Can you imagine eating plain oatmeal three times a day, every day? I can, because there was a time when I only had $50 in my bank account.
No matter how many jobs I applied to or how many potential clients I emailed, nothing worked. Attempting to get new clients was like trying to eat spaghetti with a spoon.
I was desperate.
What was I doing wrong?
Well, the truth is that there were many things I was doing wrong… but the thing that hurt me the most was that I had terrible marketing.
Because I was just starting out, I had no brand, no niche, and no marketing strategy. I spent much of my time working tirelessly for anyone and everyone who offered gigs. But today, I work with some of the best brands (think: HubSpot, CoSchedule, Foundr, etc.), and I turn down several prospects each month.
In this article, I’ll lean on my freelance marketing experience to share simple but powerful marketing strategies that have helped me scale from eating oatmeal to 7-8 lavish meals a day. (Food is life, yo!)
Why should freelancers care about marketing?
Before I implemented proper marketing, I was Calvin in this Calvin & Hobbes comic:
And let me tell you, after I learned and implemented proper marketing techniques, within weeks, I had gained a 4-figure monthly income. Coincidence? I doubt it.
I can hear the voices now: “Mark, are you being serious?”
But just think about it…
Just about everything you do, in one way or another, is related to marketing.
Take, for example:
- Reading a book (the book’s reputation and its promises got you into it)
- Eating at a restaurant (you chose the restaurant based on the atmosphere, food, word-of-mouth, etc.)
- Playing guitar (oh, boy, do rock stars know how to sell!)
- Even walking down the street (you’re selling yourself)
And marketing is especially important when you’re freelancing. Why is a client going to pick you over someone with more experience or more qualifications?
The same reason people choose Frosted Flakes over the store brand, even though they taste exactly the same. If you have better marketing than the competition, you’ll be picked almost every time.
Think of marketing like a tiny superpower. It’ll give you a slight advantage over the competition, and sometimes that’s all you need to land big clients.
Here are my proven strategies that will take your marketing to the next level and land you clients.
1. Identify Your Unique Story
Everyone has a story. And your story is essential to make yourself stand out ahead of the sea of freelancers out there.
Marketing yourself can be as simple as creating an "About Me" page for your website. On my site, I list things that are specific and unique to me.
Notice I include not only business-related things, but also my interests (that way, you get a better feel of who I am and what I'm about).
Telling your story is a chance to make your personality shine. It's time to be your authentic self—because nobody wants to work with a robot.
If you’re having trouble, here’s a quick guide to making your own story:
- Start with the who. Why are you essential as a freelancer? There are so many freelancers out there—prepare to make yourself sound special.
- Continue with the setting. Talk about your environment, the conditions you grew up in, etc.
- Have a conflict. Why was this journey hard for you? What did you struggle with most?
- End with the resolution. Did you "make it"? Are you still struggling? Tell me about your experience.
My website has a dedicated section just for my story. Now, this page doesn't necessarily talk about my service, but it focuses on my journey and where I come from, which helps prospects look at me as more than just some freelancer—and helps a lot with trust.
To paint you a picture, here’s a neat infographic timeline I created to depict my journey.
Focus on sharing your journey, your unique selling point. Be genuine and let the world know where you come from, and you'll attract the right people (read: clients).
2. Be Memorable to Clients by Creating Your Brand
Think of the big ones: Amazon, Nike, McDonald’s...
A single company name brings about different feelings, images, and opinions. Do you know why people pick these companies over others?
Emotion. In fact, an emotional connection may be the most important thing when dealing with clients. And as a freelancer, you need to create some sort of feeling for your clients.
Otherwise, you won't stand out from the pack.
How does your client feel when talking to you? If a client feels strong, positive emotions when they view your brand, they will choose you over Sloppy Bob's Crappy Writing Company.
Building a personal brand can be accomplished in 4 easy steps:
- Create a brand personality. How will you present yourself to your audience? Do you want them to view you as honest, hard-working, and diligent? Or witty, funny, and quirky? Make sure your brand and writing reflect the personality you want to get across.
- Find your niche. This is what will make you shine. How do you differ from the rest of your competition? Are you selling yourself to health supplement companies, Android app companies, etc.? The more specific your audience, the better.
- Become an authority. You can create brand authority and presence over social platforms. Getting yourself out there can be as simple as posting about your services on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. You can also use current clients as testimonials to your expertise.
- Create a website. One of the best marketing materials for freelancers is a freelance website. It’s a great way to position yourself as an expert, control authority—and open up opportunities. You can even go simple and build a simple landing page that represents your service offering in under an hour, or turn your website into an e-commerce website where you can sell info-products (think: checklists, ebooks, etc.) and make a solid passive eCommerce business.
Of course, these are just on the surface. The more effort you put into your branding, the better your branding.
If you keep at it long enough, soon you’ll be known as the expert in your field.
For more information, I recommend checking out my informative article on turning your freelance blog into a lead magnet.
3. Leverage SEO to Organically Land Awesome Clients
Now, having a freelance site is not enough; you need to make it work for you.
The best way to do this is by setting it up for search engines. If you learn to use SEO (search engine optimization) to make your pages more accessible on Google searches… your three-pageview post can gain views in the thousands (just by adding a few keywords!).
And that means a lot of potential clients for you, you lucky freelancer.
What’s more, 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine. So even if you’re not the best at networking or don’t have any prior connects…Making sure your SEO is on point is KEY so potential clients can see you.
To get started, here are two SEO strategies for freelancers that have helped me the most.
- Create and optimize service pages. First things first, build a service page for your freelance business. In my case, I’m a freelance writer for SaaS, so I created a content writing page and optimized it for the exact keyword.
Here’s a guide to on-page optimization to help you optimize your service page with the best SEO practices. Fun fact: My biggest client, Monday.com, found me through Google.
2. Write amazing content that targets your prospect’s queries. When you're writing for your freelance website, the most important thing is to write to your clients’ interests. For instance, if you’re a SaaS writer, it’s a good idea to write blog posts around SaaS content marketing or similar as that’s what your ideal audience is search for.
And if you get your SEO right, your article can work as a great medium to connect with your ideal audience and generate leads. What’s more, you can capture these leads to build a powerful email list that can then be used for email marketing.
As a freelancer, it’s your job to get noticed, and using good SEO is vitally important.
And trust me when I say most freelancers don’t know a thing about SEO. If you learn just the basics, you’ll be able to differentiate yourself and dominate the search results!
4. Create a Blog or Podcast to Showcase Your Skills
There’s no better way to showcase your talents than creating a blog or podcast. Do you have a knack with words, or are you good with your voice?
Choose to start a blog or podcast… and stick with it. For most freelancers, writing a blog is both easier and more accessible to begin with. I've got a blog on my website, which helps me gain traffic (or maybe my clients just want to take a sneak peek at my abilities).
If you have a blog or podcast, you’ll also have something to show your potential clients. So if you’ve got neither… start now!
Let’s take a deeper dive into these two:
- Write a blog. Creating a blog is simple. While I won't go in-depth in this article on how to create a blog (that's a whole other post in itself), it's essential to find a niche for your blog and stick with it.
While it's tempting to spread yourself thin at first, finding a niche will show clients that you are dedicated to your work.
Just think about it: Who would you instead hire if you're a travel company, Joe Schmoe, who writes about sports, fitness, finance, squirrels, and travel, or John Deer, who specializes ONLY in travel writing? Of course, you’d expect John Deer to be better, because travel writing is his specialty. Pick a niche and make it your own.
2. Record a podcast. The key to creating an excellent podcast is to know yourself— can you talk for hours on end without pause? Do you like talking with other people in the first place? Are you good at creating lasting connections with others?
When people listen to podcasts, they form connections with the podcaster. So, it's essential to have a loud personal voice if you're going down this route.
While it can be harder, podcasting may pay off more in the long run since there are fewer people podcasting than blogging.
For more information on growing your podcast, I recommend checking out this guide to podcast marketing.
5. Network Where Your Clients are Hanging Out
Everybody wants to be noticed, right? And no matter how golden your content or how badass a freelancer you think you are, it won’t matter unless you get seen.
"The richest people in the world look for and build networks, and everyone else looks for work."
I couldn’t agree more.
Think about it: The more connections you obtain, the better you'll be able to sift through and choose the ones you want to work with. That means when you get enough clients... you’ll be turning down clients left and right, adopting only the top dogs to work with.
That sure beats any amount of working for the bottom dollar any day.
If you start from nowhere or don't have any idea how to network, you can combine two different strategies for optimum crush factor: attend networking events and use online groups.
Here’s the general breakdown:
- Join groups like Facebook and Reddit dedicated to freelancing and digital marketing. Along with a wealth of knowledge, you’ll be able to interact and meet up with tons of cool freelancers just like yourself…some of whom are even raking in the big dollars.
If you're a copywriter, join a copywriting group. A programmer in India? There are groups for that, too. The more specific a group you can find, the more likely you’ll be able to connect with like-minded people.
2. Attend freelancer networking events. You can find events using these groups or simply create your own. If you're a remote freelancer like me, you don't have an office. And that means nobody to bounce ideas back and forth with.
Sometimes all it takes is one lucky meeting with a particular person and your future can change forever (mine certainly did).
The bottom line is, no matter if you’re networking online or in-person, you can make it happen. That’s the beauty of freelancing… you’ll be able to work from anywhere and still build up your network.
Even if you live in the mountains of Tibet (as long as you have a good Wi-Fi connection!), you can still network.
BONUS: Love What You Do
Jeff Bulas says, "If you love what you're doing… that will make it so much easier to sit down and create content, inspire, entertain, and educate. That's what's important."
The last strategy that’s not on the list is to love what you’re doing.
Because if you don't, you'll be spending countless hours living a life… well, not worth living.
And remember, as a freelancer, you’re doing your best to live a life that’s different than the 9-to-5 office worker. So make it count.
And while these marketing strategies worked for me, I can't guarantee that they’ll work for you. The truth is, there are no guarantees in the world of freelancing. But if you don't try, one thing's certain—you'll never succeed.