Marketing for freelancers is the art of attracting clients to do business with you.
It is slightly different from pitching a freelance project because it is often the step that leads to that being possible in the first place.
If it is a part of your service, it might lead to landing the second project from the same client instead of having to go out and find a new one.
Most advice on marketing for freelancers suggests that we need to
- Create business cards
- Build a website
- Open a Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram, etc. account
- Do blogging
- Do SEO
- Buy ads
- Share everything on social media
- And so on…
The list is long. Sure, each of those items could work incredibly well for your freelance business. But honestly, how do you feel when you see a long list of things that you “should be doing”?
Personally, I feel overwhelmed. Where do I even start?
… And that’s after having a degree in marketing, having worked specifically with online marketing and most of the items on that list for YEARS.
The reality is that each of those items is competitive because they work. By doing a little bit of everything, you will see no results because you are competing with people that spend more time focusing on just one of them.
In this article, I’ll share a slightly different approach that I think you’ll like. We’ll focus on the things that will help you earn money first and ignore as many of the rest as we can.
That way, it is easier for you to stick to it when you are in the trenches week after week, rather than forgetting or getting confused about what the best next step is. This has worked incredibly well for other readers and I’m sure it’ll work well for you too.
Before going any further, you should have a basic idea for your freelance business including which type of client or industry you’d like to help and which service you’d like to help them with. If not, read this.
Get ultra-specific with your marketing
You’ve probably heard of people saying you should choose a niche or “niche down”. What they mean is to get specific on who you’ll help and with what, so you have less competition than if you target everyone.
This strategy is first and foremost used when you think of your freelance business idea but it is part of marketing as well. It is powerful because some potential clients will want to listen to you just because you are focusing on something specific around what they do.
They may never have encountered someone helping only businesses like theirs, and when they compare that to someone who is a generic freelance designer, marketer, or whatever you do, it’s obvious who they want to at least hear more from.
To give you an example, at one point I only worked with language businesses and language schools (think businesses like Duolingo). Because no one approached them as a specialist, many potential clients were open to talking and I landed a few clients.
The challenge I see most new freelancers get stuck with is analyzing different services and niches to find the perfect fit for them. Until they do, they don’t earn any money yet feel like they are working a lot with nothing to show for it. After a while, they begin to feel that this whole freelancing remotely-thing isn’t for them.
We often think that it’s because we haven’t thought about it enough and if we just think some more surely the solution will fall down from the sky.
That is not how it works. We need to work our way to a clear head, it doesn’t come by thinking about it.
Luckily, it’s easy to fix. When you’ve brainstormed a list of potential ideas, pick one and email fifty potential clients using the strategy and scripts in this guide.
If you don’t land at least a couple of clients or discover that you dislike this freelance idea, move on to the next one on your list.
Simply continue this process until you find something you are happy with. If you run out of ideas, brainstorm a new list!
How we cheat ourselves
Customer research is a funny thing.
It feels like whenever we talk about it, everyone knows what’s up and we tell each other “I should really do more customer research” yet we never do it.
You’ve probably heard about a customer avatar. It’s a document detailing your ideal client and specifics about their demographics, psychographics, and a whole lot of other stuff.
Whenever we fill it out, most of us tend to do it based on how we imagine clients are and which problems they have – not their actual, real-life, problems.
That tends to send us on the wrong mission and when we try to persuade potential clients to work with us, it doesn’t quite seem to work.
Confused, we go back to the long list of marketing ideas and tell ourselves that we must have chosen the wrong place to do our marketing: Facebook wasn’t right. Blogging is probably better.
And we get stuck in this lovely circle. I’m sure you can imagine that the point is not which channel we are using but that we are working to solve problems that potential clients actually care about. Not those that we think they care about.
If you want to make freelance life easier for yourself, grab the email script below and begin reaching out to businesses, and do real customer research.
It will be the difference between if you get a client every now and then because they fell down into your lap or if clients will come to you and say “take my money”.
It will help you get clients more than anything else because you’ll understand what’s challenging them and how you can get paid to solve it. Most people focus too much on the solution rather than understanding the problem.
The quick and dirty way to get started doing customer research is to speak with businesses that are like your ideal client.
I prefer phone calls or in-person coffee meetings but you can get started even faster by connecting with them on websites like LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.
Ask them if they have hired a (your service) freelancer before and what their experience was. That will get you an idea about what pitfalls to avoid. You’ll also benefit from asking them about their targets, what their challenges are, and how they have tried to solve them.
Don’t copy-paste this email script. Tailor it to your personality and make it your own.
I’m X and I do (freelance service) for a living. I don’t have anything to sell but I’m researching businesses like yours and I’d love the opportunity to ask you a couple of quick questions.
I imagine you are busy, so it doesn’t have to take more than 10 mins and I can work around your schedule.
If this is OK for you, I promise to be respectful of your time. Would it be OK if I send you a few different times that might work for a call?
When you have spoken to a few businesses, you’ll start to notice a pattern. It might be with their challenges or targets and it’ll give you an idea about what you can go after specifically.
The deeper you go and the more businesses you speak with, the better results you’ll see. Keep in mind though, that they will often tell you things that they think you want to hear like “I want to do X but we don’t have time”.
Be cautious and don’t be afraid to dive deeper. Of course, it might be true but it could also be an excuse because the boss wanted something done a certain way.
So, what do you do with this research?
When you see a clear pattern in the responses, you’ll have a great indication of which challenge most of your potential clients have, how they think about it and what kind of bad experiences they have had working with freelancers similar to you in the past.
That will help you know what to avoid. You’ll also be able to use the words they use themselves to describe their targets or challenges and connect with potential clients, they will feel like you understand them even better than the other freelancers out there.
You might even want to consider focusing on just one of the challenges they describe and see how they react when you reach out to them.
Other ways to use marketing for freelancers
When you have a great understanding of your ideal clients, you’ll also have to consider that elements like your fees and how fast you respond to emails is part of your marketing.
Those only matter in as much as they matter to the clients. If they don’t care whether you respond within 24 hours or a week, don’t talk about it.
When you’ve done your research, you should have a pretty good idea about what seems important to them but isn’t and what is really key for them.
If you want to charge a premium price, you also have to offer premium services that fit. That might also come across through your services – in fact they are the best marketing weapons you have.
If you run the math, you’ll quickly notice that it is more profitable for you to get more work from existing clients than going after new ones.
Let’s imagine that our hourly rate is $30/h and that it takes 15 hours to land a new client.
If we spend 20 hours helping a client and it takes 15 hours extra to get the project, we’ve spent a total of 35 hours.
Rather than our expected $30/h and $600 for the project ($30*20h), our rate was $17/h ($600/35h).
It might just require one hour to get a new project from an existing client and our hourly rate is now at $29/h ($600/21h) instead of the $17 we started with.
Existing clients already trust you and know how good your services are, so it is less work to pitch them a new project than to start from scratch with someone you have no relationship with.
Freelancers have a bad reputation for being flaky and unreliable. You’ll win greatly by making it a part of your marketing to do the opposite. Work hard to display reliability, great organizational skills and good communication.
A great strategy is Jay Abraham’s idea about the Trusted Advisor. It focuses on becoming a client’s trusted advisor instead of simply someone who carries out tasks as a contractor.
The easiest way to get started is by thinking long-term and work towards, say, their fourth project instead of just the first one.
The client will love the experience because you don’t hustle them for your own immediate benefit.
You might even recommend something that will have you earn less but benefit the client. It helps build trust because you are sacrificing your own immediate gains for their success.
Few freelancers do that, so you’ll stand out like a sore thumb and win.
- Notice how few things I covered in this article. No doubt I could have covered more ground and the point is to pick fewer things to avoid confusion down the road and keep the focus. That’ll move the needle in your freelance business over the long term instead of just feeling like work with no results
- Customer research as the essence of marketing for freelancers. If you feel confused about what your clients want, it’s usually because the customer research isn’t deep enough. When you have enough information, you’ll know it because the solution is crystal clear.