Don't flounder while looking for that one, no-fail marketing trick. Instead, figure out which of these tactics will work for you.

Despite all my preparations, when I finally became my own boss, I didn’t know a damn thing about drumming up work. As I had always done before, I scoured the job ads for freelance work, dutifully sent out cover letters and resumes, worked several permalance gigs that gave me a feeling of stability and, otherwise, waited for the work to come to me.

Somehow, it worked. Despite myself, and within only six months, I had matched my previous corporate salary.

But being a business owner is nothing like being an employee, and I couldn’t sustain my business on quality content and charm alone. Eventually, I had to start actively marketing myself.

Those new to marketing — and those downright wary of it — can end up floundering in their search for that one, magical, no-fail marketing trick that will lead them to success. Why? That one, magical trick doesn’t exist. Different services and products — and different clients and customers — require different types of marketing. So how can you figure out which tactics will work best for you?

1. Write up a mission statement

Your mission statement does not have to be long and involved. Nor does it have to be the height of creative genius. It should, however, list your business goals — monetary and otherwise — and should also specify the things that set you apart from the competition. Why is this necessary? Writing out your mission statement can help you clarify exactly what it is you’re trying to accomplish. As you make future business decisions, you can refer back to it and ask yourself: does this bring me closer to my business goals?

2. Specify your target markets

Your product or service probably won’t appeal to everyone. So list the people you’re trying to help, and get specific. Once you’ve pinned down your target markets, you can start researching the best ways to reach them. Where do they hang out? Which social networking sites are they on? Which blogs are they reading? Do they participate in any online forums, or attend any professional conferences? Knowing all of this will keep you from marketing blind.

3. List your competition

And then look to see what they’re doing right, what they’re doing wrong and what they’re not doing at all. How can you differentiate yourself from the competition? And, in the end, should you even consider them competitors? If you can set yourself apart from them, it will leave room for future collaborations.

4. Finally, list your marketing tactics

This is the fun part. (Then again, I get excited by spreadsheets and cookware.) Referring back to number two — your target markets and where they’re hanging out — come up with some marketing ideas that go beyond direct mail spam and pricey space advertising. Think about how they might like to be marketed to. Think about what they want and need. And think about how you like to be marketed to, too. What makes you decide to shell out the cash?

And then? Write a really long and wacky list. Seriously. Go all out. You probably won’t use everything on your list, but at least you’ll have options.

This is what my initial list looked like:

  • Coordinate a speed-networking event, and find a fellow coach, writing professor, media company, educational institution, professional organization, or publishing company to co-sponsor it.
  • Plan additional networking events, panels, workshops… anything that will build up a community of industry professionals willing to share tips, war stories, contacts, etc.
  • Join a planning committee or host a panel at an industry-specific conference. Or hop onto someone else’s panel.
  • Offer a free giveaway or discount at someone else’s event.
  • Advertise in industry-specific magazines, blogs, websites, or newsletters.
  • Create a targeted advertising campaign on sites like Facebook or Yelp.
  • Hold seasonal contests.
  • Start a monthly newsletter as a means of building up a mailing list, establishing yourself as an expert, and promoting products and/or services.
  • Gather testimonials for your business’s fancy-pants website.
  • Offer a reward for referrals.
  • Start focusing magazine and newspaper pitches on content related to the business, thereby establishing yourself as an expert.
  • Further promote yourself as an expert by answering questions on sites like Brazen Careerist or LinkedIn, or responding to reporters’ queries on HARO.
  • Create a Facebook page for the business.
  • Start guest posting like a madwoman.
  • Reach out to former employers, clients, editors, etc., letting them know you’re available for work.
  • Attend far more networking events.
  • Eventually open a co-working space that can also act as a venue for networking events, lit events, workshops, etc.

Some of these items may work for you. Others obviously won’t. But it’s my hope that you’ll be able use this list as a jumping-off point for your own. Once you’re done drawing up that list, pick a few items and execute them. See what works and what doesn’t. Try a few more. Analyze results. Adjust accordingly.

And once you’re up and running, don’t stop marketing. Even when business is booming. Without consistent marketing, it just won’t last.

Steph Auteri is the founder of Word Nerd Pro, a one-stop word nerd shop offering a variety of writing, editing, and coaching services. She has been published in Playgirl, Time Out New York, Nerve, The Frisky, and other bastions of fine writing. She is a member of The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment and underemployment and provides entrepreneurs with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of their business’s development and growth.


  1. Web Design Wrexham

    Starting out as a freelancer can be tough and scary when you’re leaving the comfort of a guaranteed wage. I started doing web design for other clients whilst still doing my full time web design job to ease my way into it.

    The tips you’ve posted Steph are great for anyone starting out and attempting to land clients for the first time, I think positioning yourself as an expert is a definite must! Don’t forget sites like Elance where you can pick up jobs to keep you ticking over, in some cases they can become a long term source of income.

    I think the hardest part is having the belief in yourself, especially when you’re conditioned in jobs to be told what to do then going to thinking and making the decisions on your own, it’s and exhilarating feeling in the end.


  2. Cashinghub

    Freelance working is as difficult as other kind of works. Freelance can give a boost while starting a career in a perticulat industry. I would say freelance working is a nice way to learn. for that you need to have good knowledge.

  3. Greg Miliates

    Don’t limit yourself to thinking that freelancing is just writing or design work. There are virtually unlimited things you can do as a freelancer/consultant.

    By far the best thing I’ve done in the past 18 months is to automate my marketing, by doing things like SEO to create an automated pipeline of new freelance/consulting work. This saves HUGE amounts of time, since I no longer have to do any cold calls–and I hate cold calls. Perhaps best of all, automating my marketing has brought in clients I would never have known about–including a couple of my biggest clients.

    A few other ways you can snag freelance/consulting work:
    –>conduct a free training/webinar
    –>subcontract from other consultants/freelancers
    –>network with other freelancers/consultants who have complimentary skills
    –>establish yourself as an expert in your niche by blogging, speaking, writing print articles, etc.

    It’s best to have a bunch of clients who you get work from (I bill roughly 10 clients per month). I actually have several dozen “active” clients for whom I’ve done work, and depending on their needs, I may or may not get consistent work from them. The point is that by having lots of clients, your workload–and revenue–is fairly consistent, and–perhaps more important–you have MORE financial security than a day job will ever give you.

    Greg Miliates

  4. Greg Miliates

    Being in the right niche makes all the difference. I know plenty of freelancers/consultants who have a very general niche, and as a result, struggle to find work and are paid a much lower rate.

    If you’re in a small, focused niche, you’ll be able to:
    –>charge a higher rate),
    –>have less competition, and
    –>be found easier by potential clients.

    In my niche, there are probably less than 3,000 potential customers, and literally a handful of competitors. Given that the clients are extremely profitable (law firms), that–in addition to my specialized knowledge & experience–means that I’m able to charge a high bill rate, which, in turn, means that I can work less to make the same amount as someone with a lower bill rate.

    Finding a profitable niche is sometimes a matter of luck–as in my case–but it’s also possible to find profitable niches by doing the right kind of research.

    If you’re not in a niche, you’re losing money, and can only charge a fraction of what you could be earning. What’s more, if you’re not in a niche, you’ll have trouble finding enough work, and will have heavy competition–which also lowers your rate.

    Greg Miliates

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