The freelance economy is one of the fastest growing sectors in the United States. According to a report by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, nearly 57 million Americans are working as freelancers, which is nearly one-third of the total workforce.
One of the biggest challenges most of these freelancers face is spreading the word about their businesses. “Marketing doesn't come naturally to many freelancers, yet a business cannot continue to grow without it,” web designer Andrew Medal writes at Entrepreneur.
To build a profitable business, you have to be able to effectively self-market your products and services, usually on a tight budget. But you don’t have to be a marketing expert to successfully promote your business. Here are five ways to spread the word about your freelance business and build up your client base.
Before you can even begin to think about promoting your business, you have to know exactly what it is you are offering and how that is unique from what everyone else is doing. This is called your unique selling proposition.
Maybe you are an attorney-turned-freelance copywriter who specializes in writing for law firms. Or perhaps you are a former corporate accountant who has decided to be a freelance accountant specializing in finding areas of waste in businesses. The idea is to pinpoint what it is that makes your offering uniquely valuable to someone.
This can be difficult to do, but the following advice from the staff at Entrepreneur Media, Inc. can help:
Once you have this kind of customer perspective, use it to develop the rest of your messaging. This is what will feed your marketing efforts, says Austin Church, strategist and co-founder at branding and marketing studio Balernum.
Building a digital presence is essential for the success of a freelance business. Your customers are online, and you need to meet them where they are to build that connection.
The key to making your online presence work for you is to provide content that clients want to consume on all of your digital channels. It all starts with your website. When customers land on your website, they need to immediately get a feel for who you are and what you do.
Start a blog where you can provide behind-the-scenes glimpses into how you work, share industry information, or provide any other insights that could be valuable to your customers. For example, a freelance legal expert might write articles about why it is important to draw up a will or about the impacts of local laws. A freelance interior designer, on the other hand, might share insights on complementary color palettes or holiday decorating tips.
The more targeted content you create, the more engaged customers will be.
The same is true of social media. Make an effort to create and share content that connects with customers in a meaningful way. That has been the key to success for Tanya Heidrich, an illustrator and pattern designer who specializes in all things black and white.
"In my personal experience, I found that when I started to share the process behind my work, rather than just the final polished pieces, it resonated a lot more with people," Heidrich says. "Which is why it's good to try different things out, as you can't always know the ways in which people will respond to your work: In my case, it was really interesting to see that people responded most to my process videos, as it acted as a bit of a how-to in recreating the designs I make."
Her efforts have paid off, as over the last several years she has steadily grown her audience of 75,000 Instagram followers by showcasing her work and the process behind its creation. The key to social media, she says, is to be diligent and keep posting content that people will want to see.
The success of an email newsletter depends on content and consistency. Aside from showcasing your work and educating customers, your emails need a call to action. For example, include a button that tells your reader to click through to your website for more information. This gives them the opportunity to engage with another of your digital assets to learn more about your business.
Consistency is also important for establishing a connection through email newsletters. When customers receive your email on a regular basis, they anticipate its arrival. You can use an email service to create plug-and-send templates that you can easily design. Then, you just have to schedule when those emails go out.
All of these digital assets work together to create your digital presence. When your content is useful to your customers and available in at least a couple of places — your blog, you social media profiles, your newsletters — people can seamlessly move between them all and build a deeper connection with your work.
Another way to connect with customers is to partner with businesses that have similar customers to yours, but operate in a different niche or specialty. These are called complementary businesses. Their products and services relate to yours, but they are not direct competitors. Building these types of business relationships expands your network and allows you to connect with more customers through word-of-mouth marketing.
Guest blogging is a great way to leverage that relationship. Let’s say you are a freelance photographer trying to book more weddings. You could partner with a local florist to be a guest blogger to provide tips and insights on wedding-day photography. Or you could partner with local venues to showcase work you have done at that venue. These would put you in the path of people who are searching out services like yours for their special day.
Video is excellent for content co-creation, too. In keeping with the wedding photographer example, you and the florist could do a joint Q&A video to answer the most common questions about flowers and wedding photos. The two of you could partner for discounted services in a contest or giveaway, too.
These types of partnerships allow you to tap into each other’s networks and expand your reach to customers you might not normally target.
Customer relationships are assets that can help your business grow. They afford you opportunities to upsell and cross-sell, providing maximum value to your customers and increasing your revenue without added marketing expenses.
A freelance marketing copywriter who is writing blog posts may be able to cross-sell social media copywriting services to a client. Or a freelance programmer who is writing code for a company’s app may be able to upsell their software maintenance services.
The point is you have already established trust and formed a relationship with a customer, explains Angela Hausman, owner of the marketing firm Hausman and Associates. To capitalize on the relationship, ask, “What else can I do for you?” Hausman advises.
As your business grows, a CRM can help you manage those customer relationships and reveal ways to grow them. When you can track what you are doing for customers, you can more easily spot opportunities for upselling and cross-selling.
Another way to leverage those relationships is to ask for referrals. It’s an uncomfortable ask for many, but referrals are one of the most effective ways to grow your business. They key to successfully getting referrals is knowing when and how to ask.
The most opportune time to ask for a referral is when your customer is happy with the service or product you provided, says Al Davidson, founder of lead generation company Strategic Sales & Marketing. They need to be in a good mood and satisfied with your work before you approach them.
When you are ready to ask, here are some tips to guide you through the process:
By looking for ways to do more for existing customers and asking them for referrals, you expand your opportunities for growth without having to spend a lot of money.
As you create all of these digital networking opportunities, don’t forget about the power of networking in person. It is a great way to get your name out there, not only in your industry but also in your community.
Start by connecting with your local Chamber of Commerce. These organizations host a number of events on a regular basis that can help you connect with other local businesses in your target market.
Also, local and industry-specific LinkedIn groups will frequently host events, as will the bigger companies in your area. Keep an eye out for any such events that would be relevant for your business.
Attending industry conferences and trade shows is a great way to expand your network in person — they don’t even have to be in your particular niche or industry. These can be events in any industry where you can potentially connect your services with customer needs.
You can find these types of events with a little bit of research. Striking up conversations at the event is the more difficult part of networking in person. Executive coach Rhett Power offers some tips for starting a conversation:
Remember as you work the room at these networking events that “what matters most at any networking event is the quality of the human interactions, not the quantity,” freelance brand storyteller Chuck Leddy writes for the Freelancers Union. Approach networking with the mindset of building relationships, not selling.
Building your freelance business is going to take time. By focusing on these approaches to expanding your network and connecting with customers, you position yourself for a long and prosperous future doing what you love.