A happy client is one that will pay for years to come. Check in on clients when you haven't heard from them – use industry updates to keep your clients informed. Security issues such as "Heartbleed" are a great way to keep your clients informed that you're the guy or girl they should go to and tell their friends about when they need work. We've been fortunate in not having to spend a dime on marketing, but part of that is due to our low overhead – a Macbook & a wifi connection is all we really need (excluding software).
The definitive guide to going Freelance.
Marketing and Promotion
Okay, so you’ve presumably just made the toughest decisions of your life. Going freelance takes guts and you’ve proved to yourself that you’ve got them. But before we pop the champagne there’s work left to do. Namely, get the clients and produce the work. Let’s discuss a variety of different strategies and tactics that you can leverage to drive new business in your sleep and build a reputation that generates leads and close deals.
The first thing a lot of freelancers do when starting their business is set up a Facebook page and invite all their friends. That’s a good start but it’s not enough. It’s important to identify opportunities to tell your story to the right audience and ensure that the story you tell is credible and trusted. Here’s how you can do exactly that:
Why Your Customers Are Your Best Promoters
When you book a vacation and consider different hotels, what’s the first thing you do? If you’re like 95% of travellers, you look at sites like TripAdvisor for customer reviews and feedback. You might visit forums, analyze ratings on Expedia or even ask your network for recommendations. Your clients look at your business the same way.
While your customers might not flock to TripAdvisor to find reviews about your work, they’ll definitely look at your website for testimonials and case studies. People trust unbiased sources. Showing the recommendation of a third party is a great way to demonstrate credibility and build trust. Here are a few ways to empower your existing clients to tell your story for you:
Building Quality Case Studies
Success breeds success. A case study is an incredibly effective tool for the simple reason that it’s a window into the soul of your work. It’s no longer enough to simply have an online portfolio filled with images and links to your work. If you truly want to demonstrate your credibility as a quality freelancer and start reeling in your own clients, you should develop comprehensive case studies.
A case study should tell potential clients exactly what you’re good at. It’s viewed as proof of your capabilities and demonstrates commitment to your work. When building your case studies, be sure to highlight the strategy behind your work, such as the process you went through, the challenges you had to overcome, the problems you solved, and the results you delivered.
Testimonials add credibility to your marketing efforts and demonstrate the high quality of your work through the eyes of those who’ve already paid for it. Most clients are used to providing testimonials for freelancers they hire. Many feel honored to contribute to the success of a company they like and are happy to connect their name to your work.
There are right ways and wrong ways to use testimonials. Most of the time brevity is the preferred approach, but that’s not always the case with testimonials. Sometimes longer testimonials are better because they tell more of a story and don’t seem as easy to fake as a generic one like “Ross was great to work with!”.
The easiest way to get a client testimonial is to do most of the legwork for them. A few tactics include drafting the testimonial framework for the client and asking them if they are comfortable if you use it, or providing a couple questions and asking them to provide brief answers.
Examples of questions you could ask are:
- What did you enjoy about working with (your name)?
- What was your problem before working with (your name)?
- How has (your product/service) improved (client’s business)?
Nothing beats good word of mouth in terms of marketing your freelance business. Client testimonials work – use them!
What About Personal Branding?
Once you leave the comfort of your 9-5 (even though most of us agency veterans know 9-5 doesn’t actually exist) you’ll have this ‘free as a bird’ feeling surging through your veins. This nervous excitement is a good thing, but can also negatively affect your personal brand if you’re not careful. You are now your business. Your actions in real life and online can and will affect your business. Other people’s perceptions of you will ultimately translate to their perceptions of your work.
Embrace that you’re a freelance professional. Many freelancers aren’t comfortable with the idea that they are their brand. They think they have to use words like “us” and “we” on their websites instead of “me” and “I” thinking that it will make them sound bigger and more impressive. But clients aren’t stupid. They know the difference between a one-person shop and an agency, and your attempt to sound large will just come across as insecure. Instead, think of yourself as an actor auditioning for a role in a movie—you are what the client is buying!
Social Media Marketing
Social media is a great tool for prospecting new clients and promoting your freelance business. A winning strategy includes a variety of social platforms while ensuring that you can dedicate the time required to make each effective.
LinkedIn can be a direct path to new business. It is a place to prospect and seek warm introductions. Join a couple of groups that discuss your skills and professional interests (design, coding, writing etc.), but also don’t ignore the other groups. If you are targeting a client within a specific industry vertical, like health care, join the groups that discuss health care. You may have nothing to contribute to the discussion most of the time, but the odd time someone brings up a service that you can perform, that’s your time to shine! Offer the community good advice that shows why they should hire you, and LinkedIn can become a place to directly acquire new clients.
One of the most effective social media tools for prospecting and relationship building is Twitter. Follow industry influencers and engage with them by sharing their content, replying to their tweets or asking thoughtful questions. Engage in relevant discussions, whether it’s local issues, industry trends, or pop culture. The content you share on Twitter should provide value to prospects, be relevant to your business, and be engaging and entertaining.
Facebook can also offer freelancers an opportunity to acquire new work. We all know that Facebook has changed the world, but would you believe me if I said it’s changed the way designers, illustrators and even writers do business?
Facebook is a channel that has more than 1.3 billion active users. A portion of those are potential clients, customers and prospects. Using Facebook to distribute and share your work is a great way to put your work in front of the right people. You might think all your friends know what you do for a living when in reality, you might be surprised by how many people don’t know how talented you truly are. Use Facebook to share your story, share your work and take your business to the next level.
Finally, let’s not leave out Google+, which is a growing social network. It may not have the numbers that Facebook does, but don’t forget - this is Google we’re talking about. The content you create on Google+ directly contributes to your broader search marketing efforts, and if you make use of Google Authorship, your picture will appear in search results for articles you’ve written, which has an impact on click-through-rates.
By far, content marketing is my biggest vehicle for business promotion. I blog about design, entrepreneurship, consulting etc, and people find me and my work through the value that I add to the world through blogging. Again, for me, it all comes back to the value-add. If I offer more value (and I don’t mean a lower price, I mean a more awesome end result), it’s easy to rise above the competition.
Content marketing is the best way to showcase your expertise to both current and potential clients. It’s popular because of it’s effectiveness at driving traffic to your website, increasing awareness of your service and acquiring new clients.
You may wonder what the point is to blogging about your industry. After all, if you’re a designer what’s the point of writing about design that only other designers would care about? They aren’t going to hire you.
Instead, consider these benefits:
- Prospective clients who Google your name will see you writing as an established author about your craft to others within your industry. They will see you as a subject matter expert and trust you more (and probably be willing to pay a higher rate).
- Guest posts on other blogs will get you inbound links to your site, and even if the traffic isn’t qualified (they aren’t potential clients), it still helps improve your overall Page Rank.
- Writing quality content on your own blog will get you more search traffic.
- While creating niche content is great (ie: coding tutorials or a dissection of typography), also consider creating content that the average person would read and consume too, that way you can help educate your clients through your blog posts about the latest best practices and tips that they can read and apply.
The key is to develop high-quality content that adds value to your audience and to publish content regularly. Don’t treat it as an afterthought or something you only do when you feel inspired. Have a content plan, have a schedule, and treat blogging like something you do (at least) every week for you best client… you!
Guest blogging on high-traffic well-known blogs is a great way to establish a name for yourself, promote your brand, and build credibility within the industry.
Back when I went freelance I was reading a blog dedicated to freelancers. I enjoyed their content and regularly contributed to the comment section. I had some ideas for articles for their site, so I submitted a guest article for their review and to my surprise they accepted it! They even paid me $60 for the article, and while that may not be a sustainable way to earn a living, the exposure was worth so much more than the money. When you start blogging and have no readers, guest blogging is a great way to kick-start your traffic and get your name out there to a new audience.
Quicksprout has some in-depth guides with more hands-on technical information about content marketing and blogging I highly recommend checking out.
Networking & Relationship Building
If you’re thinking of going freelance, you should know that there’s nothing more effective than networking to get gigs. This can be one of the most intimidating, uncomfortable and downright awkward parts of the business for many soon-to-be freelancers, especially if you’re a bit introverted around strangers. It can pay off in dividends though, so think of the time and money spent at these events as an investment in your business, and with a bit of practice you may actually have a little fun in the process!
As a freelancer, some of your best clients are other agencies, and the best place to meet them is at conferences or award shows. When starting out, I attended a regional marketing conference and rubbed shoulders with agency people from all over. I nailed my elevator pitch and got business cards into their hands. After that two-day conference I never needed to do anymore outbound selling for my freelance company again because the rest came in through word-of-mouth.
So how do you find events to attend?
- Go to EventBrite and click on Find Events, then add your city, price range, and other parameters to the advanced search area. It’s usually best to stick with the business category, but don’t ignore other categories like health, charity, science and tech where potential clients may be hovering about with drink in hand.
- Subscribe to the RSS feed of the search results and check it regularly for upcoming events, many of which are free (or affordable at the very least). Register for events you think would be a good fit for your style, personality and budget.
- If you’re active on social media, which you should be, you’ll naturally hear about any other events from the people you follow.
How to prepare for a networking event
Alright, so your calendar is peppered with events to attend over the next couple of months to promote your business. Now what?
1. First off, be prepared for the event before it starts. Have business cards in your pocket, ready to unleash at a moments notice. If you aren’t a designer then use a service like Moo to get some beautiful cards printed at a low cost and if you need inspiration, go to Pinterest and take a look at some creative business card designs. The most important piece of info on the business card is your website URL. You want your potential client to go to your site, be impressed and then send you an email or connect through social media.
2. Have your elevator speech written and practiced aloud several times so you’re completely comfortable giving it on the spot without hesitation. It has to be succinct enough to tell someone everything they need to know about you in 30 seconds and not bore them in the process.
The purpose of the elevator speech is to pique the askers interest when he asks “What do you do?”. Traditional sales advice applies here; Sell benefits not features.
I’m a big believer in “in-bound” marketing. And our website is a lead-generating machine. By focusing on SEO and conversions from day one, now [my] website ranks higher than many established branding agencies in my region. It’s all about smart content, baby.
Using our previous example, if you’re a copywriter with a lot of experience in blogging for travel websites, your elevator speech wouldn’t be “I’m a copywriter”. It wouldn’t even be “I’m a copywriter for travel websites”. Try something like this: “I help tourism companies drive more visitors and leads through their websites.”
The beauty of this approach is that if the person you’re talking to is involved in tourism, she knows the pain of attracting website visitors all too well, so you just tapped into her pain and now she’s listening. She naturally will want to know more and will ask “How do you do that?”, which lets you tell say something like, “I write targeted content for travel blogs which impacts my clients search rankings and social shares.” BAM! The person is really interested now, all because you simply explained what benefit you offer to your clients. Practice this until you can give it in your sleep.
3. You want to look the part of a creative professional, so dress appropriately. Ripped up jeans and flip flops may have been OK when you were sitting behind a computer all day at your agency but now people aren’t just looking at you as a designer or coder or programmer, you are a business consultant. Be yourself but don’t turn away potential clients because you look like someone who stumbled into the wrong party.
What to do once you get to an event
A side benefit of attending events is that it gives you great content for your social media profiles. As you listen to a talk, take notes on your phone and tweet out key phrases in real time with the appropriate handle or hashtag. Be sure to put the phone away when it’s time to wander about and talk to people face-to-face.
When I used to go to events for networking purposes, I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself and was terrified of talking to people. I felt like people would think I was weird if I went up and introduced myself, and I thought they would think I was sleazy if I tried to sell them my services.
But over time I started to lose that fear and became more successful at events. What changed was my mindset. Instead of thinking “OK, I have 3 hours to get rid of my business cards and gather as many leads as I can within the time limit because I NEED CLIENTS” I instead thought “I’m going to try to have fun, meet some new people and learn about what they do”. Once I shifted the focus away from me to them, networking became enjoyable because I came in without any expectations or pressure to perform. I viewed it like a party I was attending, and I just wanted to make friends.
With that mindset, try approaching people who look friendly or interesting, observe their surroundings and make a brief comment or joke about it. You might both be waiting in line for coat check or filling up your cup of coffee, so it’s a perfect time for a friendly 3 minute conversation about the event.
If you focus on casual questions before diving into business talk, the other person will perceive you as a friendly, laid-back person. If they haven’t asked “what do you do” at this point, you can ask them. Hear what they do, and really listen and ask questions. Be interested in what they’re saying.
What I’ve found is that when people know you’re not there to sell them they are naturally inclined to want to buy from you. Remember, you aren’t running a volume business where you’re trying to close every deal on the spot. You’re searching for the right client and they aren’t going to be everyone so don’t try to sell to everyone. Think of it like you’re attending a singles event - all you want at this point is to meet a bunch of people and see who you have the best conversations with, not get married.
Next, let’s assume you strike up a conversation with someone, and then through the course of talking you learn that this person would make a good client, perhaps he’s the owner of the type of company you sell to.
- Wait for him to ask what you do, and then launch into your prepared elevator speech. If you know what he does you’ll even be able to customize your elevator speech for him. To use our previous example: “I focus on the tourism industry and help hotels like yours attract new customers through content marketing.”
- You’ve addressed not only his pain (getting new customers) but his specific type of company as well (hotels). You laid out the bait and if it’s right, he’ll respond with something like “we have tried content marketing for our hotel but we didn’t get the results we were looking for.”
- He’s now giving you permission to sell to him, so you can go into full sales mode and explain to him why his previous efforts may not have worked and how he could have gotten better results. Once you give away a bit of free advice to someone that helps them with a problem they’re currently experiencing, it’s only natural they’re going to say “we should talk” and hand you a business card.
- You exchange cards, which is the purpose of the conversation, and once you do it’s an appropriate time to move on to the next person by saying “Hey great meeting you. I’ll keep in touch.”
Selling really is that easy and fun!
Do a good job. Be reliable. Learn how to communicate effectively. That's the best promotion there is.
When you get home log all of the cards you’ve taken into your Contact Relationship Management (CRM) software. I highly recommend using a CRM so you never lose the contact info of new leads you meet, and you can log in the information of how you met, what you talked about and what the next steps are. I’d recommend using a CRM like Insightly which offers a free plan you can grow with. Remember to get the information into your system as soon as you get home from the event because you won’t feel like it later and you’ll have forgotten the conversations you had.
Over the course of next week look at the websites and social profiles of the most interesting people you met, connect with them on social media and follow up with an email mentioning a small detail you remember about the conversation and ask him to keep in touch. Make sure you have an email signature that includes a link to your website and links to your most active social profiles.
Promoting yourself as a freelancer can be difficult for many designers and developers who are more comfortable doing their craft than they are marketing their business. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Start with these simple tactics and soon enough you’ll have a steady stream of clients to keep you busy doing exactly what it is you love doing. At the end of the day, it’s relationships that will fuel future work and keep your business alive.
I'd say that at least 75% of my work enquiries come from Dribbble. I've got a pro account there and it's been worth every penny. I always try to keep it updated with new stuff I'm working on.
- People trust other people more than ads. Word of mouth is king in the services industry. If you do great work for one client, they’ll let people know and that will drive new clients to your business.
- Leverage word-of-mouth: Use case studies, testimonials and a portfolio to showcase the work you’ve done for other clients.
- Embrace social media as a tool to get the word out about your services and use content marketing to tell your story and develop an increased expertise.
- Don’t forget the power of face to face interaction. Going to conferences and events can be a key driver of new business opportunities and leads.
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