Art of Self Promotion pt. 1

As a freelance designer, It’s on you to toot your own horn. Self promotion is vital to gaining new clients and opportunities, and when promoting myself, I follow the philosophy to show rather than tell. People love free stuff, but more important, they love well designed free stuff. Remember those postcards you get in the mail that end up in your trash can every week? You threw them away for a reason: they weren’t interesting. Sure, you’d probably never need the service that the card promised, but if it looked cool, you might keep it anyway. After designing both Jeremy Widen’s and my own self promo kits, I thought I would share my process on the art of self promotion.

Step one: Define Your Message

What are you trying to communicate to others?

  • Are you a recent grad looking for full time/part time work work?
  • Are you looking for an internship?
  • Are you an in-house or agency designer making the switch to freelance?
  • Are you moving to a new city and want to gain exposure before you move there?
  • Are you looking to break into a new type of design, for example going print to web?

Write down in bullet form all the information you hope to demonstrate in your promo. You should write down things like:

  • Your name and what you do
  • Your specialties or strengths
  • Your experience in both design and business
  • You should also write down things that illustrate your personality, like hobbies or other passions. Memorable things that make you unique.
  • Always give your contact information and where they can view your work
  • End with a call to action, something that says “After viewing my work, I’d love to meet with you/have a conversation about how we can work together”. You need to give them a task, so that they keep the connection going.

Step two: Define your audience

Who are you making this for? Local businesses? Big design firms? The narrower the focus, the better you can tailor your message. If you know you want to work in the entertainment industry, then address your design and message as such. Having too broad of an audience, can be harmful to your cause. The language you use would be different when addressing a small mom and pop versus a large corporate firm. Trying to reach everyone and anyone is a big mistake.

Step Three: Choose a format

This to me, was the best and most difficult part. I knew I wanted to do a print piece, and not something digital, because I wanted it to be tangible; something the user could interact with by opening and closing folds and turning it around to see how it works together. I always loved picking up the SWAG from portfolio shows and trade shows and the most memorable ones stay with you. The best is when you get something in the mail directly. It’s like a little surprise gift. I wanted to give that to my future possible clients. I wanted to surprise them with a small gift.

I knew I had a lot to say and I wanted to break up the information in a way that was both organized, but also in easy to absorb chunks. I also knew that I would be sending  a mini portfolio, a resume, and references at the very least. I needed something to contain all these things, so I designed an “envelope” that opened up to make a cross. On each panel of the envelope there would be a piece of information. The information didn’t necessarily need to be read in a linear fashion, so it was ok if they skipped one panel by accident.

The format options are endless and often relate to your budget (step 4) but below is a list of some promo pieces that take a few forms: Informational, novelty, and practical.

Informational: These are printed pieces who’s sole purpose is to give you information.

  • 2 sided post card – Cheap to produce, and great for simple messages. Don’t try to cram your whole life story on there though.
  • poster – A very popular choice, can be costly to produce depending on the size you wish to create. Also beware of folding. Professional scoring is a must! Take advantage of all the different panels that you see when you open the poster up and be sure to make use of both sides!
  • saddle stitched portfolio booklet – Very popular, easy to create, but can be expensive to produce. Theres printing, cutting, folding and stapling (or sewing).
  • accordion style book – Hard to produce WELL, but rewarding when done right.
  • flash card style – Easier to produce from home.

Novelty: these types usually showcase your skills or portfolio directly (especially if you have a lot of illustration in your portfolio). They might not have a specific message, like “I’m new, hire me”, but rather speak to your skills and your style.

  • t-shirt – less conventional but if branded properly, the wearer could be a walking billboard for your business (provided that your design rocks)
  • stickers –  cheap to produce and always a great “additional piece” but rarely would I send stickers alone
  • buttons – a super fun add-on, but like stickers, how much can they say about you by themselves?
  • mini games –  your own designed deck of cards, small board game (Tad Carpenter shows a great example of this), this is a great place to show your illustration skills
  • designed paper toys –  collectible, and attention grabbing (inspiration).

Practical: these are branded items we need and use. They say the least about you and usually just help you get your name out there. The truly curious might take the time to look you up, but more than likely, they’ll use the product (or not) until it’s done and throw it out. These could be add ons, but I don’t suggest making this the only thing you send out.

  • branded office supplies
  • sticky notes
  • calendars
  • notebooks – probably the only one out of this list that could be successful. I make these and sell them at small band events put on by friends.

My advice is to do something unexpected, but more importantly, something that fits the message and target audience you’re trying to reach. If you’re targeting a corporate design agency, you might not want to send out a sticker set. Controversly, if you want to design for the entertainment industry, don’t go sending branded pens. It’s up to you to decide how much time, effort, and money you are willing to spend on your self promotion.

Step Four : Establish a budget and do your research

There are a few things that affect your budget:

  1. The specs of the project –size, digital or offset, double or single sided, # of colors
  2. The quantity sometimes doing more, means the unit price is less.
  3. Producing at home vs with a professional vendor
  4. Shipping methods can it be shipped in a regular envelope? is it light enough for just one stamp?

The specs of the project:

The size of your print job is a large factor in the cost, also whether or not it is double-sided, printed either digitally or offset (where plates are made for each color),  if you need any cuts or folds. The more you need, the more expensive it will be. If you really want something larger, try building it out so that it can be printed in pieces then glued together via flaps (beware of glueing charges or sloppy gluing from home).


If you’re printing with a vendor, having a bigger run means each individual piece will be cheaper (this is called the unit price). It’s like going to Costco and getting the 24 pack of toilet paper for $6 instead of the 12 pack for $4, you realize that buying in bulk means each toilet paper roll costs less, and thus you’re saving yourself money. Have a discussion with your printer about quantity breaks. If you only want to produce 10 or so, and the size isn’t an issue, you could probably print from home and save a lot of money.

Producing at home or professionally:

Pros for by hand:

  • you have more control over your printing and colors, Inkjet prints better than laser (digital process)
  • You can do as many proofs as you need to get it perfect.
  • If you are great at production, it means that much more to show good “hands on” skills
  • you can do any # of runs as you like. It could be 5 or it could be 5000

Cons for By hand:

  • You could potentially spend more money in supplies like ink, paper etc
  • If you have poor production skills (cutting, folding, glueing) your work could suffer
  • You’ll spend more time on the project in general and may not be motivated to finish on time
  • You are limited by your printer’s print size capabilities (so probably no huge posters, or intricate accordion folds)

Pros for printing professionally:

  • Less time on your end doing the production work
  • higher quality production value (machine scored folds etc)
  • more options in paper choices, printing sizes
  • If you have the budget for offset, you can get PMS colors and even more color control

cons for printing professionally:

  • It’s expensive: digital printing is the cheapest rout and still can cost hundreds of dollars
    Offset is much higher quality, but not an option for lower budgets or smaller runs
  • Digital printing can sometimes look very different from what you’re able to do from home

Whatever you decide, make sure you do your research and get multiple quotes. Ask for samples and talk out your project with vendors. They are trained and may have some expert advice on how to cut costs.

Step 5: set a time line

Once you’ve decided whether or not to go by hand or work with a vendor, you need to establish a timeline. This is especially important with working with a vendor. If you say you need your piece completed in a month, they will be able to tell you when they need the final file, and you’d be surprised at how far in advance they need the file (depending on how complicated it is and how large the run)

Setting a timeline for yourself is also important. There’s nothing worse than losing momentum and missing your window. (I know from experience)

Step 6: Sketch

Ok, now that you’ve picked your format and have a basic understanding of all your content, you can now begin to sketch your layout. I suggest doing some research and looking at what others have done, but don’t copy directly. How you design your self promo is just as meaningful as the portfolio pieces you may include inside.

Here is some inspiration:

Part two to be continued next week! Check back soon!