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The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Successful Freelance Marketer

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Freelance marketers have one of the best jobs on the planet.

There’s a never-ending stream of exciting new projects to work on and clients to work with, and at the end of the day, your work is about helping business grow, which means a better livelihood for everyone involved. Not to mention that if you’re doing well, the money is really good, too!

In short, it’s rewarding, fulfilling, and very lucrative... a great gig if you can get it. So... how do you get it?

Getting Started as a Freelance Marketer

Having that successful freelance marketing business is one thing, but getting started is quite another!

When you’re just starting out, it can feel pretty close to impossible, and it’s very easy to get discouraged or overwhelmed. In this post we’re going to go over the real meat and potatoes of starting a freelance marketing business, from the ground up. In this post, we’re going to go over:

  • Choosing your niche (because you have to be more specific than just “freelance marketer”)
  • Creating a brand (that will get your audience excited about working with you)
  • Generating business (because that’s what it’s really all about, right?) and
  • Keeping your freelance marketing practice on a constant path of growth and improvement!

All right, no more waiting. Let’s get to it!

First, All the Usual Basics Apply

Just so we’re clear, the basics of starting a business still apply, and a lot of these things are going to be the same across the board. There’s too much else for us to cover in this post, so I’m not going to rehash all the basics, but some of them are:

  • Evaluating your strengths and weaknesses
  • Determining your target market
  • Calculating your start-up costs
  • Setting out the scope of your products and services
  • Creating goals and milestones
  • Developing a marketing plan

If you need help with these basics, then block off an hour or so, and go through some of these excellent “just starting” resources:

Okay, now that the basics are out of the way, let’s move on to step zero. Why zero, and not one? Read on... ;-)

Step 0: Know Your Stuff!

This is step zero because it’s really a prerequisite; if you’re going to be a freelance marketer, you’ve got to know your marketing.

It sounds obvious, but you would be amazed how many people get into the business without a thorough grounding in basic marketing principles. Stuff like targeting, branding, engagement, communication, sales, advertising, messaging, follow-up... you can’t freelance on this stuff if you don’t already know it!

Now, I realize that you probably already know all this stuff. But just in case you need to brush up (I do on a regular basis!), you should check out some of the following resources. Try reading one of these posts each morning, and keep a book or two handy for your downtime – it will help get you in the right framework for the day’s work.

  • The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout. This is one of the books that experienced marketers go back to on a regular basis. In simple language, Ries and Trout explain the elements of marketing that are eternal.
  • How to Drive your Competition Crazy by Guy Kawasaki. There’s nothing like knowing you’ve pissed off a competitor because your marketing, products or services are just plain better. Guy Kawasaki, master marketer, shows you how it’s done.
  • Purple Cow by Seth Godin. If you want to be extraordinary and memorable in what you do, Purple Cow is the book you need. Seth Godin shows you how to develop your business’s “Wow! Factor”.
  • Entrepreneur.com’s Marketing Basics. This is an extremely well regarded website with a great community, and tons of information for entrepreneurs at all levels.
  • Forbes.com’s Marketing 101. We all know Forbes as a respected business magazine. I guess they put this series together so that they’d have more successful businesses they’ll have to write about? ;-)
  • Firepole Marketing’s The 4 Ps of Marketing. Every marketing textbook will talk about the 4Ps of Marketing, and most of them make it really dense, and really boring. Our video is only five minutes long, so check it out.
  • The Noob Guide to Online Marketing (Unbounce.com). This is a light-hearted, fun to skim infographic. The basics still apply, of course, but there are nuances to online marketing that Unbounce covers really well.
  • Articles and Tutorials from the 60 Second Marketer. If you like your information in small chunks, check out the videos and tutorials on this site – great content for beginners and intermediate marketers alike.

Step 1: Choose Your Niche (and Be Specific!)

Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, I’m going to ask you to be really, really honest for a minute.

Have you chosen a niche? Is it something like: Small businesses? Mid-Sized corporations? New-Yorkers? Anyone who will hire you?

You need to be honest with yourself here, and if your niche is like one of the ones above, you need to narrow it down.

A lot.

You should be marketing your marketing services to exactly ONE person. That’s right. Just one.

When you tailor your products and services to the specific needs of your one person, you’ll: do a better job, be seen as an expert, and end up attracting MORE people.

This is done by putting numbers and names to your target market:

  • How big is the company? (measured in dollars of revenues, or number of employees)
  • The industry they work in (healthcare, personal development, technology, etc.)
  • The region they operate in (New York, Eastern Ontario, the Bay Area, etc.)

So, for example, a reasonable target niche might be:

  • Tech companies in Des Moines with fewer than 10 employees.
  • Solopreneurs making less than $80,000 a year in Downtown Atlanta.
  • Medical Professionals with 2-3 person partnerships in New Jersey.

You get the idea. This is a strategy that has been written about a great deal, so for information on how (and why) you should be doing this, check out:

  • The Pick-Up Artist and the Internet Marketer. This fun and entertaining video teaches how you can build intense, powerful attraction for your product or services by targeting a specific niche.
  • Riches in Niches by Susan Friedmann teaches the benefits of narrowing your focus to a specific group, and how to best turn that focus into increased revenue.
  • Niche Titans talk generally about marketing and online business, but their primary focus is on teaching readers how to harness the real potential of niche marketing.
  • How to Select the Right Niche. This site contains a wealth of information about how to find the right niche for your business, and how to tell if it will work or not.
  • 3 Rules for Niche Marketing. Entrepreneur.com breaks down niche marketing into three simple rules that you can follow to make sure you’re on the right track.
  • How to choose a Niche. This ClickNewz post takes you through a quick exercise for choosing a niche. If you’re not sure where to start – it’s here.

You’re never going to be able to serve everyone, so figure out who you can serve best, and go after them exclusively.

Okay, now let’s talk about branding!

Step 2: Unforgettable Branding

Now that you’re targeting a specific, profitable niche, you need to create a brand identity that will effectively communicate your skills, attitude and specialization.

If you can align your messaging and how you deliver it with what your customers need to hear to make the best, most informed decision, they’ll be beating down your door.

Your business brand may not ever have quite the reach that hockey teams or news channels do, but that doesn’t mean that your brand can’t have a similar effect on your consumers.

If I were to say to you: “Fox News,” I bet you’d have a pretty strong reaction. People tend to either love or hate Fox News, because they have positioned their brand very strongly with a political ideology. All of the content that they produce adheres to this ideology, and their messaging supports it. Consumers of Fox News are comfortable with what the company says and how they say it. They can recognize the brand imagery and messaging anywhere and they have a strong loyalty to all aspects of it.

It’s the same with sports teams. In Quebec, the Montreal Canadians (a.ka. the Habs) are a very strong brand, evoking feelings of patriotism, community and victory. Every sports fan in North America recognizes the Habs brand, and talking about it creates an instant rapport, even among strangers.

Your business brand may not ever have quite the reach that hockey teams or news channels do, but that doesn’t mean that your brand can’t have a similar effect on your consumers.

You develop a brand by having a clear vision and value statement, and then making sure that they are reflected in every piece of your marketing – from advertisements straight through to customer service.

You should also keep in mind the qualities that you expect your target niche to respond to best to. Is it important to your ideal clients that they do business with someone hip and technologically savvy? Maybe it’s more important to them that you be trustworthy and reliable? Or maybe you’ll do best if you are an ultra-exclusive company, catering only to those with the highest of standards?

Don’t worry if it’s not totally clear yet – branding is an art and science all on its own, and for that reason it’s been written about, analyzed, discussed and dissected by some of the best minds in the world. Here are some great basics to get you started on the road to effective (and lucrative!) branding:

  • Chris Brogan’s Branding Basics. This is a fantastic starter guide to keep on your bedside table for a few weeks. It covers all of the basics of branding and how to use them in your own business.
  • Building a Brand by Design is an online resource guide that teaches you how to translate your goals and vision into a brand that customers can relate to.
  • The Branding Strategy Insider teaches how to develop a brand, and how to create a comprehensive brand strategy that will influence all the different areas of your business.
  • Naming your Freelancing Business will help you choose the best possible name for your freelancing business that will convey the right message and information to your target customers.
  • Creating your Freelance Brand offers another look at how freelancers should brand and position themselves in the marketplace.
  • Building Strong Brands by David Aaker is another great book in the branding canon that takes you through the process of building and leveraging your brand from beginning to end.

Step 3: The Hand-Raising Free Offer

Once you’ve attracted the notice of a potential client, you need to really grab their attention and keep their interest. You can do this by having them “raise their hand” to say that they like what you are doing, and that they’re interested in learning more.

You see, it’s one thing to know that you have the skills and abilities to help someone, and quite another to make them see it! This step will establish a strong foundation for building a future relationship.

So how do you get them to actually do it? What makes a great hand-raising offer? Well, the offer itself should:

  • Contain information the target is interested in.
  • Provide real, useable value to the recipient.
  • Pre-qualify the prospect, by appealing most to those who are best suited and most ready for your service.
  • Not give away a system or process (that will make the customer feel as if they don’t need you).

As a quick example, imagine you’re creating this sort of free offer for a real-estate agent. In that case, the offer might be titled: Ten Ways to get Your Home Ready for Sale. It works because:

  • Anyone looking to sell their home will be interested.
  • They will be able to use the Ten Ways to get started on their preparation, or as a jumping off point for more research.
  • It’s not likely that someone with no interest whatsoever in buying or selling a home will want the eBook, so the creator knows that anyone who downloads it is a potential lead.
  • It offers ten brief tips that are useable, but that don’t get too technical or detailed.
  • There will be many opportunities within the eBook for that real estate agent or home stager to mention how useful and important their profession is to the process.

Other examples of good “hand-raising free offers” include my own book Engagement from Scratch! (which is for sale on Amazon, and available as a free PDF download), and the free video training offered at Firepole Marketing about how to Get More Cash out of Any Business, Website or Blog.

Here are some resources that you should look at for help with doing this:

  • How Free Giveaways Can Boost Your Small Business Revenues. This Frugal Marketing article talks about the long and short term benefits of a free giveaway.
  • Top 5 ideas for Great Linkbait. Linkbait is a popular term for those eBooks, white papers, reports and videos that companies and individuals give away in exchange for an email address, or to attract links and drive traffic.
  • 50 Tantalizing Free Offer Ideas. Here, Jessica Swanson takes away any excuse you might have been making for not creating a free hand-raising offer. There are 50 ideas, so just pick one and go for it!
  • Of course, the tried and true method of providing that amazing value for a new customer is a well-designed e-book.

Step 4: Closing the Sale and Growing the Business

Once you have the attention of some interested leads, you’ve got to close the sale and keep them happy. There are two main aspects to doing this:

Charging Appropriately

Figuring out what to charge is one of the biggest problems that new freelancers run into. It’s often tempting to try competing on price, but that almost always leaves you underpaid for your work.

So what’s appropriate? The first step is to charge for outcome, not for budget. In other words, when you are designing your packages and services, figure out how much it’s really worth to the target customer to have their problem solved by your offer – and set your prices accordingly. Do NOT set your prices to attract as many customers as possible, because then you’ll end up with the wrong customers, and terrible margins.

And of course, it all has to make dollars and sense; it has to be profitable, and you have to consider your expenses, taxes, desired profit, etc. Check out FreelanceSwitch articles on Rates and Hourly vs. Fixed Pricing give a great foundation into how to set your rates and make sure you’re paid what you’re worth. Also read How Much should I charge for my Freelance Services, from Lifehacker, and a similarly titled post from Nolo.com for more ideas and things to consider.

Sealing the Deal

Once you’ve determined how and what you’ll be charging for your services, you have to communicate the value of what you’re offering to your lead. It’s also up to you to protect that sale, and nurture the relationship that you’ve created so that it will lead to more sales in the future.

This really comes down to determining whether or not there is a good fit between the customer’s needs and expectations, and the value that you’re offering. No trickery, no hard tactics, and no bullying... just an earnest exploration of fit.

Put everything that you’ve heard about high-pressure sales tactics out of your mind – just be sincere, honest and helpful, and the rest will take care of itself.

There are a variety of techniques for doing this, and through trial and error, you’ll find out which work best for you. Some places to start your experimenting are:

Step 5: Iterating Towards Success, and Get Help When You Need It!

No matter how well you plan, and how well organized you are, some things will go wrong, and require a second attempt. That’s okay. Don’t panic!

Growing a successful business isn’t about getting everything right the first time, but rather about getting some things right, fixing what’s wrong, and iterating towards success.

Growing a successful business isn’t about getting everything right the first time, but rather about getting some things right, fixing what’s wrong, and iterating towards success. So how do you do it?

The first step is to pay careful attention to what elements of your plan worked, and which ones didn’t. Make a point of keeping records of how different techniques work for you – that information will allow you to adjust your techniques, and refine your style every time.

You can also short-cut ahead of a lot of the trial and error involved in any new business by taking (to heart!) the advice of an experienced, trusted mentor. Having someone to turn to when you need advice, and to consult with on different issues you’ll be facing, can be a critical contributor to your long-term success.

So what can you expect from a good mentor relationship?

  • A sounding board for your ideas.
  • Honest criticism and feedback.
  • Advice on different aspects of running a business.
  • Reminders that you are capable of this, and no, you’re not crazy for trying.
  • An objective viewpoint on your goals and priorities
  • And lots more (every relationship is different, after all)

What’s most important at this stage is to decide what you want and need from a mentor, and then try to find someone who fits that profile. You may not find someone who has every quality on your wish list, but you’ll likely find someone who has the skills, abilities and attitude that will help compliment yours.

Now that you know what you’re looking for, here are some places that you can go looking for a mentor:

  • Reach out to your personal network and ask if they know someone appropriate, and can make an introduction.
  • Look to professionals that you respect in your industry. You probably don’t want to ask a direct competitor to mentor you, but someone who is familiar with the unique challenges posed by your industry will be very helpful.
  • Hire a mentor. There are many coaches and consultants who have made their life’s work about helping others meet their business (and sometimes personal) goals.
  • Ask around at community business organizations or your local chamber of commerce.

Unless you’re hiring one, never come right out and say “be my mentor!” You’ll scare off professionals like the boogeyman scares toddlers. Instead, start with a phone call or email with a simple question, and then ask for an opportunity to speak with them. If they seem receptive after a few of these, ask if they would be interested in a more formal ongoing relationship.

And of course, we’ve got some great resources to help you out:

There is no shame in seeking help when you need it, and if you can find it in advance, you’ll be setting yourself up for lucrative, long-term success.

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