Creative ways to promote your design business with little or no budget

On the Millo facebook page, I recently asked what sorts of articles you would like to read during the next few months here at the blog. While I plan to write articles for nearly all the responses, one particular response offered by Nina Randone, really caught my attention. Her suggestion? Creative and low budget self-promotion pieces. Thus, this article was born. Today I would like to explore creative ways to promote your design business with little or no budget. Thanks, Nina.

I think what I’ll do is offer up a variety of suggestions I have and a few tricks that have worked for me. Then I’ll just open up the discussion to you guys. You bring so many great experiences to the table, I’d love to hear what suggestions you have on creative ways to promote your design business with little or no budget. Here’s my two cents:

Try some Guerilla Marketing

One idea I have always toyed around with is using some non-traditional or guerilla marketing tactics. Obviously, guerilla marketing works perfectly for a low-budget scenario because the idea of guerilla marketing is not to rely on huge marketing budgets, but creativity, spontaneity, and the element of surprise.

I have often thought, as I have walked in and out of local shops, how terrible the flyers, banners, and even junkie slips of paper look in the store window. What if you printed up just a few really nice-looking 8×10 ads for your design business and said something like “Stand out from the crowd” on them. In contrast to the black and white flyers printed on yellowing white paper with little tabs ripped off the bottom, yours could be a high-gloss matted piece of 100lb weight paper that doesn’t fade in the sun.

💔 Falling out of love with your clients? Trade some of your worst clients for the best companies in the world with SolidGigs, our premium weekly freelance job list & course library. Love your business again. Learn more »

When potential clients see the difference between what other amateur designers and marketers and doing versus what you can produce, you’re bound to turn a few heads. The great thing about this particular approach is you only have to spend money on the nice prints (which are usually fairly cheap) and the other “junk” surrounding your ad is already provided by those who have come to place their flyers before you. What do you think?

Give something of value away for free

Don’t forget, here at Millo, we have already discussed the fact that discounts could devalue your design. We have also explored three reasons to think twice before offering free design services. I am not suggesting here that you give away your design services for free, but that you giveaway other things for free.

If you are on an extremely tight or non-existent budget, for example, try giving away a free e-book to local business owners that explains the basics of good web or graphic design. I did this by emailing an ebook titled “10 elements of a successful business web site” to a few potential clients in my city. When they read about web site essentials and realized their sites didn’t have all the necessary elements, guess who they called up to ask for help.

Yep, me.

If your budget allows for a little more spending, you can similarly print a book like the one mentioned above, go around to local businesses, meet them in person, and give them the free book.

You could also giveaway free seminars or consultations. But be careful not to make these too much of a sales pitch. If you go to a free consultation with a potential client, try not to be too much of a salesman. Be kind, considerate, and really focus on what the person needs from you. More than likely, they will result in a new client.

Enter your email. Grow your business.

Submit your email below and join 45,000+ creatives who get our most helpful content via email every week. 100% free. Unsubscribe anytime. Privacy protected.

Try Blogging

While it can be daunting getting into the world of blogging about design, I have to admit, one of the most common ways I have found clients during the last 6-9 months is due the my blog’s visibility. One of my clients put it this way (I’m paraphrasing), “We found your blog and were impressed by the fact that you help other designers understand the importance of good client relationships. We figured, you probably practice what you preach, and we were right. Thanks for the good experience and excellent designs.”

You can have the same impact on a potential client. Perhaps you specialize in wordpress design, blog about it. Maybe you’re all about logo design, start a logo design blog. A lot of people out there complain that there are too many design blogs and you shouldn’t start your own. I say, GO FOR IT! A design blog isn’t always about making money from banner ads or eBooks. It could simply be a great way to reach out to your clients without spending a huge amount of money.

If you’re serious being a successful design-blogger, try reading a few of my favorite Millo articles on blogging about design:

Hit the Streets

Or pick up the phone, or write an email. However you choose to cold-call your potential clients, just get up and get active. Although this method has not proven as successful for me as some tactics mentioned above, getting out and knocking on business-owner’s doors, calling potential clients, or emailing company owners, is a great way to start out (especially if your budget is low or non-existent).

Doing something is better than not doing anything, so if you find your design business slowing or not picking up the speed you would like, get up and do something about it. Even if knocking business doors all day only lands you one new client, that’s one more than you had before.

Take time to brainstorm (then share)

While foot-power can be a great tool and getting up and doing something is a good way to move your design business forward, it always pays off to take a little time to brainstorm some good, solid, effective ideas for promoting your design business. Sit down with a pen and paper and jot down all the ideas you can think of, even if they sound ridiculous.

I’d also love to hear some of the ideas you come up with during your brainstorming session. Please take a second and share them with us by leaving a comment on this post. Your ideas will help us all better promote our design businesses with little or no budgets.

Keep the conversation going...

Over 5,000 of us are having daily conversations over in our free Facebook group and we'd love to see you there. Join us!

  1. I found this article as I was looking for ways to promote my website. I’m not a freelance designer or own a business but i’m studying Graphic Design. Hopefully by this time next year I will have a BA in Graphic Design.

    It might seem odd that I’m promoting my website but I’m doing it as a learning curve as I would like to understand more about SEO and how social networking plays a part in brand promotion/connecting with people.

    Many students have a very low budget and I’m thinking your ideas could suit very well to a student trying to get their first job or placement/internship. It really is very hard to stand out from the crowd and get your foot in the door especially as there are so many design students graduating every year.

  2. Thanks for this, great post!
    I have been debating the idea of blogging for a while now. I wish I had started one years ago, it would just be second nature by now!
    I started my own design business this year, Surface House and I am currently the exact position that your post is about. (marketing with little budget)
    I thought blogging would be a great idea but its daunting prospect and I constantly doubt that the topics I feel I have enough knowledge to blog about would actually reach out to my potential customers…
    Kind regards, Laura, Surface House.

  3. One of the most simple ways to create a big impact with your company logo and really brand yourself offline is getting custom made laptop, ipad and smartphone cases with your logo on them. I have hooked clients up with this and the feedback has been great. Imagine your whole sales team with matching laptop cases and logos at your next meeting. I recommend clients use

  4. I love the term “Guerrilla Marketing” as I have been engaging in such practises since recently starting my own Graphics Design project.
    I’ve had next to no money to invest in Ad Words or anything else really for that matter. So its kind of forced me to take alot of wild concepts into consideration.
    One thing I have been doing, which I find to be extremely cost effective and useful in terms of making a good first impression on potential clients, is making my own business cards.
    I was faced with the dilemma of looking extremely unprofessional, when approaching a potential client with no business cards, or even worse, having business cards that look as though they were created by a 3 year old.
    And then, in the most unexpected of places (a dollar store) I came across pearlised cardboard paper that came in packets of 6 for just $2.50.
    My logo was always intended to be quite simplistic so as to deliver the message quickly and efficiently. So i had no trouble printing it onto the cardboard paper. After that I made the bold decision to make all the cards square, which allowed me to print 9 cards on each sheet of paper.
    The end result was stunning! Incredibly professional looking and the fact that the cards are square and not the standard rectangle, created an element of individuality, setting my brand apart from others.
    I found myself making hundreds of cards for peanuts! Just goes to show, sometimes a little bit of brainstorming can go a very long way.
    I have some photos of the cards on our Facebook page. Feel free to have a look!

  5. These articles are getting me motivated again! thank you again for these great tips and guidence been freelancer for a full year now and been doing it all wrong! hope i can connect more with some great designers


  6. Great information! It’s so true that there are little things you can do that sometimes mean the most to clients.

  7. Also try submitting your website to some CSS Galleries, it really does give you some exposure. And join LinkedIn and Twitter and start networking. 🙂

  8. Found the article through tweet thread.other designers have always inspired additional inspiration.especially when I was low on it.with a background in sales,sometimes I find it difficult to turn it off and concentrate on design.I often say,if someone could concentrate on the sales&promotion,i ‘d just pump out design.

  9. Great article and “Doing something is better than not doing anything” is such great advice, Thanks for the tips!

  10. Squidoo and hub pages are also good option to promote designs because they have lots of loyal users

  11. I agree with Jen that anyone who can combine several different marketing efforts will probably be more successful. I recently joined a networking group in my town, only been to two meetings, and I already have some potential clients. If I can combine my local networking with the guerilla tactics, a newsletter/e-book and possibly sending out a direct mail piece to small businesses around town, I think I can build more long-term relationships. I have also done some bartering that proved successful and lead to new clients and more work. I offered a local photographer to design her logo in return for a family photo shoot. We have continued our business relationship ever since and she has recommended me to friends and family that hired me. Not sure cold-calling is my thing, but I might have to overcome that in order to follow up onmy mailings. I am curious if anyone’s been successful with direct mail pieces?

  12. I love your guerilla marketing idea! I think part of the solution though, is not depending on only once or two sources of marketing. I’ve found that it’s best to spread out my marketing efforts. I find that when I focus all of my time, energy, and funds on one branch of marketing that I could be let down.

    Networking has been proven to be fruitful for me. Pull in the resources and connections that I already have, build new ones, and figure out how we can mutually benefit each other.

  13. I agree with Lisa that offline networking can result in quite a few clients.
    And I’m really a fan of guerilla tactics. It can show your creativity and will not cost you much.

  14. Great article, Preston! I’m not sure cold-calling works well in our industry, and really, to do it justice you have to really not be afraid of that phone or the word, “no”. I belong to a couple of groups and network regularly; the end result is building trust, confidence (both directions), deepening the relationship being built, resulting in client work. Thoughts?

The conversation's still going in our free Facebook group . Join us there!