Do you know what the hardest part of freelancing is?
It’s not the uncertainty
It’s not the the lack of colleagues to talk to in the canteen at lunch
It certainly isn’t the missing 9–5 routine.
And it’s not even the lack of money
No, the hardest part of freelancing is selling yourself.
Unless you are a natural marketer, or can really, impartially spot your own selling points and shout them to the world, selling yourself is hard.
Perhaps I should say selling your services, but really… you are selling yourself.
Last week I touched on finding your USP, which is a great way to start your marketing plan, but planning your marketing strategy is so much more than your unique selling points. Everyone will have a slightly different way of marketing, and as a freelancer the way you sell yourself may well be as individual as you are. However, there are a few main points that everyone needs to know and understand when they sit down and figure out their marketing strategy:
If you are a freelance taxi driver, you’ve pretty much got the easiest marketing job in the world, but for those of us with a more niche service or product you really have to think about this. Are your customers the general public, or a more specialised type of customer? If you are an editor or proofreader your customers, for example, may be businesses, academic publishers, self-publishers, general publishers, private individuals etc. If you are a photographer, are you going to concentrate on the family portrait, baby portrait, pet portrait or fine art market? And if you are a crafter are you going to sell your wares at local craft fairs or local retailers, or try online for a wider audience?
Before you can market yourself you need to know who you are aiming for.
Once you have figured out who you are aiming at, how are you going to find them? You can’t sit back and believe that the world will come to you… well you can, but you won’t get very far unless you are unbelievably talented or produce such a niche product that there are few others you have to compete with. In order to find your customers you will have to do a bit of research. You know who your potential customers are, so go online and see where they hang out. If your customers are business clients, look in directories and handbooks, and look into joining the local Chamber of Commerce. If they are the general public see where they go for similar services or goods. For example I would look in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook for speciality publishers, if you are a plumber you may find your local online forum and join the Chamber in order to get yourself out there. Finding out where your customers are is different for everyone and can be easy or incredibly hard, but it’s something you have to think about, only then can you figure out step 3.
You know what you are offering, you know where your customers are, now you have to figure out how they will find you. This is the real marketing bit. It’s time to stop being overly modest and stop saying ‘Oh, but I’m only a humble (insert job description here)’, now is the time to sell yourself.
a) You may need to contact potential customers directly. Whether that is by email, an old-fashioned, perfectly-formed letter in the post, or a telephone call, you will have to take your courage in both hands and face rejection. This may come as an outright ‘No’, as a ‘Thanks we may keep your name on file’ or as a stony silence. It’s the harsh reality of life but don’t take things to heart, it won’t be personal. Write down who you contacted and what their response is, then move on. The only certain thing is ‘don’t ask, don’t get’. But on no account spam potential customers… that is the wrong way to go about things and will do more harm than good.
b) Advertise your services. That could be by getting flyers printed up and left around your area, putting an advert in the local or national newspapers, taking ads in magazines, or even putting a postcard on the supermarket noticeboard. Think where your customers are likely to be looking and utilise that knowledge.
c) Get yourself a website or a blog. There really is no excuse these days for not having a website or blog. It doesn’t have to be fancy, and there are plenty of platforms out there that can make it easy, even for a technophobe. Something as simple as a one-page equivalent of a business card can be just as effective as a full-out multi-page website, if it’s interesting and can be found easily!
d) Join online forums and social media. It can be time consuming, and distracting, but can be time well spent. Be interesting, be relevant and be yourself. If you are selling a product, talk to people about it and answer their questions. If you are selling a service, explain why people should choose you and show that you are knowledgeable in your field. Encourage communication. Be easily found and don’t just go out there with the hard sell, social media is supposed to be sociable and fun.
e) Tell family and friends. Don’t underestimate the power of personal referral, it can be the most powerful thing in the world.
Selling yourself is really hard – you have to be prepared to put yourself out there, risk rejection and work hard at it. It comes naturally to so few of us, but in a world where more and more of us become freelancers it’s something that we have to learn to do. Write down a marketing plan, tweak it and revise it, make note of what you’ve tried and who you have contacted… then be prepared to start all over again.
Have you found a plan that works particularly well for you? Why not share it in the comments below?