You've been immersed in a Monster Project that has consumed all your billable hours for months. Or, perhaps, you've been working on a lengthy contract assignment for a client. Time to start marketing yourself again. Here's how.
I'm coming off a Monster Project: my first cookbook. During the final six weeks of the project, I declined a couple of small jobs and stopped my biz-dev activity. Bad idea. When I delivered the manuscript, I realized my pipeline was pretty much empty. I needed a marketing reboot.
Here are seven ways to rebuild your marketing efforts:
1. Avoid the problem. Tom Tumbusch of WordStream Copy is familiar with the "oh-my-gosh-I-need-to-start-marketing!" realization that comes when you've been too busy with client work to focus on your own business. "Anyone who's been a freelancer for a couple of years has probably had a similar experience," he says. "I've learned that the best defense against it is to not get there at all. The best time to do marketing is when you're crazy busy. The promotion you do today brings in the work you do six months or a year down the road. I have a content plan that I follow religiously – it took three years to get to the point where it smoothed out the feast-or-famine cycle. I sleep so much better at night now that I have that in place."
2. Plan ahead. Preparation is the key to avoiding the marketing lull, Tumbusch adds. He anticipates the super-busy cycles, and writes blog posts and newsletters in advance that he can schedule during those times. That way, his marketing stays consistent, even when he's buried in client work.
3. Capitalize on work you've done in the past. Look for opportunities to turn freelance work into more freelance work. Dawn Mitchell of G4G Interactive says she tackles a major project each year for a client, one that consumes a ton of billable hours during the first quarter. Before that project ends, she reconnects with her network. "Reach out to your existing clients, prospects, friends, or even ad agencies and marketing firms to see if they have any work for you," she says.
4. Trumpet your Monster Project. If you're coming off a major gig that has some cachet in your market, let your clients and prospects know about it. "Send out an email newsletter to your contacts just to remind them that you're there and what you're up to," Mitchell says. Here's some copy to try: "For the past four months, I've been working on Cool Project X. Now that I've wrapped it, I'm excited to tackle new challenges and ready to help you with whatever you need."
5. Make a personal connection. Writer and strategist Alisa Bonsignore of Clarifying Complex Ideas jump-starts her marketing efforts in person. "I contact a few select people directly and invite them out for coffee to catch up," she says. "It helps that I like my clients and don't mind socializing." Use that time to learn about new opportunities and discuss their challenges. Tumbusch also takes the in-person approach. During one catch-up meeting, he discovered that some of the content he'd developed for a client needed updating, and he walked away from lunch with five new projects.
6. Use a staffing agency to fill the gaps. If you find recurring or seasonal vacancies in your project load, consider signing on with a creative staffing firm. They can help you secure short-term projects to fill your time until your marketing efforts yield fruit and may even be able to get you in with high-profile clients you wouldn't otherwise be able to.
7. Live and learn. Slacking on your marketing efforts will teach you, perhaps painfully, why you need to remain engaged. Learning the hard way is part of life as an independent creative professional. But feeling bad about your business acumen won't get you anywhere; instead, recommit to marketing yourself consistently – even when you're swamped.
Related post: Pamela Slim's "20X Rule" for Cultivating Clients