HOW Magazine Self-Promotion Issue
by Ilise Benun
If you're like most designers, you slapped together a Web site and called it a marketing tool. Guess what? There's more to online marketing than creating a Web site. In fact, you don't even need a Web site to master online marketing. What you need is an online presence, which means having the capacity to either 1) send samples of your work via email; or 2) post samples in cyberspace, either at a fee-based online directory, such as Theispot.com, or a free portfolio site like About.com or Portfolios.com. Online self-promotion comes with three major benefits: It provides anytime access to you and examples of your work; it expands your exposure and increases your visibility and it shows that you're up-to-date on visual marketing.
But just knowing this is not enough. To accomplish anything, you need a plan. Not just a plan in your head, but a real plan, written down on paper (OK, maybe on a computer screen). Unless you have a regular routine you can follow, your efforts will yield inconsistent results at best - and this applies especially to online marketing.
The three sample plans introduced throughout this article are more like to-do lists, with daily, weekly, monthly quarterly and annual activities. If you diligently follow one of these plans, you'll create an online presence that makes you more visible month after month. Here's what you need to start:
• An email address with a signature file that includes all of your contact information
• One-, two- and three-line blurbs about your services
• A package to send via old-fashioned mail at a moment's notice
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
Encino-based illustrator Roxanna Villa is very pro-active about her online marketing efforts, and her results show it. Villa, who's been in business for 16 years, has found posting her portfolio on Theispot Showcase to be "phenomenally effective." For $650 per page, she can post a 12-image portfolio, her bio and a contact page, through which people can send her email messages. This charge is pretty standard for fee-based portfolio sites; The Workbook charges $575 for advertisers in its print directory and $1,000 for online-only portfolios. Villa's digital portfolio was rated No. 1 (most often viewed) on the site for several weeks in 1999. There are currently 800+ portfolios on the site.
Villa's online marketing tactics are similar to those in the Simple Plan. Besides having her portfolio posted online, she also maintains her own web page ( www.roxanavilla.com ) with her contact information and a work sample. In addition to expanding her Web site to showcase her body of work, each day Villa culls email addresses from the messages she receives and adds them to her mailing list. Each week she surfs the Web for names and addresses of art directors to add to her list.
"When I see an illustration in one of the annuals, I'll look at who the art director is, get their info online, then send them a promo pack of samples and put them into my database," Villa says. Although she hasn't registered her site with search engines, prospects are using them to find Villa anyway. A name search on Yahoo! lists Villa's Web site first, followed by links from magazines where her illustrations are posted, other client Web sites and book sites with information about a meditation kit she created. That's the beauty of the Web: Because of links and electronic "crawlers," search engines can find a site and index it without the site owner taking an active role. All you have to do is make sure your site's homepage contains keywords in a blurb and in the source code
"Marketing and promotion is all about getting your name out there in front of the people you target as clients," say Jeff Fisher, a very ambitious promoter. Before Fisher posted his Web site ( www.jfisherlogomotives.com ) in the fall of 1998, about 90% of his business came from the local Portland, OR, market. Now, almost three years later, his clients hail from as far away as Hawaii, Massachusetts, Italy and Ireland. Local clients comprise only 20% of his workload. Fisher attributes this growth directly to his active online marketing. "This wouldn't have been possible for me without the use of the Internet and email as marketing tools," he says.
Fisher's routine aligns closely with the Ambitious Plan. His Web browser opens to his own Web site each morning as his computer starts up so he can easily verify that the site is functioning without glitches. Then he spends a half hour visiting online discussion forums, such as HOWdesign.com and www.graphicdesign.about.com, contributing to discussions on marketing and corporate identity. Unlike chat rooms, where little valuable information is exchanged, viable forums offer an environment where people who need help can post questions, while others with reply with ideas and hints, resources and links to sites with more information. Plus, becoming an active forum participant increases online visibility.
Fisher began participating on forums as an antidote to the isolation of being a one-person, home-based business. He wasn't prepared for the forums to actually drive clients his way, but they did. "Clients searching for graphic designers on the Web often end up on the design forums," Fisher says. "Several have contacted me via email saying the liked my responses on the forums, so they went to my site and contacted me for more information about potential projects."
He's also been invited to contribute to articles and books written by authors who have visited the forums doing research, resulting in tremendous publicity. Now he's such an avid forum participant that he receives automatic messages when a response has been submitted to one of his posts. (This service is only available on some forums.)
Email is another effective online marketing tool for Fisher. Twice monthly he sends out email press releases to his constantly expanding list of recipients, which includes press contacts; former, current and prospective clients; vendors; other designers; colleagues; friends and family. His list is growing daily as more people contact him.
With the subject line "Toot! Toot!" these marketing messages announce design awards, new clients, completed projects and details about press coverage Fisher has received. (He also sends hard copies of all press releases to media sources via snail mail.) Fisher's logo incorporates the image of a steam engine, so the combined concept of "tooting his own horn" and the train imagery is a natural connection to the "Toot! Toot!" subject line.
Fisher regularly checks the reports provided by his Web host to see who is visiting his site, which averages approximately 500 unique visitors pre day. "Ten percent of the traffic to my site is from other countries," he says. "And over half is from colleges and universities - which I suspect includes design students and instructors."
Fisher is so gung ho about his online marketing that he doesn't even have a business card, doesn't meet with clients and doesn’t send direct mail to promote his site. "For me, a postcard promoting my site is not worth the time, effort or expense," he says. "However, my Web address is on every piece of printed material that goes out of my office for any reason. Writers and editors are finding me and doing a great deal of promotion for me when they list my Web site in their articles. Clients are finding me, and now I am scheduling projects at least a month out."
GOING FOR IT
The extraordinary hype surrounding the Internet has pushed expectations of the Web out of the ballpark. Many people still think all they have to do is post a Web site and qualified prospects will magically visit and instantly bestow projects. But as with all marketing, you can't just sit back and wait for people to come to you. A simple glance at the three online marketing plans we've outlined here reveals that there's a lot more you could, and should, be doing. Once you schedule online promotion tasks into your routine, you'll begin to see consistent, positive results.
1. THE WEB SITE-LESS PLANThis plan is for those who want to start marketing online while in the process of creating their Web site. This plan requires more time proactively looking for prospects and projects - surfing job sites and auction sites to see what work is available - than other plans.
• Check job sites such as Monster.com and auction sites like eLance.com for available projects
• Check in with your favorite discussion forum and contribute three questions or answers
• Skim a few of your favorite online newsletters for useful tips
• Surf for opportunities to be listed in online directories and bookmark all possibilities• Get listed in one online directory or free portfolio site
MONTHLY TASK - YOUR WEB SITE:
• Continue surfing the Web to see the sites of others and evaluate how they work
• Continue working on your Web site
2. THE SIMPLE PLAN
This plan works well if you have a Web site but don't want to spend too much time promoting it. It will keep you involved in spreading the word. Do everything in the Web Site-Less Plan, plus the following:
• Check your Web site to make sure it's working properly
• Surf for linking opportunities and bookmark all possibilities
• Get listed in one search engine or online directory
• Check you placement on search engines
MONTHY TASK - YOUR LINKS PAGE:
• Send an email message to the Webmasters about linking to or from their sites
• Check to see if any links you've requested have been posted
• Send out a bunch of postcards promoting your site
• Analyze your Web reports
• Make changes based on your analysis, such as additions, deletions and revisions to the navigation
• Update your Web site: Add new work, remove old work and add links
3. THE AMBITIOUS PLAN
• Send an email message to five Webmasters requesting links from their sites
MONTHY TASKS - EMAIL MARKETING CAMPAIGN AND CONTINUOUS SITE UPDATING:
• Develop monthly email marketing messages to send to your permission-based email list
• Check you placement in five search engines and re-submit if necessary
• Improve your links page by adding to it
• Find other email newsletters in which your Web site can be featured
• Update your Web site. Add new work, remove old work and add links
• Make changes based on your Web reports
This article originally appeared in HOW Magazine's 2001 Self-Promotion Annual (October 2001). The article is posted on this site with permission of both HOW and the author.