Finding Clients as a Freelancer

Marketing Mistakes

Paul Boag

Paul Boag

Finding Clients as a Freelancer

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The "Marketing Mistakes" Lesson is part of the full, Finding Clients as a Freelancer course featured in this preview video. Here's what you'd learn in this lesson:

Paul discusses common marketing mistakes made by freelancers and small businesses. Word-of-mouth marketing can be too passive and lead to a large amount of business being dependent on a single source that might stop unexpectedly. Online ads or marketplaces lack relationships and can be difficult to gain traction.


Transcript from the "Marketing Mistakes" Lesson

>> Let's first of all say to ourselves, what is it that we really want from our marketing? What are we trying to actually achieve, okay? In an ideal world, how would we use kind of our outreach to the rest of the world to benefit us in our business, right?

So I think there's basically three things that an agency or a freelancer wants depending on where they are in their career. Sometimes it's just, I need more, [LAUGH] right? Any kind of work would be good right now, so I just need something. I need to know that I'm gonna be able to feed my kids next month.

It can get that bad sometimes, and it's a tough situation. Other times, we're in a bit more of a comfortable state where we've got enough, but what we're getting isn't really very good. It's not the kind of work we wanna be doing. So a big part of my job these days is actually mentoring and supporting agencies and freelancers.

And one of the things I often find is that a lot of people are scrambling around at the bottom of the market, which is very, very price sensitive. So they're working on tiny little websites when they're massively overqualified to do them. And they could be charging a lot more than they are, except the stuff that comes through the door is very price sensitive, so they need better clients.

But better clients isn't necessarily just those that aren't so price sensitive, better might be if I have to design one more insurance website, please, can I work on something a little bit cooler than that. I wanna work with record labels, or whatever it is that you happen to want to work with.

Or if you are a more worthy person than maybe I am, perhaps you wanna work for charities, or sustainable organizations, or whatever it be. So better is another one. And then the final one is easier, right? The vast amount of time and energy that can go into winning work is huge, right, especially if you get yourself into the world of pitching, right?

Where you have to basically apply to win the piece of work and you produce these long proposals. And if you're particularly a green and all of this, you might even get convinced you have to do speculative design work. And you really get kind of sucked into doing an enormous amount of work and then you don't win it.

And it's like, wow, that was hard work for not very much in return. And then, of course, the other thing is even doing marketing stuff. I'm sure you've seen online all the things you're supposed to do. You're supposed to be blogging, and you're supposed to be doing social media updates, and you're supposed to be doing this, and that, and the other, and all of these things take a lot of time.

And if you're a freelancer or a small agency, you don't have that time, right? Every minute that you're doing that kind of stuff, you're not working on chargeable work, which means that you're not earning money, okay? So we kind of gotta come up with a way of minimizing the amount of effort that goes into winning work, from getting people's attention all the way through to closing the deal.

So that's kind of our aims, right? That's the utopia that we're aiming for. And it isn't actually utopia, all of those things that are achievable. It takes time, but you can get there. So let's look at some of the common mistakes, right, that I see freelancers and agencies making, okay?

And because there are kind of four that I keep coming across time and again. The first is that people rely much too heavily on word of mouth recommendation, right? We're gonna dive into these a little bit more detail in a minute. Secondly, we waste a lot of money on advertising, right?

So freelancers might do things like take pay per click ads, or Facebook ads, or get convinced that they should buy a newspaper ad, or to take part in some conference, or whatever. There are all these people trying to extract money from us in return for supposedly leads and clients.

And then another common mistake is getting work through online marketplaces, or if you just go to, sign up to or, you can win work there. You can, but it's not the best work, but we'll come on to that in a minute. And then finally, is approaching content marketing in entirely the wrong way right?

Content marketing is supposed to be the answer to everything, right? That's how you win work and build your reputations. And it's like yes and no, it very much depends on how you use it. So let's dive into those a little bit more details so you can kind of understand where the problems come from, right?

Word of mouth recommendations, this just drives me nuts, right? Every now and again, it often happens with well established people that have been in the industry for years. They make comments on social media like, yes, we don't advertise or marketing, our work speaks for ourselves. And people come to us because [SOUND] it's so kind of yeah.

Now, don't get me wrong, right? Word of mouth for recommendation is really, really important, okay? A lot of my work comes through word of mouth, okay? And the longer you work, the more clients you have, the easier the work comes because you get more word of mouth recommendation.

But there are some fundamental problems with it and I don't think we should be in all good conscious encouraging anybody to rely entirely on word of mouth recommendation. And in my opinion, there's kinda three problems that we've got with word of mouth. Number one is that is passive, right?

So if the phone stops ringing, right, if you have a month where nothing comes through the door, what you gonna do about it if you only rely on word of mouth recommendation? Are you're gonna nag your clients to recommend you? Yeah, that'll go down well. You've got no action that you can take.

So in that sense, it's really weak because you do, every your company goes through slow patches. And you could put your feet up and have a holiday, but that's not always particularly sensible or good. Second is it's limiting. The problem with word of mouth recommendation is it typically happens within a particular sector or amongst companies of a certain size, right?

So somebody running the chip shop, sorry that's a really British choice of restaurant there, the old chippy. Yeah, the person that runs the chippy on the corner doesn't know the CEO of Coca-Cola, that doesn't happen. So what that means is that it's quite limiting that you're not getting, if you wanna work with a different sector or you weren't wanna work with bigger clients, then word of mouth isn't gonna get you there.

And then the third problem is pretty risky. Word of mouth recommendation can't work for you. However, it has this interesting effect and it's something that I have to deal with all the time. Because I get a lot of word of mouth and I'm actually in it right now as we speak.

So I won a piece of work within an insurance company in the UK called LV, right, and it was great. And I had a really good project with them and the guy that I worked with really liked my work, and he recommended me to their sister company which is Petplan.

And then I did a lot of work for Petplan, this is going great. And then for Petplan, I think somebody, whether it was LV or Petplan recommended me to another subsidiary of this parent company, and now I'm doing work for them. And then the parent company took interest and now I'm doing work for them.

And before you know it, a lot of my business is all coming from this single client. And then they turn around and say, we've got new contracts we need you to sign, that require you to have certain liability insurance that is way out of my ability to provide.

So all that work might go away overnight. That's a dangerous position to get into on a business, right? So, word of mouth can be risky. So yeah, what I guess I'm saying is it's not the kind of answer that everybody thinks it is, right? Let's move on from that and look at both really online ads and the marketplaces because they face similar problems, right?

Online ads and marketplaces like Upwork, or Fiverr, or whatever it is that you want to mention, they're great, as far as they go. And online ads fall into this category as well, but they they tend to attract smaller clients that are primarily price orientated. So if you think about it, if you're, I don't know, the marketing manager for Target, right, you don't go on to to find somebody to work with.

Equally, you don't just Google web design agencies, or data scientists, or whatever else, look down the ads and go that one will do. It doesn't happen like that, does it? So what happens is it's, again, you're a local chippy that uses those kinds of places, your local restaurants, etc.

And to be honest, even the kind of big, the grown up version of that, of Fiverr and things like that, our procurement platforms where the larger companies post their larger projects. Even those actually are rarely worth your time because there's a naughty thing that happens, the dark secret that nobody actually says out loud.

Which is that most of those jobs been posted on these procurement platforms, the company already has the supplier they want, right, but they're required by their procurement department to get three tenders. So you go through all of this process of pitching for this work only to discover you're not the one they wanted anyway, right?

So it's a big roll of the dice when you do that. But with all of this, whether you're talking about procurement platforms, places like Upwork, or online ads, basically, what it boils down to is there's no relationship, right? You're just another supplier, they haven't gone, I wanna work with you, they've gone, I wanna work with a data scientist, you'll do, [LAUGH] right?

That's a huge difference, you see. So, we want clients that approach us because we want people that specifically wanna work with us, right? People that come to me wanna work with me, to the point where I was talking to somebody yesterday and it's like I almost have another problem now, which is they get over enthusiastic about working with you.

And they start making all these promises, yeah, we'll definitely do this, and we'll do that, and whatever it takes, Paul. And then they have to come back and go, my manager says that we need to talk about this properly. [LAUGH] And that they got carried away, but I'd prefer it that way round, that's better problem.

So yeah, that's wasting money on online ads and marketplaces. Then there's content marketing. Now content marketing can work. And I wanna emphasize this because my entire career has been built on content marketing. I was the first guy to ever do a web design podcast, there was no web design podcasts before me.

I started blogging in 2005 before blogging was trendy, before content marketing was the thing. I was one of the first people in the first 1,000 people on Twitter. I've always done very well out that cuts stuff, more by luck than judgment, I hasten to say. But content marketing, although it's great for establishing your credibility and increasing your reach, it does come with some significant challenges that everybody kinda skirts over when they talk about content marketing.

So, let's just be clear what they are because that's gonna affect what I recommend we do later. So some of the biggest issues with content marketing is too much noise now, right? When I started my web design podcast, I was getting half a million people listening to every episode, half a million, right?

Now, when I stopped podcasting, it was down to a few thousand, because when I started there was no choice, I had a monopoly. [LAUGH] These days there's so many podcasts and so many things asked after our attention that it just you lost in the noise. The other big problem is because of that level of noise, you're gone and then forgotten.

So what do I mean by that? Let's say you wrote the best, or don't worry, let's say you gave away something. Let's say you gave away an amazing piece of technology, or advice, or an app, or anything like that. Maybe you go viral even, that's the dream isn't it to go viral.

Everybody downloads your app or reads your whatever, and then they look at it and they go, yeah, that's great, when I need to hire someone, I'm gonna go to you. And then a week later, they forgotten you, right? They're on to the next new shiny thing. So even if you succeed in content marketing, you don't necessarily succeed.

It doesn't actually translate into sales a lot of the time and it's incredibly time consuming. Yes, you have to put out multiple social media updates every day. You have to put a blog out once a week, and don't forget to do your podcast, and we've got time for all of that.

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