We have discussed how you can market your freelance business on sites such as Upwork and Freelancer.com. And as great as those options are, they should only make up a small portion of your client acquisition strategy. In this guide I’m going to provide you with tips for organically growing a freelance business.
When I say organic, I mean that these are strategies that should work while you sleep. For example, I have had some of my largest clients contact me out of the blue based on them coming across a blog post or GitHub project I published.
Organically Growing a Freelance Business
Having an organic marketing strategy is key for building a sustainable business. And in my experience the marketing mechanisms that have been the most effective are the six I will discuss.
Starting off the list are referral requests. Word of mouth marketing is one of the most powerful tools you can use for acquiring new clients.
Imagine a real world scenario of referrals. If someone opens up a new restaurant in your town, are you more likely to be influenced by the restaurant advertisements or one of your close friends telling you how great the food was? If you’re like me, if a friend sings the praises of the restaurant I’m going to value their opinion much more than an ad from the restaurant itself. The reasons for this is because I trust my friend more than the restaurant.
It works the same way when it comes to marketing yourself as a freelancer. If you have happy clients they can help grow your business.
Through the years I’ve had multiple clients refer their friends and colleagues to me. However I’ve also discovered that sometimes it helps to give them a little push. After you have successfully completed a project is a great time to ask a client if they have any friends that may need your services.
Next on the list of organic marketing strategies is blogging. I considered placing blogging at the top of the list because it’s such a powerful tool. Through the years I have been contacted by multiple clients that told me they found me via my blog and subsequently hired me.
Blogging is content marketing at its finest. With your blog you are able to showcase your skills, position yourself as an expert in the field, and give clients a taste of your personality.
If you have never blogged before and are wondering what type of content to write, here are some high level topics that have worked for me:
- Tutorials showing how to build features I specialize in. For example, if you focus on building eCommerce websites you could write blog posts explaining how to connect an application to a payment gateway.
- Soft skill strategies. For this you can write posts related to experiences you have had while learning how to become a freelancer. An example could be writing about a time when you had a challenging client and how you were able to work with them effectively. These types of posts have multiple benefits since they are effective for content marketing and also allow you to contribute to the freelancer community.
Blogging is a great way to position yourself as an expert. However writing blog posts is not the only way to be considered an expert. Another great way to accomplish this feat is to contribute to other blogs and news outlets. If you look at my personal site you’ll see that I’ve been interviewed or quoted in dozens of blogs and magazines through the years. These outlets include sites such as ReadWriteWeb and the magazine CIO.
And don’t worry, you don’t have to pay a high priced PR firm to be quoted on these types of sites. I personally use a service called HARO, which stands for Help A Reporter Out. HARO pairs individuals with reporters around the world. The way it works is that reporters can post requests on HARO asking for interviews or quotes on a topic they are researching. Each day I monitor HARO and when I see a topic that I am familiar with I’ll write up a few sentences and send them to the reporter.
Don’t let the expert moniker scare you away. There are many times where I am far from an expert in a field that I’ve been quoted in. However I’ll perform a little time researching a reporter’s question and then I’ll simply give my opinion.
This type of marketing is great because:
- It’s free.
- Credible reporters are the ones positioning you as an expert.
- Many times the reporter will link back to your website, which helps from an SEO perspective.
Open Source Contribution
Next on the list of strategies for organically growing a freelance business is contributing to the open source community. When it comes to open source contributions there are a number of strategies that you can take:
- Direct code contribution – this usually comes in the form of creating a code library that other developers can use. One of the more successful Rails development firms in the world, Thoughtbot, has take this approach to the extreme. The Thoughtbot team has built libraries such as FactoryGirl, Paperclip, and Administrate. These Ruby gems are some of the most popular gems in the Ruby development ecosystem and the Thoughtbot team released these libraries completely for free. However I can assure you that the company’s open source contributions have directly related to acquiring clients.
- Tutorials – if you don’t feel that you’re quite ready for building a code library that other developers will use, that’s perfectly fine. You can find a feature that you feel comfortable developing and you can create a screencast in which you walk through your process for building the component.
- Contributing to Pre-Existing Libraries – another great way to contribute to the open source community is to help add features or fix bugs on pre-existing code libraries. You can easily discover the full list of requested features for a code library by looking at its issue list on GitHub. By taking this approach you don’t have to worry about building a code library from scratch. You can simply add onto another app which helps the original development team and also will give you experience and confidence in working with professional code bases. Personally I contributed to multiple Eventbrite API RubyGems and built in functionality that previously didn’t exist.
Social Media Marketing
No post that discusses organically growing a freelance business would be complete without mentioning social media marketing. I have to admit that this is probably my least favorite marketing channel. If you peruse Twitter, Facebook or Instagram it seems like they are cluttered with annoying sales pitches. However I have been discovered by multiple clients via my social media accounts.
Each day I try to post a development picture on Instagram. And by taking this approach I have received a number of unsolicited project requests. And several of these requests have turned into freelance clients.
When it comes to social media marketing my recommendation is to find an outlet that you enjoy working with. And once you’ve picked your favorite channel, put all of your available energy into that specific service. This is important. Because if you pick out an outlet that you don’t like, you’re not going to want to post in it in a regular basis. And when it comes to social media marketing, consistency is a key to success.
In summary, when it comes to organically growing a freelance business I focus on three approaches. First, once you have happy clients work on getting them to refer you to their friends and colleagues. Next, make sure that you’re constantly blogging and positioning yourself as an expert in your space. And lastly, find a social media outlet that you enjoy working in and post in it daily.