One of the most common questions I’m asked by freelance designers is how to get more clients. There are certainly a lot of different ways to market yourself and your services, some will cost money and others will require some investment of time.
Of all the different things you can do to work on building up your workload, focusing on establishing a strong professional network is among the best. With a strong network you will be more likely to get word-of-mouth referrals, and unlike many other marketing methods this can pay huge dividends for years to come.
Getting more referrals and more clients is only one of the many benefits of networking, but it is one that is of critical importance to many freelancers. There are a lot of different ways you can go about networking and developing relationships with other professionals in related industries. In this article we’ll look at 5 opportunities that you may be overlooking.
There are loads of design and development blogs out there, with more being launched every day. Many blogs like to publish interviews with professionals in the industry. Being interviewed on a few blogs can be an excellent networking opportunity. First, you’ll get to know the blogger conducting the interview (these interviews are usually done by email), and you’ll also get exposure to their audience. You may be able to connect with readers through the comments, plus you’ll probably get a link to your own site. Most bloggers are always working to come up with content for their blog, so if you’re willing to provide some content for them in the way of an interview it could be a great way to get to know that blogger.
If you would be interested in doing an interview for a blog there are a few things you could do to try to find those opportunities. One of the best things would be to browse through various design blogs and make a list of those that publish interviews. You could also do some searches for phrases related to design and interviews and see what you find. Once you have identified some blogs that you know are interested in publishing interviews you can reach out to them through the contact form or email, if an email address is listed on the site. Keep it short. Ask if they would be interested in interviewing you and give them a brief description of your experience and expertise, with a link to your portfolio site or blog.
Another option would be to search for design blogs that are looking for guest posts and/or paid freelance writers. These blogs are obviously always looking for new content, so even if they don’t typically publish interviews they may be interested in the opportunity if you offer. Keep in mind that if you are contacting large, popular blogs they will probably only want to publish an interview if you already have some name recognition in the industry or if you have something specific or unusual that they want to cover in the interview. For most designers who are looking to use interviews to work on their networking, it’s usually more productive to start with smaller blogs rather than trying to get an interview published at an industry-leading blog.
In addition to blogs, there are also a lot of design and development podcasts that sometimes include interviews. You could follow the same process to identify podcasts that you could contact about your offer for an interview.
The interviews don’t have to be published on design blogs. In fact, when it comes to finding new clients you may get better results if you stretch outside of the design industry. You could look for opportunities to do interviews for blogs in related fields like SEO and marketing where the audience may be interested in some content on design. Making connections in these related industries could be a great step for your networking efforts. Also, you could offer interviews for other non-related industries. For example, you could reach out to the owner of a photography blog and offer an interview that would answer questions specifically related to websites for photographers. The content would be relevant, and if any readers are looking for a designer to help with their website they may reach out to you as a result of the interview. You could do this with just about any industry. If you wanted to target non-profit organizations you could offer an interview to a blog that targets people who work for non-profits and charities. Your interview could answer questions about how they can get the maximum impact out of their website, and this could also lead to some potential clients.
If you have a blog of your own you can also work on building your network through publishing interviews with other designers. This can be a great opportunity, because you can identify the specific designers/developers that you would like to get to know. Reach out to them and ask if they would be interested in being interviewed for your blog. If they have the time most will be willing to do the interview, and that can be a great way to get your first contact with someone who could become a valuable part of your network.
2. Guest Posts
If you are comfortable with writing, there are plenty of opportunities to build your network by writing posts for design blogs. It’s a similar to the previous point about offering an interview. You would identify blogs that publish posts by different guest writers, and either submit a post of your own or contact the blogger/editor about the possibility of writing for them. Many people use guest blogging as a way to build links to their own site or blog. While that is one benefit of guest blogging, the biggest benefit that I have seen from my own experience writing for other blogs is that it is a fabulous networking opportunity.
Several years ago I used to do a lot of writing for other blogs, and some of the best connections I have made in the industry were a direct result of those guest posts. When you’re writing for other blogs you are probably getting some contact with the blog owner or an editor. Depending on the specific blogs that you are working with, these can be very influential people who are well connected. Bloggers and editors have a constant need for contact, so if you’re able to provide them with quality content that is something that they will appreciate, and it could be a great way to start to build that relationship.
Just like the situation with interviews, you wouldn’t have to focus exclusively on blogs in the design or development industries. For example, you could write a post for a travel-focused blog about how to start your own travel blog, with tips and advice. If any readers are interested in starting a blog and are looking for a designer to help with creating their site, the article may lead to some business.
3. LinkedIn Groups
LinkedIn is the most popular of the social networks that exists specifically for professional and business-related networking. Most professionals now have a LinkedIn profile, but many do not take advantage of outstanding opportunities for networking as part of some LinkedIn Groups. If you’re not familiar with LinkedIn Groups they are essentially forums focused on specific topics. If you have a LinkedIn profile you can join groups on design/development related topics and use this as an opportunity to network with others in the industry. Answer questions posted by other group members, respond and share your on thoughts on posted topics, or start your own discussions. Being active in a few groups is a great way to work on building your network.
If you have a particular industry or type of client that you target for your services, you may also want to see if you can join some groups that would be relevant to your target audience. For example, if you want to target churches for your web design services you could join some groups that are focused on church administration and search for questions related to websites. You may find some group members asking questions about something related to their church website, and this would be a great opportunity to be helpful and to get some exposure for yourself within the group. Of course, you don’t want to blatantly promote your services, but you may be able to stand out by having some knowledge and experience that other group members don’t have.
For much more on LinkedIn Groups, please see the article How to Network Using LinkedIn Groups from Social Media Examiner.
4. Blog Comments
Blog comments have been used for several years as a way to build traffic to other websites and blogs. While it takes a ton of comments to build any kind of significant traffic, there are other benefits to leaving blog comments aside from the traffic. Leaving well-thought-out and relevant comments on blog posts can be helpful for increasing exposure to the readers of the blog and to the bloggers posting the articles.
Most design blogs receive fewer comments today than they did a few years ago. With the growth of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook many readers will post their thoughts and reactions to a blog post on social media instead of on the post itself. This means fewer comments on posts, and it also means that you can stand out a little bit easier with fewer other comments. Most bloggers really appreciate engaging discussions on their posts, so if you want to get to know a particular designer that blogs, make an effort to actively comment on their posts. With fewer comments it’s easier to stand out this way than it was a few years ago.
5. Freebies for Blogs
The last opportunity for networking that we’ll look at in this article is to create free resources for blogs. Many design blogs release free resources for their readers to use, and you can offer your own creations to these blogs in exchange for the exposure. It could be a set of icons, Photoshop brushes, vectors, textures, a PSD file, website template, WordPress theme, or some other type of resource. Typically, if a design blog publishes your freebie and offers it to their readers they will include a link to your site and will credit you for your work.
Offering quality freebies can be a great way to build you reputation in the industry, to get some links to your site from influential design blogs, and you’ll get to help out those bloggers by providing some quality content for them. Much like the approach to offering interviews and guest posts, providing the freebies for the blogger is a great way to build the relationship.
If you’re looking for ways to build your professional network, consider actively pursuing any of these ideas.