed on. Most websites can target the ads to specific sections and at specific times of day. See if you can negotiate for the section you want and whether you can time your impressions so most of them don't happen between 1 am and 6 am.
It is very easy to blow the bank on online ads, so be critical of where you are advertising and realistic about click through rates, which are commonly below 1%. If you can get a pay per click deal as opposed to pay per impression, that is beneficial, but not commonly offered. So consider other advertising opportunities that range from free to relatively low cost, such as directories or online portfolio websites that allow you to link your listing or portfolio to your website and steer qualified traffic to your doorstep.
There are a lot of Portfolio solutions out there. Some focus on features, others on benefits. Don't get bogged down by features. Remember, you are on these sites to promote yourself. The sweetest looking portfolio solution may be visually appealing, but if buyers aren't viewing the portfolios it won't help you find work.
Since promotion is your goal, be sure to budget enough money to try a few and for a meaningful period of time. You may get some great contacts quickly, but often it takes time. Buyers bookmark portfolios and often come back to them when they have that specific need. Be sure you are there when they come looking for you. An acceptable marketing response curve through this channel is 8-12 months, but many have experienced success quicker than this. If cash flow is an issue, inquire about monthly payment plans, but they are usually more expensive in the long run relative to committing to a year up front. Also, the best looking portfolio won't help you if it too can't be found on the portfolio website.
Where to first?
First, find a portfolio provider who has an established marketplace. Don't worry about too much competition on the website. You are joining to access a marketplace of buyers that has been established by building a large base of freelancers. The competition helps you -- it brings more buyers to the website to potentially see your work. Yes there may be many other creatives just like you on the website looking for work, but are they all just like you? Buyers don't search for "graphic designer" as the only criteria. They search by discipline, geography and specializations such as "graphic designer" "Atlanta" "Book covers/Jackets". You may find the competition is down to a handful or two.
Find the right package
Next, select the package that most fits your needs. Often you have to pay more for more exposure on these websites, but if you are going to be serious about marketing online, the free or next to free packages will usually provide less exposure than packages with higher search rank priority. But don't let the packages fool you. If you have a very unique set of skills or want to promote yourself in less populated or less competitive markets, often you don't need to pay for premium level products to get premium exposure. Remember, a directory or portfolio site may have thousands of members, but when you break it down by discipline, geography and specializations, you may find that you are only "competing" with relatively few other providers, and some of those providers may have suboptimal portfolios or positioning on the website and you may be able to generate good results with a less expensive package. In our example above about the graphic designer in Atlanta specializing in book covers, if there are only a few portfolios with priority placement at the top of the search results, you can likely get great results with the lesser package. Priority placement and search ranking becomes more important if you are seeking to market your services in a highly competitive discipline, specialization or geography.
Make it right
Once you have selected the right package, concentrate on making sure you are searchable by the appropriate specializations and keywords and have a well written biography containing all your relevant experience and keywords. It is good to personalize yourself in your biography, but keep it professional. No one is looking for a designer with two cats and a dog who likes long walks in the park. Spell check, spell check, spell check! Many portfolio solutions prioritize or have a special search for recently updated materials. Take advantage of this additional exposure.
* Be sure to update your listings regularly. This can prove to be time consuming, but necessary to make the most of these channels.
Dan Tanenbaum spent many years working as a Sr. Art Director and identified the need for a better way for creative talent to get their name out there and their portfolios seen at the time of need. Dan was appointed as the President of Portfolios.com in 2003 and runs the day-to-day operations for the company.