A helpful guide to marketing for freelancers fed up with Instagram
Instagram has been a beloved tool to creatives everywhere since its launch in 2010. But recent algorithm changes and a push for more video content have left many artists and designers struggling to enjoy the same likes and reach. If IG has become too exhausting, what marketing alternatives are there? We explore some options.
Before we get started, we understand that many of you embrace reels and making videos and still enjoy some success on Instagram. Whilst that's great news for you, for many others, even the idea of creating films is just too much to bear. We've had more than a decade of chasing 'likes' and trying to keep up with the changing social networks. Do we really want to stay on the treadmill? Particularly when we're not in control of these platforms?
Yes, you could pay to reach your audience through social ads, but can any of us afford to in an age of uncertainty and rising costs? Can we even trust Meta to help us target the right people? If you're looking for free or affordable options to market yourself, don't fret! There are plenty of alternatives, which we'll share now. Included in our list are suggestions and tips from the creative community.
Look at the website you own and turn it into a powerful SEO machine
If you've not yet considered Search Engine Optimisation, it's time to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. Your website has huge potential when it comes to organic reach. Although often confusing, terrifying, misunderstood, and forever-changing, SEO is simply a way of making your website rank highly for its chosen keywords to attract people organically. So if you're a 'graphic designer in Manchester' and want to be found for those search terms, then that's your goal – to create a site that Google thinks falls into that category and deserves to sit on its first page of results.
But it's not a simple task. SEO experts don't fully understand the mysterious inner workings of the world's largest search engine. Nor can they keep up. Google is on a mission to prioritise quality content over sites trying to trick its algorithm. It even punishes those who step too far and try to game the system. It means you have to play fair and apply everything that's currently known to succeed. We're all busy, so how do we even get started?
There's no magic wand. If you can't afford to hire an expert, you will have to learn this stuff yourself. But as SEO is constantly changing, courses and learning guides can become outdated quickly. We recommend Moz for all your training needs. We've relied on it for over a decade, as it does a pretty good job explaining complex things in a language we can understand. Before you do anything else, read its Beginner's Guide to SEO. It's an important overview of how this type of search engine marketing works. Watch the 'One-Hour Guide to SEO' below, delivered by Moz's founder Rand Fishkin.
According to Moz, you need to follow these seven steps to successful SEO:
- Crawl accessibility so engines can read your website
- Compelling content that answers the searcher's query
- Keyword optimised to attract searchers & engines
- Great user experience, including a fast load speed and compelling UX
- Share-worthy content that earns links, citations, and amplification
- Title, URL, & description to draw high CTR in the rankings
- Snippet/schema markup to stand out in SERPs
There's a lot of work to do. And it's not going to be an overnight success. We'd recommend carving out an hour a day to learn and implement SEO.
For further reading, SEO expert Brian Dean also has Backlinko, a weekly newsletter that features tons of tips and insight to keep you on your toes.
Add an integrated blog to your website and get writing
One of the fastest ways to start making a difference today is to add a blog to your website. One that sits on the same domain and isn't separate. Imagine your website is a boat floating on the sea of the internet, and its pages are various fishing lines cast out to catch and hook web visitors – it means the more pages you add, the better. That's why a blog is so powerful. You can write as much as you like and attract people to your brand via endless means. HubSpot has a pretty good guide to optimising your blog content with loads of tips and recommended resources included.
Our biggest tip is to write within the theme of what you're offering and how you solve people's problems. So if you're a graphic designer and help businesses build more powerful brands, what tips, advice, case studies, or insight pieces can you write and share that showcase your skills and expertise and entice people to your website and hire you?
"Writing consistently about one topic will always be a viable marketing strategy," says Tom Berry, brand strategist and creative director at Studio Bennu. "Think about how you can help people. Add your unique perspective. Make sure everything you write adds value for a specific audience. Focus on creating timeless content that people can apply to their problems."
And last but not least, you've got to think of your blog post titles, as these often can make or break the effectiveness of an article. CoSchedule's Headline Analyser is brilliant for ideas and perfecting the most SEO-friendly content out there.
Actively build links back to your website and work on your PR
As you'll quickly learn with SEO, one of its many aspects is the importance of link-building. That means getting other websites to link back to your own. How you do that can be achieved in various ways. You can guest author on blogs or online magazines. You can focus on some PR and pitch yourself for platforms like Creative Boom, and It's Nice That. You can put yourself forward for podcasts and talks. It's a big effort, granted. But the more links you have, the better – particularly from higher-quality sites like those of universities, newspapers or renowned brands.
Top tips for excellent PR management: - Be prepared to stand out by getting great photos of yourself ready for features and having a decent microphone for podcasts. - Consider press packs to make it easier for busy journalists. - For extra reading, check out our tips on getting featured in the press.
"Getting our brand in the press and having quality photography of us and what we do has helped grow our profile," says Rebecca Wild of May Wild Studio. "Instagram is still a good visual resource or portfolio for clients, but it's the PR push that has been the most effective."
"We've even been collaborating with other creators on YouTube channels and in podcasts to talk about the industry and, by extension, our own work within it," says creator, filmmaker and broadcaster Neil Evans. "That organic reach is huge for us."
Build a list and send out a regular newsletter
There is nothing more valuable than building an email subscriber list. It's yours alone. No one can take it away from you. It's a bunch of engaged people who want to learn more about you and what you do. But there has to be some valuable reason to get them to sign up. Can all that fresh blog content, guest articles and press coverage be the solution? Yes, it can. Sign up to Mailchimp to get started, as it's free to those with fewer than 2,000 subscribers.
Then, you have to market your newsletter on your website. Give people an enticing reason to join. Have a dedicated page where they can sign-up – see Creative Boom's weekly newsletter landing page for inspiration.
Another top tip, add a 'recommended reading' section to your newsletter. It allows you to give back to the creative community, but it also builds happy connections who might be inclined to return the favour.
Consider other social networks where engagement still rocks
Twitter, LinkedIn, Discord, Behance and Pinterest have their merits and are still drawing in lots of traffic and engagement for many creatives. "LinkedIn has been a favourite for quite a long time," agrees illustrator Ari Liloan. "You get to put your work in front of people who have real hiring power instead of just other design fans. Some of my biggest commissions happened through organic recommendations there."
Artist Russell Taysom loves using Pinterest. "I've always enjoyed it for collecting images I like, but recently I've been using it much more to add my art," he says. "You can organise images by category with the board, and Pinterest images appear in Google searches."
Manchester-based creative Jaheed Hussain says Twitter for his platform Fuse has been the go-to for a while now, along with the website itself. "Both seem to have the best engagement for what we do," he says. "LinkedIn feels consistently strong for personal accounts compared to company pages, which we've noticed."
Go old school and remind clients you exist (and ask for help)
It doesn't hurt to send physical mailers, cold emails, updated portfolios and other bits and bobs to existing clients. They're inevitably busy and will have things on their list that they keep forgetting to sort, so reminding them you're still around will likely result in some fresh work.
Don't forget to ask clients for referrals, either. Consider offering a discount to loyal customers should they recommend you to a friend. It all helps. "I went a bit old school recently and created a little PDF deck of my work that I email to clients, and it's got amazing feedback," says illustrator Connie Noble. "I also started a newsletter, which gets more engagement than my Instagram as people like to take the time to have a little read."
Get out there and do things 'In Real Life'
Is there anything that beats actual human contact? Many events are back on in your local town or city. Business meetups, creative talks, networking parties – add a few to your diary and get out and meet people. Even art fairs are proving to be a success for many artists and designers. "I'm getting out and about," says Maz Leyden. "I love doing art markets and craft shows. It's so great to connect with people in person, plus so many people take business cards, which leads to social media follows and website sales."
London illustrator Loulou Elliott agrees and makes a final important point. "I discovered the joy of doing art markets last year. Anything in person is just great and very fulfilling. Because the art is directly in front of you, it's very physical and tangible and ultimately real. It holds people's interest better and engages their curiosity. It makes them more likely to remember you or buy something. People have very short attention spans on social media, especially with this generation's TikTok style. focusing on the genuine connection over 'engagement' is a great breather from doing loud things to catch people's attention."
To conclude and recap everything we've learnt
There is no quick solution or fix when it comes to marketing. It takes a little effort every day to build your SEO, improve your network, and attract the attention of journalists. Here's a helpful checklist to refer back to:
- Set aside an hour each day to work on your marketing. This isn't going to be an overnight thing. And there's no magic wand.
- Learn SEO with all the free resources available: Moz is a great place to start. And we recommend signing up for Backlinko's newsletter.
- Start that blog you've never had time to launch. Write quality content around the theme of your website and business. Add value.
- Build links to your website through guest blogging, press coverage, talks and podcasts. Be brave. Get your name out there but don't forget to be prepared, i.e. get some professional photography of yourself and your studio. Buy a decent microphone.
- Create a regular newsletter to share your story and all your content. Develop a subscriber list but give them an enticing reason to sign-up.
- Consider other social networks to build contacts and community. Twitter, LinkedIn and Behance still enjoy the high engagement.
- Remind existing clients you exist and ask them for referrals.
- Do things IRL: art fairs, networking events, conferences. Meeting people face-to-face is a powerful way to build relationships and meaningful connections.