Trading in your full-time corporate job for freelance work and entrepreneurship may sound tempting, but you’ll have to market your services to maintain a steady cash-flow if you decide to strike out on your own.
Without marketing experience, you may not know the first thing about cultivating prospects or which activities offer the best ROI. In the interest of furthering best practices and helping you succeed, here are four highly effective marketing strategies for freelance professionals:
Be a Perpetual Job Hunter
Downtime is rare for Jim Horn, who has been freelancing since 2003. The data architect not only lands encore assignments from satisfied clients, he’s found a relatively easy way to keep a steady stream of new projects coming in.
What’s his secret? “I’m always in job hunting mode,” Horn said.
Since prospective clients turn to the Internet and job boards to find and research contractors, keeping your online profiles and résumé up-to-date and optimized with keywords increases your chances of being found. Once you get everything set up, refreshing your information doesn’t take much time, plus it alerts your network and moves your résumé to the top of the digital pile.
“I get a lot of email inquiries because I indicate when I’m available and the types of assignments I’m looking for in bold type at the top of the page,” Horn said. “Being specific prevents people from wasting your time.”
Adopt a Customer Service Mentality
Tech contractors are primarily in the customer-service business, not the technology business, advised Spence Forman, an entrepreneur who provides freelance web-designer training. When prospective clients inquire, don’t wait to get back to them—respond right away.
“Don’t get enamored with a programming language or bill yourself as a JS expert, market yourself as a highly responsive, capable problem-solver,” Forman said. “Prioritize relationships over technology by being available for human interaction via phone or Skype.”
Build a Strong Online Presence
Establishing yourself as an influencer and subject-matter expert, especially in the places where your prospective customers hang out online, costs less than advertising and is a better use of your time. In fact, if time and intellectual capital are the only things you need to get started, which activities offer the best ROI?
“Answer questions on Quora, Stack Exchange or other technical forums because you don’t have to hunt for people who need your help, the people asking the questions are publishing their pain,” Forman said. “They may seek you out if your answers are accurate and helpful.”
Blogging or posting articles and case studies online won’t just garner attention from prospective clients; it’ll demonstrate that you have the communication skills necessary to prevail in interviews, and negotiate higher rates.
Horn also presents at conferences such as SQL Saturday. Being in front of prospective clients who need experts like you, and connecting with your colleagues during an event (and later online), often produces leads and client referrals.
“I bring copies of white papers to interviews to prove that I’ve solved similar problems,” Horn said. “Clients are looking for more than a technician when they hire contractors, many times they’re looking for a leader or mentor. If your project experience is equal to other candidates, communication skills can be a differentiator.”
Use Targeted Outreach
When business hits a lull, Horn applies to gigs posted on job boards, but only if they meet his narrow search criteria. He also markets his services to a select group of eight or nine tech managers, and he’s built relationships with two tech staffing firms that honor his preferences.
“Shotgun marketing won’t work,” Horn said. “You’ll be bombarded with opportunities that aren’t the right fit. Targeting a small list of companies when you market your services and working with recruiters you trust is a much more effective use of your time.”