Marketing is the hardest part of freelancing. No, really.
That’s why so many freelancers stay at the mercy of platforms like Upwork or shouting into the void of social media, hoping that someone will recognize their talent. They’re avoiding the often dull, confusing, sometimes overwhelming, but still really effective work of marketing.
Sure, some of us never need to market because word of mouth kicks in 5 minutes after we name our business, or we leave previous jobs with armloads of clients, but for the other 99%? The path to sustainable, life-improving freelancing takes some effort — the kind that involves mastering the type of marketing needed to get us to our goals.
That was probably one of the hardest business truths for me to accept as a freelancer.
Getting away from employment in a way that was sustainable and didn’t toss my financial future out the window meant I was going to have to get good at things I wasn’t just bad at…they were things I actively hated doing.
But I found a way.
Not just to tolerate marketing (and sales) but to even enjoy it and see it as a valuable skill worth investing in. That all started with looking at my marketing responsibilities as a job on their own.
For me, that’s a necessity. If I just kind of let my marketing float out there…getting around to it when the mood hits me or when I have time, it won’t just not get done. I’ll be worried non-stop about whether I’m doing enough.
So I’m going to share a look at my perspective with you. It might not work or fit, but if you’re the kind of person who isn’t a natural marketer or salesperson, try it out. See what you can take away to improve your freelance business and leave the rest.
Set aside time.
This is like…step one.
If you don’t set aside a regular, repeating block of time for your marketing work, it probably won’t get done.
For me, Monday is my big marketing day, and I use my early mornings the other days of the week for quick pop-ins to LinkedIn, and some follow up on prospects.
You might not be able to do a whole day, especially if you’re just getting started as a freelancer, but even if it’s once a month, find a place for marketing on your calendar. (Check this one out if you need ideas.)
Write down your responsibilities.
OK — so the term “marketing” is a weird one that gets twisted around a lot. Technically, it covers basically any activity that involves your business interacting with ‘the market’. That can be anything ranging from deciding how much to charge for your freelance services to what your logo looks like.
As a freelancer, those activities are more condensed, but it’s still really valuable to be able to list all the things you want to keep an eye on. We’re talking ongoing tasks like
- Following up on leads
- Updating your website
- Choosing and refining your niche(s)
- Social media engagement (which should lean toward LinkedIn and be as automated as possible)
- Running ads
- Client satisfaction work
- Sales activities
There’s a lot to document, so if you want to keep track, the BlackFreelance Strategy Workbook will help you sort some of those out.
You probably know I prefer habits over goals, but that doesn’t mean goals can’t be useful.
You should be working with some minimum level of marketing work to make sure you’re getting consistent results and the kind that compound over time. Beyond that, it doesn’t hurt to toss some income goals in there.
I’ve moved away from focusing on monthly income (now that I’m more stable) and now I pay a lot more attention to how much work I’m able to book each month. Right now I’m riding with a $10K a month goal, but after playing with the income calculator over at Nation1099 and taking a look at my most valuable services, I’m probably going to double that soon, but with a caveat — I hit my ideal of $17K at the end of last year and pretty much ended up working full-time hours. That’s a deal breaker for me.
This time around? Reaching that goal is mostly going to come from raising my rates on low-yield services and marketing toward higher-paying corners of my niche.
Like I said, marketing’s a pretty big umbrella so there’s a lot to pay attention to.
A good CRM like Insightly or Streak will help you keep track of your clients as they flow through your funnel. Software like Dubsado will even track your work down to the income level. I personally use a combination of both with an old-fashioned spreadsheet but takes some time to figure out what works for you.
Twice a year in the BlackFreelance Academy, we circle around to do some self-evaluation and marketing functions are part of it. Personally, I’m going to start rating myself on how well I’m doing as the head of my mini marketing department, especially in a sales capacity and how well I’m meeting my monthly goals.
You might not want to take that approach right now, but make sure you’re taking an honest look at yourself as a marketer every now and then.
Treat it all like the skill it is.
All this work? It’s a skill. It’s multiple skills, and they’re the kind of skills that you get better at with study and practice.
Like me? I HATE sales. Honestly, I looked down on it for decades. In the last couple of years though, I’ve developed a new respect for the art by following (select) marketers and salespeople (like Seth Godin and Ed Gandia) reading and working on improving myself.
You might be like me or completely different. You might be great at sales and need to work elsewhere. Wherever it is, make sure you’re including it as a part of your ongoing skills development as a freelancer.
If you aren’t feeling ready to be your own marketing department yet, come try out a free month at the Academy and join the Skype group. (You’re welcome to stay even if you don’t stay in the Academy.) It’s a great place to talk to people who are making real strides in their freelance work and get motivation to keep your marketing department on track.