What Happened When 3 Freelancers Made Time for Marketing: Success
Like many freelancers, Joy Drohan used to do marketing for her business, Eco-Write, only when she had to—when things were slow. A seasoned freelance writer and editor in environmental and agricultural sciences, Joy was doing pretty well. But she had some slow periods, and wanted to have more choice about her projects and a steadier workflow and cash flow.
“Since I began marketing my business more consistently, I’ve been getting more of my preferred projects and am steadily busy,” says Joy. “One easy and fun way I market is by attending volunteer or social events where people who might hire me may be present. Just getting my name out there, and having people know what I do, is the first step.”
Finding Time for Marketing: The #1 Challenge
Because finding time for marketing is the #1 challenge for most freelancers.
Despite client deadlines and way too much professional and personal stuff to get done every day, Joy, Lindy, and Mia all find time for marketing. They know that clients are rarely ready to hire them right away.
In fact, 90% of the time, clients don’t need a freelancer when the freelancer first contacts them.
But there are “plenty of people who will need what you have in 3, 6, 9, 12 months time,” says marketing guru Ian Brodie, who calls not making time for marketing the “very worst marketing mistake you can make.”
Why You Should Make Time for Marketing Like Joy, Lindy, and Mia
If you’ve got lots of great clients and lots of projects with those clients, marketing may not seem important. But clients disappear—sometimes with no warning—and projects end.
Waiting until you need work to look for it—like many freelancers do—means you’ll probably end up taking low-paying projects for clients you don’t really want to work with.
That’s why freelancers need to continually find, contact, and follow up with prospective clients, like Joy, Lindy, and Mia do. You need to make time for marketing.
Avoiding Freelance Feast or Famine
Lindy and Mia are newer freelancers who focused heavily on marketing from the beginning. Lindy, a freelance writer, researcher, and content creator, launched her full-time freelance business in 2017, after freelancing part-time for six years. Mia launched her business as a freelance medical and science writer in 2016.
“I want to avoid the feast or famine cycle that so many freelancers experience,” says Lindy, who does feature writing for newspapers and magazines and content writing for health organizations, businesses, and charities. She writes mostly about health, business, and food.
With feature writing, marketing is the only way to get projects, at least until you’re well established. Each month, Lindy sends out between 1 and 25 pitches (query emails about stories) to editors. “Lately, the editors I’ve regularly worked with are coming to me with story ideas they want to commission. This is a freelance feature writer’s dream,” she says. But Lindy knows that editors change a lot, so keeps sending those pitches.
For the content writing side of her business, Lindy tries to send out at least 10 letters of introduction (LOIs) by email a week. “It can take time to get a new prospect’s interest. Even when I’ve received positive responses to my LOIs, it has still taken at least 4 to 6 weeks for that gig to get up and running.”
Four to six weeks is actually great. Sometimes, it takes a year or more from the first contact for a client to hire a freelancer.
Consistently Making Time for Marketing Leads to Results
Mia has also learned that getting great clients rarely happens overnight. “It takes consistent effort to reach out and make new contacts at different prospective client companies,” she says. “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 has been getting great clients—and building relationships with prospects who are likely to become her clients. Mia has met clients, prospects, and colleagues (who might refer clients to her) at the AMWA annual conference and at local chapter meetings. She also volunteers with her local AMWA chapter and the Women-in-Bio Chicago chapter. Through Women-in-Bio, Mia is building connections with people who have different networks than AMWA members and can introduce her to new people.
5 Steps to Making Time for Marketing
Want steady, high-paying clients like Joy, Lindy, and Mia have? Make time for marketing by following these 5 steps.
1. Set your goal.
Focus on what you need to do to get great clients by setting a SMART goal:
Setting a specific and attainable goal is really important. It’s easier to stick with and achieve a goal that’s specific because you have something concrete to work towards. And if your goal is too big, you’ll get discouraged and stop trying. So it has to be attainable.
Break your goal down into small, easily achievable mini-goals. State the actions you’ll take to achieve each mini-goal. Now you know what you want to achieve and have a plan for doing it.
Let’s take Lindy as an example. Her main goal is to:
- Build a freelance business that can support her family in 2017 by continually contacting editors about feature writing and clients about content writing.
Her mini-goals are to:
- Each month: Send out 1 to 25 pitches to editors
- Each week: Send out at least 10 letters of introduction to clients.
Learn more about how to set goals, with free goal-setting worksheet:
2. Block out time regularly.
Put your marketing actions on your calendar. “Block out a regular slot for marketing. That slot could be half a day a week, or two morning sessions, or whatever,” says Brodie.
Lindy makes time for marketing just about every week. “When I am absolutely slammed with work, I go into a maintenance phase where I may just comment on a LinkedIn post or re-tweet a client’s tweet or send them an interesting article,” she says.
That’s okay. Sometimes we are simply too busy with client deadlines (or occasionally something in our personal lives) for marketing. Move your marketing actions to next week’s calendar. Just don’t endlessly postpone them.
You can pick the days/times that work best for you for most marketing actions. There are some things you have to do during regular business hours, like sending direct emails, reaching out to prospects on LinkedIn, and following up with prospects (Tuesdays through Thursdays work best for these things). But you can do many things, like developing your prospect list, any day or time that works for you. And you can draft direct emails whenever you want to, and then quickly send them during business hours.
Joy tries to spend about 1.5 hours a week on marketing, and more than this when she’s actively looking for new business.
3. Eliminate distractions.
Turn off email and your telephone. If you’re expecting an urgent message from a client, respond only to that.
Ignore LinkedIn and other social media. Close your Internet browser. Focus on your marketing.
4. “Just do it.”
You’ve set your marketing goals and actions. You’ve blocked out time on your calendar and eliminated distractions. Now, as Nike’s slogan says, “Just do it.”
5. Follow up.
Make sure clients think of you first when they do need a freelancer by following up with anyone who has expressed interest in your services but not yet hired you.
Joy kept in touch with one of her newest clients every few months for about a year, until he hired her. Another client hired her after about two years of follow up.
Mia follows up regularly with interested prospects by email and sends holiday cards to them. Even when she’s super busy, she tracks interested prospects for later follow up.
While most freelancers are more comfortable using email to follow up, like Mia does, Joy likes to call prospects. “Following up with a phone call feels more assertive, comfortable, and authentic to me,” she says. “I’m amazed at how often I can get the person I want on the phone on the first try and how often my call opens a conversation.” Joy thinks her follow-up calls work so well because so few people actually make phone calls these days.
Learn more about effective follow up:
Grow Your Freelance BusinessPractical advice and free checklists, templates, and more.
Learn More About Finding Time for Marketing
From The Mighty Marketer:
Ian Brodie, “How to be in the Right Place at the Right Time”
Learn More About Joy, Lindy, and Mia
The Freelancer’s Year, Lindy’s blog