Eight Ways to Avoid Freelance Feast or Famine

famine

Here’s an all-too-familiar scenario for freelance Web designers and developers: You land a great client who has fairly deep pockets and loads of interesting projects. As a bonus, you get along great with the contact at the client company.

Life is good and the cash is flowing. The client sends over several projects. You roll up your sleeves and get to work. In a few days, the bread-and-butter client calls with a couple of additional projects.

In a short time, you’re up to your eyeballs in the client’s work. It becomes all you can handle.

And then it’s all done.

There may have been a falling out, your client contact may have moved on or your client may simply have had all current needs fulfilled. Whatever the reason, your project roster is barren. You were so busy for quite a while and now… nothing.

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While blissfully working on the deep-pocketed client’s projects, you put off your own marketing. More than likely, you figured things would go on, comfortably, forever. Now, any earlier marketing momentum is long gone.

This is a lousy position: marketing and hunting for clients — from scratch.

This is the treadmill nature of feast-or-famine syndrome. Freelancers are crazy-busy and then they’re looking at dust and cobwebs on their keyboard. Up, then down. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Set Deadlines and Create Goals

The cure can be just as tough as the syndrome. Plus, it usually requires a juggling lesson or two. The remedy is developing a marketing mindset in which you are always aggressively marketing and selling, even when you’re at your busiest. That means finding a way to keep at least three balls in the air: the business management ball, the marketing ball and the client work ball. Juggling them effectively and successfully is no simple task.

The place to start is well before you’re inundated with client projects. Ideally, that’s when freelance designers and developers first launch their businesses. Startup is the time to set up good business habits. Those new to freelancing typically have more downtime than their veteran freelancing cousins. A new freelance web designer or developer can have 50 percent or more non-billable time. A savvy freelancer will make use of that time and put together plans that will forever slay the beast called feast or famine.

You’ll need some goals and a plan of action to reach them. Smart, savvy web designers set goals that are attainable, measurable and have a deadline or timeframe. For example, you might have a goal such as, “Increase billable hours to 65% by December 2014.” This goal is attainable with a bit of work. It’s measurable (65%) and also has a deadline (12/14).

If you do set some lofty goals, consider breaking them down into smaller ones that are easier to reach. As you reach these small goals, you’ll be encouraged to keep up the effort. Before you know it, you’ll reach the big one that seemed somewhat unattainable.

Find the Right Tools

Marketing activities, tools and tactics abound in today’s business world, both on and offline. Many are low-cost or even free. And, not every tool is the right tool. The freelancer around the corner might swear by networking events. But, perhaps you’re an introvert and networking events aren’t exactly your cup of Earl Grey. No worries. There are plenty of other tools. Try this one and that one until you find the ones that are a just-right fit for your marketing toolbox.

Be careful though. Don’t fall prey to the trap of using too many. There’s no shortage of salespeople, landing pages and all manner of sales efforts that will try to convince you that their offering is the bee’s knees and an absolute must-have for every web designer and developer. That’s often punctuated with, “Well, the successful ones, anyway.” Don’t buy the buzz.

All you need are a couple of tools that have proven effective for you, fit your personality and are reasonably easy to manage. It also helps if you enjoy doing them. Here are some.

Website

I’m not going to add much here since having a site is obvious. Every business needs a web presence. That goes so much more for folks who make their living from web work. Just don’t be like the shoemaker whose kids went barefoot. When it comes to your site, pull out all the stops. Show what you can do.

Email marketing

Even with the ascension of social media, email marketing is holding its own. A Direct Marketing Association study found that email marketing has an ROI of roughly $40 for every dollar spent. That’s certainly not too shabby. In fact, it’s remarkable and makes email marketing the marketing channel with the highest return on investment.

Email marketing services such as AWeber, Constant Contact, Vertical Response and MailChimp are very affordable and most offer additional services such as social media integration, autoresponders, event integration along with metrics that help you learn what you’re doing right and what could use some improvement.

But email marketing, e-newsletters and the like aren’t going to do much good with a solid subscriber list. For any business, freelance or multinational, an opt-in email subscriber list is one of their biggest assets.

Be sure to add a “Subscribe” form to your site in a conspicuous spot or two. Make it easy for folks to sign up. To help gather those subscribers, it’s a good idea to offer something free and authentically useful. A pdf report or white paper about a relevant topic can be a tempting offer. Web designers and developers might consider putting together a Website Launch Checklist or something along the lines of How to Get the Most From Your Website Redesign.

Social media

A social media presence has become essential, especially for those who work on the web. Tools like HootSuite and SocialOomph make automating social media activities a snap. Plus there are plenty of tools available for metrics to help grow a following and more. If you utilize automation, try not to automate too much. Weave in personal messages and modified tweets. You don’t want to appear robotic in your social media efforts.

Meaningful, useful posts that resonate with your audience are much better than sharing what you’re having for lunch. As prospects learn that you’re a great source of information, your following will grow.

Blogging

Authoring a business blog is a great way to gain some exposure while demonstrating your expertise. For web designers and developers, a blog provides an inexpensive opportunity and platform to show off their work while also engaging their audience.

If you’re new to blogging, helpful resources are readily available. Problogger.net’s Darren Rowse has several excellent books to make the most of your blogging efforts.

Speaking

This is a scary one. But, for those who have the guts to get up in front a crowd, speaking engagements are a great marketing tool. Sure, public speaking is ahead of death on the stressful-things-to-do list, but it’s really not all that tough. It just takes a bit of practice. That practice might involve joining a local Toastmasters club where you can hone your oratory skills in front of a small, supportive group. They don’t generally throw tomatoes.

Consider this. When you’re the speaker, you’re the ipso facto expert. You’re the one up front holding the microphone. The audience may have even paid to hear your talk. Or you might be the one who gets paid.

Even if it isn’t a paying gig, it’s still more than worth the effort. Speaking at a business event can be a major promotional shot in the arm. Naturally, you’ll promote your talk, but so will the event producers and sponsors. Promotional activities usually include email announcements, news releases and both print and online ads, at minimum.

Speaking is, by far, my most effective marketing tool. Whenever I speak at a business event or conference, I always have a line of people afterward wanting to ask a question and give me their card. I’ll typically leave the event with one or two new clients.

Writing

Writing articles about web design and development is another way to demonstrate your smarts. Many sites are content-starved and will be happy to publish your prose, if your articles are relevant to their readers. Like speaking, you might even be paid for your efforts.

Learn what your audience — your prospects — want and need. What are their common challenges? What information can you provide in your writing that will help them do a better job, avoid stress or, perhaps, make more money.

How about adding some synergy to your marketing efforts? You can promote your blog posts, articles, speaking appearances with social media. Or, for example, add some articles or speaking gig promos to your e-newsletter, add a subscribe form to your site, promote both on your blog. You get the idea. In short order, you will have created your own personal marketing empire.

Avoiding feast or famine is about having several prospects at various points along the sales path. Some will be new suspects. Others will be viable prospects. Move them along the path toward becoming paying clients by demonstrating your expertise, experience and, ultimately, your unique value each step of the way.

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Neil Tortorella

Neil Tortorella is a graphic designer, writer and marketing consultant. He’s the author of “Starting Your Career as a Freelance Web Designer” and runs Tortorella Design from his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Comments

9 comments on “Eight Ways to Avoid Freelance Feast or Famine

  1. How about adding some collaboration to your promotion efforts? You can advertise your weblog site content, content, discussing appearances with social networking. Or, for example, add some content or discussing gig promos to your e-newsletter, add a subscribe form to your site, enhance both on your weblog site. You get the idea. Instantly, you will have created your own personal promotion empire.

  2. Hi Glen,
    Nice article and you make a good point about using Twitter as a resource for finding freelance gigs. Several of my friends have used it with excellent results.

    TweetDeck is a good tool for filtering and honing searches. In your article, you mentioned, “Simply replying and saying “I’m interesting, please email me more details” is lazy.” I think that’s a major key to success with Twitter. Rather than being perceived as just another one of a bunch, scoping out the source’s site and making a connection is sound advice. Plus, a freelancer can gain a lot of insight into a prospect by looking through their site. Taking the time to do a bit of background research into a prospective client can help a freelancer gain relevant information. That can be the difference between building a relationship that’s packed with value and one that’s little more than yawn-worthy.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Dukan
    Thanks for sharing your comment.

    Collaboration is a great tool for leveraging one’s freelance opportunities. For years I worked with two other freelancers in complementary areas to mine. Essentially, we sold each other’s work. For example, if I had a site design project for one of my clients, I’d be the project manager and bring on the other two guys to add their bits. Others times one of the others would be the project manager for a gig. It a great system and really maximizes opportunities without marketing costs. The trick is finding some folks who are a good fit together in terms of skills, but also personalities.

    Engaging prospects through social media, email marketing, etc. I’ve found case studies work best for these communication channels. For example, an e-newsletter one month might feature a successful project where a freelancer saved his or her client’s hindquarter in a miraculous feat of creative genius. Another newsletter, social media or blog post might address a new service or technique that did amazing things for a client.

    Two things with case studies. First, they should be relevant to the audience and their common business problems. Many prospects within a common industry share the same kinds of challenges and problems. Prospects can put themselves into the case study scenario and see how a freelancer could solve their nagging problem-at-hand.

    Second, case studies should be structured in a problem / solution / result format. At least that’s what’s worked best for me. I’ve found the result bits are where many freelancers fall short. That’s why it’s so important to follow up after a gig. A freelancer can gain valuable, quantifiable information during a follow-up and give their case study efforts some serious punch. Numbers, facts, statistics and such add a lot to a case study.

  4. Great article! I myself take a get a lot of leads from twitter and facebook, I think you guys should also try instagram, with the amount of people using their phones now, instagram has become a direct source of lead generation!

  5. Really appreciate the information provided here, I get a lot of clients myself from social media’s like twitter and facebook, although I really think people should also give Instagram a try for generating some very good leads!