1. Leverage your existing strengths, experience and contacts
Consider whether there is some work you can do for a previous employer. Some kind of retainer, even five hours a week, can be a brilliant option. It takes the pressure off the rest of your time while you’re figuring out what you want to offer and finding out if this is something people want.
2. Value your time – don’t take on low paid work even when you have no other work
If you take on low paid employment at times when you don't have much work, you end up having no time to invest in developing your business. Unless absolutely necessary to pay the bills, you are likely to be better off being paid nothing for those hours and spending that time on learning new skills and marketing.
3. Choose a target market which can afford to pay you a reasonable rate
Choose a target market of people who can afford to pay you at a rate that will mean your business (and therefore your life/work balance) is sustainable.
4. Avoid being over-reliant on one big client
When one client is keeping you busy, it can be difficult to justify spending time and effort to actively seek out new clients. However, broadening your client base will help you to create a long term business, which is not vulnerable to the loss of any one particular client.
5. Have a website
A website is essential so that people can find out more about you and your services. I also highly recommend writing regular blogs to attract visitors to your website. However, these strategies are most effective as a complement to personal connections and other networking, rather than as a stand-alone solution for gaining clients.
You could spend all day writing blogs, posting to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and cultivating connections on LinkedIn ...
Limiting the number of areas you work on at any one time is the best thing you can do. There is a fair bit of trial and error to go through, but the key is to find marketing methods you enjoy and can commit to doing on a regular basis - and that also generate results.
As a writer, I focus on blogging and social media posts. Other people choose to make presentations and create videos. Over time I have come to focus on the following actions on behalf of Writing for Councils which have proved to be the best fit for me:
Take a realistic, targeted approach to content marketing
When considering your approach to content marketing, it's important to be realistic about what you are likely to make time to do, as well as what is most likely to appeal to your ideal clients. Here are some options to consider:
Select blog themes
I have found my most effective online marketing has occurred when I have focused on one subject for a sustained period of time which relates to a specific service I offer on my website. Having a theme for a series of blogs and social media posts for a period of time (at least a month) has generated the best results.
I use canva.com to create a series of themed social media posts in one go, which relate to a source document.
The downside of this thematic approach is potentially boring the people who follow your posts or receive your newsletter who are not interested in that particular topic.
Note your progress over the previous week or month
It’s very easy to focus on what is not yet as good as it could be, and not to appreciate your progress. Recording your wins on a weekly basis is a great way to stay motivated. This can be as simple as one new LinkedIn connection, or a post that was seen by lots of people. Noting what's working will also help you tweak your approach, so that you do more of the effective actions over time, and drop the methods which aren't yielding results.
Sometimes it's easy to choose a business name - it just comes to you, and is a good fit for your business from the start. At other times, business owners face a long hard slog of trying on many different names until they find one that fits, and is flexible enough to grow as their business expands.
A great resource when thinking about different names is the website http://www.business.govt.nz/onecheck. You can type in any name and find out instantly if it is available as a company name, domain name (for your email and website address) and as a trademark.
There are some useful tips on picking a business name at the back of Inbound Marketing, by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah (published by Wiley, 2014). These are suggestions rather than absolute rules, but they do provide a useful checklist when weighing up a range of options. Ideally a business name should:
- hint at what you do
- be easy to remember
- be easy to say
- be easy to spell
- start with a letter early in the alphabet
- avoid hyphens and dots
- be available as a Facebook page and Twitter handle
- be short
- not include punctuation
- include your main keyword
- start with a capital letter
- not be named after you, unless you are a sole trader and intend to stay that way
- not include an acronym
- have a story behind it, of why you picked that name
- look fine when all the letters are run together in a domain name
- be timeless rather than trendy.
Eight out of 10 people will read your headline, but only two will read the rest of your text ... it's a daunting statistic for blog writers, but here are five ways to beat the odds.
1. Make a promise in the headline and deliver on that promise in the text. The best way to do this is to write the headline first.
2. Consider using a 'how to ...' or a 'five ways to...' type of heading. Headline readers will know what they're getting so are more likely to read on.
3. Focus on the benefits of reading your article, rather than just stating the type of information provided.
4. Download the free Copyblogger ebook 'How to Write Magnetic Headlines' at http://my.copyblogger.com/login/. This 55 page document is an excellent resource - I now skim through it every time I write a headline.
You do need to register on the Copyblogger website to access this book, but you can unsubscribe if you become overwhelmed with the follow up emails. However, there are many other excellent resources available on this site for anyone interested in improving their copywriting skills.
5. Use http://coschedule.com/headline-analyzer. This is a fantastic online resource. You write in your headline and receive a score, as well as guidance on how to improve your headline. This is based on a number of factors including the type of words, the sentence type and the headline length.
It's a very quick way to see how your headline stacks up. For example, here are the headlines I tried for this blog, and the scores:
62 - Five ways to write headlines that shine
70 - Five excellent ways to improve headlines
72 - Five excellent ways to write successful headlines
70 - How to write successful headlines
74 - How to write great headlines and increase readership.
This last headline is likely to have scored highest because it includes two benefits - great headlines and increased readership. For more on this, see page 14 of 'How to Write Magnetic Headlines'.
I don't recommend slavishly sticking with the highest scoring headline, but it's a useful way to gauge whether you're on the right track. The best tests will be your blog readership numbers, and the open rates for your e-newsletters.
Understanding our thinking preferences can be a light bulb moment, providing insight into why we work the way we do, and what our strengths are. This is particularly important for freelancers who move from working in a team environment to working on their own. I have found it helpful in identifying my strengths and therefore the services I offer through my business, and who my ideal clients are.
It can also provide clues about how to present information in a way that will engage your audience, depending on their thinking preferences.
I learnt about thinking preferences in a presentation from Julie Varney, of the Business Development Company. This is one of the tools she uses when working with businesses, and is called Hermann Whole Brain Thinking.
The four categories within this system are:
Blue – rational/factual. Likes numbers, facts, data, logic, order. Good at financial and engineering work.
Green – process oriented. Gets things done. Likes to have a plan and get on with it. Not keen on airy fairy stuff. Organised and timely. Likely to have a tidy desk and colour coded filing systems.
Red – feeling oriented. Very connected with other people and emotions. Like to express themselves. Like to know everyone is on board, engaged, in agreement, and connected. Like teaching.
Yellow – experimental. Big picture, innovative, new ideas, like to play and conceptualise. Don’t like structure.
Commonalities: Blue and Yellow favour conceptual thinking and are comfortable with risk, Blue and Green are organised and structured, Green and Red favour less risky options, Red and Yellow favour big picture thinking.
People can have one, two, three or four thinking preferences. Three percent of the population are whole brained (favour all four thinking styles equally), 30% are triple dominant (favour three thinking styles), 60% are double dominant ( favour two thinking styles) and 7% are single dominant.
Awareness of the different thinking styles can be useful when communicating with someone – to adapt the way we speak to more closely match their thinking style, ie. whether they talk about vision (yellow), the numbers/research (blue), process (green) or who’s involved (red).
Since listening to Julie's talk, I have become increasingly aware of my predominant strength in the green area - and can see how this plays out in my work life. It helps me to see where it's helpful to partnership with others. I particularly enjoy working with 'blue' people who have indepth knowledge and high levels of skills with data and analysis, helping them to share that information in a way that makes sense to people who can benefit from their detailed knowledge.