|Today we're going to cover the first two pillars of rock-solid freelancing:
Let's get right to it...
Pillar #1: Engage in Smart and Consistent Marketing (or Self-Promotion)
Marketing lies at the heart of your business success. If you're not continually promoting your business - either actively or passively or a combination of both - you are asking for real trouble. Even when you're booked solid!
Many freelancers understand this conceptually, but most freelancers also don't have a real plan when it comes to marketing or self-promotion. It's all done haphazardly, and usually done only when the work dries up and they need a project or two to fill the gap.
A few years ago, Hurricane Ike hit the Houston, Texas, area, causing a tremendous amount of damage. And even though the city of Atlanta (where I live) is almost 700 miles away from Houston, we were hit hard! Not in the way of wind damage, but through a severe gas shortage.
It turns out that the Environmental Protection Agency mandates that Atlantans buy a special blend of gas. Apparently it's a cleaner blend that helps keep our air cleaner. Well... this special blend of gas comes directly from Houston via a huge pipeline that's continually feeding gas our way.
During Hurricane Ike, all gas refineries in the Houston area were shut down for days. Many of them sustained serious damage. As a result, the flow of gas into Atlanta (a city with a population of more than 5 million) abruptly stopped. And because we're mandated to use this special "Atlanta" blend of gas, we couldn't get fuel from other parts of the country.
Essentially, we had little to no gas for almost three weeks! Gas stations that did get a load of fuel would sell out almost immediately. And people lined up for hours just to get a gallon or two of gas.
It was sheer chaos around here. And it was a good reminder of what happens when we stop feeding our own prospect pipelines, even when we're booked solid and can't imagine that the good times will ever end!
What Kind of Marketing Should You Do?
When it comes to marketing their services, I find that where most freelancers get stuck is when it comes to making decisions about what kind of marketing to do and how much of it. I know I faced the same challenges a few years ago when trying to decide how to best spend my limited time and resources. Which is why I developed a tool to help me make better marketing decisions: the Marketing Effectiveness Matrixâ„¢ (or MEM for short).
The MEM is a powerful decision-making tool that takes much of the emotion and guesswork out of prospecting decisions. It helps you determine which prospecting efforts you should focus on and which ones you should steer clear of.
As you can see above, the MEM is divided into four quadrants. Quadrant 1 contains prospecting tactics that tend to be both highly effective and time-efficient.
Quadrant 2 represents tactics that are also very effective but require more time to develop and execute.
Regardless of your goals, most of your efforts should revolve around these first two quadrants. Because when you look at the other two quadrants, you'll notice that there are problems with many of these strategies. It doesn't mean they don't work. It just means that given your limited time and resources, you're better off concentrating on marketing activities that have been proven to yield great results for less time and money.
For instance, Quadrant 3 contains tactics that could work well, but you have to be very selective here, because the effectiveness of these tactics is often much lower than for the tactics in the first two quadrants.
And finally, Quadrant 4 represents tactics that are mostly wasteful because they take too long to carry out and they deliver questionable (or very little) value - a double whammy!
Now... amazingly, many freelancers spend an inordinate amount of time in this quadrant. And that's probably because when you don't have a sound prospecting plan, it's easy to confuse activity with effectiveness.
So when it comes to deciding WHAT to do, refer to this Matrix as your guide.
How Much Marketing Is Appropriate?
Next, you need to determine how much marketing you should do. This is actually easier to determine than most people make it out to be. Here's the simple answer: If you currently have little to no work or are just now launching your freelance business, make self-promotion your full-time job! Work a regular workweek and spend your entire day working on marketing activities.
If you currently have a decent workload, then commit to spending 10 percent of your workweek on marketing efforts. In fact, 10 percent is a good general number to shoot for throughout the year, as long as your workload is stable.
Finally, if you're booked solid and feel like you don't have a minute to spare, shoot for 5 percent of your workweek for marketing activities. This is probably the hardest time to make such a commitment. But remember the pipeline analogy from earlier? It doesn't take much to go from booked solid to sheer desperation. And a steady marketing effort increases your chances that you'll continually have opportunities in your pipeline.
When it comes to marketing, the key is to get into the habit of consistently promoting your business based on your goals, available time and current workload "” and using tactics and strategies that have been proven to yield great results for the time and resources necessary to execute them. As you see what works well for you, make adjustments to your strategy and efforts.
Pillar #2: Develop a Good Sales Process
I realize that the idea of having to "sell" anything stresses a lot of people out - especially introverted creative types.
But when you realize that as a service provider most of the selling you're going to do is simply about having a conversation - and specifically a conversation to determine if you and the prospect are right for each other - then things get a little easier.
Most of the "selling" you're going to do as a freelancer is really about "qualifying" your prospect. You're simply trying to find out more about their need to determine if (a) you can help them and (b) how you're going to quote the work if you think you can help.
I've adapted and implemented a best practice from my selling career that has worked wonderfully well in these situations. It's called the "BANT" test.
BANT stands for Budget, Authority, Need and Timing. To make BANT work, you want to develop a few simple questions to ask prospects when they request more time from you. The answers to these questions will help you determine how to proceed.
Here's how it works. When you're on the phone with a prospect, you first need to set up BANT properly by doing the following:
Once you get those questions out of the way, then you can get to your BANT questions. I'm actually going to switch the order to one I've found works best when qualifying a prospect for a freelance gig. You'll actually be asking these in this order: NATB.
Need: "Have you identified a specific project you want to discuss?"
You might already have the answer, but I come across prospects all the time who don't even know what they want from me. They feel they need an outside professional to help them in a general area, but they haven't identified an actual project.
If you work in a field that's more "transactional" in nature - meaning you offer clear deliverables that your target market is already used to buying (copywriting, web design, translation and software development are just some examples) "” then, everything else being equal, you want to make sure they either have something scoped out or are very close to doing so.
But if your services are more consultative in nature or more abstract, value-add services that many companies don't necessarily budget for, or if the prospect is not used to hiring someone in your field, then what you're really looking for is "pain." In other words, a pressing challenge! You want to know if this prospect has reached a level of pain and need that requires he or she do something about it now.
Either way, whether your services are more transactional in nature or more consultative, pain is an important factor. But it's even more important to identify if your services are very strategic.
Authority: "Mind if I ask who will make the final decision on hiring the freelancer for this project?"
If it's someone other than the person you're talking with, make a note of that. This is good to know if you come across a prospect who keeps dragging you along through numerous screening attempts.
By the way, if you feel a bit uneasy asking this question, don't worry. If the prospect has been around for a while or the company has been in business for more than a few months, your prospect has heard it before and will (or should!) respect you for asking it.
Still not too comfortable? Reword it in a way that feels better for you. But make sure to somehow find out if this person has the authority to make that decision.
Timing: "When are you looking to get started on this project?"
Not long ago I talked with a prospect who wanted to meet me right away. But when I asked her this question, she told me that they couldn't get started on the project for another three months. "Hmmm, three months? Any chance we can put off this meeting for another two months?"
I've found that the further out the project is slated to start, the higher the chances that it will be delayed, put on hold or scrapped altogether. So, whenever possible, you want to put off lengthy discussions until your prospect is ready to get things started.
Budget: "Do you have a budget already set aside for this project?"
Before you take much more time with the prospect, you want to make sure there are earmarked funds for this effort. Sounds like a no-brainer, but it's surprising how many people have said they've wanted to meet me right away yet didn't even have final approval to move forward with the project in question.
Here's what you're REALLY trying to find out:
While on the subject of money, some people suggest that you ask the prospect for his or her budgeted amount. I prefer to give the prospect a rough estimate of what I charge for such a project. That will immediately screen out those who aren't able (or willing) to pay my fees. Quick and easy!
By the way, I like to save the "money" questions for last, like I've done here. I find that it's best to start with a discussion about challenges and needs instead of about money. Plus, by the time you get to this question, you've usually had good dialogue that has enabled you to demonstrate your value. That will help you frame the money discussion better.
How Does the Prospect Score?
Finally, you need to take the information your prospect gave you during the conversation and give the prospect a score based on how the person answered. There's no scientific way to do this. But start by thinking through your best clients over the last year. How would they have responded in each of these four areas? Use those clients as your baseline.
Something I tried for a while was to give the prospect a "check minus, check or check plus" in each area. I didn't apply a specific formula from here, but having those visual marks would help me decide how to best proceed.
Of course, you'll have to apply common sense to this formula. You can't expect a perfect score every time. In fact, you should temper prospects' responses with other important factors before you make a decision on how you're going to approach them, how you're going to price the project, or whether or not you're going to pursue this opportunity in the first place.
OK... that does it for today! Next time we're going to talk about how to get more done in less time (so you can boost your income and have more fun!).
Catch you then!
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