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How to Build a Strong Yearly Marketing Plan for Your Freelancing Business

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As we approach the end of the year, it's a good time to begin thinking about next year's goals for your freelance business.

Maybe you've played your freelance marketing strategy loose so far in your freelancing business. Or maybe you have put together a roughly functional marketing plan in the past but want to improve upon those past efforts.

No matter your level of business marketing skills, building an effective marketing plan for the upcoming year is doable. It is also highly recommended as it will help you with your budget, marketing methods of choice, and results. Plus, you will feel much more confident and organized in your marketing efforts with a set of guidelines in place.

Keep in mind, though, that you should think of your plan as just that - a set of guidelines - not an unchangeable set of laws from which you can not alter. Keep your marketing plan where you can easily access it throughout the year. Write different marketing timelines on your calendar so that you know when to look again at your plan. Make changes to your plan as unforeseen events occur, and keep going.

A strong marketing plan does not mean it has to be flawless from the very beginning. A strong marketing plan is simply one that helps guide you smoothly through another 12 months of marketing for your freelance business.

So as you go through your strategic marketing planning process, you may want to follow along with the guide below to help you better create a strong annual marketing plan.

Define Your Freelance Business

The first step in building an effective plan for marketing is to know about your business. Define both your clients and your identity as a freelance business. Knowing these two aspects will better help you decide where and how to reach your target clients.

When determining your brand identity as a freelancer, make sure to note what sets you apart from your competitors.

When describing clients, make sure to write down who is your "ideal client": who exactly do you want to target? Is your client gender-specific? Where are they located geographically or what websites do they frequent online? Does your ideal client have a certain age? What does your client need or want? If your ideal clients are businesses, of course your definition will look a bit different than for consumers.

When determining your brand identity as a freelancer, make sure to note what sets you apart from your competitors. Why would prospects choose you over a competitor - are you more personable, provide faster services, have cheaper prices? What is your niche? Do you have a "brand story"?

Once you have defined your clients and your brand, then you can better choose strategies that fit your clients and you as a freelancer.

Determine Your Marketing Details

The next step involves detailing your marketing goals and services. Knowing your goals allows you to create a plan that will better meet these goals. Determining your services provides you with a guideline for choosing the right marketing methods for your freelancing business.

Make sure your goals are reasonable. For instance, if you have never had more than one client per month, then an end-of-the-year goal of five new clients a week is probably not feasible - especially since you more than likely will not have the infrastructure in place to handle this ginormous increase in work. In defining your goals, you can define it by number of projects per month, for instance, amount of income per month, or any other determination that makes sense for your freelancing niche.

When describing your services, it may be helpful to use the 4 P's (product, price, placement, promotion) as a guideline. The 4 P's of marketing are used by many businesses to better define a strategy that is tailored to what they are selling:

Product

The product aspect for freelancers may look differently than it will for businesses that sell an actual product that consumers purchase. Often, a freelancing product is a service, such as copywriting or graphic design. Although you can define your product as the end result as well, such as an article or a logo. In fact, you may need to define both aspects if you break down your costs into service fees and product fees.

Price

The price of your product probably will not just involve one set price. You may have a different price depending on the type of service you use to provide the product the client requests. For instance, as a copywriter, you may ask different prices for guest blogging than you do for on-page content for the client's website.

Placement

The placement of your product determines how you distribute it to the client. As a freelancer, this is most often done directly, meaning that you send the product to the client.

Promotion

The promotion aspect of the 4 P's of marketing are the different avenues you use to reach customers. How do plan to make prospects aware of your freelancing services? For instance, I gain many clients simply from marketing through guest blogging.

They see my bio and contact me through my information there. You can also use online ads, social media buzz, email campaigns, printed direct mail, freelance job sites, and more.

Create Marketing Strategies

A strong marketing plan for the upcoming year includes a detailed description of the strategies you listed in the promotion section of your 4 P's above. At this point in your strategic marketing planning process, it may help if you break each strategy down into 5 sections: what, why, expectations, cost, and timeline.

If you hire a marketing assistant, then specify what tasks you will handle and which your assistant will handle. Before answering some of the questions, you will need to get your hands dirty and do some research.

What

The first section of each strategy should tell exactly what the method involves. Define the marketing method in as much detail as possible. For instance, let's say email marketing is one of your strategies.

You may decide to send emails to only those who have signed up on your website to receive marketing emails from you. This is a clear way to make sure you're following email marketing guidelines, though you may not have a large enough list of your own to hit your marketing needs.

You may decide to rent a targeted email list to use for the year and send out a certain number of strategic emails. It is possible to rent email lists ethically, as described in this article on renting email lists.

When planning this, you will also want to include such details as what email address you will use, the general message you want to send, and whether or not you plan to use outside resources or firms.

Why

The "why" of each strategy should tell why you chose to use this method. For instance, in our email marketing example, you may have chosen this method because your target market is made up of 30-40 year olds with a career which means they check their email several times a day.

Expectations

What results do you hope to see with each strategy? While this will be just a projection in the beginning of the year, setting an expectation will better help you determine if your strategies are working.

Going back to the email campaign, most businesses see a $40 return on every $1 spent. So you may decide to use this goal as your starting point. Or you could be more specific to your business and determine that you receive a certain percentage of responses.

Cost

You may have to estimate how much it will cost you for each strategy, but at least take the time to look up information to get a more accurate estimate. For instance, look up companies that rent targeted email lists and find out how much a few of your favorite companies cost.

If you will hire a designer to create your email, then gather some quotes from a few. Just remember that the more accurate your costs are, the better you can plan your budget - or nix this particular marketing method if it turns out to be too costly.

Timeline

Create a timeline that includes everything from when to begin working on this marketing method to the launch date. With email marketing, you will need to set a date for beginning the design, purchasing the list, putting it all together, and then pushing Send. For a Google Adwords campaign, you may also want to include the stop date.

As a freelancer, you have a number of marketing strategies available that will be more than effective in reaching your target audience. Types of marketing strategies could include anything from ad placements, affiliate links, guest blogging, social media campaigns, email campaigns, print ads, or even events such as trade shows. Just choose those that will help you stay within budget and also give you the most bang for your time and gunpowder.

Summarize Your Strategies

The final piece of your yearly marketing plan should be a summary. A summary of costs, your timeline, and expected results will help you know what to expect and where you are at throughout the year.

If a certain strategy is bringing in fewer results than expected, then make a change and try again to see if this change helped.

Divide your costs into totals per month, or however you want to break them up. Monthly totals may help you make sure that you have enough in your budget to allow for those costs each month.

Allow room for changes. If your budget can't handle the next wave of online ads for the month, don't schedule them. If a certain strategy is bringing in fewer results than expected, then make a change and try again to see if this change helped.

The summary is also the place to make notes about any changes you made to your campaign. This will only help you in planning out next year's marketing strategy, and give you a guideline as to what you may want to drop and what you may want to change.

Track Your Results

One of the easiest ways to keep track of marketing results is simply by creating a spreadsheet that lists all of your marketing methods. As prospects contact you, ask them how they heard about you. Mark down each answer underneath the column for that marketing method.

Of course, the only way that this method will work is if you ask every single prospect that contacts you, whether or not they decide to use your services. If you have anyone else working with you that may handle new contacts, make sure they understand the importance of asking every single time, "How did you hear about us?" While not every prospect may answer, at least you know that you did your part for gathering this information.

There are certain tactics you can employ to better elicit responses, as well. If a prospect contacts you by phone, you can simply ask, prompting them with different ways they may have found you (posters, postcards, an email).

For those that contact you by email, you can simply ask in the beginning of your email how they heard about you, highlighting the question for further emphasis. For contact forms on your website, require prospects to fill out a drop down item that lists ways they may have heard of you. If prospects message you on a social media account, simply ask them in your reply how they heard about you.

For some campaigns, you can use a specific email or phone number to track results. You will then know that everyone who contacts you through that email or calls you at that phone number found you via that specific marketing method.

You can also track results via Google Analytics and a specific landing page. For instance, using Google Analytics, you can see how many visits you have received from a specific ad or link, and then you can also see how many of those visitors actually followed through by contacting you for your services.

Your Yearly Marketing Plan

While building a yearly marketing plan can be a lot of work, it pays off in the long run. Not only will you be much more focused in your daily, weekly, or monthly marketing tasks, but you will also better know what marketing methods work and which ones you will probably not include in next year's plan.

A detailed report can make all the difference in whether your yearly marketing plan will be strong enough to guide you to the end of the year.

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by lightzone.

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