So, you’ve hung out your virtual shingle and even have a couple of contract gigs under your belt. You’ve decided that the freelance life is for you. Now what? Obviously, expand your business to gain more and varied clients. The way to do that is, as you’ve guessed from the title of this post, by marketing.
Whether it’s aggressive, guerrilla, or somewhere in between, marketing is the key to expanding your business into areas and to potential employers that you might not have considered.
While I’m not the greatest marketer, I’ve had some success with the techniques that I discuss below.
The Web site
If you haven’t already done so, build yourself a Web site. It’s your hub — a place to detail your services, experience, and samples. You should also use the site to explain why potential employers should hire you and how you can help them.
I know what some of you may be thinking: I know enough HTML and CSS, but I can’t design a Web site. Neither can Aaron or I, believe it or not. Our site has gone through several makeovers. We currently use a design that we found at Open Source Web Design), which we modified to add some dynamic content (via PHP), our own graphics, and a few other touches. The design looks good, and our additions give it a little extra.
The site should also include some marketing documents. We have one (that we’re currently revising) that offers eight reasons why hiring DMN Communications makes sense.
You can also use WordPress or a content management system like Joomla! or Drupal for your site. Many Web hosts offer these as so-called one-click installs, and with a few tweaks you can have a nice looking site.
Regardless of whether you hand code your site or you use a pre-packaged solution, remember to make it easy for potential employers to contact you. That means having a contact form. You can take a look at ours for some ideas. We’ve also included a “hire us” button on the site, which enables potential employers to (obviously) hire us or to get our attention quickly,
Just remember, though, that if you build it there’s not guarantee that anyone will come to your Web site. Remember to advertise it — in email signatures, on your business card, and anywhere else that you can think of.
Start a blog
OK, we’re kind of biased about this. But, as Aaron pointed out in a previous post, the blog is one of the consultant’s best marketing tools. If done properly, a blog showcases your expertise and positions you as an authority.
Admittedly, we haven’t gotten much work from our blog. We’ve had a couple of feelers, and an offer or two that we couldn’t accept due to other commitments. But this blog has gotten us noticed. We’ve met more than a few people who have read the posts in this space, and remembered them. And the blog has also gotten us a couple of speaking gigs.
Which leads to my next point …
Presenting and speaking
Like a blog, giving a talk or a presentation can help showcase your expertiese and position you as an authority. There are a number of conferences related to technical communication out there, and you can also target other conferences — like ones aimed at software developers, Web content, or Open Source. You can even try pitching a presentation to STC chapters in your area.
There are a lot of speaking opportunities out there. It’s not easy to develop that first presentation, but it does get easier with time.
Writing for publication
Maybe you have an idea that is a good fit for Intercom. Or, maybe you’re setting your sights a little higher and aiming for a paying market with a wider audience. That’s another great way to put your name out there and make a little extra cash while doing it.
This is a case of you really embracing your inner geek. And by geek I mean enthusiast. By my definition, someone enthusiastic about woodworking, gardening, native sculpture, cycling, or gadgets is a geek. Thanks to the Web, there are a lot of paying outlets for that kind of knowledge.
All it takes is a good article, and a well-crafted bio paragraph pointing to your Web site. Yes, you can do that for any publication — well, as long as it allows you to include a short bio; some don’t.
I’m currently planning a presentation about this, which I’m hoping will see the light of day later this year. Keep watching this space for details.
Networking isn’t just a matter of pressing the flesh and handing our business cards. It’s a matter, as Linda Urban says, about creating relationships. Those relationships might encompass former co-workers, employers, and clients. Or they could involve family, friends, and people you regularly do business with.
A good site to do that is LinkedIn. While I’m not a huge fan of social media sites, I make an exception for LinkedIn. It keeps me in touch with former colleagues and classmates, and has even produced a few leads to gigs.
This can be a slow process, but it’s worthwhile in the end. Recently, Aaron was talking with an old acquaintance. When Aaron mentioned our consulting business, this person perked up and told Aaron about a development project with which he’s involved, which will need documentation. Whether or not this leads to more business for DMN remains to be seen. But a connection has been established.
Do good work
This is a pearl of wisdom from Linda Urban’s talk at DocTrain East 2008. Getting a reputation for doing good work is a major marketing tool, whether you realize it or not. It shows that you’re a true professional, and are worth hiring. Or, at the very least, you’re worth considering for a position.
Doing good work isn’t easy. There are any number of freelance technical communicators out there who parachute in, do an OK though not spectacular job, and then slip away. That might make you money in the short term, but in the long term that’s not sustainable. You’ll leave behind a number of dissatisfied clients, and that’s not good.
If your clients are consistently pleased with your work, there’s a good chance that they’ll recommend you to others.
Marketing is a continuous process
Remember that marketing never stops. It’s easy to go through an intensive marketing push, and then not do anything for a while. That’s not a great way to do it. If you’re serious about your business, you’ll devote time to your marketing efforts. Even if it’s only an hour a day, those efforts will pay off. It’s consistency that wins the day when marketing your skills and services.
Marketing isn’t easy. And what I’ve just described isn’t the only way to go about it. That said, marketing is important — in fact, it can mean either success or just plodding along.
Of course, not everyone is a born marketer — I’m definitely not. If you need a bit more information, think about finding a copy of Self Promotion for the Creative Person or consider taking a course.