Being a designer is one thing. Proving you’re an expert is another thing entirely. To be an expert, you must first possess the design sense, knowledge, and tools of a good designer. But you must also be able to provide a valuable service, be innovative, have an established reputation, and be able to tell others about these qualities in a coherent and engaging manner.
The process also includes marketing yourself – as a designer and as an expert – through various means. Getting out there and joining the conversation, creating valuable content, and helping others is essential as well. Becoming an expert also requires building a brand that has a solid reputation for creative and successful solutions.
In today’s post, we highlight a few effective, yet inexpensive marketing strategies that will help you get your name out there and build your credibility as a design expert. We also review some brand-building techniques that will help your name become synonymous with expertise in design.
Acquire the Skills
Obviously, before you market yourself as an expert and build your brand, you have to first acquire the skills to have a successful web design career.
There are a host of requisite design skills you must master in order to become an expert. Having design sense and an eye for aesthetics is a good place to start. Mastering Photoshop and the principles of UX/UI are good skills to have as well. There’s also a healthy dose of business knowledge experts must have – the ability to communicate and collaborate, organization, and some measure of sales and marketing knowledge among them.
Acquiring these skills will take time, experience, and a lot of patience. But as you develop your portfolio and satisfy your customers’ needs, the aforementioned skills will begin to develop. Once you’ve compiled a good collection of these skills, you can move on to the next steps in becoming an expert web designer.
Cheap, Yet Effective Marketing
Marketing yourself as a designer doesn’t have to entail home mailers, newspaper ads, billboards, television ads, and other expensive marketing ploys. You can easily bring attention to the services you provide (and your design expertise) by harnessing the power of the Internet. There are an abundance of excellent marketing tools on the Web at your disposal, many of which are absolutely free!
This should be a no-brainer. Social media is king right now, and it is essential to get your name out there on as many social media channels as possible. Participate in discussions with other designers. Follow big name designers and agencies. Comment on, retweet, like, and favorite other people’s posts. The key is to be active. No one will know who you are or that you’re an expert in the field if you don’t engage with your followers and the people you follow.
The best part of using social media for marketing purposes is that it really doesn’t cost you a penny. Combined with the worldwide reach of social media sites, it’s a good bet to put Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms to use. Not only does this get your name out there in the minds of potential customers, but it also helps you build credibility as a knowledgeable designer. Tweet about free resources, post how-to videos on YouTube, and show off your work on Dribbble. Doing so will help your followers see you as an authority in the design world.
A great example of using social media for promotional purposes is Red Website Design. Red Website Design actually focuses on sharing content that other designers and agencies produce. In that regard, they have established themselves as expert curators of design-related knowledge – from other people and that which they develop themselves.
— Red Website Design (@Red_Web_Design) March 6, 2015
It might seem strange to think that promoting the work of others can increase exposure of your own work, but in this case it has worked wonders. Red Website Design has become a force in the design world, quickly reaching a following on Twitter of more than 157,000 people. By simply highlighting the latest news, trends, and resources in design, Red Website Design has established themselves as a trusted and respected source of web design-related services. And what has that gotten them? Lots of business and lots of respect as experts in web design!
Developing a blog is a great way to establish some street cred as someone that knows what he or she is talking about. Blogging essentially serves the same function as social media – it is a platform for you to display your abundance of design knowledge. But unlike social media, blogging allows you more than a couple hundred characters to get your point across.
Part of harnessing the full power of blogging is including content that is shareable. Give your followers something to tweet about and show their friends on Facebook. This includes snippets of text that are wisdom gold, but it also includes photos, videos, infographics, and the like. The retention rate for visual information is around 65% as compared to just 10% for text. So, for example, rather than just telling people about the conversion rate improvements your clients have experienced, show them! The point is to create content that is engaging so your followers will share it amongst their circles. You will profit from it in terms of added business, but also in terms of spreading the word that you are an expert designer.
Lists are also a popular blogging format at the moment. Anything like “The Top 10 Design Trends” or “The 35 Greatest Designers” is much more likely to generate readers and shares. Similarly, blogs that ponder future trends, compare products or services, or aggregate amazing resources from around the web are your best bets for bringing in readers. These types of posts also go a long way in helping establish your credibility as an expert on the forefront of design innovation.
Some of the best web design blogs out there utilize these tricks to increase engagement and build credibility. By asking readers to vote for sites of the month, Awwwards is able to get their readers involved – and invested in – a process that is integral to the success of the site. Additionally, a quick look at their blog reveals a number of list-type posts. Their blogs are also widely known for having excellent graphics and shareable content – just the way you’re supposed to do it!
Having a blog also gives you the opportunity to invite guest posters to your blog or guest post on someone else’s blog. Not only does this establish your credibility as a web design expert and a worthwhile collaborative partner, but it also gets your blog twice the exposure. Having a handful of collaborative blogs each year will help you quickly spread the word about your work and your expertise as a designer.
Designrfix has taken this approach to heart. They accept content from anyone, so long as that content provides value and insight for their readers. Doing the same, you can quickly build your credibility and help spread the word about others’ design expertise as well.
Get Out There
“Getting out there” is closely related to the marketing aspect of becoming an expert designer. But instead of focusing on marketing, getting out there means focusing on interacting with other designers – and people who need designers – in a meaningful and helpful way.
Join the Conversation
A quick search of the Internet yields thousands of webpages where people are discussing the latest web design trends, the newest software or app for designers, or seeking feedback on their work. Getting in on that conversation is a fast and easy way for you to show off your design expertise.
Offering feedback about another designer’s work is a good place to start. Sites like Behance and Dribbble allow you to like and comment on work, so why not provide some expert advice to other designers while you’re there? This doesn’t mean you should rip others’ work apart, nor does it mean you should leave vague and unhelpful feedback like, “This is awesome!” Rather, offer genuine and specific feedback. For example, if you’ve found a designer on Dribbble seeking input on the new font he’s created, try leaving feedback along the lines of:
“Your font has gorgeous lines that give a sense of real movement. I can see myself using it for H1 and H2 tags. However, how well would it render in a smaller size?”
That kind of feedback serves a couple of purposes. First, you offer real insight to the designer. You’ve pointed something out that you like, and also posed a question for him to think about to make his work better. Second, by providing these insights, you’ve established yourself as someone that has a critical, yet helpful eye – something that establishes you as a design expert as well!
Another way to join the conversation is to follow the best design blogs and make frequent comments on their posts. Sites like Smashing Magazine, Speckyboy, and IM Creator have robust blogs with excellent content that generate a lot of page views. Offering an opinion about something reported in the article, giving a piece of advice, or providing some insight into the web design process can easily get you noticed by the blog’s readers, and maybe even the author of the post!
Posting your own work to inspiration or feedback sites is yet another effective way for you to join the conversation and establish your knowledge of design. Why not submit your recently completed web design project to Awwwards and see if you can be featured among the web’s best? SiteInspire has an excellent collection of the best websites from around the world as well. Webdesign Inspiration is another great feedback site that highlights websites of varying types, styles, colors, and industries. There is an opportunity on these sites for you to offer feedback, in addition to seeking it, so you can double down on developing your expertise.
When joining the conversation – whether that’s leaving feedback for a designer, commenting on a blog, or submitting your own work to websites – be sure that your contributions are of value. Arguing with another designer in the comments section of a blog isn’t what you need to do to demonstrate your expertise. Focus instead on providing other people with inspiration, knowledge, and insight, and they will welcome you with open arms as a true web design expert.
Create Valuable Content
One of the best ways for you to demonstrate your design expertise is by giving away your knowledge by creating or curating valuable content to share with other people.
This can take a number of different forms. As discussed above, developing and curating a blog is a great way to show off your expertise. And the beauty of a blog is that you control the content. If you want to write a how-to article on creating awesome icons in Photoshop, great! If you prefer to write an article on the best free design resources on the web, awesome! There are really no limits to what you can put on your blog. As long as it is high-quality material that helps other designers out, you’ll be able to demonstrate your expertise.
Another avenue for creating valuable content is to design and give out free resources. Icons, fonts, patterns, templates and buttons are all popular methods of getting your name out there as a quality designer who knows their stuff. You can provide these freebies on your website or blog, or you can serve them up to your followers on social media. Doing so not only demonstrates your expert level of design skill, it also serves to market your brand.
Sometimes a problem arises for a designer that they just can’t figure out on their own. In times like these, the quickest and easiest thing to do is to turn to the Internet for help. That’s where you come in!
Helping other designers solve their problems is an excellent way for you to prove your expertise. There are dozens and dozens of Q&A sites around the web where people post questions about design, among them the forums on WordPress, DocType, and Moz. By providing your input, you not only help that person with their problem, you demonstrate to everyone else that sees the post that you are a knowledgeable designer that others can rely on for insight.
This is where social media can play an essential role in becoming an expert designer. You can use Twitter to interact with other designers, offer free resources, and answer questions about design. Why not create a YouTube channel and offer free tips, tricks, hints, or even short classes on essential design principles? Designers are always looking for better ways to do things, so establishing yourself as a knowledgeable user of Photoshop, Dreamweaver, WordPress, or a website builder can help you help others solve their problems while also boosting your credibility as the expert you want to be. According to Forbes, using YouTube is one of the essential ways to establish yourself as an expert, so heed their advice and get your channel started today!
How to Build Your Brand
There are an abundance of ways that experts suggest building your brand. You need to provide a quality product and do so with honesty and integrity. You need to be original, reliable, and meet or exceed customer demands within the agreed-upon timeframe as well. Relying on testimonials is also a crucial aspect of building a name for yourself because potential customers are more likely to take to heart what past customers have said about your services.
To fuse together the idea of your brand and the idea of being an expert, you need to take additional steps. This includes developing a personality for your business and using specific marketing schemes to get a consistent message to your customers.
Think of Your Business Like a Person
Every individual has unique traits and characteristics that make them who they are. We brand ourselves each day by the things we say and do, the clothes we wear, and the decisions we make. The same process is followed for branding a business. You want to create an entity that people like, with which people communicate, and upon which people rely when they have a need or want.
Think of it like this: people use keywords and phrases to describe other people’s desirable traits: “He’s funny.” “She’s a hard worker.” “He’s dependable.” “She’s knowledgeable.” Thinking about your business as a person should involve keywords words like this as well.
It’s a simple matter of making a list of words you’d like others to associate with your business and incorporating those words into your branding and marketing strategies. Some words will need to make an emotional appeal, reminding people of how you make them feel or what they would benefit from hiring you. Words like “fun” or “trustworthy” fit into this category.
Other words will need to be descriptive in nature and modify your emotional words. Think of things like the industry you’re in – “web design” – or specific skills you possess like “creative.” Also consider how you would describe your work, perhaps “strategic” would sum it up.
Next, clearly define what services you offer. This can be simple, such as “web design.” It might also be something more specific, such as “improved conversion rates” or “increased site traffic.” Combining these words with your emotional and descriptive words into a brand mantra is the final step.
Maybe you’re a “Trustworthy, Creative Web Designer” or perhaps you offer “Strategic Web Design for Increased Site Traffic.” Whatever the case, your brand needs to convey what it is you do for others and establish you as the go-to source for web design services. This kind of branding also serves to highlight what you can do for clients, which, when combined with your social media marketing and your design skills, sets you up as being a web design expert.
Use the 4-1-1 Approach
What many marketing and branding experts suggest is to use the 4-1-1 approach to branding, which calls for a specific formula for sharing content on social media:
- 4 posts should highlight content created by other people. This content should be from experts in the area of design who have a great deal of social media influence.
- 1 post should be content that you have created. The content should be original, highlight your areas of expertise, and be educational or informative in some capacity.
- 1 post should be sales-oriented, perhaps highlighting a service you provide. This might be offering a discount on an icon set you’ve developed, or it might be news about a new service you’re offering. The point is to embed this sales information – which people are less likely to read and share – in amongst the other content from above.
Sharing the work of others along with your original content will establish your credibility and make it more likely that people will take your work more seriously. It also places your content in amongst that of other, perhaps more well-established, designers, which goes a long way in helping potential customers associate your brand with good, quality designs.
Putting It All Together
Building your brand and your reputation as an expert designer will take a lot of time, effort, and dedication on your part. You will need to create new and original content that engages others in conversation. You’ll need to highlight the work of others as well. Using social media, your own website and blog, and other marketing strategies will, in part, determine the success or failure of your business.
Use the strategies we’ve outlined here to get your name out there and build credibility. Once you do that, the title of “web design expert” will be much more easily achieved. But also bear in mind that you need not equate being an expert with having a wide reach on social media or a giant list of subscribers to your blog. Yes, those things would be great, however, being an expert designer is more about reaching the right people as opposed to reaching the most people.
To learn more about developing your business and honing your design skills, follow our blog. Our monthly newsletter offers additional tips and tricks to help you achieve your web design business goals, so don’t miss out on that either!Image Credits:
MadMapper Workshop @ Freemote by Sebastiaan ter Berg via Flickr Creative Commons
Social Media Marketing by Jerry Nihen via Flickr Creative Commons
The New Brand Formula by Troy Thompson via Flickr Creative Commons
Conversation by Valery Kenski via Flickr Creative Commons
Valuable Original Content by 10ch via Flickr Creative Commons