How to market your freelance business in 6 simple steps
Knowing how to market your freelance business can be a real challenge.
You want your business to grow and thrive – but unless people know it exists that’s never going to happen! So how do you get your name out there, find those dream clients and build your freelance business?
In the bad old days (believe me, I’m old enough to remember) marketing involved a simple choice: you sent a mailshot, took out an ad in the local paper or picked up the phone and made the dreaded cold calls.
Thankfully, those days are gone – and, thanks to the internet, you’re now spoilt for choice* when it comes to marketing your freelance business.
(*read overwhelmed – anyone?!)
So where do you start?
Here are six simple steps to get your business noticed – without sapping too much of your time, energy or cash.
1. Get your website working for you
Think of your website as your shop window to the world. It’s often the first stop for anyone wanting to find out more about your business.
According to a 2019 study, an incredible 40 per cent of UK businesses have no online presence. When you remember that a well-written, well-designed, SEO optimised website could be working for your freelance business 24/7 that’s a lot of missed opportunity!
With free web-building tools such as Wix and Squarespace readily available, there’s really no excuse for not having a website, though investing in professional web design and copywriting can help to give your freelance business the edge.
2. Start blogging
Blogging is a great way to create value for your audience and to position you as an expert in your chosen freelance field.
Think of your blog as a conversation with your audience.
- Get clear on the purpose for each post.
- Aim to inform, engage and entertain by sharing helpful tips and advice.
- Remember to include a strong call to action – somewhere interested readers can go if they’d like to know more.
Don’t just rely on search engine traffic to gain readers. Once you’ve published your new blog post on your website, share a link on your social media channels to increase your audience.
Fun fact: the word blog comes from the word weblog
3. Email marketing
Business emails fall into two categories: irritating spam emails for products and brands you’re not interested in (please tell me why I keep receiving invitations to attend engineering seminars!?) and emails you actually look forward to receiving each month/week/fortnight.
Your job is to ensure yours fall into the second category.
How? Put yourself in your client’s shoes. What do they want to read about? (Send a short survey to a handful of trusted clients and ask them!) How can you solve their problems, make their life easier, add value or even just brighten their day with an inspiring story?
To help you get the tone right, think of your email marketing as a direct conversation with a client. And make sure it sounds like you! Business speak and jargon are far more likely to turn people off.
Want to see how I do it? Subscribe to my monthly email newsletter. It contains a mix of news, advice and useful tips for freelancers and business owners and a no hard-sell guarantee.
Pro tip: keep it short, keep it helpful, keep it regular (but not too frequent).
4. Build your network
When it comes to spreading the word about your business, support can come from unexpected places. Don’t discount friends, relatives and former colleagues. They may not be in the market for your service, but with a little encouragement they may be happy to help you spread the word.
Keep an open mind when you’re talking to someone who doesn’t appear to be a potential client – you never know who they’re connected to!
As Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Aim to make a great first impression. You never know where it might lead.
Pro tip: remember, networking is about being part of a mutually supportive community so skip the hard sell!
5. Use social media: don’t let it use you!
How many times have you reached the end of the day and wondered where on earth the time went? When you learn that the average person spends around 2.5 hours Every. Single. Day. on social media, it’s easy to see why.
While platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can be great ways to build your network and spread the word about your business, they’re also a huge distraction – sapping your time, energy and productivity.
Instead of trying to conquer all platforms, pick one or two where your target clients hang out and focus your attention there. Resist the temptation to check for updates every two minutes and turn off those notifications – your brain will thank you for it!
6. Ask for recommendations
When you need a plumber or a decorator, you ask your network for recommendations, right? The same applies whether you’re a graphic designer, photographer, chiropractor or copywriter. In fact, 77% of consumers are more likely to buy from a business that’s recommended by someone they trust.
Five-star reviews are the best free marketing tool your business has.
Let that sink in.
Testimonials tell people we know our stuff. We deliver. We’re credible. We’re creative. We add value. We make their lives easier. We’re fun to work with.
So make the most of them!
As soon as you’ve completed a project, ask the client if they’d be willing to review your service for LinkedIn, Google or Facebook. Chances are they’ll be happy to help. You could even build your testimonials into project profiles or case studies to showcase your services and the problems you solve for your clients.
Check out this post for more on using recommendations to build your reputation.
Pro tip: find more stats on the importance of reviews and recommendations here.
The last word…
Many freelancers feel uncomfortable with the idea of selling and marketing their business – but you won’t succeed as a freelancer without it!
If this sounds like you, focus on the end result you deliver to your clients. Perhaps you save them time, or help their business become more successful.
Either way, you provide a valuable service and people won’t know about it unless you tell them! So, don’t be shy about promoting your business. A little marketing can go a long way.
The freelancing fear that strikes terror into the self-employed
It’s October, Halloween is approaching… it’s the perfect time to focus on one of the biggest fears that paralyses everyone from the newest of newbie freelancers to the most experienced of small biz owners.
The fear of failure.
We all know how the fear of messing up can keep us stuck.
But it’s a fear that keeps you firmly in your comfort zone, stops you taking risks, and prevents you from doing things that are good for your business.
So, whaddya do about it?
“But what if I fail?”
Here’s a thing – what if you don’t? You can’t make a success of self-employment unless you try. You may fail big, you may fail often… but failure is how we develop as both individuals and business owners.
We fail, we learn, we grow.
Whether you’re in a steady job you hate, thinking of making the leap into self-employment, or you’re an experienced freelancer tackling something you’ve never done before, show that fear who’s boss!
As Nike would say, just do it.
“But it’s not quite right!”
To quote Winston Churchill, “Perfection is the enemy of progress.”
You can always spend more time polishing that presentation or sharpening that course content but often done is better than perfect.
You can tinker, you can hone, you can faff, you can refine… but hey – semantics!
It all adds up to procrastination.
Whatever it is that’s getting in your way or keeping you stuck, remember – it doesn’t have to be life-changing or world-class or revolutionary. There will never be a perfect time, and you will never be truly ready.
Sometimes you just need to put your big girl (or boy) pants on and put it out there into the big wide world. Because only when it’s out there can you get feedback, improve, rinse and repeat.
HOW IS IT FOR YOU?
Experienced journalist and founder of Freelance Feels, Jenny Stallard, describes herself as a ‘threelancer’. She’s dabbled with self-employment three times – and even now she admits freelance life can be full of fears
“When it comes to freelancing, something scares me every single day,” says Jenny. “Taking the leap into self-employment was the scariest thing, but that’s not all. Freelancing can feel like we are on a cliff path, constantly negotiating the steps between falling off and the softer grass to our other side. From money worries and finding new work, to how much to charge and what to post on social media…”
Make fear work for you
Despite the potential pile-up of panic, Jenny admits the heady mix of fear and excitement is one of the best things about self-employment.
And she’s right.
It’s easy to feel the fear and freeze, like a rabbit in headlamps – but the flurry of butterflies that descends when we step outside our comfort zone reminds us we’re alive.
Any time you have to do something brave and uncomfortable, like a talk or presentation, remember that being nervous and being excited feel just the same.
Tell your brain you’re excited to be doing something new – something bold – and you’re more likely to enjoy it, and to do well.
HOW IS IT FOR YOU?
Author of How to Be a Well Being, Dr Andy Cope studied happiness for 12 years and now delivers keynote speeches on the subject to audiences around the world. “I deliver and teach wellbeing, yet before I go on stage I’m racked with nerves and panic and wonder why the hell I’m doing this, every single time.
“Everyone thinks they’re the only one that’s terrified of stepping outside their comfort zone, but everyone has the same insecurities as you do. The realisation that we all feel uncomfortable, and that we’re all waiting to be found out is, in itself, quite comforting. It’s perfectly okay not to be okay – it’s part of the human condition.
If you never try…
It’s easy to feel like you’re alone with your fears but you’re not. There are hundreds of thousands of small biz owners out there just like you.
The secret to facing – and embracing – your freelance fears is to find those likeminded people.
When you find them, reach out, connect, learn, support, collaborate and grow.
What’s the worst that can happen?
If you fail so spectacularly that you decide freelance life simply isn’t for you, that’s okay! But if you never try, you’ll never know…
Writing the book on freelancing… quite literally!
Fellow freelance copywriter, Nigel Graber interviewed me on the launch day of my new book, Survival Skills for Freelancers, and shared the post in the Copywriter Stories segment of his website. Did he get any sense out of me on the most exhilarating day of my career?! Here’s the interview…
“I always thought legendary Cotswolds copywriter and editor Sarah Townsend wrote the book on freelancing. But now she’s actually gone and done it. It’s even been released on National Freelancers’ Day. Let’s turn some pages.”
So your shiny new book, Survival Skills for Freelancers, is out today. How excited are you?
Oh, you can’t imagine. It’s like a milestone birthday and Christmas all rolled into one. Everything has been leading up to this day for so long, and I can’t wait to see how well Survival Skills for Freelancers performs out there in the real world! Can’t say I’m quite as excited about the inevitable adrenaline crash that will follow, but hey – it’s all good!
Did you always plan for publication on National Freelancers’ Day?
I did. There are five million self-employed workers in the UK right now, and over two million of them are freelancers. That’s a lot of us going it alone with very little support. I needed a publication date to focus on, and National Freelancers’ Day seemed like the perfect date.
What inspired you to write it?
Last year I wrote a blog sharing the things I’d learned from 20 years of freelance life. It proved to be by far my most popular post, and generated an overwhelmingly positive response.
People loved the honest, no-frills advice, combined with the heart-on-your-sleeve confessions. I realised I could use my experience to create an indispensable guide to the highs and lows of self-employment. A book that 29-year-old me would have loved at the start of my own freelance journey.
Does it deal with freelancing in general or is there a bias towards copywriting and editing? Is it as useful for, say, a freelance web designer as it is for a copywriter?
It’s very much aimed at freelancers in general. While the anecdotes and stories relate to my experiences as a freelance copywriter, the advice is relevant to anyone who’s already self-employed, or who’s thinking of going solo.
What else can we expect?
It provides advice on the issues we all experience as freelancers, such as:
- Strategies to deal with isolation
- Knowing your worth – and what to charge
- Trusting your instinct, and learning to say no
- Achieving balance and avoiding burnout
- The importance of investing in your business
- The qualities that help you survive and thrive as a freelancer.
It’s a crowded market. What do you think makes your book different?
Think of all the books you’ve ever read on copywriting. Do you ever say to yourself, “I enjoyed Copywriting ABC, but it was just like Copywriting 123!”? I doubt it. That’s because no two journeys, no two voices, and no two approaches are the same. So yes, there are other books on freelance life out there, but none quite like this one.
I didn’t want Survival Skills for Freelancers to feel like a conventional business book. Yes, it’s packed full of tried-and-tested strategies and practical advice, but it’s more than that. I wanted it to feel collaborative and supportive – like I was there on the journey with you.
Fellow copywriter Anna Gunning sums it up as being, ‘like having your own personal business mentor’, while my first ever Amazon review said, ‘Reading this book was like settling down with a good friend for a business chat’. I actually teared up when I read it because that’s exactly how I wanted it to feel.
How long did it take to write? And how many hours per day?
I had the idea at the end of last year and I’m publishing in mid-June, so I guess it took about eight months from start to finish.
I know people who’ve spent years conceiving, writing and publishing their books but that wouldn’t have worked for me. The only way I know how to do something is full on, 100 miles an hour. I’ve lived and breathed the book, the publishing process and the marketing for the past four months – possibly longer.
It’s ironic that it’s about balance and boundaries, because – particularly in the past couple of months – mine have gone out of the window. Yes, having a deadline has kept me laser focused, but I’ve found myself so engrossed in – and energised by – the writing, editing and sheer learning involved that I may, occasionally, have forgotten to look after myself. I imagine I haven’t been that easy to live with recently!
Did you have to put your day job on hold?
I set myself the goal of getting the first draft written by the end of January, and I gave myself a month off client work so that I could get it done. So yes, I did. For the past few months, and throughout lockdown, I’ve been juggling client work and book work. That’s been tough. Really tough. But I am SO happy with the end result that the long days have been worth it.
What did the writing process look like?
Actually, much the same as any copywriting job, but on a far grander scale. I’m (generally) hyper organised, and I think you have to be to make a success of this process. I started with thoughts, ideas, and a structure. I wrote, I edited, I revised the aforementioned structure… rinse and repeat. It’s like any writing job, I think. You start with all the elements and gradually fit them together in the right order, like a giant jigsaw puzzle.
Was there much research involved or was it all stored in your head?
It was a pretty good balance of stuff I needed to research and stuff I knew inside out. It’s very much written from the perspective of my own experience, so that bit was easy!
Copywriters are a friendly bunch. Did you get much help from the community?
They really are. Without the support of the freelance community, Survival Skills for Freelancers would be a very different book! Each chapter ends with quotes and opinions from freelancers on everything from impostor syndrome and what to charge to the importance of connection and when to say no. It also includes mini case studies from copywriting legends such as Nick Parker and Graeme Piper.
Many of my copywriter friends are helping me to spread the word about the book because they believe in the importance of what I’m trying to achieve. They’ve been sharing pics of the book and reminders of the launch date all week. They’re amazing! So supportive.
What made you go down the self-publishing route?
I knew exactly what I wanted the book to look and feel like, and exactly how I wanted it to be structured. I would have struggled with not having complete control over cover design and content, so I knew from day one that I would self-publish!
What effect would you like the book to have?
I’d like it to help people get more enjoyment from self-employment. There’s a lot to love about freelance life, but it can be tough, too! I’ve been through a lot in my 20 years as a freelancer. I’ve done things that worked, and things that didn’t, and it took me a long time to get to a point where I felt like my own success was sustainable. Readers can use what I’ve learned to fast-track their own freelance success and make fewer costly, time-consuming mistakes in the process.
What advice would you give any other aspiring authors?
Acknowledge that it’ll take a LOT of time – and that there’s a lot more to the process than just being able to write. Within a month of getting started, I had an A4 folder that was two inches thick with information: print quotes, freelancer quotes, research, resources, useful articles, marketing tips… And I have over 400 documents in the Survival Skills for Freelancers folder on my Mac!
If you’re planning on self-publishing, be prepared to do your research – there’s heaps of information out there – and don’t be afraid to ask colleagues who’ve been through the process for advice.
Brilliant. Finally, how can we get hold of a copy?
Survival Skills for Freelancers is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats, and there’s more information at survivalskillsforfreelancers.com. I’m all set to record the audiobook, too – just need to find the time to do it!