How to Use Blogging to Market Your Freelance Business
You may have started off your freelancing career like I did by picking up one large client and a couple of small ones right off the bat. This worked for awhile until my husband lost his job and I suddenly needed to bring in enough to make up for his income. Fortunately, he joined me in my freelancing endeavors, and added his marketing expertise to my business.
Like many of our fellow freelancers, though, we didn't have any extra money to put toward marketing expenses. We had to find a way to get the word out about our content writing business, for free and as quickly as possible. Social media and blogging (these two go hand in hand, as I'll point out below) became the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way for us to gain new freelance writing gigs.
While my husband had some experience in social media, our use of blogging as a marketing medium involved quite a bit of trial and error. Even so, we suddenly found ourselves acquiring new clients, so many, in fact, that we had to become selective and only partner with those clients willing to pay what we needed to get our bills paid. We became highly desired experts in our freelancing field almost overnight it seemed without spending hardly a penny.
If you find yourself needing to market your freelancing business but are not sure where to start or how to do so without wasting your limited cash, blogging is the best way to accomplish this goal.
If you find yourself needing to market your freelancing business but are not sure where to start or how to do so without wasting your limited cash, blogging is the best way to accomplish this goal. However, you do not need to stumble around in the dark, so to speak, as my husband and I did when learning how to market your blog.
The following overview and tips should provide you with most, if not all, of the knowledge you need to get started with blogging. Most of the tips are from my own experience. A few are resources I wish I had known but only just discovered in my own research for this guide, which means that they are now definitely part of my own blogging process.
For easier understanding and readability, I have divided up this guide into 3 main types of blogging. You can do all three types or only start off with one, which is what my husband and I did due to lack of time. Before discussing the types of blogging and specific tips for each, I will discuss blogging techniques that apply to all and finally end with advice on using social media tips to reinforce your blogging efforts. Let's dive in!
Finding a Niche
Before ever deciding on what type of blogging you will do, you need to define the niche you feel confident writing in. It is better to choose a narrow, rather than broad topic, since you will be more likely to gather a strong following with more focus. Choose a niche within which you are an expert and that also relates to your freelancing field, and you will attract your target audience.
So, maybe you have a couple of niches you feel confident for use in blogging. How do you better choose the right one? The following steps may help:
- Write down topics that you know enough about that you could write several actionable posts on the topic without research.
- Also make sure you feel passionate about your topics, since a passionate writer equals better and more efficient writing.
- Define your ideal client (possibly their age, career, and gender or describe the type of business if you are a B2B freelancer).
- Now ask yourself what topics would be the most relevant to your target client.
- Research similar blogs on these topics to see if your target market seems to hang out there (look at the comments and forums as well as any guest blog posts that may have been submitted by competitors in your field.)
- Use the keyword tool from Google Adwords (no account required, but signing up is free and gives you more results) and search for keywords related to your niche topic choices.
- See which keywords for your topics have a Low competition and a good amount of monthly searches, about average in comparison to the list of related keywords that Google suggests.
- Choose the niche that (1) you feel confident in and strongly about, and (2) has keywords that fit the above criteria.
- Keep in mind that once you get established in one niche, you may want to branch out into others, so keep your list and research data for future use.
Deciding on how often to post, coming up with titles/topics within your niche, and keeping the ideas flowing are all aspects of blogging that can greatly affect your success.
How Often Should You Post an Article?
This depends on a number of factors, including audience and the type of blogging you are using to market your business. You may also want to consider the amount of time you have to dedicate to writing and posting articles.
Of course, you could always hire a writer to handle your blogging, but again this means money out of your pocket. Really as long as you keep fresh, relevant content out there, it does not matter if you post daily, once a week, or even once a month. The key is to stay consistent.
You should also consider your audience. Will they forget about you if you only post once a month? And you may not give yourself enough exposure with once a month posting, unless you keep several blogs. Whatever you decide, keep your posting consistent. If readers expect a blog post from you every Friday, then don't let them down. Your consistency will show potential clients that you are a freelancer who won't let them down.
This is probably one of the most time consuming pieces of blogging for me: coming up with fresh topics over and over again. Because, really, who is going to be impressed with posts that say the same thing everyone else has been saying with a different spin?
I can't say that I haven't been found guilty of such foul practices, but honestly I have found that articles that are fresh, opinionated, inspiring, or highly technical are the ones that have turned the heads of clients. Articles that actually say something and provide ACTIONABLE tips to readers are what impress clients.
But, keeping up this level of writing is pretty darn difficult to do, especially if blogging is both your marketing avenue and your source of income, as it is with me. The following are just a few tips and tools that have helped me:
- Prismatic allows you to customize different blog/news feeds based on topics or keywords. For instance, I often write about marketing, so Prismatic gathers the latest posts on marketing for me to peruse.
- Topsy is similar to Prismatic, except that it searches social media sites for content based on keywords, not blogs necessarily.
- Google Blogs allows you to search for blogs only that relate to your search term. I use this to peruse through blogs to see what kinds of topics are trendy at any given time. Also another way to come up with ideas if the above are not helping.
Sometimes searching through images can help with content generation:
- Behance allows you to search by keyword or categories. There are some very inspirational ideas here, especially if your topic is on the creative side or anything that can be related to creativity.
- DesignFridge is one of my favorite web design showcasing sites.
- PhotoPin is a tool that searches for creative commons images on Flickr, which means that you can use any of these images for your posts if you credit the source. PhotoPin even provides the code for adding the credits to your post.
- Stock.xchng also provides a number of creative commons images. Just sign up for a free account to have access to a limited number of downloads per day.
- Another similar stock photo site is PhotoDune, which also is part of the Envato marketplaces, which have sites dedicated to illustrations, videos, audio tracks and more.
Disclaimer: Keep in mind that I only use tools like this to spark ideas, not to rewrite someone else's ideas.
Always allow comments on your posts. Comments give possible clients just one more easy way to connect with you. It also allows you to connect with readers and clients, generate conversations about their needs, and offer them solutions, whether or not those solutions involve your services or products.
If you respond to readers' comments, you can build a strong community around your blog, further building opportunities for gaining more clients. Plus, it shows prospects that you genuinely care about helping others.
Make it easy for readers to comment. Don't limit commenting to only readers who sign in with social media accounts. Allow guest commenting as well. If you find yourself spending too much time managing spam, use the spam plugins provided by your content management system. Or if your blog is on your website, use a comment spam filter, such as Akismet.
Three Types of Blogging
Now for the good part: deciding what type of blogging you want to start out with. While you can use each one of the different types of blogging efforts listed here, to keep from getting overwhelmed, you probably want to pick the one you think will be most profitable for you at this point.
Keep in mind that your goal for blogging is to market your company. For my writing business, I found that guest blogging gave me the most exposure. But this is not the case for all fields of freelancing. You may need to keep your blog on your website or create a blog website to make it easy for prospects to hire you.
1.) Using a Blog as Your Website
What it is: If you already have an established website, and your prospects will most easily turn into customers if they only have to click from one page to the next, then you probably need to place your blog on your actual website.
Benefits: Readers can much more easily and quickly become your customers because they only have to click on one of your links on your navigation menu at the top of your website. You don't have to manage more than one site this way either, if you already have a website that you've put lots of time and effort into.
If you already have an established website, and your prospects will most easily turn into customers if they only have to click from one page to the next, then you probably need to place your blog on your actual website.
Setting it up: Create a new page and name it "Blog" or create a unique name. Just make sure the title is one that lets your website visitors know that it is a blog. Your blog page should only include snippets of the most recent posts. If readers want to see the full article, they can click on the link, which takes them to that post's unique URL. This keeps your main blog page nice and neat. It also adds depth to your website.
Cross Linking: For a blog on a website, you can have several types of cross links. First, you can place links to archives or most popular posts on the side of your blog homepage, or you can create a link at the bottom of the home page for older posts.
You should also include links to similar posts in each article, both in the content if relevant and at the end of the article. You can also include links to your products or services in your posts. Just be sure that if links are within your content, you embed links within variations of your keywords and sometimes in a group of words that don't include your keywords at all. This keeps your links fresh.
Another point to keep in mind with cross linking: DO NOT overdo it. Include two or three links to related articles at the end of every article. But do not inundate articles with too many cross links. One or two will be fine.
Finally, make sure to include links going out to other blogs, news sites, or resources. And make sure you have links outside of your blog that point back to your blog. This can be done via guest posting, developing link exchange agreements with other bloggers, or submitting your post URLs to blogs that post live links, such as BizSugar.
2.) Separating Your Blog and Website
What it is: You can create a blog that is completely separate from your freelance website. Or if you do not have a website yet, a blog website is a great way to gain a following that turn into customers.
Benefits: Having a blog on a separate URL from your website allows you to create some good linking back and forth. If you have a strong following of readers, a separate blog helps posts stay more organized. It also allows readers to focus on your content and gives them more control over when they want to see your services or products.
If you are marketing writing services, a book, design services, or other related fields that require less explanation, a blog website is perfect for building your expertise, and you can simply include a link on your blog to explain your services.
If you have a separate website for your freelancing services, then make sure you make it clear that this blog is from your company. Place the logo in the header of the site that readers can click to visit your website. Use your brand design elements. If this blog will also double as your main website, then make sure to create a page that talks about your services whether that is your About page or a Services page.
Cross Linking: Just as with a blog on your website, be sure to cross link to other posts within each post (see above for more details), link to services on your main website, and link to outside sources. You will also want to make sure you build incoming links from sites other than your website as well using some of the above suggestions.
Since your blog is an actual blog and not just a page on a website, you may find it much easier to exchange links with other bloggers. For instance, you can create a list of resources or "friends" on the side of your home page with links to other blog sites who have a similar target market as you do, and you can ask them to do the same for you.
Since you may not have product pages, you have limited options for creating links to get customers to your services. However, creating a call to action at the end of the post, maybe in your About the Author section, is perfectly acceptable and lets readers know you are available for hire without being intrusive. You could also link to your contact page or services page every so often; just don't overdo it.
3.) Guest Blogging
What it is: Guest blogging involves getting permission from bloggers to post articles on their blogs.
Benefits: You build up good links to your website or own blog, and you can build up yourself as an expert in your field. Guest blogging also gives you great exposure to prospects who may otherwise never visit your blog or website.
Setting it up: You can search for blogs within your niche (yes, remain within your single niche for now) by simply using the Google Blog search using your niche keywords. You can also add "write for us" or "guest posts" or other related terms to your search to find blogs that offer guest blogging opportunities.
When contacting a blog for the first time, introduce yourself by including your area of expertise, why you like their blog (be specific; read some of their posts), and also include links to some of your best published posts, preferably other guest posts, but these can be to your own blog if you are new to guest posting.
I often include some title ideas along with a synopsis of the content, and sometimes I even attach the articles to the email. However, read through the guest posting guidelines to make sure what they specifically request and what they specifically do not want included in the initial email (such as a completed article).
When it is time for you to submit your bio/ About the Author content, include a link to your home page and a deep link, if more than one link is allowed. A deep link is any URL on your site that is not your home page, so use a product page link or a blog post link or even your about page link. Preferably, though, it should be a link that leads the visitor to contact you or make a purchase without much clicking around your site.
If you have several links you'd like to use, consider using different bios for different blogs. Try to keep the main wording of your bio the same and only changing up the link and anchor text used. This allows you to keep a branded bio (because of the similar content) but still build up exposure for different links (while meeting blog guidelines).
Page rank considerations: Those sites that have a page rank of 5/10 or higher give you a quicker expert status and more exposure. If I want a lot of exposure quickly, I focus on getting several posts published on high ranking sites as quickly as possible. Then it's just a matter of submitting an article once every couple weeks to keep myself in the loop.
It can be difficult if you have never guest posted before to get accepted to high ranking blog, unless your blog is quite established already. So you may have to start with new blogs that need help generating content, which is what I did. Post on several sites at once, if possible, and once you get a few published, you can move on to other sites with a slightly higher page rank until you work yourself up to highly desired blogs in your niche.
Affiliate Links: Because blog owners have to protect the page rank of their sites, they may not always allow affiliate links within the content, even if the link is relevant to the topic. Some blogs specify whether or not they allow links within posts. If they don't mention affiliate links, simply ask after your initial contact with them.
I have found that it works best if you do not mention affiliate links right away so as not to overwhelm bloggers with too much information in the first email. It also gives the impression that you are only there to build yourself up, not to provide quality content for their readers.
Social Media and Blogging
Honestly, I cannot figure out what the point of social media is for freelancers unless it is to advertise specials they are running, to respond to client questions or concerns, or to lead readers to their blog or website with helpful resources or content.
There are exceptions, but very often there is no need for freelancers to even have social media accounts if they are not using them to actively market their business and connect with clients.
I have run across so many freelancers on Twitter or Facebook or Google+ who post meaningless commentary that only serves to fill up the web with the type of pointless content that Google is seeking to eliminate. There are exceptions, but very often there is no need for freelancers to even have social media accounts if they are not using them to actively market their business and connect with clients.
This being said, your blog will not gain traction very quickly without social media either. I never once was contacted by clients for writing work until my husband encouraged me to set up social media accounts in my name. When I included my Twitter info in my guest blog bio, then I saw another increase in client contacts. Here are some more pointers for how to market your blog using social media:
- Create accounts on multiple social media accounts to give you more exposure. Even within your target market, different clients prefer different formats.
- Tweet or post your articles for followers, fans, and connections to see.
- Manage your multiple accounts using a social media manager such as HootSuite or SproutSocial.
- If you publish posts often and are afraid of annoying readers, advertise only the best posts of the week. Then ask readers to sign up for a weekly newsletter to see all posts published during the week.
- Include all social media buttons, include your RSS feed button, in an easy to spot location on your blog, such as the upper right-hand corner of every page.
- Consider tweeting/posting various articles on different social media accounts, tailored to the specific group of connections on that account.
- Use hashtags for all tweets on Twitter. Make sure they are both related to the post's content as well as your freelancing field; consider using the same few hashtags with every Tweet to better brand your blogging and, therefore, business.
- Follow back readers (not to be confused with companies that follow everyone just to build up their social media numbers).
- Respond to reader's comments on your social media posts as soon as possible.
Blogging takes some time to initially set up and build to perfection. If you do it right from the get-go, however, you could start seeing results right away. Remember not to burn yourself out by tackling too much blogging at once.
Choose a niche, a platform, and a schedule. Then stick to it and, eventually if you feel the need, expand from there.
Who knows? Maybe you will someday gain enough clients from blogging and social media effort to be able to afford a blogging specialist, so that you can focus on the most important part of your career: bringing in the money.