Welcome to our [Actually Helpful] series of blog posts that are geared towards people who are new to freelancing or microconsulting. We'll go over several different aspects of flying solo in the business world with as many practical tips as possible, without going off the deep end in detail. Feel free to use these tips as springboards for further research, or to fuel your questions to our various business advisors on Pruuf, who range from marketers to accountants and more.
Topic 2: Marketing for Freelancers and Microconsultants
Freelancers and consultants are often worth their weight in gold, but since many of them do not work in sales and marketing, they unfortunately run into issues when faced with the need to build up their book of business. To get your name out there, have people remember you, draw in potential customers, and seal the deal on a new engagement, you’ll have to learn at least a few ways to market yourself. Whether it’s word-of-mouth referrals, drumming up repeat business, launching online ad campaigns, building up a community on social media, or any number of other options, it’s often best to pursue several strategies at the same time for maximum results.
If you’re great at what you do, we’d like to help you let the world know. Here is a list of 10 helpful ways that freelancers, consultants, advisors, and microconsultants can market themselves effectively. And yes, these tips go way beyond the generic “build a brand!” and “use social media!” tips.
1. Never stop marketing
Just because you have a website and some customers doesn’t mean you are done branding and marketing yourself. Keeping a steady flow of income means keeping a steady sales pipeline with interested leads, even when you’re busy. Reminding people, and telling new people, that you are open for business is very important, because once you have finished your current contract, you’ll have additional ones lined up. If you stick to this mindset, you’ll end up mitigating a lot of the financial ups and downs that are so stressful for many freelancers, since you are more likely to ink new contracts or have potential contracts lined up whenever a current client moves on.
2. Build relationships with current clients, and maintain relationships with past clients
Start with Why by Simon Sinek provides a glimpse into brain physiology and how it can influence sales decisions. Interestingly enough, the part of the brain that often makes decisions (like purchasing decisions…) is located in the same place that rules our emotions. This is why the archetypical salesperson is typically a suave individual who likes to build up a personal rapport and good feelings before swooping in to get your John Hancock on a contract or swipe your credit card. It’s why we make impulse purchases that make us “feel” good. And it’s also why we may stick with our current hairdresser or barber even if we know there’s someone slightly better a couple blocks down. All this to say: look to build strong relationships with your clients so they feel comfortable both signing up and continuing to do business with you.
The same goes for previous clients. Drop in to say hi every once in awhile and to see how they’re doing (in a non-salesy way, of course!). Keeping up the relationship will keep you top of mind, so even if they don’t need your services in the future, they will be more likely to recommend you to their friends and colleagues. Also, if your industry is comprised of a small community, your reputation may precede you when you start new work.
This advice remains the same for difficult clients. Even if it’s tough working with them, so long as they are fair, remain as professional and friendly as possible. Despite being demanding and hard to work with, they may still love your services and happily provide valuable - and even friendly - referrals in the future. Members of our own team have experienced this many times in the past.
3. Think long term, even if the project is short term
If you keep good relationships with your clients, they may hire you again for additional work in the future. This rings especially true for microconsulting. What may start as a simple gig could very easily evolve into a full fledged, heavily-involved consulting engagement. Agencies of all types employ this same tactic when servicing corporate and enterprise clients - they often try to simply get their foot in the door with a small scale project, and once they win the client’s trust, they are able to come in with a much more comprehensive proposal later that’s worth a lot more. It makes sense in the eyes of the client as well, since they probably won’t want to hire someone for a large project without having tested their work on smaller assignments first. Again, it’s all about building the relationship.
4. Get involved with your community
Every industry has a community that encompasses both digital platforms and physical gatherings, from industry-specific publications and large scale trade events all the way down to local stores and watering holes. If you’re active both online and offline, you’ll be much more visible to industry professionals who want to collaborate, or clients seeking talent for a specific need. Getting involved can take many forms. It may mean writing guest posts for industry blogs, attending or participating in trade shows and conferences, hosting your own local workshops, or reaching out to and collaborating with community leaders to make a name for yourself. If you want to establish yourself as a leader in your industry, you’ll have to first make sure the community knows who you are!
One important note on this is to make sure your prioritize sales efforts, whatever they may be. While going to events and engaging with the overall community can be a lot of fun, only do so when you understand what the return on your investment will be. It doesn’t have to be a specific return; general returns on investment could be as simple as “I have a free evening and would like to see what I can learn and who I’ll meet at this event.” However, if you find yourself spending lots of time at social gatherings but not gaining many clients, microconsulting gigs, referrals, or PR, try refocusing your efforts more on pure sales once more.
5. Find your niche
After your initial forays into freelancing, it may be beneficial to start zeroing in on a niche skill within your field of expertise that sets you apart from the crowd. This doesn’t mean your niche will be the only service you can offer anyone or the only type of client you’ll service; rather, it will act as a differentiator that you can use to initially set yourself apart from the crowd. (i.e. “we are the only agency in town with experience in XYZ, and of course we also provide all the other standard services that our peers provide.”) Freelancers who offer highly specialized skills for a specific problem are often more sought after as opposed to jack-of-all-trades types. For example, a vet that specializes in birds will more likely be hired by a bird owner than a vet who is open to treating all different kinds of vets. Or a dedicated social media marketer will probably be hired by a company in need of social media advertising, as opposed to a general marketer with some experience in SEO, PPC, and social media. In fact, some industries, like marketing, describe this kind of setup as a “Model T professional” who has a broad foundation of knowledge in many different areas (which encompasses the top stroke of the letter “T”) and then a very deep knowledge in one or two specific areas (which accounts for the downward stroke of the letter “T”). Finding the specific thing you like to do and doing it well will benefit you and your clients.
6. Know your clients
In order to make yourself into the most attractive candidate possible, know what your clients are looking for and double down on conveying your ability to deliver on those specific needs. Once you understand the rationale behind why your clients would choose one freelancer over another, you’ll have an idea into which specific strengths are most worth talking about and stressing. Your own “Model T” of skills doesn’t always have to align perfectly with what the client is looking for either; if you do your sales job right and show enough confidence, you can win new engagements that will help you expand your knowledge in wheelhouses that may be slightly different than what you’re used to.
However, if you consistently see that potential customers are looking for a professional with a slightly different skillset or background than your own, use this as an excellent checkpoint to reflect on what skills gaps you may have and how you can fill them in. Ultimately, you’ll have to tweak your skillset or tweak the target market you are trying to sell to. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing - it’s just the process of finding your own “fit” within the general marketplace. For example, a corporation in need of a consultant might very well evaluate candidates on an entirely different set of criteria than a growth-stage startup.
7. Build your portfolio
You know you’re good, but it’s up to you to help others see it too! That is why portfolios, in their many shapes and forms, are so important. Whether it’s a running list of local politicians you’ve run campaigns for, photos of hairdos you’ve styled, designs from websites you’ve created, comprehensive case studies, or even a well-tailored resume, it’s important that you provide real-life evidence of the type of work you’ve done in the past. These nuggets of insight paint a much better picture of your capabilities than if you simply listed out what services you can provide. It’ll also help your potential client better see if you two would be a good mutual fit.
If you don’t already have a portfolio of sample work to show clients, you may need to be flexible with your rates or even do some pro-bono work to build one. Once you have a robust portfolio, it will serve not only as an example of what you’re capable of, but also as an argument for the rate you’re charging. Remember that portfolios should be an almost living, breathing representation of your professional life, so keep it current as your skills develop and evolve over time. Be sure to keep it tailored to what you know your clients are looking for.
8. Be professional
Part of the value you offer your clients goes beyond the work you deliver; it’s also the way in which you deliver your work. For example, some clients may very well be able to handle something on their own without your help, but they may need to hire an outside consultant to simply get the work done faster. Microconsulting is no different - the client could easily look for help elsewhere - but they decided to take an extremely efficient route instead.
If you have a great skill set but deliver work late or are uncommunicative, your client will be displeased and probably will not to hire you for more work. On the other hand, a freelancer who may even have a less polished skill set but who delivers on time and remains communicative improves their chance of getting more work, even if they’re still learning the ins and outs of their industry.
9. Get a website and possibly branded email
If you don’t already have one, get a website. This is a key factor in helping you establish yourself as an industry professional, since it serves as your digital storefront. This digital storefront gives your clients a hub of information about you: your brand identity, your portfolio, your contact information, and any links to external things you’ve published online.
Not a web design guru? No problem. Follow these simple steps:
Go to a “domain name provider” like Godaddy so you can reserve your own “www.yourwebsitenamehere.com”. It’s the web address to your digital storefront. On GoDaddy, search to see if something like www.firstnamelastname.com or www.yourbrandname.com is available. Then, make an account and purchase it. You should be offered something along the lines of “domain name privacy” or “WHOIS privacy”. It’s probably worth it in your case.
Then head to Squarespace or Wix and create a free account with them. Try building out a website, and if you feel comfortable with the service, upgrade to a premium subscription to tap into all the benefits they offer, including the ability to connect your brand new domain name (www.yourwebsitenamehere.com) to it.
You’ll want to do some other things with your website, but we’ll cover that in a future post.
Then, if you have a company name that’s above and beyond your real name, consider getting a branded email address, which would look like something like firstname.lastname@example.org . Although services like GoDaddy and Wix provide email services, Gmail works really well for this need and provides a lot of value for the $5 a month they charge. On the flip side, if you are marketing your services under your own name, it’s ok to use a free personal Gmail account.
10. Leverage social media only when it makes sense
No, it’s not necessary to be on every social media channel out there. Think long and hard about who your potential clients are, and the best way you can reach them to 1) learn about you in the first place and 2) make a purchasing decision. As an extremely general rule of thumb, Instagram is a great promotional method if your work entails highly visual elements, LinkedIn is great for business services, and Twitter is great for connecting with the press. But get creative because there are many different social media channels out there with lots of users - from Reddit and Youtube to Pinterest, Behance, and more.
Once you’ve selected a channel, put some effort into filling out your profile and providing a healthy injection of initial content so that you don’t look like a total newbie. Then, come up with a long-term, consistent plan as to how often you’ll post, what type of content you’ll post, and what the expected outcome of your posts will be. Try to focus on just one or two channels; anything more than that is probably going to be too difficult to keep up with as a solo freelancer or microconsultant.
It’s worth noting that Pruuf is a unique player within the overall concept of social media, since it’s not just a channel for people to find you, but to also directly do business with you. And since it’s new, people who sign up as advisors early on get to join a growing network and establish themselves as leaders on the platform before the competition really heats up. For example, have you ever thought about becoming an Instagram or YouTube star but didn’t bother because the channels are already so crowded? Well, now’s the chance to act so you can dominate a different channel!