As a freelancer (or potential freelancer), you live and die by your ability to sell your services. And unless you’ve got some kind of agent or marketing firm doing your marketing for you, you’ve got to be your own marketer. If you’re like me, that doesn’t come naturally.
But by focusing, learning and practicing these 10 essential freelancing marketing skills, you can be a natural self-promoter and get more work than you actually need.
Let me first say that when I say “marketing” I don’t mean you should be one of those pushy, spammy, overhyping marketers that you see so often on infomercials and on spam websites and knocking door-to-door. Don’t be a huckster or a con artist.
The real way to market yourself is in a natural, professional, honest manner — show that you’re good, interact in a positive way, find ways to let people know about your services and talents without coming on too strong, and let your talents sell themselves. This gets easier as you’re more established and better known, but it can be done by anyone.
Here are the essential marketing skills for any freelancer:
Blog. It’s been said many times before, but the blog is the new resume. If you don’t have a blog, learn how to start one up. And don’t just rant about politics and talk about your cat. Make your blog look professional, write about things that would look good to potential clients, and offer your services to others (with contact info, of course). If you are a designer, be sure that the design is clean and creative. If you are a photographer, the photos should knock them out. If you’re a writer, have only your best writing on your blog. In all cases, have a simple, clean layout with well-written words. If you’re not good at this yet, constantly learn and refine. Look at other professional blogs for inspiration, then tweak. Then edit some more.
Collaboration. One of the best ways to market yourself is to collaborate with others. Instead of only working by yourself, offer your talents on a project. If you’re a writer, offer to collaborate with other bloggers — if you give them some free writing (do a guest post), you have just reached a wider audience, and you’ve developed a relationship with another blogger. You can do the same with whatever service you offer — offer it up for free (or at a discounted rate) so you can develop relationships and reach a wider audience.
Listings. Be sure that you’re on all the freelance job sites, or at least the ones that apply most to the service you offer or the market you’re aiming for. You don’t have many words to make a pitch, so offer a few words to differentiate yourself and a link to your blog if possible.
Business card. Don’t go with anything tacky or overly complicated. Keep it simple, professional. The fewer items on your card, the better. Really, all you need is your name, your service and your email address, but you can put a slogan or logo if that works for you. Also, some have argued that the new business card is to simply say “Google me”. If so, be sure that you’ve researched your Google results thoroughly.
Email skills. This is how I do most of my marketing, in combination with the blog and collaboration ideas listed above. I’ll simply email someone to see if they’re interested. I’ll do a short pitch about myself and my services (a short paragraph) and make them an offer. If they write back, great. If not, you can either follow up or move on to the next one. Don’t be too pushy. Again, be professional, and offer a link or two to show samples of your work. People don’t have a lot of time to read emails, so be sure to keep it short. Be friendly and professional. And make them an offer they can’t refuse (not a “Godfather”-style offer, though).
In person. This is the part that many people have trouble with. Either they are too shy or they have a tendency to overdo it. You need to find a balance between being unafraid to talk to people and being too pushy. If you face a fear here, don’t worry — you’re not alone. If you go to a conference or some other event like that, face your fear by making it a challenge to talk to 20 people today. By the time you’ve done 5-10 of them, you’ll start to get more comfortable. Develop a short script for what you want to say, if this doesn’t come naturally for you. Alter it depending on people’s reactions. But try to learn to deliver it naturally, and be open to changing it as you go. The script is basically a way for you to plan your key points. Basically, you just want to introduce yourself, ask the person about himself, mention what you do and suggest that you work together, and if there’s a little interest, make a specific suggestion for how you could work together and an appointment for follow-up communication (a meeting, phone call, email, etc.). There are many variations on this, but this is the most basic form.
Social websites. If you freelance in a certain field, find the forums and other social websites where your field communicates. It could be on MySpace or Facebook or a certain popular blog or one of a number of online forums. Be a participant, contribute valuable knowledge without showing off, be friendly and helpful. You might form relationships that could pay off in the long run.
The Pitch. This is used whether in email, in person, on a social website, or IM. You need to develop the art of making a pitch that doesn’t come on too strong. This takes practice, and there’s too much to this skill for me to explain here, but in general, the key point is to understand what the potential customer needs or wants, and show how you are the perfect solution to provide that need or want. The reasons you’re the perfect solution could be several of many, including price, quality, a service not offered elsewhere, additional value, experience, least hassle, fastest completion time, reliability, etc. Understand their needs and meet them. In as few words as possible, or you’ll lose them.
The Close. Once you’ve made the pitch, you could end it with a simple, “Get back to me if you’re interested.” But you might find that while people will react positively to that kind of conclusion, you will rarely end with any kind of business. You need to have a close, make a sell. Again, don’t be pushy about it. Just learn to make a specific offer and ask your client to take action (with a good reason to take that action). That action could be to purchase your services, or to give you a one-time try, or to work with you on a small job, or to meet with you to discuss options. Whatever it is, be specific and don’t let the time be vague (don’t say “sometime next month”). For example, say, “How about if I sketch up a design and send it to you by Wednesday?” or “Let’s give this a try: I’ll write one article for you, and if it doesn’t work out, no hard feelings. I can have it to you in two days.”
Product. This should go without saying, but your best spokesman is your product. If your work is shoddy, people won’t continue to use you, and worse yet, your reputation will go downhill. If instead you do an outstanding job, you will continue to get business, or even better, you’ll get recommended to others as an outstanding freelancer. “His fee wasn’t ridiculously overpriced and he did an amazing job on that logo.” Be sure not only to do you utmost best on every assignment, but to check it over for mistakes, to deliver it on time, to communicate well with the client, and to do professional follow-ups so that the client is happy from start to finish.