Marketing is a broad church. From SEO to social and email to direct, it encompasses so many different aspects that labelling yourself as a ‘freelance marketer’ might actually set you out as a jack of all trades, but a master of none. And in such a competitive market (we don’t all work on the beach, y’know) that could be a fatal error.
So as a freelancer, I believe it’s key to identify and then thrive in your chosen niche of marketing. But if you have skills in a wide variety of areas, how do you go about that?
a) Research Relevant Companies
The first thing to do is to find out which companies are in a position to take on a freelancer like you. If you’re set on working in a specific industry, then do a quick digital audit of some local businesses in that industry; investigate their social media efforts, their search ranking, their email marketing program (if it exists) and make points on how they could improve.
Start building up a picture of the areas of marketing that these businesses are faltering in. For some companies it’s obvious when they don’t have a specialist working in a certain area of marketing – so that’s where you could come in.
If you don’t work in a specific industry and are quite flexible in that regard, you can still employ the same tactic to research and audit companies in your local area. Although more and more freelancers work digitally in completely different countries to their clients, researching locally is a good place to start and it can be reassuring for a company to know that you’re nearby in case they want to meet you face-to-face.
Once you’ve done your research and built up the picture we were talking about, you have two options.
Firstly, you could get in touch with these companies directly – either through a contact form on their website or alternatively by connecting with their CEO/Marketing Director on LinkedIn (this can ensure your message is reaching the right people at the company).
Outline the areas of marketing you feel they could improve upon, and offer your services. Tell them how you would improve their business and why they should work with you.
b) Ascertain Demand
Though the first option has the potential to be successful (I have gained a client or two like this), it’s very time-consuming and doesn’t have any guarantees.
our alternative is to instead look at the bigger picture. By now you should have a decent idea of which areas these businesses are generally lacking in, so tailor your freelance offering around that. So if your research suggested that social media seems like a often-neglected area, start thinking about the services you could provide as a freelance community manager and how you could benefit companies.
After all, in my estimation firms are more likely to go for a specialist to handle their social media than the ‘jack of all trades’ we mentioned in the opening paragraph.
Work Out How Much You’re Worth
a) Starting Out
When I first went freelance back in 2015, this was one of the most challenging aspects of the transition.
I found it very difficult to judge what I was worth to businesses by the hour, particularly as I had only worked full-time for 2.5 years after university before going it alone.
I still felt somewhat inexperienced in the industry and certainly couldn’t yet justify a high hourly rate, but on the other hand I didn’t want to undervalue myself and not earn enough to live on.
In the end, I started checking out other freelancers in my local area to see the sort of rates that they were charging. Whilst most didn’t publish their rates on their website (which I think is the best thing to do), enough of them did so that I could start getting an idea of how other freelance social media managers valued themselves.
Through a combination of this and simply working out the hourly rate I was on in my most previous full-time job, I settled on an hourly figure and set about finding my first client. That first client ended up sending me the monthly rate that they had in mind, and it was almost exactly in line with mine, so my estimate ended up being pretty accurate. But if you’re still unsure about how best to do it, there’s plenty of online advice on the topic.
Naturally, the niche of marketing that you have chosen for yourself will go a long way to determining your earning power.
However, it’s important not to become too set in the rate that you’ve decided on. It’s not unreasonable to fiddle with your rate depending on the client that approaches you to make sure you’re not undercutting yourself for one with a lot of spending power, but conversely to also ensure you don’t miss out on a smaller client by being too rigid in your pricing.
And if everything goes to plan then the company that you started working with for less money than normal should start having more success and more money to spend, giving you the license to up your hourly rate when your initial contract is up for renewal.
c) Marketing Yourself
It’s one thing to be able to gain exposure for your clients – but if you can’t do the same for yourself then they’ll never be able to find you in the first place.
If you’re not an all-round marketing guru with expertise in all areas, I would very much recommend brushing up on the basics of social media marketing, SEO, email marketing and website design to give yourself the best chance of being found by new clients.
Fortunately, as a prospective freelance marketer, you should already be quite well-versed in gaining exposure – I hope! So this shouldn’t be a major challenge.
It’s more a case of finding the hours in a week to update your website, write a blog, check your search ranking, update your social media profiles, send out a marketing email as well as managing your finances, chasing invoice payment and doing your actual job in marketing. Which brings us nicely onto my next point…
b) Managing Your Time
One bit of advice that I remember reading before starting out has turned out to be one of the most useful.
Don’t take on too much work! If you’re lucky enough to be flooded with enquiries then it can be very tempting to take on as much work as possible – after all, it won’t last forever. But overburdening yourself can have unintended negative consequences, and it’s very difficult to judge exactly how many hours you should work as a freelancer.
You might have allocated 6 hours a week for Client X, and 10 hours a week for Client Y, but it doesn’t always work out exactly as you plan. Sometimes client work can overrun and you’ll find yourself without enough hours in the week to do your work. And that means the quality of the work for each client will suffer, which isn’t a good omen for maintaining a long-term partnership with them.
Also, not having enough time to deal with your personal finances will severely impact you further down the line and make that tax return an even bigger headache than before. Not having any time to market yourself will hit you hard too, because if your current work dries up then you won’t be in a position to source some more as quickly as you would like.
To remedy this, personally I’ve never ‘maxed out’ my time at what full-time working hours would be.
I’ve always left myself a little breathing space to keep up with these essential tasks, and also to give myself the option of working with a new client just in case a really exciting opportunity comes up. It’s not much fun having to turn down someone you would love to work with!
Whilst it may be difficult to turn down work when you have the capacity to take it on, being able to work on projects you’re more passionate about is a sensible long-term decision for your freelancing career.
Becoming a freelance marketer is no easy task in such a competitive industry. It’s extremely important to be able to differentiate yourself from the competition by identifying the marketing disciplines that are most lacking amongst businesses in your industry or area.
Then it’s a case of employing your current skills to market yourself just as well as you’re able to market other companies.
By taking on board these tips and excelling in the cornerstones of freelancer success: time management, financial management and self-discipline, you’ll be well on your way to a long and healthy career as a self-employed marketer.