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  • Writer's pictureKirsti Rochon

You are a Tool

Using yourself to get ahead in marketing

I have been in the marketing and design business for 20+ years now, and up until this point, I am extremely proud to say that I have not paid for advertising of any kind. This isn’t to be arrogant or boastful, but rather to say that there is in fact a way to promote yourself affordably and be successful. I often get solicited to share advice on how to start one’s own freelance business. Below is the story I share, iterating here and there; but it is always honest and heartfelt, and ANYONE can do it.

As a child, my extended family would all travel and meet up at a cabin built by my Grandparents on the Oregon coast each summer. The opportunity to see all of my Aunts (who lived in other states) was one of the reasons that I really looked forward to these trips. They were all artists, a watercolor painter, a sculptor, a muralist and even a Yellow Pages illustrator (yes, this used to be done by hand)! I would sit for hours watching them craft their wares and take little notes along the way. They all found a successful way to make a living as a creative, and are still doing so to this day.

In high school*, before computer-aided design, I threw myself into any possible drawing or design project FOR FUN. I created posters for the Homecoming parade*, I painted t-shirts* for the cheer leading squad, and I was the student newspaper illustrator and comic artist*. At the time, I had no idea of what I wanted to do in life and was simply doing what I loved. I was completely unaware that these projects would pave the way for years to come.

Flash forward ten years, to when I fell in love with Art History and Spanish* in college*. The latter took me to study abroad in Spain* where I became obsessed with the culture and the origins of classical art as we know it. I was spoiled by the ease in which I could study this work. Instead of opening a book or watching a video, I would GO to Picasso’s house or visit the Alhambra. I respect the time and effort it takes to paint and sculpt, and I am forever grateful to my family for instilling this foundation in me, and for supporting me as I went on these crazy adventures. Little did I know that, even though the shift in design went full throttle to digital, I would always try to implement my fine art skills into any design project possible.

Twenty years later, I still live in relatively the same area geographically*, and I have been running an independent design and marketing company. I’ve run this business solely based upon referrals*. I have never taken on a project from someone that I didn’t either personally know, or who wasn’t directly referred to me. No pay-for-click advertising, no ads in publications, and I’ve never done any direct mail or email campaigns. This has, however, taken years of hard work to build up a book of steady clients. It’s hard and there’s no other way to say it.

I find the old adage “Talk is Cheap” extremely ironic. In marketing, talk is anything but cheap. Regardless of whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you have to tell people what you do. You have to tell your Mom (maybe twice)*, your husband’s business partner*, the woman at the gym*, the person you went to high school with that you ran into randomly at QFC last week*, and the kid who teaches your kid to play soccer*. Everyone. And everyone else. And then the others. You need to volunteer*, join social networking groups*, attend seminars* and show support for those around you*.

Don’t be boastful or pushy. Don’t act desperate. Just be you by simply talking about what you love. You have to work hard to be your own best advocate. YOU are a tool, an invaluable mechanism for your own advancement, and, if used correctly, I promise you that it will pay off.

Why so many asterisks (*) you ask? Each of the asterisks listed above is a direct example of what directly led to a project opportunity for me. Social media is fantastic (and mostly free), as are other promotional opportunities these days, but the best route to find work is a personal connection. It’s simple; You be you… and work it.

Kirsti Rochon is a senior level brand designer and marketing professional in the Greater Seattle area. For more information, visit

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