How to become a self-made graphic designer – Marketing yourself
It was 3 years ago when I started to think about becoming a graphic designer. Well, this is what I’m now. I did not attempt any design school, because I preferred to use the huge amount of resources that the web offers and experiment by myself new techniques. In this 3 articles series I would like to share my experiences with all those that approach the graphic design world and provide suggestions on how to find the best resources and how to avoid errors. Today we will talk of how to acquire visibility and marketing yourself.
The three articles of the series:
After months spent studying a lot, it’s time to reap the benefits of the labour. It’s too early to speak about money, marketing yourself doesn’t mean to make money. Not at the very beginning of your career, at least. The first point I’d like to speak about is: when is the moment to introduce yourself to the design community? The day you start learning. There are lots of communities, like DeviantArt, where artists can interact, publish their works, comment the works of others people and get feedback for their first experiments. You don’t need to be a great artist, because you still are a student. This term, “student”, is very important. Your aim shall not be making money at this stage, but continue to improve your knowledge and interact with other creatives.
The participation to social communities is the first step to show your skills to the design world. When I started publishing my works to DeviantArt, I had the opportunity to follow great designers, surf through hundreds of incredible artworks, be inspired and network with people from all over the world who, like me, love graphic design. If you are studying by yourself, maybe in your room, and the web is the main contact with the design community, you need the others criticism to improve. When you decide to publish a work, you can’t control the reaction of those who see this work, and compliments and criticism are two indispensable faces of the same coin.
I didn’t get any design job during the first year, that I spent studying and networking, but I had the opportunity to focus all my efforts on my education and interact with others. No money from the web side. I worked as waiter for a couple of years so I didn’t have the necessity to be hired for a graphic design job. Anyway I can assure you that the possibility to be hired thanks to the participation to design related communities is real. As matter of fact, a couple of months ago I came across the DA profile of Diego Caiazza. His illustrations and icons caught my attention, and now he is our full time icon designer.
If you want to enter this world because only attracted by the business aspect, you’re in the wrong direction.
To blog or not to blog?
The blog can be the best way to get visibility. With the help of WordPress, a free CMS, all what you need is 40-50$ to buy a shared server and be online in few hours. When I started publishing contents on WeGraphics, which was nothing more than a personal portfolio at the beginning, my aim was to create an active community of graphic lovers by sharing free design resources and publishing Photoshop tutorials. After 1 month I had more than 1000 daily unique visitors, the blog gave me the opportunity to drive hundreds of people to my works, lots more than DeviantArt did. Also I was in a different position: until that moment I was only a student, while now I had the opportunity to share what I was learning with other young designers.
Where do the visitors come from? The design community is very active and there are many ways to get visitors. Twitter is the best tool in my opinion. However at the very beginning, with 0 followers, it was not the most powerful one. So when I published an article, I submitted it to different articles aggregators like DesignBump, Design-newz and Designfloat. Also I noticed that there were more Photoshop tutorials aggregators sites than sites that were publishing quality tutorials. Services like good-tutorials, pixels2life and PhotoshopLady drove more than 2000 visitors per tutorial. People started appreciating my works and kept following the updates via Twitter and feed RSS. My first tutorial was featured on Tutorial9 and then was included in many roundups of best tutorials for December 2009.
It’s difficult to move the first steps in the blog community, but if you put quality in your articles, this quality will be recognized.
After a good beginning, I made a mistake. I start thinking: if I publish 1 resource and 1 tutorial per week, I make about 7000 visitors in that week; so if I will publish 2 resources and 3 articles per week I will make a lot of more visitors and then I can sell advertising banners and make money. Apparently there’s nothing wrong. But what happened? I became dependent from numbers, statistics, impressions. My daily objective was to put something new in the blog, and I started publishing the well-known anonymous “lists” (20 unique t-shirt designs for your inspiration). Lists can be useful, are re-tweeted and catch visitors. Anyway, a site that publishes only roundup of resources and tutorials realized by others is not giving something useful to the community. A roundup can be realized by everyone, so if people can find the same content on other sites, why should they prefer yours? But the most important thing is: to find resources, to daily publish, to find ideas and realize new resources, these are all things that require time. Time that could be spent better, time necessary to continue improving your skills. Take in mind that I was at the very beginning of my career. What I needed was a way to show myself, not a full time business. And the same should be for you guys, in case you have just launched your new design blog. One great article for week, that requires study and research of information online, in books and magazines, values more than 10 “lists”.
It’s time to make money
Having acquired good skills, it was time to study a way to turn passion into a profession. Your blog, if it’s full of interesting articles and tutorials, will be the best way to attract potential clients. In my case, the ability to write Photoshop tutorials allowed me to propose myself to sites that were searching contributors. I simply contacted Jacob Gube, who just launched his new blog DesignInstruct, focused on graphic design tutorials, and showed him my works. Fortunately my tutorials were accepted by the DI’s team, and I started guest posting. When I create a tutorial, I have the opportunity to learn by experimenting new Photoshop techniques, that then I explain in the articles. So there is no lost of time. By writing 3 tutorials per month, I had the time to manage my blog and continue learning new tools, and my income – about 500$ per month – even if low, was more than what I would have obtained with a destructive full immersion on my blog.
Proposing yourself to important magazines is a good way to enter the design world. It worked fine to me. After the first collaboration with Design Instruct, I had the opportunity to be in touch with other great personalities of the blog community. Some of them asked me to create specific resources, for example Steven Snell of Vandelay Design contacted me for a couple of textures and brush sets. While I was working on the new version of WeGraphics, I had the pleasure to be contacted by Grant Friedman, the Psdtuts editor, who invited me to write a tutorial for them. It was awesome, considering that only 2 years before I started learning Photoshop basics thanks to their tutorials. Psdtuts was the opportunity to show my works to the greatest Photoshop community, so it represented an important step for me.
Successful designers and bloggers are real people, often opened to new collaborations. If you have something to offer, something interesting, you can be sure that they will be happy to support and pay you. If your blog shows your potentialities, new offers will arrive. After the first period focused on tutorials, I was hired to create cd covers, posters and UI interfaces. I had the time to experiment from the realization of textured and grunge posters to the creation of clean webdesign interfaces and icons. I’m still in the phase of learning new tool, probably this phase will never end.
Once WeGraphics started growing, I decided to focus my efforts on this project. With Piervicenzo, I’m now running a successful firm, with new challenges to face everyday. In the final chapter of this series I will explain in depth how I started a business into the design community and how I manage it.
If you have questions, don’t be shy. I’d love to hear from you in the comments ;-)
We do the best to provide high-quality products that you can use in your commercial projects.