10 Passive Marketing Opportunities for Freelancers

Freelance designers are faced with the challenge of constantly finding new work and converting inquiries into paying clients. There are plenty of different ways that you can market your services, but sometimes the most effective ways involve passive marketing.

In this article we will be looking at ten different ways you can passively market your services to potential clients. This includes some methods that involve work up front and then little to no work to continue marketing your services, as well as some methods that are passive in the sense that you are not actively pursuing clients or trying to advertise your services.

1. An Effective Portfolio Site

The portfolio site is a critical aspect to marketing for freelancers. One of the reasons that a great portfolio site can be so effective is that it will always be there to market your services to potential visitors. Regardless of what time of day it is or where the potential client lives, a strong portfolio site will promote your services for you. The portfolio site should showcase your best work, clearly communicate to visitors what you can offer, and allow them to get in touch with you about their project.

For more on portfolio websites, please see these resources:

2. Design Galleries

Once you’ve got your portfolio site designed and it’s ready to market your services for you, give it some help towards getting exposure by submitting it to design and CSS galleries. There are hundreds of gallery sites that showcase well-designed websites, and they can provide plenty of exposure for sites that are featured. Of course, getting your site featured in these galleries is not easy. Most galleries accept only a small percentage of submissions, which is all the more reason to take your time and create the best portfolio site possible.

In addition to submitting your portfolio site, you can also submit your work for clients to the gallery sites if it is worthy. While this may not send traffic directly to your site, visitors may see that you designed the site and they may be interested in having you do the same thing for them. At the very least, showing potential clients that your work for other clients has been recognized by galleries should help to build your credibility.

Submitting sites to lots of galleries can obviously take considerable amounts of time. There are some services that will submit your site for a fee. If you’re interested in these services see:

3. Referrals

Many designers get more business through word-of-mouth referrals than any other type of marketing or advertising. Referrals are highly valuable because if they trust the person who is referring you, you will benefit from that trust as well. With so many designers out there to choose from, many clients will ask friends or colleagues if they know of anyone to recommend. These types of inquiries are generally a little easier to convert than the average person who is contacting you about a project.

While referral business is a great thing to have, it will take some work to develop. The best thing you can do to increase the referrals that you receive is to focus on doing the best job you possibly can for your clients. Happy clients will result in referrals. Also, it helps to ask your clients if they know of anyone that could use your services, or at least mention to them that you would be happy to speak with anyone that they refer to you.

In addition to referrals from clients, you can also benefit from word-of-mouth advertising through your friends and family. Make sure that your friends and family know what you do for a living and that they have some business cards or at least a phone number or email address that they can share with others who may be in need of your services.

Another potential source of referral business is from other designers and professionals in related services. Many designers will provide referrals when they get potential clients that are not a good fit for their services, and other professionals in related industries may prefer to have relationships with designers that they can refer. This all comes down to having a strong network and actively pursuing relationships and arrangements for mutual benefit.

4. Footer Links

It’s very common for designers to include a link to their portfolio site in the footer of sites that they have designed for clients (of course, you should get a client’s permission to do this). As other people come to the website, if they like the site and they are in need of a designer they may click through to your portfolio and contact you. Especially on sites that are showcased in design galleries or recognized in some way for their design, having a footer link can help to increase your exposure and to build your reputation.

5. Designer Profiles

There are tons of sites out there for matching designers and clients up with each other. Many of these sites, like Elance, allow designers to create an account and add their profile. These types of sites are used very actively by many freelancers to find work, but they can also be resources for passive marketing. As potential clients come across your profile it is possible that they may contact you directly if they like what they see. While this can provide some business for you, it won’t send floods of new clients, so use it as a part of your passive marketing plan as opposed to being your only passive marketing technique.

Other sites similar to Elance include:

6. Portfolios on Other Sites

In addition to having an effective portfolio site, there are other places that you can display your work where it will be able to promote your services for you. Sites like the Behance Network are great for providing a platform where you can benefit from some added exposure. These sites tend to be frequented by designers, but they still lead to work for take advantage of the opportunity.

Aside from the Behance Network, some of the other places where you can post your portfolio include:

7. Your Blog

Having a blog at your portfolio site is a great way to attract visitors to your site and to build your name recognition as a designer. Maintaining a blog and writing posts does take time, so it is not a passive marketing technique in the sense that it takes no effort on your part. However, it is passive in that the blog will draw potential clients to your site and subtly promote your services, and once your posts are published they will be there to attract visitors and provide information until you choose to take them down. The main function of a blog is to provide content to readers, not to sell products or services, but it can still be very effective for landing more clients.

Through your blog you can publish content that will show visitors that you are a qualified designer who would do a great job with their project, but you don’t even have to say so. Use the blog posts to help readers by providing valuable information, show your expertise, and people will be more inclined to work with you when they are looking for designers.

One of the best reasons to have a blog at your portfolio site is that it will drastically improve your ability to draw search engine visitors. With so many portfolio sites out there it is difficult to rank well for just about any phrase that receives decent search volume, but a blog will help you to attract more inbound links, plus you can target specific keywords and search phrases with posts and have a better chance of drawing traffic.

8. Writing for Other Blogs

While publishing posts on your own blog is a great way to attract visitors, writing for other blogs also can help by providing exposure to a new audience. Some blogs pay for articles that get published and others may not pay, but they are likely to include an author bio with a link back to your site. Like posts that are published on your own blog, they will stay out there to promote yourself for the long term.

I have personally landed a few clients that have come to me through my articles that they found on other blogs. In these cases, I have been paid to write the blog posts, so the marketing benefits are really just a bonus. Landing clients through posts on other blogs can certainly happen, but don’t expect to find tons of clients this way. If you’re getting paid and benefiting from added exposure and the chance for new clients to find you, it’s a pretty good situation.

9. Interviews on Other Blogs

A lot of design blogs frequently publish interviews with various designers. While it may seem like you are not getting anything out of the time that you dedicate to an interview, it is just one more way to get some free exposure, and like blog posts, it will remain out there for the long term to be found by potential clients. Interviews are great for allowing people to learn more about you and to become more comfortable with you. Theses things can make all the difference when potential clients are trying to decide who they should contact about their website.

10. Social Networking

Like blogging, social networking requires time and effort but provides an opportunity to market yourself in a passive manner. You can get to know other users and get involved in the community of the social networking site, and it may wind up leading to design business. many designers get clients through their activity on sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

What About You?

How do you market yourself passively? If you have any tips or experiences that you would like to share, please leave a comment.

Stephen Snell is the owner and editor of Vandelay Design, a popular design blog.
  1. November 18, 2009

    very useful.

    thank you.

  2. Claz
    November 19, 2009

    Thank you for Good Entry
    very useful and understandable.

  3. November 19, 2009

    Nice tips!
    Being active in social networks is rather hard work though, at least in the beginning.

  4. Webjohn01
    November 19, 2009

    Hello Steven!

    It was a great advice for those who will get into freelancing either full or part-time.

    Keep up the good work.

    More thanks!

  5. November 19, 2009

    I volunteer to do graphic design for a local non-profit. It happened at a point where they needed a branded look and feel. So everything has my concept and design. It gives me exposure and word of mouth referrals besides doing a good thing for something I believe in. A win-win.

  6. November 19, 2009

    Great article. I’m still building my portfolio site but I’ve finished the design. There are some great tips here. Most I’m aware of but point 5 is something I’ve not ever done before so will soon.


  7. November 19, 2009

    thanks for the tips

  8. November 19, 2009

    All 10 points are excellent! I am trying them all – thanks.

  9. November 19, 2009

    Nice post. Although I’m always curious as to whether putting your link in other site’s footer is tacky or effective. It seems like agencies hardly ever do it, while freelancers try too much. A good way that I’ve found it to put something in the CSS or HTML for really inquisitive visitors.

  10. November 19, 2009

    I agree with you. Personally I do not put a link to my portfolio on sites that I do, but part of that is because I am not looking for more work. I included it on the list because I find myself looking at the footers of sites often to see who designed it. Maybe that’s because I’m a curious designer and maybe potential clients would not do the same. I think putting it in the code can help, but I don’t know too many clients that will look at the source code.

  11. November 19, 2009


    Maybe an easter egg placed in the footer where you can’t see the designed by, but if you hover in the right spot you’ll find the link? Oh the subtleties of authorship.


  12. November 19, 2009

    Great article! Learned a few good tips. I usually use social media marketing and word of mouth. I am active on facebook, twitter, linked in and flickr.

  13. November 19, 2009

    Great tips, I’ve tried to link myself to all of the social sites. I think it helps when your information is easily attainable.


  14. November 19, 2009

    I agree with Glenn in the respect that putting your information on a client’s website is rather tacky and I believe considered fairly taboo in the professional design community. Having excellent case studies on your own personal website highlighting the work you did for a particular client seems not only more acceptable, but also great at building personal credibility.

    When you have done great work for a client, they will typically refer you to enough potential clients that the need for a footer plug isn’t necessary anyways.

  15. November 19, 2009

    I tend to agree with you, but I do think it is an opportunity to passively market yourself if that’s a route that you wanted to go. I wouldn’t argue with you that it is “fairly taboo in the professional design community”, but those aren’t the people that you would be marketing to. I think most people outside the design community wouldn’t think there is anything taboo with a footer link.

  16. November 20, 2009

    it is nice to see some good work.My good wishes to you.

  17. rd
    November 20, 2009

    Links to specific design galleries and communities are pretty useful.

    Otherways, not really a groundbreaking article 🙂 I figure 6-7 of these would have been enough, is 10 some magic number that has to be reached?

  18. November 20, 2009

    This is great advice. I need to start a few new projects to follow up on some of these!

    We always encourage “Writing for Other Blogs”, it’s a great way to build your personal brand.

    One of our marketing contributors recently landed a big (five-figure) contract from a client who found them via a google search and Freelance Advisor post.

    Freelance Advisor is always looking for new, interesting contributors with something to say and expertise to share. It’s a great way to get your name out there and a quick way to build a portfolio.


  19. November 20, 2009

    No, 10 is not a magic number that has to be reached. I wanted to include certain things that might be obvious to some people because there are a lot of people reading the blog that are very new to freelancing or just planning their start. What I’ve learned from other articles is that these people appreciate content that doesn’t assume a lot of knowledge or experience. The article wasn’t really intended to be ground breaking, but I’m sorry that you didn’t find it to be very useful.

  20. November 20, 2009

    Thank you. Very useful and understandable. In my opinion a banner exchange is a good opportunity to promote yourself too.

  21. November 20, 2009

    Great info! I will be sure to pass this onto my freelancers whom I hire.

  22. November 22, 2009

    Excellent points and some that I definately need to implement on my sites.

  23. November 22, 2009

    I’ve been trying to market myself on social media for the last month, and I’ve had very little success so far, I’m still sticking with it on twitter and linkedin mainly, I’m just waiting for it to pay off!


  24. November 22, 2009

    Hi Richard,
    If you’re using social media sites make sure that you are getting involved in the community and that it doesn’t appear to other users that you are strictly marketing yourself. You’ll be able to make better connections if you’re just part of the community and most social media users are resistant to users who seem to be marketing too much. (Since I don’t know what types of things you’re doing on social media/networking sites I’m not saying you are doing anything wrong, this is just something that I see happening with a lot of other people that are trying to market on social media.)

  25. November 23, 2009

    I totally agree with Steven. I see Social Media not as a marketing opportunity but the evolution of an (ever widening) social space online.

    If you are a jerk deep down then social media will just help you spread your stupid jerk comments further and wider than ever before. If you take more than you give then you’ll probably do the same online.

    However, if you’re a good, helpful, friendly guy (adding value to every conversation) then, again, social media will just amplify and spread that further.

    Just marketing yourself is like being the bore at the party who just talks about himself and his business the whole time. Those guys are jerks. And it’s the same with Social Media.

  26. November 23, 2009

    Thanks for the advice, I do get involved with the communities, especially on linkedin, but not as much on twitter. Perhaps describing my activities as “marketing myself” is a bit too harsh, I use twitter and linkedin as a platform to find clients, I’d just like it to get to a point where at least some of my clients found me through social media.

  27. November 23, 2009

    Hi Richard,
    I had a feeling you weren’t only marketing yourselves on those networks, but I thought it should be pointed out just in case.

  28. November 23, 2009

    Putting a link in you footer is perhaps the easiest, but most commonly overlooked.

  29. November 26, 2009

    Thanks for the useful tips

  30. ashish
    December 3, 2009


    nice tip for freelance, we can move fast on your tip. i am also finding some work as a freelancer and i got this artical.


  31. Jodi Allen
    January 12, 2010

    Loved this article! Social media may be time consuming however if you want to do freelance you do what it takes. Puts you one step ahead of the others and lord knows there are ALOT of us out there. Again great article!

  32. January 12, 2010

    @Jodi while I agree that Social media *can* be time consuming — it can be a massive time sink, too much online interaction can be very distracting — it doesn’t *have* to be time consuming.

    Tools like TweetDeck and HootSuite allow you to send messages to multiple sites at once, i.e. I can update Facebook status, a Facebook page, one (or all) of several Twitter accounts, LinkedIn status, MySpace, etc. etc.

    One message, multiple updates, services like FriendFeed and Ping.fm can really help with this too.

    Hootsuite will also allow you to schedule tweets in the future so if you know you’ll be offline, out of the office, or have a launch of something then you can create an update in the future.

    As for links in the footer, it’s good advice still, but a lot of forum’s have ‘no follow’ links so you won’t get much GoogleJuice for doing that. It’s good for getting your name out there, but not for SEO so much.

  33. May 18, 2010

    Thanks for the tips!

  34. June 13, 2010

    Great…nice tip for freelance

  35. August 4, 2010

    I use twitter and linkedin as a platform to find clients, I’d just like it to get to a point where at least some of my clients found me through social media.

  36. August 14, 2010

    This is a wonderful article, and helps you onto the first step to independance as a freelancer in the exciting field of marketing. Marketing touches everyone at various points even when we are not aware of it. Marketing is the life of any business.

  37. August 14, 2010

    This is a really a great topic, its surprising that after such a long span of time I have, at last been able to find what I wanted.

  38. August 14, 2010

    I will most certainly tell my MBA students to study this topic and even write about passive marketing and the benefits of being a freelancer.

    Almost all my MBA students dream of being their own boss and thats what end up with when I tell them about studying enterpreneurship not just to pass an examination but to go into business for themselves.

    But this topic will make it much easier for them.

    I wish them the best in their futures, and at this same point I wish to congratulate the writer of this topic who did not keep this topic a well guarded secret but has opened up this secret to the whole world.

  39. Puneet Yamparala
    April 15, 2011

    Another way is to use your invoices to passively market your services. Here are few ideas about using social media in invoices http://runapptivo.apptivo.com/importance-of-social-media-in-invoice-design-1426.html

  40. April 24, 2011

    You can passively market in your local area by building some relationships with other companies like printers or marketing companies. Sometimes there are community boards where you can post a nice flyers, business cards or poster as well.

  41. April 24, 2011

    The invoices you send out to your customers can also be a huge help to market your business. This article has some good pointers on designing your invoice to help market your services. http://runapptivo.apptivo.com/7-features-to-look-for-in-an-invoice-template-for-independent-professionals-990.html

  42. August 4, 2011

    Another great way for some passive marketing is to comment on designer blog posts giving your thoughts and concerns on topics. By doing this people will also see you reach out to the design community on other levels than just your personal site.

    Also many of these site offer link backs to your site once you submit your comment.

    Thanks Steven for the great tips!

  43. Ivan Patrick Carmody
    August 4, 2011

    Passive Marketing: This is a totally new concept of marketing.
    Yet I would advise you to study more about any subject before venturing into it. At times I feel that Principles of Marketing must be studied by everyone as it gives a strong insight into the subject. The best books in the world to study marketing are by Philip Kotler and Gary Armstrong they are American. The second book of marketing is by Peter Rix, this is Australian. These are really wonderful books to understand what marketing is all about.

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