Starting Out as a Freelancer

laptop notesThe freelance world is a highly saturated and ruthlessly competitive marketplace with strong international competition.  This means that no longer are you just competing with the person in proximity to where you live, you’re now competing with a global network of freelancers, many of which can undercut you dramatically due to living in much cheaper countries such as India and Pakistan where the cost of living is much lower.

Today, it’s your ability to market yourself effectively that is most paramount to your success, even more than your ability to get the task done.  See, you can have the best skills in your particular area of expertise in the entire world, but if you aren’t able to market yourself effectively then nobody is going to know who you are… let alone have a compelling reason to do business with you!  Irrespective of the quality of your ability to get the job done – it’s actually your ability to market yourself that will be the most paramount to your success.

When setting up a new business there’s a lot to get to grips with.  In addition to having to get to grips with the fundamental (yet somewhat tedious) business practices such as accounting, taxation, contract requirements, and business law the most important business practice you can learn is effective marketing, in particular digital marketing.

If you’re new to online marketing, it’s understandable that you might feel somewhat overwhelmed, as there are so many things to learn about from search engine optimisation to cost effective B2B lead generation that you might feel so bamboozled you don’t know where to begin.

For this reason, we’re going to look at five simple strategies that you can get started with straight away that don’t require you to have a degree in digital marketing, whilst you set yourself up… as afterall, the most important thing to any business is to get orders.

1. Focus on a particular niche

It can be tempting to purport to serve everyone, but this can come across like being a jack of all trades, as most people like to do business with someone they view as an expert within a particular field.  Therefore, rather than promote yourself as someone that dabbles or tinkers in their craft, it would be better to position yourself as an expert within a clearly defined niche.  

The further benefit to this is that it will significantly reduce your marketing cost if you are focusing your ad campaigns and keywords on more niche focused terms, as for instance, “graphic design” is a lot more competitive than “graphic design for boutique hotels”.

2.  Network, network, network

In the age of social media, it would appear redundant to attend networking events in person, as everything is now done online yet it’s important to remember that people buy people.  Today, we focus much more on developing our online personas via facebook and instagram than we do interacting with people in the flesh, but if you want to make a good impression (bearing in mind people often buy ‘people’ more than the service that you provide) you need to get out there and make some connections.

3. Word of mouth

If you can remember back to the days before Netflix, you would wander down to Blockbuster and pick out a video for the night from a plethora of options.  Imagine now, someone you know and trust recommends a film they know you’ll love – the chances are, you’ll check that film out.  Similarly, when people we know and trust recommend service providers, such as web designers, we tend to go with their recommendation.

Word of mouth marketing is as effective as ever.  The social proof that comes from online reviews, testimonials, and social media ‘likes’ works on this principle, but don’t forget people do business with people – so encourage satisfied customers to spread the word by offering an incentive, such as a future discount to both parties if they recommend a friend.

4.  Go analogue

It might seem like a strange idea, in a world proliferated by LinkedIn and Facebook Ads to consider such archaic methods of marketing material (i.e. leaflets and brochures) but doing something like this, as a freelancer, can actually make you stand out as a more stable and trustworthy supplier – particularly to a more conservative or traditional local market.

It can be hard to get the balance right, as on the one hand you want to be internationally accessible so that you are able to take a share of the global marketplace and don’t want to tie yourself down to one particular location… but at the same time, sometimes, being able to meet in person and attend face to face meetings holds so much perceived value to an employer in terms of reassurance, that they’ll pay a premium to deal with someone locally who they know they can trust.

In a world of digital nomads all trying to live the Tim Ferriss “4 Hour Workweek” dream, someone that presents a more traditional side to their marketing will likely be viewed as a more reliable supplier, and there are plenty of high paying corporate clients that prefer to work with those they consider to be more traditional and conservative in the sense it offers a feeling of reassurance.  It would appear not everyone is crazy about you working from a hammock on a beach in SE Asia with your online portfolio as your only marketing medium.

5.  Leverage a freelancing platform

Sites such as Fiverr and Freelancer make popular tasks such as web design, video editing, and copywriting accessible to a global market of freelancers; many of which live in countries with such a low cost of living, they can charge as little as $5 an hour for complex technical tasks – blowing the majority of western freelancers out the water, in terms of price.  

However, you have unique skills and advantages over many people on these platforms, for instance, if you speak English as your native language and can naturally conform to cultural business etiquette, most business owners would prefer to do business with someone that is at least somewhat similar to themselves in the sense that they fully understand tasks.

One of the main difficulties with being an employer, using such sites, is that everyone is competing for your project and will pretty much say whatever they think you want to hear in order to secure the job… and it’s only when they get started that you realise they don’t fully understand the task.

The point is, that whilst people within cheaper countries such as India can outperform on price and often have an exceptional work ethic you have unique advantages that you can promote as a unique selling point – be that commercial experience in a relevant field, a university education employers can relate to, or simply the fact that you’ll get cultural references.

In summary, marketing yourself as a freelancer is fiercely competitive and it can feel overwhelming to the extent you may feel the need to get a degree in digital media – but this isn’t necessary, as by leveraging the tips above you can get started and learn all about content marketing, lead generation, SEO, and so on as you progress.

The trick is to get started, take it one step at a time, and don’t allow yourself to feel intimidated by all the stuff you feel you don’t know – particularly when it comes to digital marketing, as even the most seasoned freelancer will tell you that they feel like they’re barely scraping the tip of the iceberg in terms of their knowledge about digital marketing.

Just get started, believe it’s possible to be successful and you’ll find a path that leads you there.

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