What does it take to be successful as a designer or illustrator? A crazy amount of skill? A good dose of talent? Or perhaps a strong portfolio?
Some designers and illustrators seem to get all the attention. They get the good clients, spotlights in respected magazines, interviews in high traffic online publications and more. They’re all over the place and as a result their brand recognition is building like wildfire, clients love them and the community respects them.
Ironic as it is, if you visit a lot of inspiration sites like I do you’ll come across people who are actually more skilled than the creatives getting all the attention and yet they aren’t doing half as well. Are they content being in the shadow? It might be a lack of ambition… Or is there perhaps something else at play?
A lot of people think that if you love what you do and work feverishly on building your skills set you’ll get what you deserve. After all, shouldn’t it be skill that leads to exposure in online and offline publications? Doesn’t the person with the better portfolio always come out on top?
I can be short, the answer is a definite no. If you think you can ride artistic or design talent to victory in this modern day and age you’re wrong. There’s so much talent out there right now that it’s become extremely hard to stand out on just the quality of your portfolio. You have to get out there and build your brand by personally connecting with your peers and potential clients. You have to build your Online Presence, or as my favorite social media and marketing expert Gary Vaynerchuk would say – “you have to be willing to hustle”.
What is Online Presence?
Strictly speaking, Online Presence is nothing more than having an expression outlet on the web. If you have your own site or own a social media account you have presence on the web, simple as pie. This simplicity is deceiving though because a blog, Twitter account and everything in between doesn’t achieve anything by itself. It’s like buying Mike Tyson’s boxing gloves in an eBay aution, putting them on and jumping into the ring thinking you’re invincible. We can all predict what that scenario leads to…major ouch.
It’s not the gear that makes someone great. What defines your successful in any professional environment are the strategy and tactics you employ, the amount of work that you’re willing to put in and the skills you hone along the way. Online Presence is no different, it can lead to a situation where clients flood your mailbox and magazines offers become a regular happening. Before you reach that sweet spot however you’re going to have to put in the work and learn how to use the tools at your disposal like a pro. It’s time to hustle.
Why is Online Presence so important?
Because the times have changed and the internet has become the first point of contact. Let’s say you’re looking for a job. Unless you are a web designer your printed port still goes with you to the interview, but long before they lay their eyes on the work it contains they’ve already seen the portfolio pieces on your website. In the interview you’ll talk about yourself but they’ve already read your about me section, checked your Myspace, Facebook, Behance, Twitter and whatever else you’re on. Your Online Presence has shaped their first impression of you before you even enter their office.
Online Presence is even more important for freelancers. Thanks to the mass adoption of the internet the days where you send unsolicited mail, make cold calls or go into offices uninvited with a portfolio under your arm are almost entirely over. Today you must use the web as a means to make a first impression, showcase your portfolio, demonstrate your knowledge and get word of mouth. If you do it right you have an enormous amount of tools to positively shape the way your clients see you and your brand. If you do it wrong your first impression is a miss. Because you’re trying to score jobs through the internet there often is no second chance.
The benefits of Online presence
I’ve been talking about Online Presence and how important it is but I haven’t really mentioned what it can do for you. Giving a full list of benefits is impossible because the outcome is defined by the goals you yourself set and the creative branch you wish to work in. I can however list some of the most common benefits creatives strive to achieve by leveraging their Online Presence.
1. Make a strong first impression with potential employers
Having a strong and well thought out presence on the web can leave a positive impression with a client or employer before they’ve ever seen your face. You don’t have the job yet, but you’re off to a good start which is always important.
2. Builds your brand.
When people see your name come up in multiple places like blogs and magazines they can’t help but think you’re a professional player in this game. If someone doesn’t have the skill or expertise why else would he get all that attention? Faulty logic of course, but one that you should use to your advantage nonetheless. Make the contacts that allow you to showcase your work in many places and your brand recognition will skyrocket. Obviously this works best if your self-presentation is consistent.
3. Easier access to publications.
Want your work in Advanced Photoshop, Computer Arts or Imagine FX? Online Presence helps open these doors as well. Magazines will have an easier time noticing you if they see your work in more than one place. It’s also an efficient way to demonstrate you’re serious about your craft and are willing to do what it takes to reach your goals. Put yourself in their shoes, who would you rather expose, a designer who’s busting his butt off trying to make his dream a reality or a lazy artist that posts to his DeviantArt once every two months?
4. Generates traffic
Traffic is the lifeblood of the internet, which makes sense, after all if no one is seeing what you have to show you’ll never reach the goals you’ve set for yourself. As such a lot of our tactics will have strive to create traffic (well I know mine do). If you promote yourself in multiple places you’ll start to ensure that you get a stream of traffic to going around your presence on the web. As long as you make sure this traffic is targeted and not coming from random sources you can be sure your brand is getting a major booster.
4. Will bring in clients
If you have a good port and focus in the right places a strong Online Presence will bring in clients from time to time. Don’t expect to be done with all your regular ways of winning new clientele though, most designers I know are still dependent on returning clients, recommendations and mouth to mouth.
5. Creates a network of contacts you could call on for various purposes
Whether you need someone to give you some constructive criticism, need some coding help or want to outsource a piece of a project, building a good Online Presence will automatically lead to getting to know the right people. While blogging I’ve learned that knowing the right people isn’t just important, it’s essential.
8 powertips to bring your game to the next level
Getting Online Presence is actually the easy part, just launch some sites and start up a few social media accounts. The thing that complicates it is that you should make it your goal to get a strong presence – one that can be leveraged to help achieve your goals. Below are 8 tips that I guarantee will bring you some very tangible rewards if you stick with them.
1. Determine your focus
Without focus you’re just shooting blanks hoping they’ll hit a target. As far as Online Presence is concerned this means you should have a good view of what it is you’re trying to sell yourself as and then start looking what the best places are to do this online. Want to get your foot in the door as a contemporary character artist? Mojizu and Behance are solid starting places. Want to get your name out there as a Flash web designer? Make it your mission to get one or two of your sites on the FWA for starters.
2. Clean your port up
I often see a lot of portfolio’s that have work that’s three or more years old. That’s great if you had it going on then and haven’t improved much, but most of the time your old work will start to dull compared to your newer pieces and your focus might also have changed. It’s imperative you give your portfolio a harsh look every now and then and leave only your best pieces. Most professionals agree that it’s better to have a small but strong port then a large mixed quality one.
3. Don’t spread yourself too thin
There are tons of places and tricks online you can use to get your name out there. The problem is that once you start focusing on a few you’ll realize it cost quite a bit of time. Accounts need to be set up and kept up to date, comments need answering, networking need to be done and so on. If you don’t do the needed maintenance there really is no use to promoting yourself on a certain site at all. This means you can’t be everywhere so you need to start making choices. Ask yourself how much time you can spend and what places are most effective as a means to reaching your goals.
4. Be consistent in how you present yourself
Whether you work under your own name or not doesn’t matter, when you’re building Online Presence you are the brand. We all know a brand has to be protected and should be instantly recognizable. This means that if you represent yourself as “The ultimate Design lord” on one site you can’t be “John Jackson” on another, you have to pick one and stick with it. The same goes for style attributes you use. Don’t use bright colors in your portfolio design and then go all black and grey on your Behance, you’d be wasting your recognizability. Aim to be as consistent as is possible.
5. Do not expose information that might shock your target clients
We all have our “out of the ordinary” hobbies or crazy skeletons in our closets. You like listening to retro black metal music with your face painted black and white for that extra bit of credibility? That’s cool with me, I won’t judge. Some clients and peers however will. If you choose not to hide the aspects of your life others might look down upon I applaud you for your courage but I would advise you to think carefully about what information you expose about in a professional environment. I’ve found strangers get judged much harsher then the people we have closer ties with. Why not wait until you’ve established a bond before exposing possibly awkward details about yourself?
6. Try to get exposure through blogs
If printed magazines are out of your league at the moment chances are you could be very successful getting exposure on blogs. Getting exposure through blogs usually leads to some good traffic hitting up your site. One good strategy is to hit up multiple blogs every time you have an important update or launch a new project. You can also barter a bit with bloggers to ensure that stuff you think is important get mentioned in the post.
Note: When contacting bloggers make sure to go with blogs that are alive. It doesn’t have to be Smashing magazine but you really want some good exposure, so have a look at the amount of comments or ask the owner what the average daily visitor count is. I personally wouldn’t go with a blog that has less than 1500 visitors a day if it’s a lot of effort on your part (tutorials take time for example, a showcase on the other hand is as easy as sending some images over).
7. Get a tutorial published
Creating a good tutorial costs a bit of time but can have some great benefits. The first benefit is that you set yourself up as a specialist in your craft which is obviously never bad. Second is the fact that depending on where you get it published you’ll get a nice flow of traffic to your site and you might even get payed.
My personal advice would be to get your tutorial published on medium/large blogs or dedicated tutorial sites. For the blogs try Abduzeedo or Smashing Magazine. As far as dedicated tutorial sites go I’d advise you to look into the TUTS network first which features sites like Psdtuts. They get great traffic and pay your for your effort.
8. Collaborate with artists who also actively work on their Online Presence
Working with other artists has multiple benefits. First of you’re doing some strong networking for yourself. Second you’re investing time in a project that you know will be exposed from both sides. If both you and your partner are actively trying to make a name for yourselves this will lead to benefits for the both of you. A win win situation occurs and that’s not even mentioning the great work you and your partner might end up with.
Now you know what I will be working on the coming year: building and leveraging my Online Presence. I wish you the best of luck forging your own and would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.