I’ve read a lot of articles about how to grow my freelance consulting business, but my own experiences run counter to many of the recommendations in those articles.
For example, one of the most common recommendation for helping me to grow my business is to hit on friends and former co-workers for gigs. Personally, that only works if you’re: (a) really into networking and staying in touch with people you might not have liked in the first place; (b) have friends and former co-workers who not only have a need for the services you provide but also have control over the checkbook so that you can get paid. My real friends know what I do and I really don’t want to work for or with any of them; I prefer to keep work and play separate.
Another technique is to steer work to your clients and hope that they’ll return the favor someday and steer someone they know to you. This generally works if you have clients that offer services/products that other people you know might need. In general, I find that this technique works about once every two years or so. You’ll likely go broke relying on this technique.
So what have I found to work for getting more business?
Advertise like crazy in places where clients are going to see it. For my clients, that’s online directories and search engines. Your clients may hang out in other places, and you should know or find out where that is.
One place most clients don’t hang out is in forums or blogs. They’re too busy running their businesses to worry about what someone else is writing. If all you want is to subcontract some work, forums are excellent places to show that you’re a subject-matter expert in something and use that to generate alliances that may lead to jobs. However, to be the primary contact in the relationship with a client means you have to market to the client and not to a bunch of other people just like you.
Another place clients won’t look if they want a freelancer is one of the job boards, like Monster or HotJobs. Clients view those as being for full-time or contract help, not every-so-often-freelance help.
They might look at web sites like eLance, sologig, guru.com and such. However, the whole paradigm for those web sites is to pay the lowest possible price to get the work done in a faraway timezone. Most companies who would use a freelance consultant rarely want to work with someone they can’t meet face-to-face at least once in a while.
Focus your efforts on finding local clients instead of competing with people halfway across the world for projects that don’t pay enough to buy a good dinner. Directories like FreelanceLocalTech, Kudzu, and others that focus on organizing consultants by services provided and geographic area are the best ones to place your ads. If other freelance companies that offer similar services to what you provide have traditionally advertised in the Yellow Pages, do that as well. You have to spend your marketing $$ where the client is going to find you!
If you can afford it, advertise on search engines like Google and Yahoo. It’s expensive, and your own pricing model has to be able to support the hundreds of dollars you can spend each month on this advertising channel. But, if you charge enough for your services, paid search ads are an excellent marketing tool to increase the volume of calls you receive about your services.
Finally, know that any advertising and marketing campaign is going to work only as long as you have a compelling message that connects with the clients you want to serve. We have other marketing tips in this blog, so take advantage of them to hone your message and grow your freelance consulting business.
Got other tips for growing your business? Post them as comments for others to read!