Once you’ve landed your first few clients, you’ll start to get a clearer idea of the type of work you want and the type of clients you want.
Now you can start thinking about a longer term marketing strategy.
And there are plenty of options to choose from.
As I said earlier in this article, a website shouldn’t be your first priority, but I do recommend having one.
Social media accounts can get blocked. Networking groups can dissolve. Freelance sites can close down. Your website is the one thing you have control over. There are still risks, but there are things you can do to mitigate these risks.
And you have control over the content. You can present the information however you choose. You can add client feedback, a portfolio, blog posts, or videos. You can sell products through your site, create member only sections, or add email sign up pages. You can use it as a brochure, or as an online shop, or as a resource centre. It’s entirely up to you.
But start with what you need.
At first, that might be a simple one page site explaining who you help and what problems you solve for them.
You don’t need anything super fancy or expensive when you’re new to business, because it’s likely your business will change a lot in the first few months or years.
I started with a basic drag and drop site that cost me about £80. It was pretty crappy (my design skills are questionable), but it did the job. It gave people somewhere to go to check me out. To see if I was credible.
It had some services pages, an about page, a blog, and some client feedback.
As my business evolved, my website changed. Different designs, different hosts, different content, different functionality. That’s the beauty of websites – you don’t have to stick with the first one you get.
Websites are like houses – you don’t need to move into your forever home straight away. You can start small and upgrade when the time is right.
So don’t blow all your budget on an all-singing, all-dancing, bells-and-whistles affair – start with the basics. A place to promote or sell your products and services, demonstrate your expertise, and share feedback to establish your credibility.
Related article: How to make your website copy count
Social media can be a fantastic marketing tool when used correctly.
Unfortunately, too many people focus on building a following and getting lots of engagement but don’t have a strategy for converting followers into customers.
This can result in a lot of wasted time and effort. Likes and views don’t translate into cash in the bank, so if you’re using social media for lead generation, don’t get caught up in vanity metrics.
Do a little research into which platforms your ideal clients are using and the kind of content they engage with so you can tailor your strategy to them. And don’t lose sight of why you are there.
Related article: Simple social strategies – how to post with purpose
Email can be a great way of getting in front of your ideal clients if you have a way to get their email addresses. You can do this through research, by purchasing a list, or by building a subscriber list.
To build a subscriber list, you need to give people something in return for their email address. For example, exclusive offers and discounts, regular news and tips, or some kind of content (a free eBook for example).
I have a free email series to help people improve their marketing content and sales copy. Once the sequence ends, readers start getting my daily email. This gets my ideal clients on my subscriber list and then they see my name in their inbox every day until they are ready to buy (or unsubscribe).
Content marketing is about nurturing your ideal clients, building trust and credibility, establishing your expertise and generating interest in what you offer.
You still have to convert your readers or viewers into customers at some point, but your content can do a lot of the legwork when it comes to selling.
Creating quality content is important, but you also need a plan for getting that content in front of your ideal clients. Social media, email and paid ads are all great for distributing your content.
Related article: Guide to content marketing
SEO and PPC
Search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) both work well for the right business, but which is right for you? That depends what you sell.
Let’s say you sell emergency boiler repair. You could do some Facebook ads, but the chances of them being on someone’s feed at the exact time their boiler breaks down are slim. And if somebody’s boiler does break down, are they going to scroll through Facebook trying to find that ad they saw three weeks ago? Probably not.
What’s more likely is they’ll type “emergency boiler repair” into Google, which means SEO or Google ads are probably a better use of your investment.
However, if you sell a service such as web design, you could do either paid ads or SEO.
There are two ways you can utilise SEO and paid search.
- You can get found when people are searching for your services:
- Accountant for small businesses
- Web designers in Manchester
- Finance recruitment
- Logo design for new business
- Business coach for construction companies
You would then have a landing page promoting this specific service.
- You can get found for search queries relating to what you do:
- What should I include in a job ad?
- How long should a blog post be?
- How do I get ISO accredited?
- What is Agile?
- What makes a good logo?
You then create content that answers the question in detail and links to your products or services.
Both SEO and paid search can be a huge waste of time and money if they are done badly. If you’re new to freelancing, there are better places to start. But if you do go down this route, learn the basics first or hire an expert.
If you know exactly who your ideal clients are and exactly when they need what you offer, direct mail can be extremely effective. For example, if you sell office furniture and you know a company has just signed a deal on some office space, send them a letter.
Letters can be highly personalised – you can even handwrite them if you really want to stand out.
And direct mail will often get a much higher response rate than email. Plus, it’s easy to test different versions and track results.
But there is a cost – you need to pay for printing and postage (unless you hand-deliver).
And if you have zero copywriting experience, it’s easy to get it horribly wrong. So if you want to go down the direct mail route, learn how to write direct response copy or hire a copywriter.
Door drops are non-addressed items delivered to homes or businesses in a specific geographical location. For example, local takeaway menus, leaflets from estate agents, flyers from window cleaners.
Door drops are good if your services are restricted to a certain location, you want to start locally, or you want to target specific neighbourhoods (for example, homes in affluent areas).
Although there is a print and design cost involved, it can be a great way to get new customers.
The upside of physical marketing is people can keep it – most of us have somewhere we store things like menus, brochures, and leaflets about things we might need one day.
Paid ads (online)
I’ve already touched on pay-per-click ads, but there are lots of opportunities for online advertising.
- Social media ads
- Google ads (or other search engines)
- Google search ads or display ads
- Banner ads
- Sponsored posts
- Video ads
- In-app ads
If you have budget for paid advertising, it can be a great way of getting your business in front of the right people. But do your research – if your market is competitive, online ads can get expensive. Don’t rush into online ads without a proper plan.
Paid ads (offline)
If there is a lot of competition in your industry, you’ll struggle to compete with bigger companies when it comes to things like Google ads. You might find it more effective and affordable to start with an ad in your local free paper or an industry magazine.
If you are going down the print ad route, choose publications your target audience actually reads.
For example, if your target audience is law firms, look at buying ad space in a magazine for lawyers.
And if you have zero design or copywriting experience, get help.
As well as standard ads, some publications offer opportunities for advertorials – an advert written as an article. These can be a fantastic way of demonstrating your expertise.
You can also advertise using billboards and posters, or by adding flyers or ads to third-party packages. If you are collaborating with a third party, make sure they have a similar audience to you.
I’ve included face-to-face networking on the list as I do think it can be a good way to spread the word about what you do and get feedback and advice from other business owners.
Some people rely solely on networking for lead generation, but I’d never recommend putting all your eggs in one basket.
Networking effectively can be time-consuming, and you’re relying on other people to find you referrals or give you business. By all means, go out and connect with people but have a backup strategy in place.
You don’t have to do everything (but you have to do something)
The list above only touches on some channels – there are loads I haven’t covered.
The good news is you don’t have to do everything.
But you do have to do something.
Clients don’t just turn up at your door. You have to let them know you exist. You have to be visible.
Even the biggest companies in the world like Coca Cola, Amazon or McDonalds still invest in advertising.
So you’ve got to do something – whether it’s spending an hour a day on social media or paying someone to do your marketing for you.
But be careful not to invest in the wrong things. You can spend hours creating content that never gets seen, waste time scrolling aimlessly through LinkedIn, or spend a fortune on Google Ads that don’t convert.
Learn the basics of marketing so you don’t get ripped off.