If you’re anything like me, the idea of marketing your freelance business makes you break out in a cold sweat.
On your good days, you push the idea of marketing at the back of your mind. You convince yourself you’re too busy to market. That you don’t even need to right now because hey, business is good.
But on your bad days – when you have no choice but to market your freelance business, you feel like someone’s holding a gun to your head.
And if you’re just starting out as a freelancer and need to market your business from scratch – God help you.
But whether you’ve been freelancing for a while or are just starting out, the absolutely worst part is not knowing how to market your freelance business.
Where do you start? Who do you talk to? What do you do?
It’s all so overwhelming!
Which is why I asked 21 successful female entrepreneurs in the industry to share their most actionable marketing tips. These are women I’ve admired for a long time for their business acumen and marketing smarts.
They’ve taught me most of what I know about running an online business and they’ve all helped my business in one way or the other. Some by giving excellent advice on their blogs and newsletters, and others by giving me advice or an opportunity when I needed them most.
Below, these amazing women have shared marketing tactics that worked for them and did wonder for their respective businesses.
Market every minute you’re not writing for clients
Naomi Dunford – Ittybiz.com
Naomi is the woman you want in your corner if your freelance business is stuck in a rut.
I’ve bought her books, read her blog, and taken her classes. Her advice has never once led me astray — definitely not something I can say about a lot of online marketers.
Do your freelance business a favor – put her advice to practice.
It has been said by a lot of smart people, many of whom died long before you or I were born, that until an enterprise gains traction, the proprietor of that venture must spend 80% of their time marketing.
80% of your time is a lot of time, far more than almost any writers realize.
Until you are making enough money, marketing must become your life, regardless of your chosen pursuit.
This sounds distasteful for writers because they generally do not self-identify as business people. They self-identify as artists, and there’s a subconscious assumption that artists are different from other people, separate somehow, and they’re supposed to spend their time thinking really hard and smoking Gauloise cigarettes.
But let’s put it in another context. If you were selling hot dogs on the street, how much of your work time would be spent marketing?
Answer? Every minute you weren’t busy putting a hot dog in a bun.
The rules of commerce do not alter because writers spent their childhoods dreaming of pens instead of weiners.
So, my tactic?
- Figure out how much time you spend marketing in your average week.
- Add a zero to that figure.
You should be fine.”
– Naomi Dunford, IttyBiz.
Don’t stop marketing – ever
Pamela Wilson – Big Brand Systems and Copyblogger Media
When it comes to learning about creating ebooks, presentations, and visuals, there’s no one better than Pamela.
Her blog, Big Brand Systems has long been my go-to resource for actionable advice and my tutorial loving heart always skips a beat when she publishes a how-to post.
Now that she’s joined Copyblogger Media, things are only going to get bigger and better.
“Attracting clients is an ongoing process, and one “tactic” is to simply build marketing into your everyday tasks.
Here’s what happens:
- Business is slow, so we do a big marketing push to bring in clients.
- Business picks up, so we stop marketing because we don’t want any more projects on our plate.
- We finish the projects we brought in, and business is slow again.
Then the cycle starts all over!
The best approach is to market your business all the time at a nice, consistent pace, even when you’re busy. This will ensure that you maintain a steady stream of new projects, and you won’t go through the feast or famine cycle that happens when you’re only marketing sporadically.
– Pamela Wilson, Big Brand Systems.
Market when you’re busy
Lori Widmer – Words on a Page
I’ve been a long time reader of Lori’s Words on a Page blog. I got to know her better in the “About Writing Squared” forum. Her advice (and that of the other freelancers in the forum) has saved my business and sanity on more occasions than I can count.
Even though I haven’t been active in the forum for a few months, the initial support and business advice I got from Lori and other experienced freelancers there is worth its weight in gold.
In case the forum isn’t something you can afford right now but need a safe place to ask questions without the fear of being ridiculed, you can’t do better than Lori’s blog.
“My favorite marketing advice, and something I practice regularly is this: market when you’re busy.
It’s tempting to let marketing slide when you can’t keep up with the workload. However, the work you’re doing today may be completed within a week or two. Then what?
If you want to avoid lulls in your workload (and your income), make marketing a daily practice, even when you’re busy.”
– Lori Widmer, Words on a Page
Write for clients – not for fellow writers
Sonia Simone – Copyblogger Media
Like most of us, I’ve always wanted to pick Sonia Simone’s brains. Obviously, I never did because a. bad form and b. wayyy out of my league.
Then Authority opened and their bi-weekly Q&A sessions are practically an invitation to do what I’ve always wanted to – ask her questions about my blog and businesses and get advice tailored specifically for me.
This blog and my email newsletter is the direct result of all the advice I got from Sonia inside Authority. To say that it’s working would be an understatement. Not only do I have more subscribers than I had in 5 years of running my old blog, but it’s already making me money.
“Assuming you already have a blog and email list in place that feature your excellent writing, my biggest tip for freelance writers is to remember that you’re writing for potential clients, not other writers.
Most writers’ blogs feature lots of “how to write” tips — make yours focused on what the writing and content need to do for clients, and less on how to use adverbs and whether or not to use the serial comma.”
– Sonia Simone, Copyblogger Media.
Hustle your heart out
James Chartrand – Men with Pens
Oh, man. How do I convey all the love and respect I have for James? Not only has she been instrumental in my becoming a (dare I say it) good writer, but she’s also played a significant role in my freelance business’ success.
Her writing course, Damn Fine Words, changed my life. Her blog, Men with Pens, helped me set up my business. And her business advice has saved my ass more than a few times.
She’s always honest, never hedges on talking about the nitty gritty details of running a business, and has the unique ability of telling people their work sucks without bringing their spirit down.
“Hustle.As a freelancer, you have a distinct advantage over every other person who works for a company or who gets a regular salary: you can hustle.They can’t. They show up, 9 to 5, and do their job for a fixed amount of income. Whether they work harder or less doesn’t matter – their income stays exactly the same.
Freelancers always have the ability to directly influence how much income they earn, because they can hustle. They can cold call, walk around town and pitch stores, email people, network, contact past clients… they can create immediate impact on their client base and earnings simply by hustling.
Here’s the thing: every single marketing tip you’ll ever hear *always* involves hustling – taking action, in a proactive (even aggressive) way. Buying ads is hustling. Writing a free download and publishing it is hustling. Putting up a contact page is hustling.
Without hustling, no other tip will ever work.
Here’s the problem: most freelancers forget that they can hustle. They sit around wondering why they don’t have any clients, or how they can get more clients, or worry about making more money… and they don’t realize that even taking one tiny step forward – hustling, just a little – can make a big, big difference. They think they’re stuck, and that the marketplace or economy controls them.
It never does. As a freelancer, you’re always in control, and you can always hustle.”
– James Chartrand, Men With Pens.
Educate your clients about your work
Megan Dougherty – Firepole Marketing
Megan is Firepole Marketing’s Educational Lead. I first met Megan when I participated in Firepole Marketing’s annual online marketing scavenger hunt.
When I started interviewing female entrepreneurs about actionable marketing advice, I knew I wanted Megan’s input. After all, who better to give advice about marketing than the woman who helps run an online marketing scavenger hunt?
“I think that the best thing a freelancer can do to grow their business is educate their current and future clients as much as possible. Freelancers are hired because the client needs something done – and they don’t always know exactly what getting that task done means.If, as a freelancer, you can provide information and insight about what goes into your work, how to understand the different parts that have to come together, how to do the simpler parts of the work and how to evaluate the difference between a good job and a bad one, you’ll have positioned yourself as a major authority, and shown yourself to be generous and helpful.
Further, you’ll have given them the tools to be a fantastic client so that everyone walks away happy.”
– Megan Dougherty, Firepole Marketing.
Keep in touch with your clients
Lauren Tharp – Little Zotz Writing
Lauren is the blogger behind Little Zotz Writing and the Community Manager of Sophie Lizard’s blog, Be a Freelance Blogger.
I’ve always admired Lauren for the quiet way she does things. There’s no fanfare and no big splashes. Her hard work is evident in her blog, the projects she’s involved in, and the authority she has in her chosen niche.
“Keep in touch with your former clients — they give the best referrals. Your former clients know exactly what you’re capable of and what type of jobs would be well-suited for you.
Don’t beg for work from them, but keep up a friendly correspondence with them and ask them if they know someone in need of your services whenever you’re running low on current clients.
(Note: This tactic works best with clients you enjoyed working for! Keep in mind that the work a former client sends your way will almost always be similar to the work you did for them!).”
– Lauren Tharp, Little Zotz Writing.
Be crystal clear about your business message
Amy Chick – Hey Amy Chick
I first discovered Amy when she was launching her new site, Hey Amy Chick. Her newsletter freebie about writing an anxiety free About page that attracts clients is absolutely brilliant.
It’s also the only free resource I list in my “Products I Swear By” page.
“Defining your core message is one of the most important things you can do for your business. Once you understand the message you’re trying to put out there, you can build an entire business around the concept.You should also make sure you’re clear on your message before you write a word of copy – otherwise your ideas will be scattered and you won’t reach anyone effectively!”
– Amy Chick, Hey Amy Chick.
Think long term even when clients hire you for the short term
Sharon Hurley Hall – Professional Blogger and Writer, Sharonhh.com
Sharon has long been the voice of reason when it comes to freelancing advice. Even though her blog, Get Paid to Write Online is no longer being updated, it is still a goldmine of freelancing advice that works.
She’s a tech nut who writes some of the best blog posts about topics most of us wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. Her posts for Crazy Egg are the standard I set for myself whenever I write for a big blog/client/publication.
Moreover, if you’ve ever wondered how a writer can maintain a blog that caters to prospective clients (and not other freelancers), you need to check out the blog on her writer site.
“Different marketing techniques work together, but I’d say that the information I get from the client questionnaire all new clients fill out gives me what I need to think more long term about their needs. That allows me to quote not just on the current job, but share a vision for other writing-related services they might need to grow their business.For example, if they hire me to write a blog post, I can show them how a blog series could turn into an ebook for them to sell or give away. It can take a while for this to bear fruit, but often clients come back months later (sometimes as much as a year later) to hire me for a different writing job. That makes one job turn into repeat business, which is what every freelancer needs.”
– Sharon Hurley Hall, Sharonhh.com
Make meaningful connections through networking
Belinda Weaver – Copywrite Matters
Also known as the Copy Detective, Belinda is the force behind Copywrite Matters. Her blog is the perfect example of writing and freelancing advice.
Do yourself a favor and download her ebook “20 Incredibly Useful Copywriting Tips”. This ebook helped me up my writing game.
“Network. And I don’t mean simply hanging out on social media. I mean reaching out to people and making meaningful connections.
- Join forums and groups, and participate in discussion.
- Go to meet-ups for people in your industry, your clients industry, for industries that have touch points with yours. Like as a copywriter, it’s great for me to network with graphic and web designers because their clients usually need copywriting as well.
- Actively seek opportunities to share your advice and experience to help people – without expecting something in return.
That’s last part is a big one. A lot of people hit the networking scene looking for a quick return and that comes across in the way they network.
Networks of real value are developed like relationships – because they are relationships.
And even you don’t get any leads or sales you get to practice being your brand and talking about your business, authentically. And that alone makes it worth the time.”
– Belinda Weaver, Copywrite Matters
Use LinkedIn the right way
Carol Tice – Make a Living Writing
Interestingly, Carol’s blog is the first blog I guest posted on after I realized I needed to learn more about successful blogging. I’d finally broken free from the content mill writing rut and she very kindly let me share my experience with her audience.
Her ebook, How to Get Great Freelance Clients is a great resource for freelance writers. I didn’t think I’d learn anything new when I bought the book since I’ve been in business a few years but I was happily surprised to find otherwise.
“The first question I always ask my mentoring students is, “Are you connected on LinkedIn to every writer, editor, and marketing manager you know or have ever worked with?” Often, the answer is “no.”
You want to connect on there to anyone who might be able to help you — then, try to email or Skype or call and catch up with them, if it’s been a while! Find out what they’re doing… and let them know you’re freelancing and would appreciate their referrals. I’ll tell you a little secret — it’s fun to catch up with past friends and coworkers.
Marketing will never get easier than asking people who already know and love your work to simply keep an ear out for possible clients. I did this myself when I started freelancing in 2005, and one former editor of mine who I hadn’t written for in years, referred me a great, $.50-a-word client a few months later.”
– Carol Tice, Make a Living Writing.
Don’t run after clients. Let them woo you.
Alexis Grant – Digital Entrepreneur and Founder of Socialexis
I first came across Alexis’s career and life blog, AlexisGrant.com. Then I followed her through to Brazen Careerist and have been a fan and subscriber of her writing and business ever since.
Her business and blogging acumen was proven when she launched a new blog, The Write Life featuring posts from some of the most prolific writers on the web.
“My best tip is to NOT try to convince people to hire you — and instead help them find YOU. You do that by creating an awesome online presence, offering valuable, helpful information so people *want* to read or watch or listen to your work.
Because of that valuable information, they know just how great you are at what you do, and they want to hire you *before* you even offer a sales pitch. Here’s more on this tactic: http://alexisgrant.com/2012/07/25/get-new-clients/
The Referral Engine is also a fabulous book about how to help clients find you.”
– Alexis Grant, Socialexis.
Guest post for targeted traffic, writing credits, and attention from bigger players.
Ali Luke – Aliventures
If there’s one person I credit for getting me started on the path of becoming a freelance blogger, it’s Ali.
Her Staff Blogging Course (now renamed “Blogger’s Guide to Freelancing”) made me realize that it is entirely possible to make a living from blogging – and that businesses are willing to pay good money for good writing.
She’s one of the few freelancers whose writing I’ve studied in my efforts to become a better writer.
“The most effective way I’ve marketed my freelance writing has been to guest post on other people’s blogs. (In fact, it’s how I stumbled into freelancing in the first place — I wrote a guest post and got invited to become a paid writer for the blog in question.)
Guest posting isn’t just a brilliant way to get targeted traffic to your blog — it’s also an excellent technique for getting some impressive writing credits, and for being noticed by bigger players in the freelancing world. Some of my best clients have come to me as a direct result of reading my guest posts, and I’ve also been a paid writer for a number of different blogs.
Plus, of course, as a writer, you have a huge advantage over a lot of would-be guest posters: you can actually write! Big blogs don’t care about the size of your audience — they just want a well-written piece of content.
So start sending out pitches and posts: you might be surprised how easy it is to get accepted.”
– Ali Luke, Aliventures.
Market your expertise through a blog
Ann Handley – Marketing Profs
Ann’s the only person on this list I haven’t interacted with personally before doing this interview. But this list would have been incomplete without her input. So I reached out to her anyway – completely out of the blue – and she was kind enough to reply. Anyone else would have ignored me if I’d approached them without getting on their radar first (and they did).
Three words: Fan for life!
Ann’s advice is short, to-the-point and my favorite part – treats you like an adult.
“The best thing any freelance writer can do is to start a blog in their category to demonstrate their expertise, skills, and knowledge.”
– Ann Handley, Marketing Profs.
Editor’s note: Read the advice by Ali Luke (above) and Henneke Duistermaat (below) to find out how to do just that.
Guest post the right way to attract clients
Henneke Duistermaat – Enchanting Marketing
Henneke is one of the two people in this industry I’d move travel dates for and visit another city to meet if we were ever in the same country.
Not only is she a good friend, but she’s also a gifted writer who has the unique ability to use words to invoke vivid images the rest of us wouldn’t even think of.
Her Enchanting Marketing blog is a gold-mine of writing lessons (and cartoons she draws for her posts.)
“My favorite way to find clients online is by guest posting on popular marketing sites. I started guest posting to build an email list, but was happily surprised when my guest posts also generated quality business inquiries. My first clients all came via guest posts.
Follow these tips for a successful guest posting strategy:
- Consider who your ideal customer is. What type of businesses do you want to work for?
- Find blogs that your ideal customers read. If you, for instance, want to write for ecommerce companies, consider a blog like Shopify. KISSmetrics and Unbounce, for instance, are both good for SaaS (Software as a Service) or ecommerce companies.
- Write an in-depth tutorial in which you show off your copywriting or blogging skills. Demonstrate that you can help a business grow by sharing detailed knowledge. “
– Henneke Duistermaat, Enchanting Marketing.
Don’t be shy about telling the world you’re a freelance writer
Laura Spencer – Writing Thoughts
Probably the only freelancer on this panel of experts I’ve been reading and following from the start.
Her work on Freelance Folder, her own blog, and other popular blogs is always well researched and well written.
They’re the standard I hold my own posts to when writing for clients.
“It’s tough to narrow my advice to a single tip. The most important tactic that I can think of for a new freelance writer is to interact with others. Too many new freelance writers sit back and expect clients to find them, perhaps through a profile or blog they’ve set up.
In today’s competitive marketplace, you can’t do that. You have to get to know people and make sure that they know you’re a freelance writing professional if you want to succeed.
(I’m NOT saying you shouldn’t have a blog or set up online profiles, though. Those can help bring in business, they just aren’t enough.)”
– Laura Spencer, Writing Thoughts.
Don’t underestimate your personal network
Amy Harrison – Harrison Amy Copywriting
The first copywriting book I ever bought was by Amy. I’d been trying to write a sales page and failing miserably. Amy’s book helped me learn how to write for the web – a skill not taught in traditional copywriting books.
I can tell you about her blog, HarrisonAmy, but then I wouldn’t be doing justice to the genius that’s Amy TV.
If humor is your thing, you cannot miss Amy’s video on content marketing and copywriting. Not only is Amy a gifted copywriter, she’s also a brilliant comedian. Watching her videos is always fun experience.
“First you need to look at where you are and what your next level of growth looks like. If you’re starting out and need clients ASAP, the fastest way is to talk to people in your network about who might need what you do. Tell your friends and family that you’re starting as a writer, talk to past employers and get yourself to events.
You’d be surprised how quickly this can get those first few clients in.
If you’re further along, already have clients and want bigger contracts, then focus on increasing your exposure and expertise status. Write for publications, publish a short ebook and offer to do webinars, or talks to boost your profile.
This visibility helps attract companies who want to work with YOU rather than just any other writer, and when that happens you become more valuable, attract clients that love you and yep, can charge more. :-)”
– Amy Harrison, HarrisonAmy Copywriting
Relationships first, revenue second
Tea Silvestre – The Word Chef
If there’s one person who can use cooking and food references in her writings, it’s Tea.
She’s also one of the few people I know who’re always starting or working on a project. But what’s remarkable is that she finishes them successfully.
Gives me a bit of a complex every time I get an email from her! But I never hesitate to sign up because her projects always help my business.
“Make a list of the top 20 people you’d like to work for/with. Research them. Look at their websites, their social media profiles. Read their blogs and subscribe to their newsletters. Find ways to connect with them when appropriate (a note telling them you admire their work, a note sharing an article or relevant blog post, etc.).In short, build a REAL relationship with each of those people slowly over time. Be of service to them before you EVER ask for their business. Notice when and where they need (and ask) for help. Do they need a referral? Are they trying to find something? Help them. If what they need is something you do for a living, let them know you’d love to work with/for them.
Remember: relationships first, revenue second.”
– Tea Silvestre, The Word Chef.
The best marketing tactic is the marketing you DO
Melani Dizon – Do You Know Who I Am? Marketing
If there’s one person on this list who has extensive marketing experience, it’s Melani. I met her when she hired me to create a content plan for her.
I’ve learned more working with her than any other client of mine simply by being exposed to her work.
“The most effective marketing is the marketing you’ll DO…day in and day out. Meaning, you don’t have to implement every tactic but you do have to pick one or two that you enjoy (more than the rest) and that you feel confident and comfortable doing and do those EVERY day.
There is absolutely no way around it. Marketing is a cumulative enterprise. When you’re consistent, it will start to add up.”– Melani Dizon, Do You Know Who I Am? Marketing.
Be the first person who comes to mind
Melissa Culbertson – Blog Clarity
One of my most popular service as a freelancer is content planning and it’s all thanks to Melissa.
A couple of years ago, I took her blog content planning ecourse, Content Brew. Melissa taught me all about creating content plans that are manageable, flexible, and above all – effective.
If you’re looking for blogging advice, check out her blog and her courses.
Be the first person who comes to mind. Get out there and network so when Sally tells her friend she needs a freelance writer, your name immediately comes to mind as a perfect fit. Send an email, start a conversation on Twitter, go to an industry luncheon, travel to a conference. Strike up conversations and be genuinely interested in getting to know people. Be helpful to others and connect people you know to other people you know. Do it all and do it as often as you can!I’ve gotten a book deal, my current job, and many speaking opportunities solely because I “knew people.” Those people thought of me first. Put yourself out there and you’ll be amazed at what can happen.”
– Melissa Culbertson, Blog Clarity.
Don’t just write for clients, write for yourself too.
Laura Roeder – Founder of LKRSocialMedia.com and MeetEdgar.com
If you’re looking for an inspiration about small business success, Laura is the person to follow.
She’s the ultimate go-getter who doesn’t let things like lack of funds stop her from going on a safari with Richard Branson. Laura believes in grabbing opportunities first and figuring out the rest later. She also knows marketing inside out. I’ve still got the emails from her “Famous in Five” challenge from last year where she showed subscribers how to get their business famous.
“Don’t underestimate the value of writing for yourself in addition to writing for clients. When you have other priorities, maintaining your own blog, email newsletter, or social media can seem like a chore. Just because it doesn’t earn you any profits directly, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t extremely valuable!Potential clients want to see that you’re knowledgeable and consistent with a strong portfolio, whether it’s work you’ve created for someone else or for yourself. The time you invest now in writing for yourself can pay off later in a big way when that work helps you land more clients.
– Laura Roeder, LKRSocialMedia.com and MeetEdgar.com
Marketing Your Freelance Business the Right Way
Marketing your freelance business is hard. Most of the tips above require a strategy and consistency. But here’s the thing: hard work and consistency is the real price of success.
Short cuts never made anyone successful. Certainly not the women I interviewed for this post.
James Chartrand worked hard and long before realizing she needed to work under a male pseudonym. And even then, the change of name wasn’t what made her business successful. It was years of hard work. Of writing for popular blogs like Copyblogger to market her business, and hustling.
Sonia Simone proved her mettle on her blog, Remarkable Communication, before becoming a part of Copyblogger Media.
Henneke’s business took a dogged commitment to her publishing regularly on her own blog and guest posting before she became busy enough to turn away work. And she still guest posts regularly to market her copywriting business.
See the pattern?
The good news is that you don’t have to try different marketing tactics before finding ones that work for you. You’ve just read 21 marketing tips that worked for the most successful women in this industry.
Now you just need start marketing your business and it won’t be long before I’ll be interviewing you!
Make a Marketing Plan Now
Reading about marketing your freelance business and knowing where to start is great. But it won’t do you any good until you take action.
So make a list of five marketing activities that you’ll start doing from today and share them in the comments. Make a commitment to doing one activity per day. Your freelance business will thank you for it.