Freelance marketing is something that a lot of hard-working freelancers seem to struggle with.
Many folks see the word “marketing” and their eyes glaze over… and that’s a shame, because those of us doing business online no longer have to engage in the “slick-haired salesman” type of marketing that most people dread of partaking in.
Today, freelancers and entrepreneurs can engage in what I called “magnetic marketing” — attracting clients based on the usefulness of their content and through the authority of their personal brand.
(There’s only so much a solid set of negotiation techniques can do for you… sometimes you just need to draw in more business!)
The joys of being able to focus less on chasing down clients and spending more time closing business proposals and doing the work you love can not be understated!
Today, we’re going to talk about how to create a hub for your freelance business with a blog, how to get incoming features that will have clients chasing YOU down, and last but not least, we’ll be going over SEO (*gasp!*) for people who hate SEO.
Let’s dig in…
Blogging is the new “picks and shovels” of the internet gold rush.
Back in the day, when gold was on everybody’s mind out West, the saying goes that the people who made the real money were those who were selling the picks, shovels, and blue-jeans needed to be a gold miner.
You’ve likely been bombarded by the “blogging about blogging” sleazebags all over the business and marketing parts of the web (and if you haven’t been, count yourself lucky), and I view that as a real shame, because blogging IS a truly fantastic way to create a magnetic business, but most people are too busy trying to sell the “picks and shovels” to tell you what actually works.
The best part about being a freelancer is that you don’t need your blog to blow up like OKCupid’s blog (a company that later sold for $50 million) to have an impact on your business.
As a content strategist for tech startups, it bugs me that blogging tends to get a bad rap with the freelance community, so today I’m going to cut through the malarkey out there and break down the 3 big mistakes that most people make when trying to use a blog to acquire more clients.
I’m not here to preach to you, I’m just going to give a simple play-by-play and I can BET that either you, or a freelancer you know, is making these mistakes with their blog right now!
Mistake #1 — Making Content for the Wrong Crowd!
This is a cardinal blogging SIN if you’re looking to build up your freelance clientele, but 90% of freelancers I come across make this mistake.
They are so focused on building an audience, they never take the time to figure out who they want in the seats.
Instead of blogging about topics that their potential clients care about, they spend far too much time creating posts on things that OTHER FREELANCERS care about!
Why should a web designer blog about design/dev topics that no client would ever care to ask them about? Do you think your client cares about color gradients, line-height and where you’ll be using PHP instead of static HTML?
Surprise: They don’t, and 99% of clients looking to hire you for a website have other goals in mind (more business, a stronger brand presence online, specific functionality, etc.)
Although our buddy Rafal Tomal is now working full time for a software company, he shows you how it’s done through the creation of articles like this:
Tell me: Why is that a good example?
It’s because his primary customer base (content marketers) deeply care about their blog design + conversions… so he writes about it!
Similarly, some of the most popular articles here on the Bidsketch blog, like my post on common pricing mistakes or how to be more productive when working from home were popular and well-received because they were written for freelancers, the type of people who would actually use Bidsketch.
Don’t create content for your peers, create content that will attract people who will want to PAY YOU to do what you do!
Mistake #2 — Writing Too Much Content!
This goes against a lot of “blogging advice” that you’ve heard, but that’s okay, a huge majority of “blogging tips” crowd has no idea what they’re talking about.
Think of it this way: If you only have 50 blog subscribers, what’s a new post going to do for you?
A hundred hits… if you’re lucky?
What’s the point in spending two hours on a blog post for those results? There is no point in doing that, it’s dumb.
What should you do instead?
I’ll take a page from by buddy Derek Halpern here and tell you to apply the 80/20 principle (the “Pareto principle”) to your blogging efforts: 20% on content creation and 80% on promotion.
What does that mean exactly?
I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean — tweeting out the same post 8 times in a single day.
Promoting your content means getting it in the hands of the right people, aka, other sites that would like to either feature it or link to it (seriously, that’s all you should worry about).
When I emailed my newsletter (which is pretty large), a couple thousand people came to my site… whoo hoo!
But I didn’t stop there, because that’s not true promotion — instead, I created a list of sites/people who I thought might truly enjoy this monster post that I had spent a ton of time on.
Thousands of people had already seen my post, but the internet is a big place… tens of thousands of other people might enjoy it too, so why bother making even more content?
I emailed journalists, bloggers, and even a few scientists (it was called the “Science of Productivity” after all), and made my request with this script:
Hey there, I really enjoy your work, that last [project/article/something they worked on] was really fascinating!
I wanted to shoot you a quick email, as I collaborated with an animation team known as ASAPscience to create a video on the “Science of Productivity,” I only mention it because I think it’s something your [audience/readers/followers] will really love.
It digs into the big myths about productivity, and dives into about a dozen academic studies on what people should do instead.
Would you like me to send it over to you?
I kept the email short + personal, one of the big rules in an outreach email.
I did not ask for something in the first email, and I also broke the ice by mentioning a former project/article/whatever thing that they worked on, making sure they knew I was familiar with their work and wasn’t just blasting out emails.
The results were pretty awesome to say the least!
That helped the video pick up over 500,000+ views and sent me tens of thousands of visitors instead of just a few thousand.
Why are you spending so much time creating content when you could just be promoting your best stuff?
Mistake #3 — Not Building a Newsletter!
Who cares about social media profiles? Not this guy, that’s for sure!
Let me show you some numbers from my 2 most recent newsletter broadcasts…
…and in case you want a big version:
What that means: My newsletter had nearly 60% of people open the broadcast I sent, and over 30% of people click-through to read the link I sent.
When’s the last time you saw results like that from sending out a tweet?
The answer — never. You’ve never seen results like that from a tweet because Twitter click-throughs sit at abysmal rates of 1-5% (if you’re lucky).
So why do so many freelance bloggers (and bloggers in general) insist on clogging up their pages with follow buttons & other nonsense when they could just have a simple newsletter sign-up?
Have you noticed there are no follow buttons on the Bidsketch blog? That’s done for a reason, it’s because more people use email than social networks, and email is a far better delivery method than crowded social media profiles. [source]
(Imagine sending a business update through Facebook during the summer time… do you think people are going to click your link, or keep browsing through beach + bikini photos? I think you know the answer…)
Don’t make this mistake — start building your email list with MailChimp, AWeber, or any of the other options out there (TinyLetter, ConstantContact, Madmimi, there are tons) and eliminate those goofy social media buttons on your site.
“What’s he on about now?”
Stay with me here…
I’m really into music production, and it always amazes me how indie producers can charge so little in comparison with “mainstream” producers (like the Neptunes). It’s literally a comparison of 3-4 figures per track vs. up to a high 6-figures for the big guys!
The difference isn’t in quality, it’s in authority: the big names are known to deliver, so they command a higher asking price.
To build this same authority for yourself (and to attract more clients directly), you need to pursue “features” about your business.
These can come in the form of interviews, case studies, guest articles, and any other way you can personally land on another popular site.
Take a look at these examples…
Last year one single blog post on Copyblogger generated more business for me than [my other efforts] combined… I found myself on the phone or in email exchanges with CEOs and founders for companies like Hubspot, KISSmetrics, Treehouse and Stripes39. In fact, I routinely turned down work as a freelancer because the demand was so high.
— Demian Farnworth, expert copywriter
* * *
I made over a thousand bucks through Srini’s blogcast FM interview. Not because he paid me, but because the interview proved so successful that it resulted in ebook sales, design and consulting gigs.
— Mars Dorian, illustrator and branding expert
How can you land features like this?
There are 3 great ways that I highly recommend…
Method #1 — Sell a Story
How would you like to land a feature on an newsletter with over 3,000 people?
That’s what Jason Blumer did when he got his story featured on Brennan Dunn’s Freelancers Weekly, a newsletter for freelancers about the business + lifestyle advice.
— Brennan Dunn (@brennandunn) January 22, 2013
The idea of “selling” your story has nothing to do with the sleazy side of selling (“selling out”, etc.).
It’s about being memorable by going to a site with an audience and pitching an interesting story for their readers. You essentially give them good content, and they give you a feature.
The BEST way to do this is to approach someone who you actively follow, and then tell them how their advice helped you in some way.
Landing features like this can be great because you get all of the attention, unlike a guest post, where many people actually assume the owner of the blog wrote the post (I’ve had that happen so many times!).
If you have any interesting bits of experience from your freelancing efforts or any other interesting information that you might be able to pitch to journalists (you can use HARO to do this easily), be sure to put forth the effort to tell your tale. Or, you can approach a company or a blogger who’s services/advice you used (I often sing the praises of WPEngine) and pitch them your success story. They are usually happy to feature you as someone who’s made an impact using what they sell or teach.
You’ll never know where it will take you!
Method #2 — Create Content for Others
I don’t want to call this “guest posting,” because it doesn’t necessarily involve writing.
However, creating content for other popular sites and letting them run it can be an awesome way to get exposure for yourself if you do it the right way.
Look at the results I recently had on Copyblogger…
Landing a guest appearance is definitely worth it when your work gets tweeted about 3,000+ times!
How can you do this without wasting your time?
First things first, you need to think about who you are writing for, and create something that will be a smash hit for their audience. It’s okay to include a bit of yourself in these sorts of posts, but if you want maximum returns for your time, look at some of your target site’s most popular posts and see what it is about them that makes them popular.
(I noticed that copywriting + vocabulary topics did really well on Copyblogger, plus I added a unique research twist)
Next, make sure you are linking to a “money” page on your site in your byline. Most sites allow you a byline when you write for them, where you can link to 2-3 places where you are active online.
DO. NOT. LINK. TO. TWITTER!
Don’t do it! Instead, link to either your portfolio, a “landing page” that asks people to join your newsletter, or some other specific page that is made to convince people to buy your services.
You should also have one direct link to your homepage, but you should ignore social media profiles at all costs (why do all that work and then send traffic to Twitter instead of your own site?).
I especially love the newsletter “landing page,” but remember, it doesn’t have to look corny with yellow highlighter and other nonsense that the many terrible landing pages floating around the internet have.
When you can add 100+ newsletter subscribers from a single guest post (and you can if you link to good pages!) in addition to scoring more clients, you’re doing guest posting right!
Method #3 — Content Syndication
This is one of the easiest ways of all, and definitely has the highest ROI for time put in if you do it well.
Many big sites nowadays engage in “syndication,” or publishing other people’s content on their site. They get a good article for free, and you get exposure for something you’ve already written… it’s really a win-win.
I recently wrote an article that got syndicated on Business Insider, where it racked up an additional 11,000+ views and sent me about 70 newsletter subscribers.
What did I do? Nothing!
Well, almost nothing… I just sent the BI contributions editor an email saying they could re-publish my work if they thought it might fit the “War Room” content style (the “War Room” is a section on Business Insider’s site).
Now they regularly re-publish my content, all over a single email!
I’ve had places like The Huffington post pick up my articles as well, and all of these were done over a single message where I made efforts to promote my content rather than just create more of it (sound familiar?).
Where can you get your articles syndicated?
Nearly every freelancer that I’ve ever met (besides those that actually do search engine optimization) absolutely hates talking about SEO.
Search engine marketing can seem like a huge waste of time, and many marketers hype it up so much it almost seems like snake oil (trust me, it isn’t).
It’s very much worth your time to optimize for search, but you’ve got things to do! Client work to handle, bills to pay, a business to run, so how can you leverage search engines without spending a crap-load of time learning stuff you don’t need to know?
Follow this stupidly simple rule — one page, one keyword.
That means for every content-centric page on your site (a blog post, a resource page, etc.), have ONE search engine term in mind that you wish to rank for in the long run.
Here’s an example: I wrote a post for my startup on 15 Customer Loyalty Strategies that Work. The thing was, there was no way I was going to rank for a term like “customer loyalty” with a single post, it was too tough of a search term.
(You can check keywords for free by using the Google Keyword Tool)
So what did I do?
I wrote a post for people, not for the search engines (which is what you should do), but afterwards, instead of just leaving the title as is, I changed the SEO title tag to 15 Customer Retention Strategies that Work.
That’s because the term “customer retention strategies” could easily be ranked for, and guess what…
I ranked #1 for that term in only a few days… with no extra work! (Nearly 1,200 people search for this term each month, so it’s definitely a bonus)
Congrats, you’re now an SEO expert!
Ok, not quite… but that’s seriously all freelancers who can’t stand SEO need to know about it: make sure that each piece of content on your site is going after a single solid search term and is written for people first, not Google bots.
This way, you’re not leaving money on the table by making yourself impossible to find in Google.
That was a pretty long, so today I’d just love to hear your thoughts on some of the techniques discussed here!
Are you creating a “magnetic” marketing plan for your freelance business?