Freelancer Marketing: 8 Tips for Marketing Like an Extrovert
You’re out on your own!
So you’ve cut the cord and gone out on your own: welcome to the gig economy! The freedom is palpable. Now you can sleep until noon and work until 3 AM, assuming you have work. In the world of 9-to-5, employers provide tasks and assignments. As a freelancer, the onus is on you. What’s the best way to go about freelancer marketing?
What not to do
As I mentioned in Part One of this series, The Best Freelance Income Advice: Start Out on the Right Foot, I am an example of what not to do. I took time out of the workforce and moved 3,000 miles away from my previous work contacts before diving back into work.
What’s a better way? I consulted with my team of mentors, advisors, and friends for their recommendations. What would they recommend as their best advice for beginning freelancer marketing?
Freelancer Marketing: Key tips and takeaways
When it comes to freelancer marketing and promotions, it’s safe to anticipate that what works is occasionally random or unpredictable. It takes time to build a robust referral network. Regardless, the more you prepare, the better off you’ll be in the long run.
Here are a few tips and takeaways to help you get started.
1. It’s about who you know
Most referral work comes from people you know. That’s because they know the quality of your work and what you offer, or they think highly of the person who referred you.
It’s helpful to go out on your own with a big, pre-built network. Tell everyone you know before you launch: line up colleagues and business associates, start meeting people and networking, even set up an arrangement with your old company.
Mikelann Valterra, my personal money coach, has guided many people in the transition from full-time to freelance. She says that it takes about three years to build a referral network that provides 80 percent of your work. That’s the time it takes people to progress from hearing of you, to liking you, and finally to trusting you enough to hire you.
It’s critically important to focus your resources—time, money, emotional energy—on growing your network. The more people you know, the bigger your network.
2. Get out there
You have to get out there to network and meet people. Easier said than done, particularly if you are an introvert. Mikelann notes that it can be challenging for people to market at first—they feel like they are arrogantly hyping themselves, or worse, risking rejection. But if you think of it as creating “referral relationships,” it doesn’t seem quite so crass or quite so personal.
It can also help to create an ideal networking schedule, or target a set number of events every week. Commit to attending one networking meeting per week. If you feel like you can never rest, because there’s always one more meeting or coffee or workshop to catch, create a schedule. That way you can actually cross that item off your list and take a break.
3. Use online tools
Career Coach Erin Ewart, of Erin Ewart Consulting, advises using multiple tools. Have at least a simple website, use LinkedIn, and consider upgrading to a premium service. “Put yourself out there and share ideas,” she says. “Position yourself as an expert.” According to Ewart, one of the convenient things about social media is that you can test the waters to see what works, and then change things as you see fit, and as your needs inevitably evolve. Think of it as lean development for your marketing efforts.
Freelance graphic designer Stephanie Hinderer likes social media because there are ample free options, including Facebook and Twitter. Facebook groups are a big area for marketing right now, she says. “Find a Facebook group where your people are, and then try to be a resource and build relationships. That’s way more important than showing up and trumpeting about your business.”
4. Hone your message
According to Erin Ewart, marketing for a freelancer is similar to job searching: “You need to understand exactly what you do and figure out who needs that work, so you can find the right audience.” If you offer too narrow a service, you miss opportunities. If your service is too broad, you fail to set yourself apart from the competition. The goal is “to clarify your message and the value proposition of the services you offer so you create a niche for yourself.”
5. Keep up with biz dev, even when you’re busy
Have you ever found yourself with no time to get work because you are so busy doing work? This is common for freelancer and small business owners. Knowing that, it’s important to keep a toe in the water of strategy and development, so things don’t come to a screeching halt after that last big deadline.
Ewart recommends planning for ups and downs so they don’t catch you off-guard. Some freelance work is cyclical. Are you an accountant? Or a college admissions coach? If you engage in work where there’s a predictable off-season, plan to do your business development during those months. Or plan to take a vacation!
Don’t worry if you can’t decipher your business cycles right off the bat. Sometimes it can take time, even a year or two, before patterns emerge.
6. Budget time to work on your business, not just in your business
“One of the biggest mistakes new freelancers make,” says Mikelann Valterra, “is not spending enough time on their business. Women are the most notorious in that they plan only for enough childcare to cover working in their business, not on their business.” She advises making it a one-to-one ratio, so you spend at least the same amount of time building your business as you do working. Especially in the early stages, when networking and growing your network is paramount. It’s scary to spend money when you aren’t making money, so it’s an easy mistake to make.
7. Work begets work
This is one of the iconic mantras of my filmmaking partner, Dan McComb, head of Visual Contact. When you do high quality work and give your clients a great experience, they hire you again and recommend you to others. Stephanie Hinderer agrees. “Most of my clients come from word of mouth. And then it’s not so much about marketing as it is about giving them an awesome experience, so they recommend you,” says Hinderer.
Be sure to keep in touch once you’ve done great work for a client! As Valterra describes it, “Networks are like gardens. They need tending. Some people can handle this organically, and others need software to remind them.”
This has been my experience. But it takes time, as well as a certain amount of “right place right time” luck.
8. Try creative partnerships
Sometimes the pressure of generating your own work can feel overwhelming. One way to share some of the marketing load is to experiment with partnerships as a freelancer. My colleague Michael Stearns, owner of Hybrid3 design studio suggests contracting with someone who lands a client or offering to help with overflow work. You can also partner with other freelancers with complementary skills, offering a complete package to clients. For example, a developer, designer, and writer can team to create a kick-ass website. Then it doesn’t always have to be you who lands the client.
Do you have additional advice from your freelance experience that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Stay tuned for another column about managing the day-to-day realities of freelancing. And please feel free to shout out your best strategies for getting out of your pajamas before noon.