by Jim Weber, Featured Contributor
FOR THE PAST FEW WEEKS, I have been talking with marketing professionals in my network, getting background information for a consulting project I am beginning. Many are independent consultants (freelancers) while the rest are working for major brands. A secondary line of conversation is about the health of the economy from their vantage point. I am particularly interested to learn about the volume of their business and how freelancers promote their services. One common thread I hear is that the “feast or famine cycle” is still in play.
Feast or famine cycle, really? What are you talking about, Jim? Well, for most independent consultants or freelancers (some people even call us solopreneurs) there is a significant gap between the end of one project and the beginning of the next. In fact, it is quite common that there is no contract ready to execute when the current assignment ends. This gap is the period without cash flow or famine. When one is working on an assignment, there is total dedication to the project while lining up the next project doesn’t seem to be a priority. This is the period when the cash flow is good, the “feast.” Cash flow equals “feast” no cash flow equals “famine.” This is a frustrating cycle for freelancers which often causes them to return to regular employment. The issue is that while on assignment they do not make time to promote their business. They stop selling.
Most of the freelancers I talked with rely almost exclusively on word-of-mouth-marketing, or WOM. Now don’t misunderstand, I am a firm believer in WOM as it is a powerful way to build a business. I endorse it completely, however, when you drill-down on one’s WOM efforts it is actually quite small. When most freelances tell me they get their contracts via WOM promotion they are actually saying that they are not actively promoting their businesses. In fact, they are hoping their clients will say good things about them which will lead to new business. You cannot be more passive. Even WOM promotion must be proactively managed.
Executive search is as close to pure marketing as I have seen. There may be better examples, like direct mail marketing or network marketing but few business seem to come close. Everyone I talk with is either a prospective client, a prospective candidate, a referral source, or all of the above. Everyone! My work is all about talking to people, so every point of contact is brand building and selling in one form or another. Even so, I still experience down-time every now and then. Now, more than any time in history, we have powerful tools to promote our businesses as independents. Email marketing, social media marketing; blogging; and webinars for example have been game changers. So, with all of these resources, why do we still go through famines?
How does one break the feast or famine cycle? First, let’s understand that the cause is a failure to budget time to promote your business. When on assignment, the focus is 100% on the project to the exclusion of selling new assignments. Most freelancers will freely admit to this. It is natural to assume that business will fall off when the selling activity stops. The first step to break the cycle is to devote a certain amount of time every week to pitch your business. Make a commitment and put it on the calendar. I will discuss specific selling techniques to consider later in Part 2 of this article, but the first point to remember is that promoting your business must be a regular part of your schedule.
Let’s face it, selling is not easy and for many freelancers it is dreaded, especially dealing with the rejection that comes from pitching your product or service. Rejection can be painful, so naturally, people will avoid the pain and devote less time to selling. Cold calling is the worst. Forget about it! But we must sell to avoid the famine!
How does one sell their services if they dread the selling process and are busy working on a project? The good news is that for most of us selling our services, we are not so much selling a product as we are building relationships. We are not selling commodities that are easily evaluated, we are selling trust, an intangible. The prospective client must become comfortable that we will get the job done for her and that problems will be resolved in a predictable way. Isn’t that what solid relationships are about, really? In effect, our sales efforts are about making friends.
If you have made it to the point where you are ready to become a freelancer you have already established many relationships, your network. That is your principle asset base. The goal is to leverage those relationships into business, both immediately and into the future. It is about maintaining top-of-mind awareness for your brand that will lead to referrals to build your network and client base. By growing and managing your network you are in fact, building a Business Development Department for your brand. Freelancers I know have good networks which they tap during the famine. My point is about minimizing or eliminating the famine!
Sounds easy enough, right? I like the idea of making new friends without cold calling, and leveraging my network, but how do I do that? I will discuss some tools and techniques in Part 2. For now, the key point to remember is that you must budget time every week to build your brand and promote your business.
Editor’s Note: This Article was originally featured on Innovative Employment Strategies and has been republished with permission.