How to Be a Fully Booked Freelancer: The Power of Marketing
Finding time for marketing is the #1 challenge for most freelancers. Yet, many full-time freelancers say that finding work is their biggest or second biggest concern. The key takeaway here is clear: If you want to be a fully-booked, high-income freelancer, you MUST find time for marketing.
Never Be Too Busy for Marketing
“Now hear this: You are never too busy to do marketing, as a freelancer,” says Carol Tice, founder of Make a Living Writing in “Stay Fully Booked: Tips From a 6-Figure Freelancer.”
There will be times, hopefully, when you have so much work that you just can’t do MUCH marketing. But you can “find ways to squeeze in at least small bits of marketing, every week,” says Tice.
Most of the time though, you need to market your business consistently. Freelancers don’t find time for this until they make it a habit, says Ed Gandia, founder of High-Income Business Writing, in “Surprisingly Simple (and Effective!) Tips for Getting Your Prospecting Done.” (Gandia uses the term prospecting instead of marketing.)
“By ‘habit’ I don’t mean that you have to spend hours and hours every week knocking on doors. It means that your prospecting activities become more automatic. You don’t have to think about doing them. You just do them, much like you brush your teeth every morning,” says Gandia.
Build the Marketing Habit
Habits, the decisions you make and the actions you take every day, account for about 40% of our behaviors, say researchers at Duke University. In “How to Build a New Habit: This is Your Strategy Guide,” James Clear offers an easy-to-follow process. I’ve included some of his steps here, along with one key step from Gandia and another from me.
1. “Start with an incredibly small habit.”
Big goals are hard to achieve. So you get frustrated and stop trying. Starting with an “incredibly small” habit makes easy to get started—and helps you build the habit, says Clear.
Big unattainable habit:
Spend 2 full days a week (8 hours each) on marketing
Small reasonable habit:
Spend 15 minutes a day on marketing
2. “Increase your habit gradually.”
“Start small and gradually improve,” says Clear. “Along the way, your willpower and motivation will increase, which will make it easier to stick to your habit for good.”
Spend 15 minutes a day on marketing
Spend 30 minutes a day on marketing
Spend 45 minutes a day on marketing
Spend 60 minutes a day on marketing
3. “Focus on action, not outcomes.”
Since we control our actions, we should focus on them, instead of outcomes. In fact, 90% of the time, clients don’t need a freelancer when you first contact them. Many freelancers get discouraged when they send out a few direct emails and don’t get any response, or go to a networking event and don’t immediately get new clients.
But freelancer Mia DeFino knows that getting great clients rarely happens overnight.
“It takes consistent effort to reach out and make new contacts at different prospective client companies,” says the freelance medical and science writer. “Projects aren’t usually available the first time you make contact, so it’s important to check in with old contacts and continue making new contacts.” Through networking, her LinkedIn profile, and the Freelance Directory of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), Mia is getting great clients—and building relationships with prospects who are likely to become her clients.
Read the case study about how Mia markets her freelance business.
“If you focus on doing the right things consistently, the results will come,” says Gandia. That’s been true for Mia, me, and Joy Drohan.
Joy used to market her business only when things were slow. She was doing pretty well, but she had some slow periods, and wanted to have more choice in her projects. “Since I began marketing my business more consistently, I’ve been getting more of my preferred projects and am steadily busy,” says Joy, owner of Eco-Write, and a seasoned freelance writer and editor in environmental and agricultural sciences.
Read the case study about how Joy markets her freelance business.
4. “Set and meet marketing deadlines.”
(The Mighty Marketer)
You’d never miss the deadline on a client project because you didn’t feel like working on it. Treat your marketing the same way. Whether you want to work on marketing or not, put it on your calendar and get it done.
Freelance medical copyeditor Kathleen Labonge uses a separate marketing calendar to list her marketing activities and monitor her progress. “I have posted the calendar where I can see it while I work, so I can keep my eye on the prize,” says Kathleen. The prize is great clients and a stable, successful freelance business.
Read the case study about how Kathleen markets her freelance business.
If you start with a very small marketing habit and increase it slowly, then you’ll be able to make marketing more automatic. But once you’ve done this, you’ll sometimes need to spend more than 15 to 60 minutes at one time on marketing.
Working on your LinkedIn profile or web content for 15 minutes at a time, for example, just isn’t effective or efficient. Some weeks, you’ll need to spend at least a few hours at a time on marketing to get things done.
When you do most of your marketing is up to you. You can research prospects at 3 AM, or write your web content on the weekend. You can do your marketing fist thing in the morning and cross it off your To Do list.
I like to do most of my marketing evening and weekends, or sometimes, on Friday afternoon.
Joy tries to do a little marketing most days. In the summer, when her client workload is generally lighter, she spends more time on marketing.
There are some marketing activities you do have to do during regular business hours. These include sending direct emails, reaching out to prospects on LinkedIn, and following up with prospects. Tuesdays through Thursdays work best for these activities.
5. “When you slip, get back on track quickly.”
But none of us are perfect. “Top performers make mistakes, commit errors, and get off track just like everyone else. The difference is that they get back on track as quickly as possible,” says Clear.
6. “Be patient. Stick to a pace you can sustain.”
“Learning to be patient is perhaps the most critical skill of all. You can make incredible progress if you are consistent and patient.”
If you market your freelance business consistently, you too can become a fully-booked, high-income freelancer.
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Learn More About Making Time for Marketing
Carol Tice, “Stay Fully Booked: Tips From a 6-Figure Freelancer”
Learn More About Joy, Kathleen, and Mia