Self-promotion sometimes feels like cutting your hair by yourself. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, and the results are often unsatisfactory. Therefore, most successful freelancers invest in self-promotion either by hiring a social media manager or paying for SEO services: both effective ways to promote yourself as a freelancer.
Essentially, self-promotion is about lead generation. So, what are leads? They are potential clients who may purchase your services. Most lead generation methods fall into the following two categories:
Outbound marketing strategy: Identifying people who may be interested in your services and reaching out to them.
Inbound marketing strategy: Launching content that gets in front of people who are looking for your services so that they reach out to you.
As always, the best solution is one that fits your situation. So, think about what you want and keep reading. This article will give you some guidelines on how to promote yourself as a freelancer effectively.
The Art of Self-Promotion as a Freelancer
A company selling SEO services might tell you that inbound marketing is the most important, whereas a sales agent will insist cold calling is better than anything. Meanwhile, other professionals will tell you it’s not what you know, but whom you know, so instead, you should build your network on LinkedIn.
But what if:
- You’re an introvert who hates networking and cold calling?
- You’re an extrovert who’d rather talk to someone than lose your mind over SEO or write blogs behind a screen all day?
- You’re an ambivert and want to do it all, so you simply can’t pick and choose?
You see: there’s more than one way to travel on your freelance journey. Because marketing is more art than science. So, the question is, what’s right for you?
3 Questions to Help You Figure out How to Promote Yourself as a Freelancer
If you don’t know the answers yet, that’s okay, but keep these questions in the back of your mind as you read (or skim) this article:
1. Where am I in My Freelance Career?
- a noob testing the waters of freelancing,
- an entry-level freelancer with some experience looking to build up a portfolio,
- an intermediate with a solid body of work, but need to take it further,
- in the stages where I have my processes down and just need to hustle for better work?
Be honest with yourself of where you feel you belong on this spectrum, and ask yourself how quickly do you want to progress to the next level?
In any case, the fastest way to advance is always going to be outbound marketing–finding people who can offer you next-level work, and ask them for it. That said, once you get to level 3, it’s going to be harder to convince people to hire you if they don’t see any online presence or body of work.
Plus, at some point it’s going to be difficult to balance doing the work and promoting yourself as a freelancer. Inbound strategy can help you automate your lead generation–so you can spend more time working on higher-paying gigs than promoting yourself.
2. What Are My Ultimate Goals For Freelancing?
It often helps to begin with the “end” in mind. Think short-term (3-6 months) AND long-term (5-10 years.)
- Is freelancing a hobby?
- Is freelancing something I want to be a side hustle?
- Is freelancing something I want to do full time?
- Is freelancing my ultimate destiny and I pretty much can’t see myself doing anything else?
If you’re leaning towards numbers 1 and 2, it might make sense to invest in SEO or something that will help you gain some traction if you have a large budget and you want to make this as easy casual, and fun as possible. Otherwise, it’s probably better to try some cold pitching or just ask your friends if anyone needs work.
On the other hand, if you’re taking freelancing seriously, it’s going to be important to develop some sort of online presence and inbound marketing strategy eventually. The sooner you start thinking about it, the better, but sometimes prioritizing inbound marketing early on isn’t feasible if you need work more immediately:
3. How Much Work Do I Need, and How Quickly?
If you need work ASAP, go ask for it. Make pitching your priority. Get as many emails and phone numbers as you can. Spend most if not all of your time pounding the pavement.
On the other hand, if you have time to make a post on social media about your business, go for it. If you have time to write a blog or hire someone to help you make your profile stand out, do it. It can only help you build momentum with your outbound efforts.
It’s not always a balancing act. Sometimes you need to find that gig right away, and sometimes you’d rather just sit back and put out some content and see who bites… just don’t expect the bites to come right away.
Set Attainable Goals for Promoting Your Freelance Business
One common mistake freelancers make is thinking too big or too small:
Too big: “I need to generate thousands of leads or I’m a failure.”
Too small: “Sure I could write this blog but NOBODY is going to read it.”
The truth is, big thinkers, you couldn’t handle a huge number of leads on your own without a team. You’ve gotta grow slowly until you can hire people to help you run the show.
The truth is, small thinkers if ONE person reads the blog, they could like it and be your next customer.
So where do you start?
Set a goal for yourself to find X number of leads.
Setting Goals for Outbound Strategy
Outbound strategy goals are going to be about collecting contact information and pitching people. For example, find and pitch 2-5 leads per day, or 10-50 leads per week.
You can measure success by your conversion percentage–out of the 100 people you reached out to, how many responses did you get? How many pitches led to interviews? Those numbers can help you keep track of how well you’re doing and how you might want to adjust.
Learn more about outbound marketing for freelancers
Setting Goals for Inbound Strategy
Inbound strategy doesn’t usually yield results as quickly, so at least when you’re starting out, it’s important to focus more on production goals, like consistently posting X numbers of times a week on social media and publishing Y number of blogs per month.
You can measure your success with how much traffic you’re getting, how many engagements or new followers you’re getting, but ultimately you want to start getting results like 1-3 leads per month after a few months of consistently producing content and cultivating your following.
Learn more about inbound marketing for freelancers
Social Media Marketing for Freelancers: The Best of Both Worlds?
Social media is a tool that can be used for inbound and outbound marketing at the same time.
The inbound component of social media marketing is posting regularly. The more you post consistently about the same topics, the more algorithms start to understand what your channel is about and who they might want to recommend it to. The more you post consistently, the more people see you doing your thing and want to support you. The more you post consistently, the more you get a sense of what content resonates best with your audience.
The outbound component of social media marketing is engaging with other brands and users. You can find people on LinkedIn posting about an opportunity and message them directly. Or you can pitch someone who works at a publication you want to write for or a business you want to service. It never hurts to ask.
How Many Social Media Platforms Should You Promote Yourself On?
Some freelancers choose to market exclusively on one platform–for example, some photographers and tattoo artists get all the leads they need from Instagram. Some content creators on YouTube get leads from talking about their services.
This can work especially well for freelancers who offer local services–a tattoo artist with millions of followers can still only ink so many clients in one day, and they don’t need to invest in SEO because their social media is already blowing up. But if they want to expand or grow their business, it might be worth making sure anyone googling tattoos finds their shop and not someone else’s.
Social Media Promotion Takes Time
The catch is, social media, like inbound marketing strategy, takes time to take off. You can pitch someone on instagram or any platform to collab on a project and work with them the next day, but that gig alone is never going to put you on the map for more than a moment. Even if you strike gold and go viral early, that could be your fifteen seconds of fame and before you know it, you’re a one-hit-wonder. People will forget and move on.
The name of the game of social media marketing is sustaining attention, the same way you sustain a fire. You don’t want to just make a big flash and burn out. Keep adding fuel to the fire constantly, keep it burning and grow it until it’s so big, people can’t not see it.
Network Marketing: The Unicorn of Marketing
It’s not what you know but who you know: enter the reality of marketing.
Referrals are by far the best form of marketing. Catch is, they are the most unreliable. Meaning there’s not much you can do to control whether or not you get referrals.
Some people are born into families that make it easy to network–many Hollywood actors are related to a producer or some other rich and/or famous person. Not all of us have that advantage, but if you’re not born into a good network that doesn’t mean you can’t break into one or create your own.
Freelancers network on social media, within forums, or at events. The more active you are, the more social you are, the more you increase the chances someone will think of you when opportunity arises. But there’s no telling when those opportunities arise or if someone will remember or bother to refer you. So networking can absolutely pay off, but it’s hard to measure or control outcomes.
Learn more about network marketing [social media] for freelancers
Gig Platforms For Freelancers
Promoting yourself on gig platforms can get dicey, depending on the platform. Generally speaking, it’s better to get established using whatever free features the platform offers and paying commission for any successful gigs the platform helped you get. The only flat fees worth paying are working with a third-party professional to help you create things like demos or work samples, logos, headshots, or to optimize your listings or profile.
Paying a platform for premium exposure or to promote your profile more is usually not advisable. Most legitimate freelance gig platforms charge a commission for gigs that you get from being on the platform.
That said, if you’re already established on the platform and you need to get your profile or listings ahead of your competition, it may be worthwhile investing in some in-platform advertising, but even then, most legitimate platforms will charge additional commission fees in the event that the ad successfully led to a sale.
Learn more about Gig Platform marketing for freelancers
Advertising Freelance Services
When it comes to advertising freelance services, it generally makes sense to target small and specific audiences for two reasons: competition and relevancy.
Competition meaning even if you want to promote your freelance writing services to the whole world, you’re going to have to spend a lot of money to get your content promoted at the level that websites like fiverr are promoting freelance services.
Relevancy meaning it’s not going to make sense for you to buy a Superbowl commercial because of all the millions of people who see the ad, how many will want to buy your services?
That being said, the following may be good methods to consider advertising your services to a very niche audience.
Paid search, or SEM (search engine marketing) is paying a search engine platform to promote your content based on certain keywords or search terms. For example, you might spend some money to rank high for “freelance photography services in Austin” so that whenever someone types that query into a search engine like Google, your business will pop up. If you wanted to rank for “freelance photography services near me” expect to pay a lot of money, because a gig platform like fiverr is ready to out-bid you for that one.
Social Media Ads
If you’re active on social media, ads can help you grow your audience faster and/or help you promote a specific sale. Again, it makes sense to go specific so you’re not competing with gig platforms for traffic, and also so that you’re making sure you’re not wasting money advertising your Los Angeles tattoo parlor to people who want tattoos in Boston.
Sometimes it’s worth it to support the local paper or sponsor a local event where you’ll likely get some leads. For example, a family photographer might want to sponsor a baseball team.
The Bottom Line: The Best Way to Promote Yourself as a Freelancer
The best way to promote yourself as a freelancer depends on your circumstances and objectives. Depending on your strengths, where you are in your freelance career, and where you want to be going, you’ll inevitably be carving your own path as a freelancer that is unique to you and your journey.
You can start freelancing right now with no experience, no portfolio, no nothing–or you can wait to pitch clients until you’ve got your portfolio and marketing materials in order. You can invest in SEO strategy for your business if you want to attract clients, or you can ignore that completely and enjoy the thrill of hunting down clients that you want to work for. You can be an off-the-social-media-radar freelancer, or you can be an influencer. Or you can do all of those things.
In any case, we want to celebrate your success, share experiences, and help each other along in our freelance journeys. Let us know how your journey is going and what you’re curious about!