A member of the Small Business Ideas forum, a writer, asked how to get started advertising her new freelance writing business. I started thinking of ways she could get started with it, and before I knew it, my answer was waaay longer than a forum post. And I realized it also had advice applicable to almost any type of professional service provider, not just this one writer. So instead of just posting a forum reply, I decided to write this article.
The Problem With Online Freelance Sites
There are all sorts of freelance sites (elance, rentacoder, guru.com, etc.) which can give you access to a big volume of projects. They’re often recommended as a good place to get started garnering clients. One thing to keep in mind, of course, is that you’re bidding against people all over the world, so the level of competition is often pretty high.
Further, you may find yourself bidding against people who are either doing this part time or working in areas of the world where the cost of living is very low — and who are thus willing and able to bid dangerously low on the projects.
Not to say you can’t get business from them (I have from time to time, myself) but you just need to be aware of what you might be going up against. Don’t bid lower and lower just to win the work; you’ll find yourself working long hours for peanuts.
Don’t Neglect Your Own Back Yard
You may find it more lucrative (and less competitive) to focus initially on local clients. Try to identify types of businesses that need your services on a regular basis. For instance, as a writer you could make the rounds of your local Realtors, see if they need any help with writing house listings, brochures, ads, etc. You might also want to approach web design firms and advertising/marketing agencies in your area to see if they might want to subcontract your services for some of their clients.
You just need to make sure when subcontracting you offer rates that still allow the contracting company some headroom to mark up the price before billing their customer. You can afford to do this because they’re doing the legwork for you of acquiring the customer — you don’t spend as much time on sales calls, so you spend a larger proportion of your time on productive (billable) work.
Once you do a few jobs for them and prove your worth, they may be willing to give you good testimonials, which (of course) you’ll post on your website for other prospective clients to see.
Other Ways of Attracting Direct Clients
If you’re comfortable with public speaking (or you can become comfortable with it) try putting on a presentation for your local Chamber of Commerce. For a writer, maybe you could say something about the importance of having well-written copy in their marketing materials, or how including informative articles on their websites can help position them as an industry expert.
Make the presentation informational — stay away from the overt sales pitches — but have your own marketing materials (brochures, business cards, etc.) available, and follow up with the attendees over the next few days, maybe offering them some kind of “attendee only” special to get them started.
If you’re not good at public speaking, at least join the local Chamber of Commerce. See if there are any professional associations or networking groups in your area you can join. Meetup.com is a good place to look for local get-togethers on just about any subject imaginable.
Your goal is not necessarily to meet with other writers. That can’t hurt, of course, not only because of being able to share ideas and inspiration. Some of the more successful writers may occasionally have overflow work — and if they know you and are aware of the quality of your work, you may be able to subcontract for them as well.
But the real goal is to join groups frequented by people who might use your services. Get to know them, get to know what problems they face, let them know (in a low-pressure non-sales-pitchy way) how you can help them out.
Once you get a client or two, ask for referrals. They probably know other business owners or managers who could use your services, but they may not think to recommend you to them unless you ask. You could even offer some kind of incentive (a finder’s fee, for instance, or a discount on future services they book with you) for every referral they send your way that turns into a gig for you.
There are zillions of other ways of getting the word out about your services to the people who need them (and more importantly, are willing and able to pay for them). For a whole lot more information about effectively marketing yourself as a professional services provider, I highly recommend Robert Middleton’s Action Plan website. He offers tons of free information, a free newsletter (a must-read!) and excellent quality marketing tools, audio programs, a website toolkit and more for purchase.
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Copyright © Diane M. Aull, an online consultant for small and mid-sized businesses. For more information about her services, visit NineYards.com or BootstrapSEO. For resources and tools for home based workers, visit Torka's Home for Wayward Girls.
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