Many freelance consultants have a rather hit-or-miss approach to marketing their services. In truth, quite a few consultants do not learn to market themselves in the early days of their businesses because they are lucky enough to start out with business in hand.
That is, they leave a corporate environment, only to do their first few projects for their former employer. They moonlight until a solid long-term project comes along, so that when they give up their day job, they don’t have to do any selling.
Eventually, of course, they run as far as they can on their existing network and referrals and they have to start getting the word out about what they can do for new clients. They read a lot of books and blogs, and even take some seminars, on how to market themselves. They collect a lot of good ideas, maybe even plan some good steps toward building visibility and earning trust among their target prospects.
But I often see some unspoken assumptions underlying the details of those marketing action plans, myths about how marketing works that seriously undermine the results consultants achieve. In my work helping consultants be more effective in marketing and selling their services, I have seen several of these myths over and over again, perhaps because in some ways, freelance consultants are particularly susceptible to these assumptions. Continue Reading
Giving away “free samples” is a time-honored marketing tradition, one that is very alive today.
It is also one of the excellent habits common to many successful freelance consultants. In fact, I’ll argue that sharing “samples” with prospects may be even more important for the consultant than for many other types of businesses.
Of course, you have been on the receiving end of many samples. Perhaps you nibble and graze on free offerings when you go to the grocery store. You might have received small samples of cosmetics or other items, either through the mail, or handed out in various settings.
You’re getting a free sample when you read a book excerpt before you order it on Amazon. And you may not realize it, but you are getting samples when you sign up for newsletters or “special reports” and articles from web sites.
Why are all of these businesses willing to give away items of value, with no assurance that you will buy something?
While there is no guarantee of landing any individual buyer, businesses have known for a long time that giving away samples — items of real, if sometimes small, value — works. It brings in customers. Continue Reading
The phrase “business plan” probably calls to mind a lengthy formal document full of analysis and fine details. At the same time, it suggests the structured thinking process that should lead to such a document.
Unfortunately, it is way too easy to put too much effort into creating the former, at the expense of the latter.
Frankly, too many consultants start with the document and let it drive the planning. They use commonly available formats and “fill in the blanks,” which is different than “answering key questions.”
The wide availability of model business plans leads consultants to waste a lot of effort, so let’s look at the “templates problem” before we get into the core elements of a good business plan. Continue Reading
Thoughtful, strategic planning can make a mighty contribution to the success and growth of your freelance consulting business. With deliberate planning, you can guide your marketing efforts and client interactions to spend more of your time doing the kind of work you like best, with clients you enjoy, at good rates.
But strategic planning does not have to be an elaborate process to be effective. You don’t have to go on a special retreat, pore over a sophisticated array of “metrics”, or spend the day with a management guru to come up with a good plan that can make a major difference in how your consulting business thrives. Continue Reading
I have worked with plenty of freelance consultants over the last couple decades, and it is fair to say that perhaps the majority of them started out working for someone else.
For example, most of the training consultants I work with (my target market) served as training staff in medium to larger companies before going out on their own. They drew on the skills they developed and the knowledge they acquired working for someone else to develop products and services for their own freelance businesses.
That often meant that their consulting work was more or less a reincarnation of their previous work. Oh, certainly, running their own business was very different in many ways, but they tended to work with the same kinds of people or businesses, to do the same kinds of work, as they did before going solo.
Often, after a few years in business, they became dissatisfied with their new lives. Consulting just wasn’t as much fun as they expected. The smartest of these figured out what was wrong, and made adjustments, and now they are reaping the full benefit of having the courage and ability to set up their own consulting businesses. (Others, unfortunately, either grind along and live an unsatisfying business life, or give up on running their own businesses.)
What was wrong, usually, was that they took the easy path, doing what they knew in environments they were familiar with, and then measured their success only by their income. But even if you are making a good income, it is hard to keep doing work that doesn’t make you feel good.
And it doesn’t make you feel good because:
- you are working with people you don’t like,
- performing tasks you don’t enjoy,
- or under conditions that make you grumpy.
Looking explicitly at these factors and their contribution to your satisfaction with the consulting life is the first step in going after the kinds of projects and clients that you will enjoy. Continue Reading
Thinking about the freelance life? There are many ways to earn your bread as a freelancer. Fields like copywriting or website design may quickly bring clear pictures to mind. But you may have a hard time visualizing yourself as a “freelance consultant.”
Preconceptions about what it takes to be called a “consultant” often get in the way. You could miss some good ideas and great opportunities simply because you assume you are not in a consulting business. Continue Reading
I recently completed my 25th year of running my own consulting business. I started out by developing training materials for large corporations, but now I spend most of my time creating marketing content, and doing a bit of coaching, for other independent training consultants.
I’d like to think I have learned a thing or two over those 25 years of freelancing. Here are 25 lessons gleaned from a quarter-century of independent consulting:
- The power of technology to help one waste time is at least as great, if not greater, than its power to make one more efficient and productive.
- The biggest factor in play when I avoid marketing and selling activities is my imagination. I can dream up more dramatic and devastating rejections, failures, and embarrassments than anything that is going to happen in the real world.
- Afternoon naps are among the best “fringe benefits” of running my own business, rather than working in a cubicle.
- Staying “top of mind” with someone who already knows who I am is infinitely easier than getting someone to notice me and my services in the first place. (It is also considerably more lucrative.)
It must be a wonderful thing to be one of those chefs in the TV cooking competitions, able to take a stack of surprise ingredients and instantly whip up beautiful, tasty dishes from them.
For most of us, if that’s what we had to do every day, it would just be overwhelming. Particularly when we are first learning to cook, startling creativity is not what we are after.
We just want good results from reasonable effort. After all, those flamboyant chefs spent a long time, years at least, faithfully following recipes until they developed the understanding and the skills they needed to pull off those creative miracles later in their careers. Continue Reading
If you can write in someone else’s voice, writing for voice –e.g., scripting or outlining speeches and presentations for corporate executives, small business owners, and public officials — can be a lucrative niche. One of the great things about it is that once an executive (or that person’s “handlers”) get comfortable with you, you will have a steady stream of work, and it will be hard for any rival to dislodge you.
In the early days of this relationship, however, there’s a need for some quiet persistence and some diplomacy. The need arises because the speaker (or his/her advisors, in larger corporations) almost always wants to add more and more detail that dilutes and obscures the main message. Continue Reading
Many freelancers, in a wide range of fields, think of hired writing help as something for larger projects, for corporate clients, not something for the independent one-person shop. It can be hard to imagine hiring someone to help with writing tasks if you:
- Cannot see a reason why you would need writing help, or
- Cannot visualize how you would work with that writer.
Why Hire Writing Help?
Some freelancers feel a little guilty when they do not do their own writing. It’s on their list of tasks they mean to do. But they avoid it, or they do not have time, or what they write just does not seem to have the impact they are looking for.
Part of the problem is that everyone one of us knows how to write, and we all do it every day. It is hard to farm out a task that seems like an extension of a daily activity. And that’s just the kind of thinking that perpetually postpones the creation of marketing content.
It isn’t a question of whether you should do your own writing on principle. It is a question of what gets the writing done. A white paper that is never finished (or never started) will bring you exactly zero new prospects.
What are some symptoms that point to the need for a little help?
“Ghostwriting” business communications is a lucrative and satisfying writing niche that requires some special skills and the right mindset. I’ve had excellent projects writing presentations for CEOs of very large corporations, and writing trade and newsletter articles for one-person consulting shops.
What they have in common is that these projects go beyond contributing good writing — professional, grammatical, persuasive, interesting — to capturing the client’s voice. When people are familiar with a given CEO or consultant, for instance, hear those presentations or read those articles, the ghostwriter’s contribution should be transparent, leaving the client’s themes, values, and style clearly visible to the audience.
These opportunities often come along after you have already been writing for a client for a while, or as a referral from one of your new client’s colleagues. You have been recognized as a skilled and dependable writer, and the client asks if you could help them with a more personal message, whether that message is delivered to employees or investors or trainees or clients or the media.
If such an offer comes your way, recognize from the start that this is different from your previous writing projects, and make sure you don’t blow it!
While many business rely on hired writers to generate content, whether marketing material or documentation or training guides, “ghostwriting” business communications is a somewhat more rarefied skill. I’ve written previous posts on Freelance Switch about this kind of ghostwriting as a satisfying and lucrative specialty.
I’m talking about writing where you truly impersonate an individual, not just a corporate view, and that goes well beyond writing a marketing brochure or a web page for a company. For example, I’ve worked with clients where in addition to producing training content for them, I wrote presentations and speeches for their top executives, to launch the training. And those presentations had to be in the style of those executives, they had to use the words, pet phrases, and favorite analogies that their audience would recognize.
I also ghostwrite trade journal articles and newsletters for other consultants. Again, their readers are expecting a certain style, familiar vocabulary and themes, and that’s what adds the ghostwriting touch to the project.
And it is easier too in this kind of business when you focus on a well-defined target market.