27 proven freelance marketing tips

Everything is marketing

Marketing matters. Even for freelancers. Especially for freelancers. Here are the things that work for me:

  1. Wake up! No marketing = no business. This realisation is the necessary starting point.
  2. Brand you. For freelancers, Tom Peters’ book The Brand You 50: Reinventing Work is fundamental. You are selling yourself as much as your time and services. Everything you do is marketing.
  3. The Trusted Advisor. David Maister’s book (The Trusted Advisor) is full of good marketing advice for freelance consultants and professionals.
  4. Allocate time. It’s really important to carve out time every day to do some kind of marketing activity. It’s also important to dedicate a day or two every month (more if you’re starting out). There’s are no big bangs in marketing but you can make the universe expand steadily. Getting up early can create extra time for marketing.
  5. Daily pitch. The daily pitch is something that worked really well for me when I was a journalist. I’d just email an editor with a story idea once a day. Now, I try to contact a customer or prospective customer every day in one way or another. I might try to set up a meeting, make a call, send an interesting link etc. Sometimes, it’s just about keeping the lines of communication open. It’s all about personal contact.
  6. Keep marketing when you’re busy. The biggest mistake I regularly make is to get so busy that I forget to market myself. When you’re busy, you need to be lining up the next deal so you don’t have any downtime. (It’s like the farmer with the leaky roof. When it’s raining it’s too wet to fix it and when it’s dry is just as good as any man’s house.)
  7. Meetings are marketing too. If possible, never turn down an invitation to a meeting. Sometimes, those tedious interruptions are your best marketing opportunities. Big companies love big meetings and they are a good way to meet new people at your existing clients.
  8. Don’t be afraid. If you have confidence in what you do, there is no reason to fear being thought ‘pushy’.  Marketing isn’t like selling second hand cars. You are trying to reach people who NEED what you have to sell and who would be customers if only they knew you existed and could help them. I think perhaps this reluctance is a peculiarly English phenomenon.
  9. Think about technique. I really like Chris West and Mike Southron’s Sales on A Beermat. It’s short (always good) and it contains really helpful tips about how to make a pitch and how to generate new business. One tip which is very good for initial contacts is to ask for a ten minute meeting to introduce yourself. There aren’t many people who can’t spare ten minutes if it might be useful to them.
  10. Try different things. When I started Articulate Marketing, I hired a PR company, started a blog and ran some seminars. The blog was fun and helped a little.  The seminars were fantastic and generated a lot of business. The PR didn’t help at all. There are no guarantees in marketing and the best approach is experimental and based on evidence.
  11. Keep track of pitches. I use Excel to track pitches and opportunities. I do this because I keep my accounts in Excel too (I know, my accountant wants to shoot me too.) But it gives me a single page where I can see my sales pipeline, orders, work in progress, invoices outstanding, VAT and tax liability. It’s like a business control panel. I get away with Excel because my business is relatively simple from a bookkeeping perspective.  (In my last business, I used Sage and had to employ a bookkeeper and a financial controller to tell me the same information and it was always about a month after the fact. Never again.) I reviewed three great customer relationship management (CRM) tools for freelancers.
  12. React fast. It’s vital to react quickly to requests.  A good reputation in my business comes from delivering good quality work, on brief, on budget and above all on time.  However, occasionally, my clients need me to pull a rabbit out of a hat. Delivering a 2,000 word article over a weekend can save a client’s skin and people remember that stuff. In practical terms, it means being constantly available by phone and email, returning calls and emails promptly and occasionally working over the weekend. Importantly, it means seeing all this as a marketing opportunity not a huge drag.
  13. Automate processes.  I have a template for briefs which helps me produce a good, detailed brief for my clients very quickly. It saves them having to write it and it helps me look efficient and thorough. It’s all about thinking through the process in advance and automating or streamlining as much as possible.
  14. Your obvious is your talent. An editor at Wired told me that if I wanted to write about everything, I had better be the best writer in the world. Better to be the go-to guy for aviation articles than a hack writing about every topic under the sun. As a freelancer, it’s really difficult to do everything well. Better to be a deep expert in one area and cultivate a network of agencies, friends and colleagues who can fill in the gaps.
  15. Seminars. I regular seminars and they are very effective ways to bring in new clients and new work. It takes a bit of organising and you have to talk about something that a) is interesting to an audience and b) lets you display your talents without being too commercial. I’m thinking of running the seminars again but perhaps with more focus on social media and blogging.
  16. Blog. My blog has only generated a small amount of work directly. However, it has been fun. It helped me refine and think through my ideas. It also helped establish my credentials when it came to pitching a couple of corporate blogs. It has also been a very valuable aid to search engine optimisation.
  17. Website. My website, www.articulatemarketing.com, gets many fewer visitors than my blog but I guess people who go there actually want to know about my business. The first thing most people do when they get an email or a pitch from a company is look up a website.  Companies without a website (or for that matter their own email domain name) look like small beer.
  18. Follow-up.  “Is there anything else I can do to help?” Doesn’t hurt to ask?
  19. Add value. Setting up extranet to act as a library for deliverables and a way of sharing progress and deadlines with clients (I use Basecamp) is one easy way to add value. In my case, hiring a professional proofreader to check my paid-for work (but not my blog – I’m too cheap) and having proper professional indemnity insurance are two other ways.
  20. Become an expert. Spend the time to understand your customer’s products and services. For example, I bought and installed Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 before I wrote about it and I am now the owner of a shiny collection of HP kit.
  21. Upsell. Would you like to supersize that? There’s always some extra work or value you can offer. If they want a case study, why not offer a good deal on a PowerPoint ‘win card’ based on the same copy?
  22. Attach.  Would you like fries with that?  If they want some website copy, why not offer them a website review as well?
  23. Intra-company recommendations. My biggest source of new business is new people inside my existing clients. I don’t think it hurts to ask your customers if there’s anyone else they know who might be able to use your work. I find that the more work I do for a given client, the more connections I am able to make for them. For example, I can write about notebooks for HP but I can also link their services and so on because of other projects I’ve done for them.
  24. Get rostered. This is the key thing with big clients. Once you’re a rostered agency, it’s easy for new people inside big companies to hire you. If you have a unique and valuable service someone will find a way to add you to the roster of approved suppliers. Finding such a champion and offering such a service is the right way to go about it. Going via the purchasing department or as a subcontractor to another agency is a guaranteed way to slash your margins. In my experience, it also constrains your ability to do the kind of good work that the customer wants.
  25. Find a flagship client. I was very lucky to be hired by Microsoft for a project early on. A flagship client is like a passport to other companies.
  26. Find a better market. I used to do a lot of journalism. In many ways it was harder than the corporate writing I do now. For instance, I had to spend a lot of time developing and pitching stories.  Also, there was a lot of people who wanted to be freelance journalists so it didn’t pay very well. The biggest change in my life came when I decided that I didn’t want to play that game any more.  Instead of free-pitching magazine editors for badly-paid articles, I switched to a different market altogether.
  27. Stuff that doesn’t work: In my experience lots of stuff doesn’t help: fancy business cards, brochures, mail shots, random cold calling, PR.

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44 Responses to 27 proven freelance marketing tips

  1. David Finch February 19, 2008 at 2:10 am #

    Matthew, great list. I’ve already marked the ones that I need to improve on. Follow-up, Follow-up, Follow-up!

  2. Arpi Shively February 19, 2008 at 10:37 pm #

    Thanks for your generous 27 point list which will inform my five year plan! All the best, Arpi Shively

  3. Lynn February 23, 2008 at 7:38 pm #

    Matthew, one thing a lot of consultants and writers in the U.S. use to keep in touch with clients is an ezine. I have seen it work. For example, when my clients contact me for another project, they often send an email in reply to my monthly ezine.

    I can’t say they read the ezine, but I know they save it, since they reply to it.

    Thanks for a fine list.

    Lynn

  4. Forum for writers February 26, 2008 at 4:16 pm #

    Good list :) I’ve posted a part of them at the forum for writers here: http://www.writersclub.net/career_as_a_freelance_writer/27_proven_marketing_rules-t134.0.html
    Hope you are not against sharing this information with others as your blog is open for everybody :)

    You are welcome to enter any forum discussion.

  5. Ben March 28, 2008 at 5:28 am #

    I really like your daily pitch idea. It’s simple, can be done in 5 minutes, and over time — if you do it long enough, can really get you significant results that will pay off in the long run.

  6. luis July 18, 2008 at 8:07 pm #

    Matthew, great marketing tips. Your list will help me tremendously promote myself. I’ve been writting articles since high school for my school newspaper and still have an itch to this day to make freelance writting my career. I am now a 22 year old hispanic male, and the issue I am having is finding my niche. I enjoy discussing current affairs- that topic would be preferable- but my approach to the subject are like cooking ingridients,” alot of fact, some hypotheticals, a little conspiracy, salt and pepper”. People tell me a have alot of talent, but taking that to bank is a whole different issue.

  7. Web site marketing August 21, 2008 at 5:56 am #

    Wow Impressive!

    Your blog is very informative. However, it is pretty hard task but your
    post and experienced serve and teach me how to handle and make it more
    simple and manageable.

    Thanks for the tips… Best regards.

  8. John Bertrand August 25, 2008 at 1:40 am #

    Think about the conditions that exist in peoples lives that cause them to “search” the way they do.
    What about all of the people who have financial challenges?
    What about the people who live alone in this world who are dying from loneliness?
    Or how about the folks who are suffering from a specific medical condition?
    What about the people who are in the midst of mortgage foreclosure?
    Do you have solutions for certain situations? Think about the conditions that you could help people solve. Be found for them and create magnificent content that reads well and meets their needs and don’t forget your call to action.

  9. Marc Moonen August 25, 2008 at 1:42 am #

    #

    # Have you ever thought about exploring hot subject matter? Think more about the “topics” your customers are interested in discussing or learning about in general. People are interested in all types of causes and concerns from religion and politics to statistical data and news. People like to analyze things and discuss things that relate to their industry. Don’t limit yourself to thinking that you can only optimize your Web pages to 3 or 4 keyword phrases because you “think” they are all that exist.

    # Remember to exploring and research opportunities by researching specific colors. Color is a big deal in some industries.

    # Consider exploring topics related to specific seasons, which may be appropriate for your Web audience.

  10. Sunil Singh October 24, 2008 at 6:12 pm #

    Getting ratings on any freelance market place is itself a marketing for freelancers.

  11. Steven Streight December 11, 2008 at 7:18 pm #

    Thanks for the long list of tips. You were SERP #2 on Google today for “freelance marketing tips”, so you know about SEO also.

    I see a blog as a showcase of your writing ability and expertise. I don’t see a blog as a way to attract clients, but as a way to show them what you do.

  12. Sam Kidd March 8, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    Great list you have there. Number 12 React fast. has probably been one of the main reasons for our growth. The faster you react to emails and messages the better people feel about your product and service.

  13. SEO March 10, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    Well, I’m a SEO freelancer. And I have to follow some steps you mentioned above. Thanks for your guidelines about how to become good freelancer.

  14. Andrea Altenburg May 25, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    Thank you for your tips! I want to gear up my marketing, but am shy and just hate doing it. Your list is a big help! Thanks!

    • Matthew Stibbe May 26, 2011 at 6:53 am #

      Feel the fear and market yourself anyway. One way to overcome your reluctance is to think of all those customers out there who really NEED your services but don’t know you exist. You’re really doing them a favour.

  15. Bob Arce August 24, 2011 at 6:31 am #

    I sincerely enjoyed your tips. As a marketing course professor, I always remind students of the importance of marketing in business. Oftentimes though, the focus is more on marketing a product or service of a company/corporation. Your post reminds me that freelancers constantly need to exert marketing efforts too.

  16. Moe April 11, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    These are some awesome tips. I have been looking to increase my marketing lately. I think that it will help my business grow, and bring in some more big bucks. These tips will really help me a lot. I especially like the idea of reacting fast. There are so many companies nowadays that take forever to respond to customers. When they do that, they lose a lot of business. Thanks again for the great article.

  17. Dennis Schmets May 14, 2012 at 8:53 am #

    Thanks for the good post,i gone a use this tips. And also thank you internet voor sharing content.

    Thanks very much,
    Dennis

  18. amourdange June 14, 2012 at 4:49 am #

    Awesome tips! It is indeed very helpful to me as a beginner in marketing my service.

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