Welcome to another year of inflation and another tough year for freelance marketing. For freelancers, this probably means lower budgets, clients that are more stressed out, less work, and a lot of other cost-of-living pressures.
Running a business when the country (and potentially the world) is moving towards recession is never easy. When freelance leads are thin on the ground and budgets shrink, it can feel super tough. Especially if you’re listening to everyone else talk about their experience.
But here’s the thing: while freelancers get the initial brunt of inflation and downturns, there is always work available. Sometimes, we even benefit far more than workers who are competing for full and part-time jobs. I have freelanced for the last fourteen years, starting my freelance career during the GFC. And I’ve freelanced on the side as everything from doing astrology charts for people (yep!) through to film production, IT support, and ghostwriting.
And when it’s lean, the nimbleness you have in not needing full-time security, the ability to do an array of work, that you’re already ready to self-promote, and you have some hustle, can work to your advantage.
But if you’re looking to have work handed to you, this is another thing entirely. Be a little hungry and go out and get it. It’s a matter of picking what you will and won’t do to get the leads happening while also using your marketing to the best advantage to back that up.
Here’s some advice on boosting your freelance marketing to deal with the impact of inflation on your clients (and your own business)
Take initiative in generating new leads
Yes, I know you were expecting a bunch of stuff on activities, but honestly, this needs to come before anything else I am about to say.
First things first – if you think putting social media and marketing out is all you need to do, you are toast. Show initiative by reaching out to clients instead of waiting for them to approach you or relying on job boards.
I say this because your clients are currently:
1) Overwhelmed with applications and have no time to vet candidates. Standing out takes effort, especially with AI software doing the first round of reviews
2) Unsure if they can afford the risk. They fear wasting time, money, and resources, so they are reducing project output
3) Extremely time poor. They’re worried about the time to find and acclimatise or train people
4) Facing financial constraints. They don’t have the usual funds for recruiting. Recruiting can cost businesses thousands in addition to your fee. No recruiter or job board means more money to spend on you
Being direct and chasing the work is helpful during times like this. Get used to approaching places you want to work with and sell them on the idea that you’re a great solution.
Do your research
Get a handle on what industries are facing, what challenges and how you can respond to them as a freelancer. Forget about the whole “I can do this” way of freelance marketing. It’s limited because:
1. Everyone is singing from the same hymn book and that makes it harder to complete
2. Some clients don’t even know they have a problem, let alone what the solution is
3. It’s much easier to connect to pessimism than optimism. Talking about the problem THEN introducing the solution makes that connection easier
4. The technical side of what we do excites us. The clients? Not so much
5. It’s hard for a lot of freelancers to toot their own horn. Focussing on the challenges removes that spotlight
When I’ve had to chase leads, I’ve scoured news sites and reading news articles and research about the pain points and opportunities for potential clients. I suggest you do the same. I’ve made that easier for you by talking about it at the end-of-year wrap for Patreon supporters. I also built a blog to guide you through this by client challenges.
Pitch what you do
Stop talking about what you offer and start pitching what clients need. Because “Fred does this and Wilma says he’s amazing at it” won’t open a stressed, unsure or worried client’s wallet easily. And providing your clients with lists of actions they can’t afford to take will only serve as a frustrating reminder of their budgetary and time limitations.
I understand that this may seem like common sense, but I’ve been looking at websites and social media a lot lately, and it seems to be the missing ingredient. Problem-based stories are great, and even overdue. But what’s missing is the basics and building blocks clients are looking for. It looks like we’ve matured as an industry but forgotten clients don’t know as much about what we do as we do. It’s not an uncommon problem and it’s a trap most businesses fall into.
To avoid this trap, try sitting down and crafting a concise pitch without using any jargon or buzzwords.
Next, examine each core offering you have (e.g. content, coaching, community etc), or major products (e.g. brand refreshes, content strategy, website design, community management etc). Add this to value-adds and problems from a client’s perspective.
I help organisations to <consumer benefit> in a <landscape with a challenge the organisation faces> by leveraging my skills in <service you offer> knowledge of <what makes you different>.
An example of this for my end-of-life work is:
I help organisations to <speak to the lived experience of people with death and dying> in a <world of misinformation and fear of the topic> by leveraging my skills in <writing and social media community management> and knowledge of <evidence-based mental health, end-of-life, and trauma-informed writing principles>.
And if I don’t know if they know those terms, or it’s a rare moment where I don’t waffle:
I create content that speaks to people about death and dying to help reduce stress as people navigate end-of-life experiences with my skills in writing, social media community management, and communication strategy. I back it up with my understanding of evidence-based principles.
Then, repeat it everywhere on social media, your website, tagline on your business card, blogs, newsletter – and anywhere and any place someone might need it in different formats.
Use a buying cycle to inform your marketing
If you write what you feel like every day, it might be satisfying at first. But it becomes difficult to keep momentum up. And can even lead you to be a little self-indulgent in your marketing. There has to be a balance between the sparks that fly in the moment and the overall marketing strategy. Especially when you’re discussing freelance marketing efforts to businesses scared of spending due to inflation.
Whenever I develop strategies for clients or greet a new year, I sit down and think about the journey of the customers and where they sit. The best model I have found for that is this, the buying cycle:
- Awareness and education– your customer is trying to figure out what solves their problem and may not even have a clue it is what options are available
Key focus: their pain points and frustrations
Content-wise: questions, social media posts, blogs, definitions of geek speak, sharing helpful tools, ‘a-ha’ moment style stories, 7-second business fail style Reels, and the old math problems from school – TAHA (tell, ask, how, answer)
- Info search – Now they know a type of solution is available, they use that knowledge to look for potential suppliers to fix their problem
Key focus: how the service you offer solves their issue
Content-wise: in-depth written explorations, talking head social media video (although Instagram is reportedly trying to lower its reach in 2024, Tik Tok is encouraging longer explorations- so experiment!), memes, content that affirms the option they are investigating is good, podcasts, guest appearances
- Supplier Identification– you’ve been identified as part of that process- so what makes you better or more appealing
Key focus: you and your point of difference
Content-wise: website FAQ, exploring your approach in video, carousels on your values and point of difference in visuals on Instagram, rants and raves about industry, eBooks, DIY style content, behind-the-scenes content, industry humour
- Purchase decision– Your customer has been floating around for a little while and keeps tossing backwards and forth, but now the need is greater, so things become a little more in depth and money is a consideration
Key focus: overcoming customer objections, especially ones based on their ego, emotions, perceptions, and values
Content-wise: support their self-researching with additional content in your FAQ, infographics, visual roadmaps, discussions about price or value over price, terms and conditions that outline your processes, webinars and classes, lead magnet freebies
- Competitor testing– they may call or email you to dig that final bit deeper and find out why you are the one they should choose, or it will come from further research they’ve done. By this stage, they know what they are on about
Key focus: focus on the level of customer service you provide and how you take care of them
Content-wise: proposals instead of quotes, welcome packs, discovery calls (although these are done to death these days, so think of a different angle), testimonials, in/out more/less hit/shit style comparative content on postcards, leaflets, web pages, social media and/or blogs
- Show me the money– they are ready to buy, and they want you or your competitor, so you better be prepared to play along
Key focus: address budget and time constraints and any other objections you can think of to build trust
Content-wise: virtual tours of your working process, case studies (written and video), LinkedIn showcases, onboarding processes, ‘work with me’ website pages, aftercare packs, long form blogs and explorations.
Obviously, there are so many more forms of content than what I have listed. But hopefully, you get the idea.
Experiment with what you do
The GFC taught a lot of your long-standing freelance pals an important message – be OK with experimenting, learning, and trialling in what you do.
In times like inflation where marketing and business are precarious, the uncertainty is hard to cope with. But it can also be a little freeing.
Now more than ever is the time to:
- Diversify what you offer. Be open about your desire to learn by doing. Market that journey as an opportunity for your clients to be the guinea pig and benefit together. Offer a reduced rate to make the risk sound appealing. Make sure you have a project outline that covers off what you will and won’t do to stop scope creep
- Put packages together. Packages allow you to transparently set budget expectations with clients and cut the legwork and barrier to entry down, too
- Consider sponsorships. Take your thought leadership and tie it to your favourite software, like what I am doing with Rounded this year
- Look at partnerships as another revenue stream. And set it up with the business development angle of 60/40 cut of the profit for whoever brings the business through to keep you both keen on bringing in the leads
- Organise cross-selling relationships with other freelancers so you can both reduce the cost of acquisition and give the clients what they need without the teamwork or collective/agency hassles
- Dig into flexible payment options – just make sure you’re staging projects and charging for the milestones upfront and you abide by any penalty or interest charges outlined by your state’s office of fair trade and ACCC
- Investigate pay-what-you-can-afford options as a marketing strategy on low effort, repeatable items to help meet client needs while building trust. E.g. challenges, mini-courses, types of advice giving like coaching sessions etc
- Look into subscriptions. From Patreon to Ghost through to bottomless emails and support packages, there are ways to steady your income while offering ongoing support
Just remember, it is an experiment. And the aim of the game should be to:
- Use what you know
- Make use of the tools, software and hardware you have
- Design, develop and deploy in a short period (a Deadline party six-week window would be ideal – hint, hint!)
- Keep the time, emotional and financial investment low so you can ditch it easily it’s doesn’t prove to be fruitful