A friend emailed me the other day:
What one piece of advice would you give new freelancers?
The single most important piece of advice I’d give new freelancers is to build a system or process for their marketing.
While it might not feel that important at the beginning, having a system in place to do your marketing day-by-day will make everything else in your freelance business easier. It was also the thing that I only half-heartily implemented.
You see, with a freelance business you’ll have many ups-and-downs (the feast and famine cycle). Some months you’ll be swimming in work, while others you’ll be hunting for any client that could pay you. For many freelancers your marketing follows the same cycle. Very little happens when you’re busy and then you have to aggressively market yourself when projects slow down.
By putting a marketing system in place early on you can fix two problems with one blow.
First, you’ll know what you need to do when it’s time to market again. I cannot tell you how much time I’ve wasted trying to figure out what marketing tactic to do next, when all of the results only came from a few. If you know that you need to write another blog post each week, you’ll know that this will pay you back later on.
Second, with a marketing system in place you can (should) have a minimum state of marketing. You know, that level of marketing where you do just enough to keep the engine turning. By having this minimum state clearly defined, you can keep it going over the long-term while also having the flexibility to speed it up when you need more work.
How to build a marketing system
Building a marketing system isn’t rocket surgery, but it will take time and experiments. I’m a big believer in finding what types of creation work best for you. This means, do you like writing? Then write. Do you like talking? Then start a podcast. Do you like giving presentations? Then speak at local events.
You might already know which type works best for you. If you don’t, then that’s where the experiments will come in. You’ll need to try out several marketing tactics and see which ones you enjoy and which ones seem to work. You might love some right away but others might take awhile for you to really understand them enough to make a judgment. For me writing was an easy one for me but screencasts took several tries before I started to like them (and I’m still not that good at them).
Once you’ve found a few marketing tactics that work for you, it’s time to put them into a plan. I found defining it in terms of weekly actions to fit best for me, but you can define it as monthly if you want. Basically what you’ll want to do is to write down the minimum amount of marketing you should do each week (or month). This will be your baseline and will define what you should be able to do every week, even if you’re busy.
Testing the plan
Next you’ll want to put the plan in place and test it. Did you say you’ll write two blog posts per week? Then try it for a few weeks and see if you have the time and energy to write twice a week.
During the testing phase, cut yourself some slack if you’re trying to reach your targets but still can’t do it. Maybe you’re trying to do too much (my problem) or maybe the tactics you picked are too difficult for you now. The important thing is to take any feedback and adapt your plan.
Start implementing it
Once you’ve tested your plan for a few cycles, it’s time to adopt it and start running it. If you can create a daily habit around your tactics, it will become easier to stick with it over time. If you’re new to the science of forming habits, The Power of Habit book should help you get started.
Whether you’re just getting started freelancing, or if you need to push the reset button on your marketing, setting up a marketing system is a great project that will pay dividends.
P.S. I’ve been teaching freelancers how to build a marketing system in my newsletter over the past couple of months. I’d like to invite you to join.