I promoted myself as a designer completely wrong for 14 years. It took my 15th year—2020—to completely turn it around.
Previous to 2020, I hated promoting myself.
I was your typical British designer. Experienced, good at my job and bitter. I hated that other designers promoted themselves online—because I hated that I wasn't promoting myself.
I'm a designer. I've always hated promoting myself on every level. I'm also British. Which means I'm doubly-opposed to promoting myself.
In general, designers have a hatred for promoting themselves. But in 2020 I swallowed my pride and started.
So what did I do?
In short, here's what I did in 2020:
- Wrote 10 tweets per day for 365 days
- Started a visual account with @_unobvious
- Started another one with @seeingbars
- Created @daily__visual
- Created the podcast and video series @thats_the_job
- Finished 1 book, wrote another one
- Connected globally with interesting folk
- Started talking to interesting people weekly on my podcast
- Made YouTube videos
- Collaborated on interesting projects with new global friends
- Started another podcast
Lesson 1 - Take Twitter Seriously
If you start 1 thing in 2021, please take Twitter seriously.
Twitter was the catalyst for my growth. It all started with a simple commitment to write 10 tweets per day for 365 day.
It has lead to global connections and became my main vehicle for proving my visual expertise daily.
Twitter is unlike any other platform on the web. You can download succinct thoughts of anybody in the world at any moment in time.
But not only can you download thoughts—you can upload thoughts too. This makes it the single most explosive platform for sharing your own thoughts and building expertise.
As a designer I'd previously been obsessed with this idea of "having a portfolio". It is something most designers obsess over: this idea of having a curated collection of fantastic work that you hope somebody will browse.
Designers think they need portfolios to prove they're a designer.
For most of us they're outdated, boring to read and not worth it.
I flipped the idea of a portfolio on its head.
I used Twitter to renew my expertise every day. I turned up every day and proved that I was a designer with experience, interesting things to say and — shock horror — I had a PERSONALITY.
I became obsessed with this idea of a renewing the portfolio daily.
So how did I do it?
It started with @thats_the_job.
I wanted to prove myself as a designer by talking about design in long-form with another experienced designer.
I chatted with @richbaird about the idea and he was interested in giving it a try.
Lesson 2 - Make Cool Things With Cool People
I'd been DMing Rich a bit but not much. I didn't really know him personally at all but I loved what he did with Logo Archive and BP&O.
I knew he'd have cool things to say about design.
So I sent him a DM and asked him.
That's The Job was born.
He said "yes, let's do it".
After a bit of back and forth That's The Job was born.
We recorded 10 episodes in Season 1 and it went really well.
Rich then got busy and we didn't get a chance to do another season.
P.S. I still want to do Season 2.
This was the first "asset" I would have online that proved I was an accomplished designer. I didn't need a portfolio—I was talking at length about design in every episode.
This is when I first realised it.
Having a long-form regular piece of content allows you to regularly promote yourself without having to promote yourself.
I don't have to say "look how good I am"
I can say: "go see this thing I said about this thing".
I could say things and then just use those as promo without feeling weird and awkward about it.
The simple truth was this.
I'd spent 14 years screaming LOOK AT ME
Instead of screaming LOOK AT THIS USEFUL THING I MADE FOR YOU.
Lesson 3 - A Daily Portfolio
Who cares about a big portfolio full of boring work?
What if there was a way I could prove my expertise not just through my words, but visually too?
What if there was a way to do it daily, in small bite-size chunks that you'd actually pay attention to?
I've done "daily challenges" for half of my life. A poster a day, a podcast a day, a record sleeve a day, a photo a day, a mile a day. You name it.
I needed a new daily challenge.
Luckily I'd become aware of—just like the rest of the internet—@visualizevalue.
@jackbutcher was a designer. I was a designer. He made daily images on Twitter.
I would do the same.
What a great way to make a daily portfolio.
I started making @_unobvious.
Daily visuals around quotes that I was passionate about. I started in May 2020. I haven't stopped yet.
Making daily visuals gave me another way to promote my expertise without having to promote my expertise.
I could just make stuff and retweet it back to my main account.
My work on this account that I do daily has now grown to over 2,000 followers who enjoy the way I see things. It has become my primary way of proving my expertise daily in tiny little bite-size chunks. It's lead to real results: I get regular requests to work with people and its lead to my visuals being published in books.
Lesson 4 - Be Consistent
When I started taking Twitter seriously in February I saw no real benefits of writing 10 tweets per day for a long while. But writing those 10 tweets daily and making daily images allowed me to work out what I wanted to say.
The process of making bad work and saying cringe-worthy things made me quickly realise the things I absolutely didn't want to say. I had 10 slots to fill every day on Twitter. I had to say something.
Without doing what I did with Twitter throughout the whole of 2020 I wouldn't be writing this right now. I'd still be a hermit telling nobody who I was. Hiding away and feeling envious of all the other designers who gave it a crack.
I realised how my consistency had paid off in January 2021. 2 things brought it to my attention.
The first was looking at my statistics for the last 28 days, and comparing that with January 2020.
And the second was this tweet
This tweet was nothing special. I just wrote what I was feeling at that time. But I captured the sentiment of a whole part of Twitter and because I'd built a network for 365 days it spread like wildfire. It became my most popular tweet I'd ever written.
This was the true power of Twitter.
Lesson 4.5 - Create Consistent Content
Being consistent lead me to discover my fifth lesson: that creating consistent content is how you grow anything. Especially a personal brand.
Now I had the daily visuals going, I rebooted the podcast.
I started talking to somebody every Tuesday at 7pm GMT (I still do).
I live stream it on Twitter and YouTube.
Consistent content like the podcast and my Twitter keeps me in your mind daily. It shows I'm still creating. If you follow me, you can't forget me.
Consistency builds brand. I'm there every day making visuals. I'm there every day talking about design. I'm there every Tuesday recording a podcast with interesting people.
The content continues to reinforce itself over time. Creating more content gives you ideas for more content and gives you ways to improve your craft.
Lesson 5 - How I Secured £20k projects through Twitter
Once I had the other things going, this bit was easy.
I was creating daily content. I was proving my expertise daily. I was an experienced designer and it was clear to see from my content.
I even created design threads like this.
As my following grew on Twitter I eventually started having more conversations with people in the DMs about work. Some of those conversations eventually turned into meetings.
Those meetings turned into £20k design projects.
Those meetings wouldn't have happened without Twitter.
I was already selling my design work through my agency so that part was easy. It was getting the leads in that is always the hard part, increasing the awareness of you.
I was now increasing the awareness of me and my work every day.
Lesson 6 - Gumroad
Now I had an audience on Twitter I started releasing some products. I still made a living as a designer with clients. I still do.
You can't scale that.
My earning potential is capped at the amount of hours I'm willing to work.
So I started making some products to sell.
But I was most proud of Daily Visual. It was—and still is—a way to combine my daily visuals with my passion for teaching and my passion for community.
It’s worked out pretty well for me. I made a little bit of side income through Gumroad. It didn’t take all that much effort as I already knew how to make ebooks, PDFs, assets etc. It lead to me making a couple of extra 1000s in a year.
So—if you're a designer reading this I'd encourage you to consider experimenting with Gumroad products. I used to think it was a scam. I'm glad I got over those feelings.
As a designer you already have all the skills to make something professional that people will buy. So use those skills to help you earn extra income outside of the client work.
Here's the scores
Here's exactly what all this lead to in 2020.
- 2 x £20k+ projects secured for my agency that can be tracked back to my consistency on Twitter (they started as DM conversations or awareness from Twitter)
- £2196.27 in Gumroad sales
- Nearly all of these projects.
The (epic) conclusion
Notice how I never spoke about sharing my design work?
Or Behance profiles? Or Dribbble?
They might work too, but it isn't the way I did it.
I think our worth as designers is higher than just sharing pretty pictures. Your worth as a designer isn't this. It's the way you see the world. You are hired for your ability to see things others don't.
Notice how the majority of the content I create on a daily basis is just awareness, and not just design?
If you take anything away from this thread I want you to consider the concept of a daily portfolio.
Create something that you can do daily that renews and increases your expertise every day.
I found mine. It'd be cool if you found yours.
P.S. You can share the tweet version of this if you prefer.