Let’s look at how to get clients for digital marketing services. One time I pitched an Australian business on Upwork. He was ready to start and promised to hire me right away… Only to never be heard from again.
Another time I worked with a company that got sanctioned and shut down by the government for illegal activity. I got paid but imagine my surprise when I woke up one morning and saw that all over the news.
If we work to land clients, eventually, these stories will happen to all of us. It’s just part of the game.
Avoid these four popular tactics
Search for how to get clients for digital marketing services and there are listicles everywhere offering a thousand tactics.
It’s one of those things that seems nice on the surface but turns out to be counterproductive since it is costly to try something new.
Even if we are not spending any money, the cost is that when we master one way to land clients, it becomes easy because we get good.
When we move on to try a new approach, we are beginning from scratch again and so it will take time to see get good and see results. In this case, our most important asset is time and because it takes more time, it becomes expensive.
You’ll see results much faster by picking one approach and mastering it before even considering anything else. The challenge is that without experience it is difficult to figure out which one to pick. That’s what this article is about.
Underneath it all, everything is the same. We need to understand the client’s problem and get them to trust us to be the right person to solve that problem for them.
All the tactics we see are ways to do that but the challenge that many of us face is that we focus on making the process easy and quick too early, even if we aren’t landing clients just yet!
For some reason, we’ve gotten into our heads that it is better to have a quick and easy way to pitch, even if it doesn’t really work, that one that is slower but works.
The worst thing about a freelance business is the confusion we sometimes experience when we are unsure what to do and which direction to go in.
Here’s a list of tactics that are often suggested to land digital marketing clients but will take forever to actually get you paid:
- Blogging and SEO
- Online ads like Facebook, LinkedIn or Google ads
- Discuss stuff on Reddit, LinkedIn or Quora
- Use online directories
A list is great but how do you pick just one tactic to start with? Let’s dive deeper into each one.
Blogging and SEO
The difference between blogging and guest blogging is whether we are writing blog articles on our own blog or on someone else’s blog. The tactic does work but it usually takes months if not years to get this to work seriously for your freelance business.
Tasks such as finding and pitching the right blogs to be allowed to write for take longer than you might think. And even when we get something published, there is no guarantee that you’ll see any visitors from it.
I’ve written a number of guest articles that did zero for my business except allowing me to practice. The idea does work but doesn’t underestimate the energy it requires to find, pitch, and write the right articles in order to get clients and traffic.
When we write on our own blog, are people just magically going to find it? How?
They have to be exposed to it somewhere either because you’ve shared articles on e.g. your Facebook profile or because you hooked it up to Google, so people can find it when searching for relevant keywords. Readers don’t just come on their own, instead, we have to promote ourselves.
Understanding if people are searching for your topics in the first place can be tricky not to mention that it takes a long time for it to show up in Google – if it even does at all. There is no guarantee and because of competition, you might rank so low that no one sees the article.
To give you an example, it took me years before I started seeing meaningful traffic. I’m not saying it isn’t possible to get results faster but if you don’t know what you are doing with this tactic, it might take just as long.
Online ads like Facebook, LinkedIn or Google ads
Online ads have a special place in my heart since that’s where I started my career in digital marketing.
There is nothing like starting an ad campaign and seeing it convert like gangbusters. It’s exhilarating but it took me many campaigns and lots of money burned in order to understand how it works.
Usually, the first thing that new advertisers realize when launching their first few ad campaigns is how stupid we are since most of the things we expect to work totally flops.
It does work and it can even be a fast approach, too, if you know what you are doing. But be prepared to burn money at first if you don’t have any experience.
Discussions on Reddit, LinkedIn, or Quora
This can also work if you know that your clients are looking at specific discussion boards. Often, clients are not, and most of those seeing it will be freelancers having the same idea as you, also working to land clients.
Similar to guest blogging, it takes work to figure out which forums and topics work well to get clients.
Use online directories
Online directories are usually similar to the yellow pages and there are just not that many clients that go there to find freelancers anymore.
For many clients, they might as well just go to Upwork if they are looking for freelancers (and they do). It is often less about finding someone to help and rather about finding the right fit that they can trust.
You could test these out if you find some that you are confident your client type browses from time to time.
How to get clients for digital marketing
Tactic #1: Befriend your heroes
The first approach, that to my surprise worked out well, has been emailing people that I admire and would love to work with. The trick lies in not asking for anything and being flexible with when you can work with them. Check this email that landed in my inbox one morning:
In an attempt to befriend a particular expert that I wanted to learn from, he offered me a copywriting project without knowing my past experience. It proves that hard skills become a commodity, and our likeability and being easy to work with make a difference.
Here’s my entire list of correspondence with him. There were no phone calls or anything else, just these emails.
Is this extra work?
It requires more work than the bare minimum and it pays off dividends. It turns out that busy people get so many emails from people wanting something that it stands out when we approach them without asking for anything.
This approach doesn’t make sense with businesses or people you don’t care that much about. To make this work I suggest listing out ten businesses you dream of working with. Those were you think HOLY SHIT that would be amazing.
Then email them once a month with a friendly comment on something they are interested in. Do your research in advance to make sure you find just the right topic with mutual interest. For example, by looking at what they share on social media or what they talk about in interviews. Some people barely share anything and I’ve found that we are better off avoiding those with this approach since we can’t stand out. It’s easier approaching those that are visible in the landscape.
I suggest keeping track of this in a spreadsheet and your calendar so it becomes systematic. If you’ve picked ten, that comes out to 2-3 emails per weekend.
When I’ve found an exciting business, I like to go on LinkedIn to figure out who the person in charge is and then use tools like snov.io, hunter.io or voilanorbert.com to find their email address. Sometimes I just try to guess it by sending the email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. You’ll get an error message if it doesn’t work, so if you don’t get one, it might be correct.
Here’s an error message example:
I’ve found that the more invested we’ve been, the more it stands out. For example, if we’ve bought an online program and we reach out to the creator, we are in a totally different group of people than just any random person because by spending money, we show that we are serious.
It doesn’t have to be a monetary thing, it can also be taking action on someone’s recommendation and showing them the results we got since most people don’t. Here are a few script examples to get you going. Remember to tweak them to be your own.
Script 1 – this email can be used both as a first email introduction but also to build the relationship later on
I’ve been using your technique on TOPIC for a new project. After a few tries, RESULTS/METRIC went through the roof! Check this out:
Pretty awesome, huh? You don’t need to respond, I just wanted to reach out and say thanks!
Note: Notice that I wrote “you don’t need to respond”, it’s a delight for busy people not to feel the need to respond when everyone else is asking them for something.
I’ve been playing around with your technique on customer research in Facebook groups for a new project. After a few tries, responses went through the roof! Check the number of comments in these screenshots:
Pretty awesome, huh? You don’t need to respond, I just wanted to reach out and say THANKS!
Script 1 – alternative
We exchanged a few emails via COMPANY NAME where I am a student. I was sad to see that you left the company because I enjoyed the course you taught, COURSE NAME. At the same time, I’m also curious if you have more material about TOPIC available somewhere else?
Thank you for your work,
We exchanged a few emails via COMPANY NAME where I am a student. I was sad to see that you left the company because I enjoyed your course, COURSE NAME. At the same time, I’m also curious whether you have more material about growth available somewhere else?
After roaming around for a bit I found your new website NAME, but when I opened the URL I got the following error. Anyway, I thought I’d give you a heads up in case you didn’t know.
Script 2 – building the relationship
I read this article [add link] in MAGAZINE and thought of you. The overarching point is POINT.
MY BRIEF COMMENT OR INSIGHT.
Anyway, I thought you might find it interesting considering your background. I know you are busy so no reply is necessary.
I read this article [add link] in the NY Times and thought of you. The overarching point is that Apple is focused on privacy in the west while handing over customer data and following censorship in China because of their dependence on production there.
I can’t imagine how Apple might leverage that in the future but it makes me think that businesses sometimes have to make difficult decisions in order to advance to a new stage down the road. I can only imagine that they’ve thought it through.
Anyway, I thought you might find it interesting considering your background. I know you are busy so no reply is necessary.
Tactic #2: Piggyback off of agencies
Another great way to land freelance projects is piggybacking off of agencies. One of the hardest things for an agency is juggling the demand from clients as it usually goes up and down depending on the season.
It’s easy to over-staff and not have enough client projects or have too many projects and not enough staff. That’s where we as freelancers come in. We are the perfect solution for them to keep things flexible.
Many readers have seen success by approaching other freelancers and agencies for work. Many sub-contract for special projects or perhaps need specific expertise for just a few projects where it does not make sense to hire someone full time.
If you’ve worked for an agency, you might even have experienced that first hand. The easiest way to go about this is simply to email them, briefly explain what you do and ask if they keep freelancers like you on file or hire from time to time.
You’ll probably need to check in with them once a month. You may find some that are looking for help right away while others may contact you with work down the road.
Script 1 – first contact
[If you can find an interview they did and point out something you liked and find common ground via that, that is a huge advantage as you’ll leave a better first impression!]
I’m NAME and I work with YOUR SERVICE, often on freelance projects. I’m curious if your team keeps a file of freelancers you work with from time to time. If you do, I’d love the opportunity to prove myself as I totally understand if you are not ready to work with some stranger just because I happened to send an email.
Would you be open to a quick five minute phone call? It would be great to hear what is important to you when working with freelancers, so I make things easy for you.
With this script, I’d prepare a couple of questions to ask them on the phone and then keep it brief to respect their time. For example:
- Have you worked with freelancers before? How was your experience – what did you like and what could be improved?
- Besides deadlines, what is the most important to you when you work with freelancers?
They will probably ask you about their past experience and I’ve found that the most effective thing is to give them a brief overview e.g. by saying “I’ve worked with X for Y years and a project I was especially excited about has been.. PROJECT” and then highlight one or two examples of past client or projects, and tell them that you’d like to send some case studies or examples after the call, so they have it on file for their convenience.
Use the script from the first tactic earlier in this email to build the relationship.
Tactic #3: Offline referrals
The third tactic that worked well has been getting referrals from friends in real life. It can feel intimidating to get friends involved and the good news is that we don’t need to involve most of the people we know, as they will be irrelevant.
Once we know which type of client we’d like to work with, we can casually tell friends working in that industry about it. When they have a problem at work within our field of expertise, they might come to us for advice. For example, my friend is the CFO of a startup and came to me with a problem about their advertising, as he wanted to help the business even though it wasn’t his department.
I’ve found that this works especially well with friends that are serious and career-oriented or those working at startups. Letting friends know is not something we can script out as I’ve found it to naturally come up in conversations as we catch up here and there. We might say that we’ve been working with X for a while and really enjoy it.
The best approach I’ve found has been to offer our expertise and advice for free. Work to understand their problem over lunch, offer them advice and recommendations they could try out. Either it will solve their problem and we become a hero or they will be interested in us executing, and we might have a new freelance project on our hands.
I’ve gotten several offers and earned thousands of dollars with that approach because there is an inherent level of trust that is already established between us. It’s a great idea to make sure we can do an amazing job before starting and setting expectations as we want our friends to look good. If we mess up, it can affect their reputation.
A good way to incentivize them is to offer them a cut to recommend you. For example, by saying that your average project is $1,000 and that you offer 20% as a finder’s reward.
How pitching digital marketing services is different from other services
There are generally only two ways to approach pitching digital marketing services.
Either the client knows what they want done and usually how as well, or they don’t know that they want something at all and we have to persuade them as to why they should invest in a particular idea for their business.
The first type of client is often a great place to start if you are somewhat new to digital marketing and don’t feel extremely confident. They will often teach us their methods and show us the best approach because they have already experimented and made it work, and now need to remove themselves from the task.
In the other scenario, we are driving everything including the experimentation of the campaign to drive results.
This type is better suited for experts since we also need to show them that the idea is worth the investment in the first place and the best way to do that is usually to break down the potential gains of the project.
For example, if someone is pitching Facebook ads they might show a calculation that breaks down the estimated profit or extra sales as a result of the campaign along with how much the client stands to gain after the investment in the freelancer and the ad campaign.
I like to walk them through each step of the calculation, so they know that I haven’t used unrealistic numbers.
In the example of the client who knows everything and needs help implementing, we can focus on our experience driving results for the same type of project if we have any.
We can also focus on our reliability as a freelancer since clients like these often want long term help if we are trustworthy and reliable. Something most freelancers are not.
For a more in-depth look at how to get clients for digital marketing, look at this guide to freelance digital marketing.