As an independent contractor or freelancer, one of your most important duties necessary to keep yourself afloat is marketing your business. It’s also one of the most challenging aspects of independent consulting. You’re an expert in your field, and you love what you do, but that doesn’t mean that you’re comfortable selling yourself. Luckily, sales and marketing skills can be learned.
Nothing beats being one of those charismatic, natural-born sales people that can sell ice to Alaskans. Those persuasive folks represent a small percentage of the population, while the rest of us struggle with finding our comfort zone when it comes to selling our own skills. Having a well thought-out plan with solid marketing strategies can make the process easier. Follow these tactics to create your own strategic marketing plan, and you’ll be on your way to building a lucrative pipeline of projects.
o Have a web presence. Websites are invaluable marketing tools. Many potential clients will be researching you on the internet before making a decision to work with you, and having a professional website shows that you’re established. Use your site to post a portfolio of your work, testimonials or references from clients, or case studies of how you help clients. Listing your rate schedule on your website can also be an option, depending on the sort of work you do and what is customary in your field.
o Have well-designed business cards. Exchanging business cards is a common occurrence when meeting new people. You never know when you might run into someone who needs your services, so be sure to have your business cards on hand at all times. Your business cards should contain your name, your title or specialty, your website address, email, and other contact information. Make sure that your title is a clear indication of what you do, or you could be missing out on potential business. Go for quality paper and a professional design.
o Become a member of organizations in your industry. There are associations for just about every industry that offer opportunities to communicate with other professionals in your field, and being a professional member may enhance your credibility as an expert.Many have online communities where you can exchange ideas with your colleagues (including other freelancers and independent consultants) across the globe. Other benefits are available too, such as certification or credentials as an expert, educational opportunities to help you fine-tune or learn new skills, advertising opportunities, or a listing in a directory of professionals like yourself where potential clients might find your information.
o Social networking. Social networking is huge in today’s marketplace, but it can be very intimidating because there are so many options out there. I recommend starting out by creating profiles on LinkedIn.com and Facebook.com, which are geared more towards professionals. You can join professional groups, have your complete resume and work history available for viewing, and make thousands of quality business connections without ever leaving your computer.
o Be a resource. You have knowledge to share. Make your expertise known! You want to have your name out there as much as possible, associated with knowledge of your industry. You could write some articles for local publications, or for trade magazines. You could also write some general articles showcasing your knowledge of your industry and publish them to online article directories. The great thing about this strategy is that you will gain visibility for your own site by placing a link in the author’s resource box. Your articles could be used on other websites with information related to your industry, tapping into thousands of potential clients you may never have reached otherwise.
o Keep in touch with former clients and employers. While your former clients may not need your services again anytime soon, it’s a good practice to keep in touch with all your business relationships. If they ever need your services, or run into a business acquaintance that does, you can hope they’ll call you first. Maintain professional correspondence, but keep it personal and low key. Email newsletters and other mass communications can feel like spam, but a handwritten note once a year or a happy new year card is a great way to keep the connection alive. You can even set a Google alert so that if their company sends a press release out or wins an award or big deal, you can email your contact with congratulations on their achievements. And most of all, if your former client refers you to potential business or provides a reference for you, reward their thoughtfulness by sending them a thank you note and gift card right away.
o Market your business, not yourself, and be customer-focused. If you feel self-conscious promoting yourself or tooting your own horn, just stop. Instead, try promoting the services and solutions your business – albeit a business of one – provides to customers. Reframe the discussion on the solutions, rather than on how great you are. To take it a few steps even further, center the discussion on the customers and what they need, do more listening than talking. After all, the client’s favorite topic is guaranteed to be their own business, not yours.
Marketing may not be your core business activity, but it’s essential for the success of your career. If you’re not a natural born marketer, having a strategic plan to go by can take the guesswork out of trying to market your business, and it may soon be second nature to you. By building up your marketing efforts gradually, you’ll have a solid system in place that will land you more clients than you can handle.