At our November meeting, KUT’s Jennifer Stayton led a lively discussion with panelists, John Egan and Dana Marruffo, about marketing a freelance business. Egan is a freelance content marketer and writer and former editor of the Austin Business Journal. Marruffo is the founder of Buzz Public Relations, LLC. They shared insights from their own experiences running freelance businesses.
For many freelancers, deadlines take precedence over marketing. Lack of time ranks as the biggest excuse for avoiding it. But marketing doesn’t need to be time-consuming to be effective. In fact, both of the panelists said that they take a more organic approach to marketing, focusing on developing a strong network, building relationships and establishing their reputations. According to our panelists, here are the six main areas to focus on for marketing your freelance business.
Build your brand
A strong brand helps define a business. Yet, many freelancers don’t think about branding themselves. According to Marruffo, “It’s not just freelancing; it’s about running a business.”
But where should you start? First, define a goal. Do you want to build a personal brand or a business brand? Establishing name recognition and a personal reputation through relationships is key to building a personal brand. Business branding is less personal and requires a more targeted approach through advertising, sponsorships and partnerships.
Networking, networking, networking
Egan couldn’t emphasize this enough. The best form of marketing is through word-of-mouth and referrals from partners, clients, former employers and colleagues. In a referral-based business, reputation is key, so make sure you turn in quality work.
Join networking groups. Organizations like WCA and Freelance Austin provide opportunities to make new connections and develop partnerships with other professionals. Don’t just attend meetings. Volunteer to serve on boards and be active in the community.
Establish a digital presence
You want to make sure you look and act like a business. This means updating your LinkedIn profile and establishing a professional website for your business. “That says so much about you and your integrity,” according to Egan. “A website is a showcase for you.”
If you aren’t skilled in website design, find someone who can do it for you. Budget for it or find someone you know and work out a barter deal.
LinkedIn is the number one online tool for networking and business-to-business marketing. Update your profile and create a LinkedIn page for your business. But be specific about what you do. If you want to appear higher in SEO searches, simply listing “freelancer” on your profile isn’t enough. Be specific or focus on a niche. Even if you can write about a wide variety of topics, pick the ones you like or know more about. For example, Egan’s profile lists freelance writer, personal finance writer, real estate writer and content writer as his specialties. By using these keywords, it’s easier for him to connect with potential clients.
Build your content
Now that you have a website and LinkedIn profile, you need to create content to help promote yourself and your business. Share and post content that appeals to your audience. Pitch yourself to write for different online publishing blogs and repost to your own sites.
Continue to market even when business is strong
When the projects are rolling in, it’s tempting to think we don’t need to worry about networking or marketing. But that’s a mistake. Always keep the pipeline primed so you have something to fall back on if you lose a client. Even if you don’t have the bandwidth to take on new projects, you can always refer clients to someone in your network.
Nurture and utilize your network
Networking is about building relationships. If you connect with someone, stay in touch and follow up with coffee. “You need to nurture those relationships,” Marruffo said. “This is the personal side of marketing.”
When times are hard, reach out to your network and ask for help. Be specific about what kinds of jobs you want. Egan emphasized that people want to help. “There’s no shame in reaching out to people and asking for help finding work,” he said.
The message from both panelists was clear. Freelancers need to treat marketing is an essential part of looking and acting like a business. Our panelists had one more piece of advice: Don’t let deadlines get in the way of achieving your business goals.
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