Caution: Marketing Mistakes that Freelancers Make
When you’re just starting to launch your freelance career, there are four functions of your business that you want to devote your time to:
- Finding and winning clients
- Development and delivery
- Staying “in the black” and balancing the finances
- and Marketing your services
For the most part, freelancers tend to focus on areas 1 and 2.
Most freelancers got into the business of working for themselves because they enjoy the independence and the creative freedom of choosing the projects they want and the clients they want to work with. Freelancers also tend to watch their bank accounts like hawks because they know that any mismanagement of their money will send their business into a death spiral quickly.
That leaves marketing (area 4) as the most neglected part of any freelance business.
To expand and continually build up your client base, finding bigger and better projects, a business has to do a little hustling — and do it consistently.
When I first started, I was clueless about marketing. I muddled through getting clients through the more reliable channels of word-of-mouth and existing networks. I even did a few stints on Elance to bolster our work portfolio in areas that I didn’t have too much direct experience in but I knew I could handle.
Even today, I admit that marketing is still one of my least favorite activities, not any more pleasant than going to the dentist or doing laundry. It’s a necessity, but the real joy of running my freelance business is the creative side — working with passionate clients, producing content that motivates and inspires, and pushing my own creative limits in the work that I do.
But through it all, the specter of marketing haunts me: I know I have to do it. To expand and continually build up your client base, finding bigger and better projects, a business has to do a little hustling — and do it consistently.
Here are two big mistakes freelancers make when it comes to marketing:
1. Freelancers only market when it’s necessary.
There’s a common reluctance among freelancers to market their services in a strategic way. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because we get most of our business through referrals, or because we think that we can’t handle more than a few clients per month, so we approach marketing in a laid-back fashion. There are also some that think that marketing is just a bit distasteful.
Think of marketing as pushing your own limits by reaching out to new clients and taking on new types of projects and higher-value business.
If you’re a writer or a designer, marketing can seem crass, casting a negative pall over your artistic or creative sensibilities. In general, marketing is something many freelancers engage in on a sporadic basis, and only when the work dries up. When work is good, marketing activity dips.
But this is the wrong approach for many reasons. First, if you’re only doing marketing when you feel like it, then you are making yourself dependent on the clients who find you either through referrals or within your own network. That’s actually inherently risky because you’re stuck working on the same projects for the most part. You’re also limiting the audience for your work. Here’s a better attitude: Think of marketing as pushing your own limits by reaching out to new clients and taking on new types of projects and higher-value business.
Second, by engaging in directed marketing activities, you avoid being at the mercy of a small pool of clients. If you’re dependent on just a handful of people for your livelihood that’s a huge financial risk. Even referrals aren’t a reliable source. Avoid “putting all your eggs in one basket” — go for fewer projects from many clients rather than many projects from fewer clients.
2. Freelancers think of marketing as purely functional.
Another misconception about marketing among freelancers is that we think its primary purpose is to bring in business. But marketing campaigns that are launched just to generate immediate business or “work now” can be inefficient. Starts and stops can be time-consuming, too, not to mention stressful.
Instead, freelancers should approach marketing more consistently. This smooths out any workflow peaks and dips so that you can find your threshold hum of activity that suits you and your schedule.
Another benefit of marketing on a regular basis is that you’re building your brand awareness. Even if you don’t generate business from your activities right away, you’re planting the seeds and establishing your presence in people’s minds.
It’s true that many clients may not be shopping around for your freelance services… yet. But when they have a need, clients will remember those who had the most contact with them.