Marketing for Freelancers and the Self-Employed
All businesses need to be able to market themselves effectively. In other words, as our Marketing Skills page explains, they need to be able to identify, anticipate and address customer needs in a profitable way.
Good marketing brings the right prospective customers to you, and enables you to meet their needs when they arrive.
This is true for big businesses, and it is also true for freelancers and people running their own small or start-up business, including franchisees. The difference is that freelancers and new start-ups can seldom afford to employ marketing professionals, so have to do their own marketing.
This page helps to explain the options, and provide some ideas about how you can market yourself and your business effectively.
Why Market Your Business?
Marketing is essential for any business, because without marketing, your customers are unlikely to find you.
You could have the best business idea in the world, provide the most wonderful products and customer service, but if your customers never find you, you will not sell anything, and you will go out of business.
What is Marketing?
Marketing includes any activity that helps you to identify your customers and their needs, and then address those needs. It can therefore include, but is not limited to, advertising, social media activity, blog writing and publishing, and encouraging customers to provide reviews and recommend you to others.
Targeting Your Marketing Efforts
Before you think about how you are going to market your business or yourself, you need to think about your target market.
In other words, who is your target customer?
You need to think about who is most likely to buy your product or service (and this does not mean who you would like to attract, but who is actually most likely to be attracted). You then need to work out where they are most likely to see messages about you. You should consider, for example, what social media forums they use, how they use search engines, whether they are likely to see billboard advertising, where they look for services like yours, both online and offline, and so on.
When you have worked out where your target audience is likely to be (both online and offline), you can then start taking action to be there too, so that your name and your business become familiar to them.
TOP TIP! The importance of detail
The more information you have about your target audience—and that means in detail—the easier it will be to ensure that you are able to target your efforts appropriately.
Marketing Options for Freelancers and Self-Employed People
Having identified your target market, you then need to think about what methods you are going to use to reach them.
The methods that you use will obviously depend on your audience, but you also have to consider the issue of online and offline, and the cost involved. This section outlines some of the possible options.
1. Offline options
It is true that many of us now live most of our lives online, but this is by no means true for everyone, or for every product or service.
For local services—think cleaning, or dog-walking, for example—advertising in local shops and making contact with other linked services (such as boarding kennels for dogs) can be good ways to broaden your reach.
You may have to pay for flyers or cards to be printed, but you can be confident that your information will reach a local audience. Local newspapers could also be a good way to get news of your business out there, especially if you can offer the journalist a good-news story with a nice picture opportunity. This is likely to be better than paid advertising, because people read stories in local newspapers, where they do not read advertisements.
2. Social media
Some estimates suggest that almost half of the world’s population are active users of social media. Most businesses have long since concluded that social media is an important part of any marketing strategy. There are a few issues to consider, however, particularly:
- The cost. Social media is not free for businesses. Yes, you can open an account and post information for free, but your target customers are unlikely to see your content unless you pay. This is how social media networks make their money.
- Your target audience. They need to be a) using your chosen network, and b) looking for information about your service or product on there. It is no good putting out great content if your target audience is not seeing it.
3. Blogs and websites
Having an internet ‘presence’ is essential if you wish to turn up in searches for information. There are a number of ways to get your name and business ‘out there’ on the internet. However, it is very hard to say what the ‘best’ way will be, because that will depend on the nature of your business and the level of competition.
The two main options for a web presence are:
Having your own website or blog. The advantage of this is that you retain absolute control over the site and its content. There are, however, disadvantages: you have to keep providing content, and your site will inevitably look a bit small until you start to get lots of content. There can also be a cost of having a website, including hosting costs, and paying for design. Small sites also often do not show up very well in search results (see box below).
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, is anything that you do to make a particular website or page show up better in search engine results.
There are enormous numbers of ‘experts’ out there offering to help with SEO.
The problem is that search engines do not exactly publicise what will make a site or page move up or down search findings.
In other words, SEO is a bit of a ‘dark art’, and much of it may be totally ineffective. All anyone can really say is that search engines try to provide sites that people will want to look at and find useful.
The best way to optimise is therefore to provide good content that people use, rather than trying to be clever and fool the search engine algorithms.
Having a page or presence on one or more bigger websites or blogs. These could be networking sites like LinkedIn, or freelancer marketplace sites, for example. The big advantage to using these sites is that they show up very well on search results. Unfortunately, however, that does not mean that your personal information will appear in search results, unless someone has searched for you by name. You can, however, have a presence on several sites relatively cheaply—and often free—which increases your chances of being found, and you can also ensure that you include key words that describe what you do.
To blog or not to blog
If you want to write a blog, then of course go ahead and do it.
If, however, you are thinking of a blog only as a marketing tool, you may wish to consider this:
The UK’s National Union of Journalists, the membership body for journalists, recommends that writers and journalists NEVER do any work that has not been commissioned. You should not write anything speculatively, because you may find it hard to sell, and that is a waste of your time.
But if you are not writing anything for which you are not being paid, why would you write a blog?
The Take-Home Message
Ultimately, the bottom line on marketing for freelancers and self-employed people is that you have to do it. You also have to find a way of doing it that works for you. One size does not fit all, and you may have to try multiple options before you find one or more that really help you.