When you’re self-employed, the time you spend on paid work is probably only eclipsed by the time spend looking for more clients. When business is good, there’s a constant stream of people looking to hire you. But when times get tough and your workload lightens, you need to buckle down and increase your client roster through effective marketing strategies. Using the right techniques can help you compete with larger businesses and help you build a reliable stream of income through your small business.
Marketing yourself as a freelancer is key to building a consistent flow of work and keeping yourself in business. But you don’t want to cast a wide net with marketing aimed at anyone with a pulse. Your specific service or product probably only applies to a small segment of the population, and that’s okay. That specialization can help you build a strong brand for yourself within the niche, which often increases sales way more than trying to get everyone to buy what you’re selling. When you identify your target audience and establish metrics for success, you put your time and money to better use.
Figuring out your target audience starts by analyzing your product or service to figure out what problem it solves and who might have that problem. As you think about your product, you can start to build customer profiles to define your target audience. Use that information to make marketing decisions that appeal to that target persona.
Invest in a Fast, Well-Designed Website
Having a strong web presence helps your potential customers find you. If you don’t have a website, people might keep looking and opt for a competitor who does have a professional-looking website. If your site takes more than a few seconds to load, customers may leave and look elsewhere. A website that’s difficult to navigate on mobile devices also might send visitors packing. That’s why a well-functioning site is essential for capturing people’s attention and getting them to stay on your site. You can speed up your site by eliminating “heavy” content like videos or images that take a while to load, as well as splitting pages with a lot of content into multiple pages.
While you’re at it, invest in a fresh and responsive web design. This ensures that, no matter what device someone visits your site from, the content and layout render properly, and navigation is simple. Put effort into a design that’s appealing and easy to navigate. Fortunately, price no longer has to be a barrier to getting a top-notch design. WordPress customizable themes offer an affordable or even free place to start.
Beyond the design, you can increase the perceived value of your brand by talking about the benefits — rather than just the features — of your products and including glowing customer testimonials. Keep the information simple with the most important information prominently displayed. Using words and designs that appeal to your target audience also helps keep people on your page. If you’re targeting a young crowd, you don’t want to create a boring design with stuffy, encyclopedia-style content.
Use a Professional URL
Buying a professional URL and self-hosting your site shows your customers you take your business seriously, and the expense is a small price to pay to boost your credibility and professionalism to potential customers. You may also want to transition away from using your Gmail or Yahoo email address and replace it with an email address using your domain.
Invest in a Professional Logo
Your logo, like your website, is something you don’t want to skimp on, especially if you’re trying to come off as a professional. When you have just seconds to capture the attention of website visitors, you want to ensure that the logo they see is visually appealing. Rather than DIY-ing your logo (unless you’re a professional designer), consider using a site like 99designs to crowdsource logo ideas inexpensively, or find a freelance designer to help you on a site like Fiverr. Another option is to barter with a freelance designer. Say you’re a freelance writer. You might offer to write the web content for the designer or write a certain number of blog posts for them in exchange for designing a logo.
Ask Current Clients for Referrals
Word-of-mouth referrals are a good way to get more business, but how you handle referrals determines your success. Depending on the type of referral, a casual phone call may not do the trick. Consider sending a formal letter or email that outlines why you’re contacting them, who referred you and what you’d like to speak with them about. Make sure to use language that illustrates why the referral should contact you back.
While you may get lucky with an email or phone call, the best way to get referrals is to have your client formally introduce you. It doesn’t matter if it’s by email or in person, the fact that a client is willing to put their stamp of approval on you and your work speaks loudly enough. You can encourage those direct referrals with a program that rewards your current customers for sharing your company. You might enter everyone who shares your Facebook page into a drawing, or you might offer a discount on a future purchase every time someone’s referral actually makes a purchase from you. Those incentives can spur your clients into telling more people about you.
Develop a Newsletter
If you have email contact information for your clients and prospects, email newsletters are a great way to keep you and your services top of mind. Each newsletter should have a purpose and offer value to the recipients to keep them reading. You might go in depth on a product or service, include a tutorial on a product, offer a sneak peak of upcoming products or sales, share a testimonial, or share some use ideas for a product. If you don’t have a lot of contacts, then adding a newsletter sign-up to your blog or website helps you grow your email list of potential clients while giving them something of value in return. Newsletters also have the potential to be shared, which can increase your reach as well.
Maintain a Current and Relevant Blog
Blogging can help you attract attention and build brand value. All content you create should be of interest to potential clients and offer them some type of value. They should feel like they gain something by reading your blog posts. It’s easy to fall into the trap of blogging about things that interest you, but a business blog as a part of your online marketing strategies should focus on your target audience and address what they want and need. It should also subtly sell your products or services without sounding like a sales pitch. If you’re a freelance designer, you might write a blog post about how to hire a freelance designer. You’re providing valuable information while also promoting your business without coming right out and saying, “Hire me!
Use Your Content as a Public Relations Tool
Adding good content to your blog or website only takes you so far. You still need to find ways to lure readers to that content. Many large sites now use syndicated content providers, such as Outbrain and Taboola, to expand the reach of their content beyond their own websites. These services help you get links to your content onto other sites. Some of the larger networks might also compensate you, but in many cases, getting your name out there is most important.
Another way is to reach out to a few sites directly. Contact the contributions editor or equivalent, and let them know about your content. Suggest how it might fit on their site and why it might be of interest to them, and ask for explicit permission for the site to republish the content. Some editors may work with you, and others might never reply. But if you believe that your work is good and relevant to the site’s visitors, it’s certainly worth the effort to get it published outside of your network.
Implement Search Engine Optimization
As established as the practice of search engine optimization (SEO) seems to be, it’s still constantly changing, mostly due to Google and other search provider’s updates of their search algorithms. The first rule is to focus on quality content about a specific subject. Useful, well-written content sprinkled with a few relevant keywords often ranks better than something written quickly and stuffed with keywords. In other words, quality matters. It’s also a good idea to choose keywords with less competition to increase your chances of ranking higher in search results. If you focus on “accountant” as your keyword for promoting your accounting services, you probably aren’t going to rank very high since it’s so broad and there’s already lots of content available. Instead, you might use “small business accounting services” or “accountants for restaurant owners” to hone in on your target audience.
Book Guest Speaking Engagements
Look for opportunities in your area to speak as an expert on whatever your business does. For example, is there a group of small business owners that get together once a month to discuss trends, challenges, or opportunities? It doesn’t even need to be a formal association meeting, but anywhere a significant number of your potential clients gather. Reach out to your local Chamber of Commerce to see if they put on any events throughout the year that need speakers. You can also reach out to larger regional or national trade associations if you have strong qualifications or a reputation as an expert in the field.
Should you consider speaking, make sure you have a solid idea for your speech, an outline of what specifically you plan to talk about, and the takeaways for the attendees before reaching out. If possible, try to have the speech finished or nearly finished and a copy of your audio-visual aids completed as well. The organizers of the event may ask for these materials or something similar when making their decision.
Pitch Original Story Ideas to Sites You Respect
If you have a good original story idea (e.g. one that hasn’t been written for your website/blog) that you feel is relevant to the site’s audience, don’t hesitate to pitch it to the site editor or contributions editor. Pitches are generally emails that outline your qualifications, your idea, and why you think it’s valuable to the site’s readership. You may even be able to get some type of compensation. But if you’re starting out or simply looking to widen your client base, then having a byline on a respected blog or news site can be payment enough.
Before you pitch an idea, remember that writing takes time to research and edit. If you believe the time you spend doing that isn’t worth your compensation—especially if you’re writing solely for a byline—then this marketing strategy might not be for you.
Hold Meetings in Professional Settings
The way you present yourself to clients can help grow your business. If you work from home, consider what image your work environment conveys. You don’t want clients tripping over your kids’ toys or visiting your closet/office to discuss a project. If you don’t have a professional home meeting space, a better option may be to meet over coffee or rent a co-working office space to get a professional meeting room for the day. There’s also Skype, of course, but make sure the barking dogs and children are tucked quietly away. You don’t want anything to detract from your message.
Talk in Terms of “We”
As long as you have the idea that you are the extent of your business, you limit your own growth. But if you plan to grow and hire staff or even a few contractors, you have to shift to “we” thinking. That includes how you talk to clients. When you frame your conversation as “we can help” rather than “I can help,” you open yourself up to being able to bring on others in your company, even if you don’t yet have employees or contractors onboard. The challenge with promising to do everything yourself is that, eventually, you reach a saturation point. Hiring others can help you take on more work and grow more rapidly. Your success depends a lot on your attitude. If you act like you run a slightly bigger, more successful company, you can step closer to making it a reality. Until then, you can attract customers who feel drawn to your positive, professional demeanor.
Social Media Tips
With its unprecedented reach and affordability, social media is an unmatchable marketing tool for entrepreneurs. It’s a free option that lets you network and expand your reach to potential customers. With so many different platforms and media options, you can customize your social media marketing to fit your business. But it can also consume too much of your time if you don’t have a strategy. Your social media presence needs specific goals with your audience in mind to be effective.
Pick the Right Platform for Your Business
With so many social media site options, each with its own buzz, there’s a temptation to jump from platform to platform to stay on the cutting edge. Don’t let fickle trends guide you. Instead, go where your audience is. If you’re a coach for midlife career changers, you’d likely be wasting your time on Instagram — a hotspot for millennials — but could reap great returns on Facebook, where Gen Xers and Baby Boomers are plentiful. It’s often better to focus on one platform initially until you master using it for your marketing efforts. You can expand to other platforms later, but don’t stretch yourself too thin with multiple platforms that take you away from other tasks.
Make Sure You’re on LinkedIn
Don’t be fooled into thinking LinkedIn isn’t for you because you’re not looking for full-time employment. As a self-employed professional, the product you’re selling is you. Everything LinkedIn offers individual job seekers — a forum to network with other professionals, promote your expertise, and generate leads — are tools you can use to grow your solo business. LinkedIn’s professional focus makes it an option for generating quality leads. Make sure your profile looks great, and promote your blog content on LinkedIn as often as possible. If you read an article or some other content and find it helpful or insightful, look for the author on LinkedIn and let him or her know. This is another way to build relationships. This type of networking can be time-consuming, so try to limit or set aside specific days/times to do it. If you receive an email that says “I want to hire you right now,” consider responding to it even if it doesn’t fall within your designated schedule.
When creating your LinkedIn profile, consider how you position yourself. If you put “self-employed,” “freelance,” or something similarly denoting your independent status in the Company field of your profile, you could undermine the benefits of the site. LinkedIn designed that field so users can click on it to get to a company’s profile page, or, if none exists, a list of other LinkedIn members who have worked at that company. If you enter “self-employed” in that field, when users click that link they receive a list of other individuals with similar skill sets who have also identified themselves as self-employed — in other words, your competitors. A better idea is to create a company page for your solo business and link it back to your profile page. In addition to solving this conundrum, you also get another place to promote your products and services, share content, and post company updates.
Your businesses logo is an important part of branding, but you — more specifically, your passion, expertise, and services — are what you’re selling, so let your customers see the merchandise. People are more likely to engage a person than a faceless brand, particularly on social media, so put a photo of your face rather than your logo in the profile photo. While your online storefront prominently features more traditional branding, let your company Facebook page boast about you and the services or items that you sell.
A stagnant Facebook page or a Twitter account with only a handful of tweets doesn’t exactly convey a vibrant business. Engaging your audience with a steady stream of content keeps you on the minds of your followers and encourages them to interact with you. If you feel like you can’t keep up with regular social media posts, enlist some help from tools like Hootsuite and Buffer. These programs allow you to automatically schedule posts to publish at intervals you define. You can post to all your networks at once or different channels at different times of day. And, because they let you manage all your social networks without logging into each one individually, they give you back hours to focus on more pressing areas of your business. You may also want to consider hiring a freelance social media expert to help you handle the workload.
When you’re running a small business, you have plenty of duties to manage. Focusing on your marketing efforts can help you increase your reach. Tracking the money you invest in marketing can also help you see your return on investment. The QuickBooks Self-Employed app helps freelancers, contractors, and sole proprietors track and manage their business on the go. Download the app.