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How to become a self-made graphic designer – Marketing yourself

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:

#1 – Getting Started!
#2 – Marketing Yourself
#3 – Run your own business

Marketing yourself

marketing yourself

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.

deviant art

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.

old logo

WeGraphics old logo

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.

guest posting

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 ;-)

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Sebastiano

Howdy! I'm a self taught graphic designer who loves to create amazing stuff using every kind of media. I'm currently living and working in Italy.

48 Comments

(+add yours)
  1. Maciej Hajnrich

    Hey Sebastiano,
    Absolutely wise words – that the way it goes, no matter if you write tutorials, work full time or freelance. Passion gives power to gain skills and this is always well recognized, just needs time.

    • Hi Maciej,

      Our points of view are identical.

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m a huge fan of your works!

  2. Hi Sebastiano, Thanks for sharing your experiences, as Maciej pointed out, passion added with perseverance is the key to success no matter what in the world stops you from doing what you love, this will boost my confidence even higher since i am also a budding graphic designer….

  3. Glad I found this article today – it’s too easy to forget the journey behind each admired designer, very inspiring to read – there always seemed to be a huge jump between me at home and the ‘big guys’ writing the articles & tutorials & sharing skills. Now it doesn’t seem so scary!

    ‘Passion gives the power to gain skills’

    Looking forward to the next part – thank you for sharing :)

    • This is exactly the meaning of the post, Gemma ;-)

  4. Really inspiring. Can’t wait for the 3rd part.

    Your Fan.

  5. Thanks Sebastiano! This is a really encouraging series! I believe it will help with my own ventures (I’m just getting started with image retouching/graphic deisgn). I’m really excited!

    • Good luck for your career Sacia!

  6. Matteo Stifanelli

    Thanx for sharing your experience! Since I’ve started reading this blog and using your resources , I’ve always been asking myself “How the hell this guys succeed in being part of the international graphic design community… from Italy???”( I’m from Lecce, Puglia and sometime I feel myself a little bit “lost” and “alone” :-) …even if on my “self learning” period ( I started working hard in November ) I often think about how to join the community while learning. I really appreciated this post: it gives me a “clear” vision and so much enthusiasm!!! Can’t wait for the 3rd part! :-D

    • Fortunately the web has no frontiers. This is why I didn’t work for local agencies. I think that the web offers more opportunities, and the same can be for you, caro Matteo ;-)

  7. your story is inspirational! yes right now all you need are skill, passion and internet. Fortunately we live in this digital age, where everyone is connected within a single click :)

    like Matteo above, i can’t wait for the 3rd part!

  8. Bruno

    “It’s too early to speak about money” Don’t tell me…. :)
    Nice article, as usual : I can’t wait to read “#3 – Run your own business”…
    Thanks for sharing!

  9. Hey Sebastiano, this and the past article were great! I’ve been running tutorial sites and working with photoshop the past 5 years. I look up to sites like wegraphics, psdtuts, tutorial9, etc. Great reading, thanks.

  10. Hey.

    I just started my own design blog a few weeks ago, so I found some very useful tips here. You mentioned that you found Twitter to be the best way to attract visitors. I had avoided Twitter up until now, but I guess I better give it a try :-)

    Thanks.

  11. Cool, I can’t wait to be see the next thread, make it now, forget all of the other content you have scheduled. Do this NOW :D:D.

  12. woops not thread, I meant post* lol. I was thinking about “community” at the same time lmfao. I’m going to do this now =].

  13. guta

    great article, i’ve been stumbuling around without sense of direction, and you gave me one, thanks!

  14. Mr.Scribble

    I have created Graphics for the Toy Industry for 10 years now.
    I work with License Brands and also create new generic Graphics and Design Concepts for Toys.
    I originally did Graphics for the Fashion Industry. (Clothing & Marketing).
    If you time is fully taken up by producing art for a niche industry like myself, you may not want to or have the time to blog.

    The irony is that while I was at Art School, I had friends doing Graphic Design courses never knowing I’d end up that field. So my background was Painting and Sculpture until I discovered computers and Graphics software.

    I too am self taught and over the years have made it my choice and through passion to have dabbled in most Bitmap, Vector and 3d Applications. If you work everyday on an App, make mistakes. learn and push any App to its limits….wonderful things eventually happen.

    The most important thing you need to learn when becoming a Graphic Designer is to learn when to unleash your ego, and when to bury it. I have had times when I have had pushy nightmare clients who have watched over every line I have made, who had no design eye and who basically forced me to create, what I thought, was average graphics. I just swallowed by ego, gave them what they wanted, hid behind the generic artwork and took the money. The next time they wanted a job done, miraculously I was “too busy”. At other times. clients have allowed me to bring out my ego and design eye and create great, fresh, original artwork. Learn when to control and unleash your ego and design eye, and you will become a better, more rounded, Graphic Designer.

    Also become a sponge…..bookmark every Vector Site, every Font Site, every Stock Photography Site. Look and remember sites and images you can use later. Look at current trends in Graphics and never be shy to disregard them for another job. Use Twitter as a sourcing information site. All my ‘Follows’ are informative. The first time a Graphic Designer or Art source starts taliking about what they had for lunch or other petty things…..I instantly ‘unfollow’ them…they are wasting my time. (Psst…we all eat lunch!)

    Blogs are a great source of information, but there is also a lot of very poorly written and researched blogs and even less inspiring Tutorials.

    Most importanly…network….meet people…and that doesn’t just mean on the net. Go visit some businesses you’d like to do Graphics for. I started doing Business Cards, which lead to the Fashion Industry, which lead to the Toy Industry and Major Retail stores around the world. All without blogging or using the net to find work.

    Good Luck in your travels.

    Mr.Scribble

    • Thanks you for sharing your experience, Mr.Scribble!

  15. Quick question, while you where waiting table you started this as a part time job/hobby? How did you manage to pay the bills with only $500 a month? =

    • In Italy (but I think it’s the same in each country) the amount of bills depends by the amount of profit. Since WeGraphics doesn’t need expensive machineries, I hadn’t huge costs to pay off. 500$ wasn’t a net revenue, so at the beginning I invested money I get from other (extra) jobs

  16. Very useful . Keep up the good work

  17. Hi Sebastiano. You mentioned that you were hired to create CD covers? is there an online company so i can show them my works?

    BTW, great pieces of info you have on your article series.

    • Hi Osvaldo,

      In sincerity I don’t know of agencies specialized in these kind of designs, I was contacted by a couple of small agencies without a great experience in this field.

      Anyway you gave me an idea for a new post ;-)

      • Osvaldo

        Superb!

  18. Excellent job! I will defnitly come back to read your posts.

  19. Hey there, nice article! I´m working with Photoshop since appr. 6 Years ( I´m 20 now), so i´m kind of self tought, but i also visited a design school, where i learned much great stuff like color- and compositiontheory, which (I think) I would´ve never learned if i started being a Designer the way you did. But i guess thats just me and obviously it worked out well for you :>
    In the beginning, I started with doing much tutorials on sites like good-tutorials and later psd-tuts. It´s a great way of seeing what you can do with PS. Later I just tried to rebuild things I liked. I started an apprenticeship last year in an awesome and successfull agency, with friendly people. I guess the only thing you would kind of miss with being a self tought graphic designer is that you can´t go to a university as you like, or is it different in your country?

    Greetings from Germany

    • Hi Jannik,

      Interesting points. In the previous chapter of this series I wrote that design schools can help a lot. In Italy, where I live, I don’t know of great design academies. Sure that there are some schools, but I have the impression (maybe it’s a mistake) that the average level is low. On the other side I know of awesome design academies worldwide. So if there’s the possibility to be a student of an awesome design schools, it is cool. But be student of a low level school is a waste of time, in my opinion.

      You’re young, and working with agencies and keep other creatives (in schools or not) will certainly help you a lot :-)

      • Jannik

        That´s right, we have plenty of those low-level schools. The teachers are to old, the schools can´t afford at least mid-end Hardware. In this case it´s about the students because you cant just hope that they gonna teach you something. I had few teachers which had no knowledge and I was the one teaching them :D a very funny experience as well :>

  20. TA

    Greatly written! It has inspired me…thanks

  21. Lions

    Hi,
    Sebastiano
    I am new in the field of graphics, have experience of about 1 year of Photoshop and illustrator too. The way you express all about really inspired me “sorry bad english”.

    I want to add u with me on messenger, for ur guidence in future if u have no issue then lemme know plz.

  22. wafaa elsayed

    thanks alot for u advices really very helpful i was sad and worry alot of months ago how to strat to become professenail agraphic designer how to be inspired which sites is useful and which books to read , u will shock if u know that im graduated from fine arts but they didnt tell us about that useful information , so keep going in u work and u beautiful words help alot of younger designers also i hope u always recommaned to us the newest books that will help us ,also new tips about graphic schools which better to be self motivited graphic designer or learn from school ,if any one not talanted does he can be great designer by study and practice , wish to u good luck in u life & work

  23. Hi,

    Thank you for a great article! If you or any of the readers are interested in collaborating with me here is my background.

    I am a Swedish Graphic designer and Art Director with excellent knowledge and
    design skills within most multimedia and design software packages.

    I have extensive experience in logo design, re-branding and corporate
    design, stationery, leaflets, brochures, publications, newsletters,
    press advertising, posters, books, magazines and digital media.

    Please visit my website and review my CV on LinkdIn, I look forward to hearing from you.

    sepidehpahlavani.com

    http://es.linkedin.com/pub/sepideh-pahlavani/39/a2a/78

    Best Regards
    sepideh

  24. Amazingly helpful and inspiring article, Sebastiano! I feel really lucky to have found this, because I’ve identified so well with this article – at least the first chapter! Thanks so much for your words, first of all :)

    Secondly, I wanted to tell you that I’m going to start doing as you did – since I don’t have the option to go to a design school, I’m going to study on my own, using books you recommended and all studying material I can get from the sources you provided! My question is schedule-wise: how do you suggest I should do my studying? How many hours of theory and practice should I do? How many hours should I focus on creating visual works and how many on web designing (and so on)? Do you have a schedule ‘template’ suggestion I could follow?

    Your help will be much appreciated! Thank you so much, and keep on the awesome work and inspiration!

  25. Hi,my im fro kenya and my plan was to start a graphic design studio,but i was to get people from outside to do the graphic design coz i dont know how to use the soft wares yet,i would provide them with a sketch of what i want and they do the digital work and i would be learning slowly as the business progresses do you think this is sustainable??whats your take??i also wanted to provide printing services as well to go hand in hand with the graphic design but i would also outsource this.i have the passion but i am unemployed at the moment and putting all my money in a website and business cards to start a business that is not sustainable is my fear.

  26. kev

    thanks sabs for sharing. it is realy an encouraging word for me, thats also part of my proffesion am learning on self tutorial also. i did like to knw u more. so we can interact and to learn more from u to establish friendship., pls if there is anyone reading my post and wanting to become a graphic designer pls contact me lets form a learning group and association online no matter the country u reside. thnks kelvcain@gmail.com

  27. Great article!!! I always love to hear how people come to design. And still looking for my way. It does look like to be popular on the web you have to do a lot of social media – but it really takes away from creating – which is my biggest problem with it. But there are no miracles – is it? My problem with blogging etc. is that when you start doing that you can not concentrate on your art anymore… my brain goes in monkey state – jumping from one thing to another
    I am on society6, zazzle, redbubble, twitter and squidoo and created my own website which is already ready for a makeover…and still need to find a way to make money with my designs…

    Good luck!!!!

  28. I am soo glad I came across your site. I am a recent graduate of a design school and studied graphic design and because It is here a year later and I have not found employment I was highly discouraged and very impatient and immediately applied for my DBA and tax id. now I regret rushing and doing that because I havent really dived into the communities and I want to back out, but I guess It’s okay to have my license and all that in order so when I’m ready it will be there. I would like to start like you did and make a blog , make tutorials , and soo forth. Thanks for all the info. I have a really basic portfolio site that was required when we graduated can you take a look at my work I have soo far and give me some feedback I would appreciate it . I know that eventually money needs to be made but like you I want to get more into the design community and build myself up for the money making Thanks

    ikonikdesignz1.wix.com/ikonikdesignz

  29. Thanks I am going to give this a try! I have waited for many years but now I am going to really dive in head first!

  30. Veronika

    Hi Sebastiano!

    I´ve found your article very useful, or better said SAVING MY LIFE :D
    In my case- from the beginning of IDEA running my businnnnesss WAS great. I thought “I hire good people (which I did) and I can receiving orders :))) The thing is I know How IS possible work in PS etc… but professionalllly I could not handle…(now) , so thatS why I wanted to let the “making work” to my hire people, and I will make the paperWork and the consultation with clients…. BUT I have realized and luckily in time that I will need to learn the way how it works in PS etc…how the colours, typology works and things around…how u said- To know what about I m talking to the client… so even I want to leave the work for my people who are talented for the job…. I have realized that it s not enough to lead in this area, ..because in a short time it would be “they are leading me”…. so I am thankful for your article…. i see know a hope that it s not late…. Wish you were here, being my teacher…Good luck!

  31. I have become huge fan of yours . Thanks for such wonderful article. passion and interest is what drives us to fortune, But guidance as this article saves the time and efforts for the same

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    Thanks for the inspiring words – I’m gonna give it my best :)

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  38. Luciana

    Your work inspired me to follow my dreams no matter how far they seem. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

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