One of the most beautiful things about the World Wide Web is how it has brought the globe together and allowed freelancers and small businesses to compete on the same scale as larger and more established firms.
Access to free technology and cost-effective online marketing has meant that anyone - no matter how large or small - can use the Internet to tap into global markets and become a successful operation. In fact, it has completely shifted the goal posts. The entire business model has been transformed and we're undergoing the biggest cultural shift since the Industrial Revolution.
If you're a creative small business or freelancer just starting out and you're keen to promote yourself - you can use the Internet to your advantage. There are lots of ways to promote yourself online and here are just a few of our suggestions.
To get started, you need an online presence. If you've got the budget, hire a web developer and graphic designer to create a website for your business. Obviously, if you have these skills yourself, you will have no problem.
Try to avoid having just a static website and have something that incorporates a blog. Blogs bring many benefits to any website because they bring fresh and relevant content which is crucial for decent SEO. Wordpress is a fantastic platform to build a website that incorporates a blog.
If you haven't got the budget for design, you could always purchase a theme from somewhere like Themeforest.net or WooThemes.com. It will also save you further money, as it cuts down the time required for a web developer to create your site.
What's in a name?
Next, decide on a domain name. You can see what's available at 123-reg.co.uk. Our advice is to find something that has both the 'co.uk' and '.com' available. You can then buy both to ensure that no one tries to tarnish your company's reputation. Some people buy every domain possible. We only think you need to purchase these two.
For SEO purposes, it might be worth buying a domain that isn't just a baby. That's because Google loves older domains and will see your website as more important if it has an older domain, particularly if it was registered before 2000. You can check the age of domains using this helpful tool.
Try to also include one of your keywords within your domain name. For instance, with Boomerang PR, I have included 'PR' within the URL using www.boomerangpr.co.uk. This certainly adds to my own SEO strategy.
Online Portfolios or Blogs
If you've literally got no budget or means to have your own website, then you can start your own online portfolio at any number of websites including CarbonMade, Shown'd or the Behance Network - all of which have their benefits and interesting features.
You could also start your own free blog at Wordpress.org or Blogger.com. These are great online resources that allow you to change your blog's design and features. You could always translate these into your own website in future.
Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter can be extremely powerful and cost-effective networking and marketing tools. By using social media effectively, you can meet potential new customers online, showcase your expertise and drive traffic to your own website. Don't forget to hook up your blog to your social media accounts and engage in two-way conversation with your followers or fans.
If you haven't yet discovered Ning, it's worth considering. You can join online communities to network or even create your own. Then there's LinkedIn - not one of my favourites but it's still worth adding yourself to as it casts the net a little wider.
It's a well-known fact that directories are becoming less and less important in the eyes of Google, so they won't appear as high in the Search Engine Results Pages in future. However, by getting listed it can benefit you hugely in terms of your own link-building campaign, adding to your SEO strategy.
So get yourself listed in as many directories as possible. Just beware of those who tie you in and then expect a payment further down the line.
When emailing your details to these directories, it's crucial you think about what words you'd like to act as anchor text, linking back to your website. Think of your keywords and try to get the directory to hyperlink those. And don't just use the same old keywords, keep it varied - that really is the key.
Do something different
When Boomerang PR needed to focus on attracting more business, we decided to launch our own magazine, Creative Boom. We wanted to support other freelancers and small firms out there who were struggling to survive the recession.
The resulting success was something we never anticipated but by helping others and doing something fun and 'different', we also helped to raise Boomerang PR's profile and have attracted lots of new business.
Other people who are having a bash at promoting themselves online while helping others include the RedLemonClub - a fantastic online resource run by designer Alex Mathers. There's also Pikaland, which is managed by illustrator Amy Ng and one of my favourites, Design for Mankind, run by writer Erin Loechner.
Public relations is about reputation. It’s the result of what you do, what you say, and what others say about you. It's about protecting and enhancing your reputation. Consider writing a press release about your business - see our 'How to write a press release' article - and pick out the latest news about your products or services.
Have you just launched a new product? Taken on a new client? Have you moved to new office space? Think about what the online journalists might find interesting and send them all the information they need.
Don't forget to make it clear which words or phrases you'd like to be hyperlinked back to your website and pick out keywords if possible. The title of your press release is the most important factor for SEO. Don't try to be clever, just think about what people might search for within the search engines, i.e. if someone is looking for a graphic designer in London, your title should start off as 'London Graphic Designer...'
Sign up to forums and online communities, relevant to your creative sector and start chatting with others online. Don't forget to add a Signature that includes a link to your website. If you can hyperlink the text, even better. Again, anchor your keywords to get the most benefit, SEO wise.
Target blogs that are of interest and get involved in online debate wherever possible. Don't just leave 'Great Article' comments. Leave deep and meaningful comments that will show off your expertise and encourage others to visit your website to find out more about you. Always include a link to your website when given the option to do so.
Become a guest writer
Consider becoming a guest writer or contributor for a popular e-zine or blog. We have contributors for Creative Boom who have benefited hugely from writing for our magazine. Take Mike Messina for example. Thanks to Creative Boom, Mike secured a fantastic graphic design job at one of the UK's leading Premiership football clubs.