The legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said, "Don't mistake activity for achievement."
That message has never been more relevant. We're so busy and overwhelmed these days, it's easy to confuse action with progress. Especially when it comes to prospecting for clients.
I see it all the time — freelancers who waste valuable time, money and energy going after poorly compiled lists of prospects. Or they take on whatever assignments or clients come their way. Or they'll resort to whatever client-attraction tactics sound good at the time.
Maybe they just heard from a colleague who had good success with a postcard campaign. So, they do a little bit of that. And when that doesn’t work, they start cold-calling a random list of prospects.
The following week they go to a few networking events without giving much thought to the types of people who might be there. (Yup, I've done all of the above!)
If you've been reading my stuff for a while, you know I'm all for taking action. But this haphazard and reactive approach to prospecting is not the best use of your limited resources as a solo professional.
When you're trying to improve your solo business, you need a sound marketing strategy And that strategy must be based on three essential pillars:
Pillar #1: Have absolute clarity about your ideal client
Pillar #2: Go after "hungrier” markets
Pillar #3: Implement proven and reliable marketing tactics that yield disproportionately high results.
Let's go through each of these in more detail...
Pillar #1: Write Your Ideal Client Profile
One of the secrets to having great clients, enjoying your work and earning a higher income is to get clear about the type of client best suited to you. Because once you know exactly who you’re looking for, everything else can fall into place.
For one, you’ll be able to build a targeted list of prospects that makes sense for you. And that increases your chances of success. It allows you to spend more time engaging with prospects who are a good fit and less time with those who are more trouble than they’re worth. You won’t waste time targeting clients who aren’t willing to pay what you’re worth.
You’ll also be able to do more fulfilling and enjoyable work while adding value to your clients. And you’ll earn more as you focus on your "sweet spot"—meaning the work you not only enjoy, but generates the most income per hour.
Finally, doing great work for clients who appreciate you almost always leads to more and better referrals.
But all this starts by being very clear about whom your ideal client is. This could be a person or organization you’ve already worked for, or a fictitious pie-in-the-sky persona.
Let me give you an example of one of my ideal client profiles.
My first ideal client is a medium-size-to-large software company. My primary contact has a significant amount of decision-making ability. She (or he) can make copy decisions on her own without resorting to a review committee. She also knows what she’s looking for, and she consistently communicates her needs and requirements. Furthermore, she values me as a key member of her team, so my fees are not an issue. She sees them for what they are: fair and reasonable, especially considering the unique perspective I bring to the table as an experienced marketer and sales professional (I spent 12 years in corporate sales). Finally, my ideal client has a steady stream of work for me. She doesn’t come to me with just a one-time need. Once she sees the quality of my work and the results I help produce, she continues to send work my way.
Notice the level of detail in this profile. The more detail, the better. Let’s go through some of the main elements in this profile.
- Contact’s job title or position
- Contact’s gender
- Industry or industries
- Size of company/organization
- Important business attributes (e.g., company size, types of products/services sold, markets served, business performance)
- Type of work/niche/specialization
- Their view/opinion of using freelance professionals (how they think of you and the value you deliver)
- Level of business sophistication
- Price sensitivity
- Type of projects they need help with
- Amount of work they need help with (workload and frequency)
- Level of involvement in their organization (i.e., how strategic or tactical a resource you are to them)
By the way, you don’t have to have just ONE ideal client profile. You could have two or three.
Pillar #2: Go After "Hungrier" Markets
Before you go too far with the ideal client profile exercise, think about where you're currently marketing your services and what other markets you should explore.
By "hungrier" markets I'm talking about markets would be willing to pay more for your services. In many cases, offering the same or similar services to other audiences can double or triple your freelance income. All without working any more hours than you are today.
Let me give you a couple examples so you can see how powerful this slight shift can be. I recently read an article in Forbes magazine about Pat Baird, a registered dietician who has worked on her own for 23 years. Rather than struggling in traditional dietician markets (with her nutritionist colleagues), Pat made a conscious decision a few years ago to position herself in hungrier markets.
The strategy worked. Today she earns a very nice living working for major healthcare and pharmaceutical companies and their PR agencies. Rather than providing traditional nutrition services, she does consulting work, writes white papers and web articles, makes speeches, produces TV segments and serves on advisory boards. She also teaches nutrition at an adjunct to two colleges. She’s thriving!
She’s done so well because she’s working in markets that are willing to pay higher fees for her knowledge and skills.
If you're a journalist struggling to land work with magazines and trade publications, how about going after case studies and white papers in industries or topics you find interesting? If you're a videographer, how about going after companies that want to save money on in-person training by producing high-quality video content instead?
No matter what your profession, there are probably other markets where you could apply your services with maybe just a few adjustments and get paid well. But to find them, you have to understand how companies prioritize their budgets.
Where Are Budgets Shifting?
The trick to finding hungrier markets is identifying shifts in budgets and priorities. Where are your clients or prospects spending their time, attention and money? How do shifts in strategy and budget affect what you do and what you can offer?
Most clients prioritize their internal projects on a scale. Each specific project (whether it's a web redesign project, a new promo video, a translation project, etc.) is either:
- Nice to have
When the economy is strong, people and organizations spend money in all three categories. But when conditions deteriorate, priorities change. Budgets become more focused on "Important" and "Urgent" items. "Nice to Have" projects are put on hold or scrapped altogether.
Bottom line: In a tough economy, freelancers simply CANNOT afford to go after projects that aren't considered "Urgent" or "Important" by their clients.
I came to this realization in 2008, when the economy really got bad. I began a concerted effort to go after projects directly tied to my client’s lead-generating activities — because budgets for these types of projects tend to remain strong even in tough times.
In addition, freelancers CANNOT afford to go after prospects that provide primarily “Nice to Have” services to their own customers.
Today, all of my clients sell products and services that tackle "Urgent" issues for their own customers and target markets. As a result, they’re relatively recession-proof — which in turn helps keep my business relatively recession-proof.
For instance, one of my clients helps their customers increase sales, reduce costs and minimize risk — all of which are urgent goals today.
Another one helps their customers reduce equipment theft and unnecessary equipment purchases.
Another helps their customers reduce the risk of losing millions of dollars and market share in the event of a product recall.
And yet another one helps their clients drastically reduce healthcare costs, as well as employee absenteeism and productivity.
All of these are either "Important" or "Urgent" priorities to my clients' customers.
Again, if you're going after clients that are still selling products and services in the "Nice to Have" category, you're going to have a hard time landing quality work at good fees, because those organizations are going to be too busy trying to figure out how to stay afloat in this environment.
Pillar #3: Develop a Systematic Way to Attract Better-Paying Clients
So far we've talked about identifying your ideal clients and going after hungrier markets. The third freelance marketing pillar is to develop a more systematic way to attract better-paying clients. And you do that by:
- Using proven and reliable marketing tactics that yield disproportionately high results when compared to the effort, time and money required to execute them.
- Getting into the habit of using these tactics by making your marketing efforts practical and doable.
One of the biggest reasons marketing efforts go nowhere is most freelancers don't have a systematic way of approaching their marketing. Most people use haphazard and reactive approaches to generating leads. These produce limited results with plenty of wasted effort and frustration.
The problem is there are too many CHOICES for marketing yourself! It's overwhelming. So most people do either nothing or they do a lot of something and then burn out.
What's needed is a framework for making smart decisions about where and how you spend your limited resources. That’s where the Marketing Effectiveness Matrix™ (MEM) comes in.
The MEM, which I cover in detail in my book The Wealthy Freelancer, classifies the most common marketing tactics by how effective they are and how much time they take to develop and execute. The MEM helps you make lead-generating decisions based on your specific goals and your unique situation.
As you can see, it’s divided into four quadrants:
Quadrant 1 contains lead generating tactics that tend to be highly effective and time-efficient.
Quadrant 2 contains 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.
Quadrant 3 contains tactics that could work well, but you have to be very selective, as these tactics are often less effective than the tactics in the first two quadrants.
Finally, Quadrant 4 contains mostly wasteful tactics. They take too long to carry out. They also deliver questionable (or very little) value. Amazingly, many freelancers spend an inordinate amount of time in this quadrant. And this is where you end up when you start trying different tactics out of desperation. That’s why it’s important to have a sound freelance marketing plan. Otherwise it's easy to confuse “activity” with “effectiveness.”
Once you understand how these tactics are classified, you can use the MEM to make lead-generating decisions that work best for you and suit your goals, skills and personality. But try to stick to marketing tactics contained in Quadrants 1 or 2. These tactics will yield the best results for your time and effort.
And to make sure you actually implement these tactics and increase your chances of getting value from them, here's what I strongly recommend you do: pick two to four tactics only!
Out of your two to four strategies, make sure to pick at least one INBOUND tactic and one OUTBOUND tactic. INBOUND tactics attract prospects to you. These are things like blogging, article writing, some forms of networking, SEO and social media.
When done right, inbound tactics can generate a steady stream of high-quality inquiries. Which is great and all, but inbound tactics don't really give you control over who inquiries about your services. You're at the mercy of whatever's happening out there.
With OUTBOUND tactics you’re reaching out to prospects. For instance, direct mail, tapping your network and cold calling are all outbound tactics. You’re not waiting for prospects to come to you, you’re reaching out to them. Because you’re the one taking action, you have more control over it than inbound tactics. However, they do tend to take up more time and effort to execute than many forms of inbound marketing.
As you can see, there are pros and cons to both inbound and outbound tactics. Which is why it’s best to have a mix of both.
Set Aside Time Every Week
Finally, it's important to carve out time to implement your marketing system. Don't make the mistake of picking a series of tactics and then hoping you'll get them done. MAKE the time!
And the best way to ensure your marketing gets done is to schedule time for it. Treat your own marketing as an actual client project. In fact, it's a project for your most important client — you!
Also, keep in mind that not all of this time will be used for outbound strategies. Much of that time will be spent on creating marketing materials, campaigns and other internal elements of your marketing efforts. So when I say "spend X number of hours every week marketing," I'm NOT just talking about spending that time making cold calls or going to networking events.
At a minimum, commit to spending 10 percent of your workweek on marketing-related activities. Do that consistently and you'll quickly gain the critical mass you need to attract all the business you want.
What Did You Gain From This?
Our mission here at the Academy is to help you turn your inspiration into action... and to help you land more and better-paying clients that are a joy to work with.
I'd love to hear from you and how this information resonated. In the comments area below, tell me ONE specific insight you gained from this episode and how it will help you along your journey of business improvement.
Go ahead, don't be shy! We're all family here. 😉