Words for Winners: 4 marketing tips to boost your design business

In the last Words for Winners, we explored 5 contest strategies designers can use to increase their wins-to-contests ratio.

There are things you can do in ensure more follow-on work once you win a contest. We will cover 4 marketing tips to help you land more projects and build lasting relationships with clients on 99designs.

Results guaranteed!

In most cases, 9 out of 10 designers don’t agree with marketing because they do not like “selling” their services. Instead, they want clients to remember and reach out to them for the quality they deliver.

That’s fine and admirable and you might be able to pay the bills with this passive approach but you’ll hardly build a thriving design business.

Tip #1: capture the leads

The difficult part of any business is finding new potential clients. Who are they? Where can I find them? Once you answer these questions, you will end up with a list of leads or people interested in what you have to offer.

The traditional way to get leads is to promote and advertise so people who need your services (hopefully) call you or visit your website. This usually works but it also costs a lot of money.

The other way is to be smart and use the leads generated by businesses such as 99designs.

At the time of writing this article, there were about 1500 clients on 99designs waiting to get in touch with you. This is a huge marketing value for every designer.

Consider this – 99designs spends a lot of money on advertising and promotion in order to attract hundreds of clients who need design services. Those clients are then served to us on a tray, the only condition being that you participate in a design contest.

You’ll easily understand that the biggest value 99designs provides is not the prize money but connection with hundreds of potential new clients.

The first step toward marketing yourself is simple: enter contests, get to know clients, exchange emails and contact details. This is pure gold (especially for contests you win) and you’ll need it for the tips below.

Tip #2: stay on the radar

“Out of sight, out of mind” goes the adage and its true. If clients don’t hear from you often enough, they’ll forget about you.

That’s why it’s important to contact them regularly but always with a good reason – you don’t want to be pushy or boring.

Mailchimp is a great tool for sending newsletters and email updates to your clients. The best part? It’s free.

Portfolio updates, contests wins and other important changes in your design career are a great reason to email and keep clients up-to-date. Newsletters from designers are well accepted because everyone likes taking breaks and looking at nice design portfolios.

They also make you look professional and business savvy which increases your reputation and builds rapport with clients.

How often, you wonder? On average, you should sends emails every two weeks. And use a professional newsletter service such as mailchimp – they let you send up to 12,000 emails per month for free and you can design your emails too.

Tip #3: upsell and use 1-to-1 invoicing

“Do you want some fries with that?” is a sentence you’ll hear at every fast food restaurant and it’s there for a reason – by offering you fries, they give you an option to make your meal richer but they also increase the total size of your order (earning more in the process).

Upselling is the single, most important improvement you can introduce to your design business. By offering additional services to clients who are already trusting and buying from you, increases your chances of getting the extra work while deepening the relationship with the client.

Here are some ideas on upselling:

  • If you win a logo design contest, offer to design a business card and a flyer
  • If you win a web design contest, offer to design a package containing Favicon, Facebook cover page and Twitter background
  • If you win a packaging design contest, offer to design a T-shirt

1-to-1 invoicing is a great tool for upselling purposes. Clients can pay for additional work in the same familiar environment.

You can use any combination of additional services to offer but make sure your upsell is a nice addition to the original project, not a big project in itself.  If you’re unsure, think about fries.

Here is a sample message you can send to your client once you win a contest:

Hey _____,

It’s really been great working with you on this project. I thought about how you can get more out of it, so I wanted to suggest that we design a business card and a flyer at a special price of $_____. 

Would you like to do that? 99designs easily supports this kind of work via 1-to-1 invoicing.

If the client says yes, you can use the 1-to-1 invoicing to charge for the work once it’s complete. Here is an article explaining how to do that.

Tip #4: measure your success

“What gets measured gets managed” said Peter Drucker, a famous management and business thinker.

This is absolutely true – if you want to make sure you’re using 99designs to your best interest, you need to start measuring your client to contest ratio.

This is simple – divide the number of clients you formed a relationship with, with number of contests you won.

For example:

  •  Number of clients met through 99designs:  2
  • Contest won: 10
  • Client to contest ratio:  0, 2  (or 20%)

This will tell you how effective your marketing is and how well you’re connecting with clients you meet through 99designs.

Marketing tips explained

Good marketing doesn’t mean you have to become an annoying, pushy person everybody is frowning upon. On the contrary, good marketing is about showing clients what you do and how you can help them.

Starting is easy – all you need to do is send client contacts bi-monthly newsletters and portfolio updates while offering additional services when you win contests. Occasionally, you should measure your client-to-contest ratio so you can see how well are you using 99designs for marketing purposes.

Coming up next

Do you learn by reading or by following design tutorials? If you’ve never thought about studying design, please start now – your learning habits determine your design success.

In the last part of Words for Winners, we’ll explore different ways you can stay “in the know,” so you learn better and faster!

Have a marketing tip to share? Let us know in the comments.

Peter Vukovic is a seasoned designer & creative director with 10 years of experience in worldwide advertising agency. He is a proud member of the 99designs community. http://99designs.com/people/pvukovich
Peter Vukovic
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  1. Peper Pascual

    Never knew that we actually can send them newsletter. I thought it is them who will reach the winning designer once they have a new design job. By the way, can you give us some “guide” on how much to quote the client for a specific design? Considering that they know and they will surely compare the prices here in 99d? Nice post by the way!

    Reply May 2, 2012 at 11:12 am
    • Peter Vukovic

      Hi Peper,

      thanks for commenting. Actually, it’s designers job to stay in touch with the client, not the other way round, so start using newsletters as soon as possible :)

      Pricing is a big question that cannot be taken lightly, but I’ll explain one method that gives you a good place to start: decide on the amount of money you want to be earning monthly, divide that by 125 (average number of working hours per month) then multiply that by number of hours you think the job will take to complete.

      For example, if you think you should be earning $1500 per month, your hourly rate should be $12. If you think job won’t take more than 10 hours to complete, then you should charge it at least $120 ($12 x 10).

      Of course, use your own intuition and knowledge of the client to set the final price, but you can safely use this method to get a figure you can play with.

      Reply May 2, 2012 at 11:45 am
      • Peper Pascual

        Thank you Peter. some friends actually gave me that same guide. BUt sometimes I have to break it when client gives their price offer. One more thing, basically, foreign clients Americans in particular have this idea that we, (Asian designers) are okay with small amount because the competition for the job is somehow high, I mean there are many online designers willing to take the job at small price. Do you mind give us an insight on what is the typical thoughts of a foreign clients(Americans, or maybe you) towards us, designers. So the question is “are we, freelance designers in the position to demand for the price, or is it the other way around? Thank you!

        Reply May 2, 2012 at 12:10 pm
        • Peter Vukovic


          you are always in a position to set your own prices and protect them.

          When setting the prices, you should always be aware of three things: 1) the quality you deliver 2) the price you want for it and 3) market alternatives.

          Number 3 is particularly important – it answers the question “What can client do with this money elsewhere, with a different designer?”.

          If he can get the same quality of work for roughly the same price, your prices are good because you’re in the middle of the market. On the other hand, if he needs to pay a lot more to get the quality you offer, you have a lot going for you.

          Always bare in mind that clients are simply much better negotiators than designers are, and that your work has a certain market value. Being Asian has very little to do with it, especially if you’re a really good designer as I know you are.

          Reply May 4, 2012 at 11:27 am
  2. joshua james donnelly

    I have a Facebook for my cartoons. What tips or things can I do to attract more attention and more people to like my page? If you could give some tips that would be helpful

    Reply May 2, 2012 at 11:13 am
    • Peter Vukovic

      Hi joshua,

      if your Facebook page is your primary portfolio site, you should put a link to it in every possible form of communication.

      This includes your email signature, messages you exchange with clients through 99designs, and blog comments such as the one you just made (you have a “website url” field you can use to link your comment to your facebook page).

      This is the best way to get more Facebook likes without paying for advertising.

      Reply May 2, 2012 at 11:32 am
  3. Arpan Chhetri

    Another great post! Thanks Peter!

    Reply May 2, 2012 at 1:23 pm
  4. Amos

    This is a cool article I have learnt a lot.
    Thanks Peter.

    Reply May 2, 2012 at 1:30 pm
  5. Ruud10

    Thanks for the tips Peter. You’re right about entering contests. I’ve noticed that the more contests I enter, the more people visit my website at http://www.cryptgraphics.com after viewing my profile. And this leads to direct contact with potential clients.

    Reply May 3, 2012 at 12:21 am
    • Jason Aiken

      That’s great to hear!

      Reply May 3, 2012 at 7:42 am
  6. Sheldon

    All of this seems to assume that all clients are equal. Even a small measure of experience in the field show that this is not the case, at all. To begin a relationship with someone who uses crowdscourcing is not a good start, at all. It is indicative of the contest holders values and business approach, both favoring quantity over quality. That basically means low budget, in general. And indeed, if the crowdscourcing model works for them the odds are they will continue to use it, rather than develop a lasting relationship with a designer and pay them industry standard compensation for their work.

    Another aspect is that the designers here who win contest don’t want clients. They enjoy the competition here. And the designers here who don’t win contest, which are the vast majority, won’t acquire clients because they are not winners.

    Just some general thoughts.

    Reply May 3, 2012 at 10:04 am
    • Jason Aiken

      Hi Sheldon,

      Your assumption that clients who use crowdsourcing because the favor quantity over quality is completely unfair… mostly clients are trying to get a broad range of styles in order to identify the one the really resonates.

      And your assumption that if they have success they will not build a lasting relationship with that designer is patently false as approximately 40% of the projects lead to additional follow on work. Much of this depends on the needs of the client and skill of the designer to realize how to best cultivate these relationships.


      Reply May 3, 2012 at 12:38 pm
      • Sheldon

        Jason Aiken wrote:
        “Your assumption that clients who use crowdsourcing because the favor quantity over quality is completely unfair… mostly clients are trying to get a broad range of styles in order to identify the one the really resonates.”

        Agreed, “broad range” = quantity.

        Jason Aiken wrote:
        “And your assumption that if they have success they will not build a lasting relationship with that designer is patently false as approximately 40% of the projects lead to additional follow on work. Much of this depends on the needs of the client and skill of the designer to realize how to best cultivate these relationships.”

        You take polls on “follow on work”? In any case, the skills of the designer have already been proven by the contest. The two essential things the designer would need to do would be to continue with whatever quality of work they produced in the contest and keep their price completive with 99design so that the client wouldn’t go back to 99design for their next project. I’m figuring the amount of compensation would be quite low compared to the work they’d need to produce. As you say, this sort of client likes to see a “broad range of styles in order to identify the one the really resonates.” That means a lot of work for a little money, does it not??

        Reply May 3, 2012 at 2:57 pm
        • Jason Aiken


          Broad range does speak to a quantity but you were implying clients favored quantity for quantity’s sake rather than for the explicit purpose of finding a quality design/designer to work with.

          Yes we do take polls and of course have our own 1-to-1 invoicing system that we built for the express purpose of facilitating that follow on work.

          And it’s not necessarily true that the initial project absolutely determines the price of all future work between that client and designer… it depends on the client and the designer.

          Here is quote from a designer in a recent article about us (http://pandodaily.com/2012/01/24/get-over-it-haters-99designs-has-tipped/):

          ““I had replenished my client base with international clients, had signed over $10,000 in work, and then having completed that work was astounded to find that every single one of them paid me within a few hours of sending an invoice,” he says. Since then, he’s made another $20,000 from follow on work and $4,000in prizes, without ever needing to leave the house or write any proposals.”

          There are many stories like this…

          Lastly, you said:

          “I’m figuring the amount of compensation would be quite low compared to the work they’d need to produce. As you say, this sort of client likes to see a “broad range of styles in order to identify the one the really resonates.” That means a lot of work for a little money, does it not??”

          I’m sorry but it just doesn’t follow that because a client used a contest to identify a designer to work with that they will ALWAYS need to see a broad range of work for EVERY project… but as you know some clients CAN be fickle regardless of how they met the designer their engaged with.


          Reply May 3, 2012 at 4:47 pm
          • sheldon


            I skimmed the article but it seemed rather irrelevant being that I’m not a 99design “hater.” I actually like it and have enjoyed some contests.

            Now that I think about it I suppose the problem is that I’ve read some of these blog posts. I’ll have to stop doing that! I understand that you’re trying to promote and build the business but so much of what’s published makes it seem as though you have little respect for the designers intelligence. You should show them more respect because they are the ones who keep you running.

            And about the “1-to-1 invoicing system,” what is the average hourly rate for follow up work?????????? You seemed to imply that you would have such figures readily at your disposal.

            May 4, 2012 at 6:32 pm
  7. Leslie

    This is such a rip off of designers. Freelancers made $25 per hour on average 25 years ago! Such a shame.

    Reply May 3, 2012 at 1:38 pm
  8. laasr

    lol@$12/hr. Might as well go out and split some wood for that price. People splitting wood get paid more than that. Another reason why spec works stinks. Thanks for making it more obvious.

    Reply May 3, 2012 at 4:27 pm
    • Jason Aiken

      I think Peter was just giving an example to demonstrate the formula.

      It all started with “First decide how much you want to earn in a month…”


      Reply May 3, 2012 at 4:54 pm
    • Peter Vukovic


      thanks for commenting. There are two logical problems with your opinion:

      1) Your’re making a connection between spec work and hourly rate, which are two entirely different and unrelated concepts. It’ like trying to say that graphic design sucks because your computer is slow.

      2) Splitting woods takes much more physical effort than graphic design – you can do that for only 2-3 hours per day, billing a total of $35 per day. On the other hand, you can design for 8 hours straight, billing a total of $96 per day. Therefore, you will make a lot more money in graphic design than in wood splitting, even if the hourly rate is the same.

      Other than that, it’s worth noting that spec work is a great way to build portfolio, and that $12 / hour counts as a lot of money in some countries of the world – even though it was just an example.


      Reply May 4, 2012 at 6:15 am
      • sheldon


        I believe laasr only meant that $12/hr is very low, that just about any job could cover such a low wage. It would not have to be strenuous work.

        And laasr may not wish moving to a third world country to afford the enjoyment of spec work.

        Reply May 4, 2012 at 6:43 pm
  9. ngMedia

    Nice Tips Peter!I have something to add though.

    Offering additional services is indeed comes handy while building long term relationship with clients. However there were instances where designers offered free service or at a minimal price DURING a contest to make a win which in my opinion is unfair to other designers. I sincerely hope designers don’t take this article as an encouragement.

    Contest holders holding a homepage design contest for example, often ask their finalists how much they would charge to do additional pages. Quoting a price at that moment is really a hard call because if the contest holder is on a tight budget he/she might compromise on quality and go with a designer who is offering lower price.

    Another thing is once you offer a discounted price, it’s quite hard to go back to original standard rate. Clients often anticipate you to carry on with the same pricing. I’m not talking about the majority of clients but I have had clients who said they would rather hold a contest and get more variations. So one has to keep the price competitive to get more work out of them.


    Reply May 4, 2012 at 12:30 am
    • Peter Vukovic

      Hi ngMedia,

      you made a lot of good points.

      I don’t think offering additional services during the contest is necessarily unfair – that’s simply a part of the “package” that designer offers and if the client buys into it, why not?

      Having said that, I also think it’s a bad strategy because the client still has to decide on his main purchase, or the winning entry. Until that happens, offering additional services is like offering a car stereo before someone purchases the actual car.

      As for the pricing, as I mentioned in one of the comments above, it really is a topic in itself. But you’re spot on when you say getting back to standard rate is difficult – clients always perceive that as an increase in price, which is difficult to justify.

      Reply May 4, 2012 at 11:12 am
      • ngMedia

        Hi Peter,

        I actually meant designers trying to influence contest holders by offering free services during a contest. In a close contest sometimes it goes in their favor. However I think it doesn’t really help anybody other than the client. You are basically giving yourself in for exploitation and at the same time undermining your and other designer’s hard work.

        Once you win, you can always offer “package” price for additional work like you mentioned in the article.



        Reply May 5, 2012 at 1:19 am
  10. Onix

    This is such a good article and I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said. I hardly believed in strategies because I though that in creative work, you need to be good and people will follow. However, it’s when I came here that I noticed that there are so many good designers that your quality doesn’t make you stand out quite the way you thought.

    I’ve been quite lucky during my 24 entries, most went with real good rating, a few I’ve lost due to lack of knowledge when it comes to the actual product sale but I’ve recently won one and I’ve got additional work without asking. I guess you just need to be professional, you need to love what you do and the client needs to count on that because then he/she knows that you will do your absolute best to make them happy, without merely seeing the bucks in your eyes. There is something about dedication that makes you trust worthy. Although there are many web design firms who get the contract and they post here for design giving 30% of the money, there are still some individuals who are trying to get their business going on their own and they are not that familiar with the whole concept so they need a professional that they can trust.

    Reply May 8, 2012 at 1:01 am

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