Marketing yourself as a freelancer
How to understand what potential clients want, identify what they will pay and create a strong brand
While working for another company, you may have given little thought to marketing. Work seemed to arrive magically from somewhere, and you simply performed your role and were paid for it. However, the company you worked for will have derived that work by developing clients through the process of marketing. In some cases companies don't actually have anybody who is trained as a marketer, or who would even consider themselves to be one. This doesn't matter. Some of the best marketers are people with an instinctive feel for what their market wants and who can then go about supplying it. Think of people like Lord Alan Sugar, Sir Richard Branson and Yo Sushi's Simon Woodroffe. They are entrepreneurs who have developed businesses through hard work and gut instinct, but they have also used marketing nous, even if they would not necessarily call it that.
What is marketing?
The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) defines marketing as: “The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.” In a nutshell, it means you have to work out what potential clients want and what they will pay, and go about trying to offer them that service. Marketers sometimes talk about the four Ps of marketing. These are:
- Product: what you offer
- Price: the rate that you can charge for your services
- Place as a freelancer: this refers to where your work comes from
- Promotion: how you go about making people aware of what you offer.
In recent years, the four Ps approach has been regarded as limited in describing the marketing process. Some practitioners talk about a fifth P of people, and the CIM now talks of seven Ps with the addition of process and physical evidence. However many Ps you decide on, your marketing is made up of the interplay of these elements. This is referred to as the marketing mix. Too often, people think of marketing in terms of its outcomes, such as glossy print ads or TV commercials. However, it is better to think of marketing as a process, and one that should be embedded into your business from the very start. A good way of doing this is to create a marketing plan detailing where you are, where you want to go and how you are going to get there. Building a marketing plan means setting down a blueprint for effective marketing. It can also be a useful way of determining where the business is heading.
Product and pricing
The key to this is research. The more thorough your marketing plan, the better. If your business is going to operate within a specific locality, will the market support it? For example, if you plan to freelance as a wedding photographer, how many already exist, what type of service do they offer and what are their prices like? How do they position themselves – cheap and cheerful, traditional style shot, or artistic and off the wall? Will the locality support another photographer or is the area already saturated? Check out rivals' prices, too, and position your service accordingly. You can use the same approach to introduce new services or determine whether it is viable to expand into other markets. Is there a niche for the service or do competitors have the market sewn up? How do you plan to sell the service – directly or via an agency? What distribution method will you use?
This means creating an identity for your business. You want to stand out from the crowd and be distinctive, so you may want to develop an identity that is instantly recognisable. Many freelancers will simply use their own name and do not really need to go down the branding route. However, even here, defining your position can help the market understand what you do, the services you offer and help you promote yourself accordingly. If you have created a limited company or want to promote greater awareness, you may want a specific brand for your business. A brand is more than a logo and a creative name. It is the emotional and psychological relationship you have with your customers. As such, it is made up of the expectations that they might have of you from past work or from peer recommendation. A brand is business shorthand that conveys what your business is all about, and it should contain a certain truth about your business.
What's in a name?
A name like Trotters International Traders is not a very reliable brand name, as Del Boy and Rodney never made it any further than Peckham market with their business aspirations. Similarly, a brand name like Total Communications Solutions is not a good brand for a freelance journalist who does a bit of corporate writing but doesn't really know anything about developing or implementing a communications strategy. When creating a brand, keep it simple and keep it truthful. Think what your business' brand values are and try to reflect them in your brand. If you are creative and zany, don't try and present yourself as a traditional, po-faced business person. Let your personality come through. A business name is important and should reflect the value of the product or the service. Ideally it should be original and punchy if possible. Avoid naff names – it reflects poorly on the business and gives it an unprofessional appearance. How many hairdressers do you know called Snips, Cut n Curl or Blow Dry? Too many. Before choosing a name, check the business section at your local library, Google it or get in touch with Companies House to make sure you are not planning to use a name that is already in use.
Creating your brand identity
To create the brand identity, find a good local designer who can come up with letterheads, business cards and packaging. Designers can also be found in the business section of the local library. Design is one of those curious trades which everybody thinks they can do themselves. While anybody can have an idea for a brand, designers are professionals who can develop your idea or create a unique identity and professional appearance for your business. A good local designer need not be expensive and may be a freelancer too, and thus sympathetic to your needs and ambitions.
Promotion is the visible part of marketing for many people. It is like the upper 10% of the iceberg. Customer targeting is the first and most important step in planning any kind of promotional activity. You really need to know who your customers are before wasting any money on marketing communication. Lord Leverhulme, the founder of Unilever, famously said: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the problem is I don't know which half.” Mind you, he was a millionaire. As a freelancer, such profligacy would be crazy. Try and answer these questions.
- What kind of people buy or will buy your product?
- What do your best customers tend to have in common?
- Can you reach all of your customers through the same communication channels?
- Do customers fall into different groups?
- Are there different buying circumstances, for example, planned, impulse or special occasion?
By answering these questions you will discover who your customers are. The next step is finding effective channels to communicate your message. Going Freelance, published by Crimson publishing, is available on Amazon now.