10 Things to Know (How to Do) to Be a Freelancer
About Sales & Marketing
In his book The Unchained Man, I believe Caleb Jones wrote that for each unit of time spent working on a customer’s project or administrating the company, two units of time should be spent on sales & marketing activities, which are themselves subdivided into selling more of our existing offering, and developing new products & services.
No matter how you decide to divide your time, one thing is for sure; marketing & sales must constantly be there and must take up a major portion of your schedule. The best middle to long-term strategy of course is to try to automate the whole process, i.e. to make it passive. For instance you could get work through customer recommendations or from your professional network. However if that’s not enough (and it seldom is, in the beginning at least), you have to be proactive. I’ve seen many beginners (and a couple of more experienced people too!) join a website with job offers, find themselves an agent and so on, then focus on optimizing points of details in their profile (see previous point about education & equipment) instead of spreading somewhere else.
Being proactive means contacting proactively dozens, hundreds (perhaps thousands) of business prospects, through all available channels, whether they’re usual or not in your industry (which is just another opportunity to target a niche market with less competition). For instance most of my sales work in voice acting is done through hundreds of direct e-mails to various prospects (agencies, casting directors, sound studios, ad agencies, e-learning companies, etc.), outside of France, to offer my voice in French, International English and French-accented English & Swedish. Compare that to most voice actors who stick to one country, to P2P platforms, to a single agent, etc.
Finally patience and not giving up are key. Sometimes we get a “yes” or “no” pretty quickly, and sometimes it can take months. However as long as there’s some communication going on we must keep in touch; at agreed upon points in time if they exist, or on a regular basis. That’s not all though. Several times I found myself talking with prospects up to the point we were ready to work together… and then not receiving a single job from them. Then two or three years later (after I moved them into the red category in my CRM and gave up on keeping in touch – see next point) they suddenly got back in touch with a first project, then a second one, and before I knew it they had become regular customers! On that note, my company finally started taking off in late 2018 not because of a new and specific strategy on my end, but simply because several prospects I had contacted throughout the years finally started to give me work.
That’s one of the reasons why I advise those who consider freelancing to begin contacting prospects as early as possible – to give them time to turn into customers (the other reason being the time it takes to make mistakes and learn about their industry and how to manage a company. You can’t escape that bit so you might as well go through it as quickly as possible). Many people start to run their business and then give up after a year or two because they don’t have results. Yet sometimes results are on their way; you just have to hang on long enough.
For those wondering whether it’s best to focus on contacting a high number of prospects VS focusing on high quality sales on a smaller number (i.e. optimizing the sales process such as the content of the e-mail or phone call, timing, who to talk with, etc.), after having tried both I would advise to focus on quantity. There’s so much outside of our control in sales that it’s best to spend time reaching out to new prospects instead of trying to absolutely get any given one.
Moreover this approach will help develop an abundance mentality, meaning interiorizing the fact that there’s way enough high quality customers out there for us, which in turns encourages to refuse working with poor clients and to accept the fact we can’t get all the deals, without questioning our rates, skills and so on every time this happens.
You should, however, use the experience acquired to refine your methods and decrease losses (making the same mistakes all the time isn’t the way to go!). So perhaps in the beginning you’re turning 1 prospect out of 100 into a customer. But thanks to the knowledge gained in the process, next time you should turn 2 prospects out of 100 into customers. Then 3, etc. And that same logic applies to the quality level of your clients; you should not only improve your conversion rate, but also get better at landing bigger deals (deals that, in the beginning, you wouldn’t be able to get).