You've probably heard it before. Maybe you've even said it yourself before: "I don't need to try X marketing tactic, because Y already works."
"I don't need to blog for my target clients because my website already brings in some leads."
"I don't need to cold call prospects because I already send email pitches."
"I don't need to worry about SEO because my existing clients give me enough work."
You get the idea. A freelance writer finds a marketing tactic that "works" for them, so they dismiss others out of hand, stop testing with any sincerity, or stop adapting with the times. Then it's a shock to the system if a gig ends or a lead stream dries up. Or they try to justify slow periods by repeating some bullshit about it being normal.
But it's not normal. It might be common. But that's not the same thing. Slow periods are not a given in freelancing. Every time you have a slow period without other work lined up or prospects waiting on an opening, it's a failure in your marketing.
That's OK though. Failure in business isn't something to get upset about. It's not something to try to justify away with excuses either. But they're little slaps upside the head we all occasionally need -- reminders to try something new or re-evaluate what we're doing. They're learning experiences. More than that, think of them as opportunities.
The next time you run into a slow period in your freelance writing work, take advantage of that opportunity and re-think your overall marketing strategy and the tactics you currently use.
It's Not Enough for a Marketing Tactic to "Work."
Here's the thing. It's not enough for a marketing tactic to do its job. What matters is whether or not it's the best option for that job.
So when you evaluate your current marketing tactics, ask yourself a few questions:
- How many leads does this tactic bring in each month?
- Is there any other professional benefit to sticking with this tactic (direct income, a unique networking experience, etc.)?
- Have I put enough effort into this tactic to see returns yet (some tactics like SEO and blogging are cumulative rather than quick fixes -- your marketing mix should combine both types)?
- How much time am I putting into each tactic?
- How much time am I spending trying to land gigs versus the number of billable hours I have each week or month?
- How do you feel about this tactic, and how would you rate your skill or ability with it?
Let's look at an example where marketing tactics might "work," but not as well as the freelancer thinks.
Social Media Marketing vs Pitching
Let's say you spend a lot of time on social media. You justify it because your posts there bring in a few leads every month and have attracted a couple of clients you love. Technically, it works as a marketing tool. But that only matters if you wouldn't be better off spending that time on something else.
In this case, you might compare it with directly pitching new prospects. Sure, social media might be more fun. But are you using social media marketing because it has a decent ROI, or are you using it because it's a pleasant distraction and your business gives you an excuse?
You could find out by spending one month using that time to test a new tactic like sending email pitches to prospects you'd love to work with.
At the end of that month, you'll know:
- which marketing tactic brings in more leads for the time spent;
- which tactic is more of a strong suit for you personally;
- what types of clients you're landing using each option;
- which marketing tactic fits better in your broader mix.
One way to do this is to spend equal time from Month A to Month B on each tactic and compare the number of gigs you land from them. Or you can set a target number of gigs or leads, then see which tactic gets you to that goal faster.
For example, if you're spending 20 hours every month posting to social media, responding to people there, and creating graphics and such to share, and it brings in 2 paying clients most months, that's a start.
But if you find that you can land those same 2 paying clients by spending just 10 hours researching prospects, coming up with ideas, writing pitch emails, sending them, and responding to inquiries from them, that's better. All the social media vanity metrics in the world can't make up for lacking lead generation.
In this example, you'd free up an extra 10 billable hours every month. And as freelancers, that's something we want to maximize.
Every Freelance Writer is Different
In the hypothetical example above, pitching turned out to be the better marketing tactic. Both "worked." But that worked better.
That isn't going to be the case for everyone though. For example, if you specialize in freelance blogging for middlemen clients like social media marketing agencies, social media might be the better time investment. Your ideal clients would want to see you creating content that performs well on social networks.
There's also the issue of what you enjoy, or what you're good at marketing-wise.
If you hate marketing altogether, you'll have to suck it up or pay someone to do it for you. That's just a basic part of doing business.
But you don't have to do things you utterly dread either.
By all means, test different marketing tactics. You might find you come to enjoy things you thought you wouldn't. But also incorporate tactics you enjoy into your marketing mix. Or at least look for ways to make more effective tactics more enjoyable.
If you want to avoid slow periods in freelancing though, that testing is key. Instead of getting too comfortable in your current routine, try something new. See what your competitors are doing. Refresh yourself on marketing fundamentals and learn about new tools, tactics, or platforms you aren't using yet.
Don't jump on every fad that comes along. But stay adaptable. More than that, embrace change.
Do Your Marketing Tactics "Work?" - A Challenge
With the New Year sneaking up on us, I'd like to pose a simple challenge.
- Write down a list of your current regular marketing tactics.
- Note how many hours you spend on each tactic each week or month (you might need to track this for a month).
- Give yourself a score of 1-5 on each (as in how well you feel you've pursued them).
- Note how many leads you've gotten through each tactic over the past few months.
- Note how many of those leads resulted in paying gigs.
- Also rate each of those tactics 1-5 based on how much you enjoy them (5 meaning you love them).
- Make a separate list of new marketing tactics you'd like to try, or try harder, in the New Year. Narrow it to 3.
- Choose one of those 3 tactics to test first.
- Work up a new marketing mix to tackle starting in January (or whenever works for you).
Ideally, you'll want to commit to cutting any marketing tactics that aren't delivering leads or ones you greatly dislike that also take a fair amount of your time. Doing that will free up time to try something new.
Not all marketing tactics can be evaluated in a month. But getting started can show you there might be a better way of doing things -- one that takes less time, causes less frustration, and delivers more paying clients. You might just find some of those marketing tactics that have "worked" for you in the past aren't working quite as hard as you thought.
This post was originally published on March 4, 2011 at All Freelance Writing. It has since been updated and expanded for Freelance Writing Pros readers.