Ah … the life of a freelancer. It’s not enough that you’re creative and technically savvy. No, you have to be a clever businessperson as well. No matter how talented you are, when starting out you probably won’t get clients unless you pound the pavement for them. But you likely don’t have the time or money to engage in any sophisticated advertising campaign. Fortunately, these days there are plenty of ways to market your business for little to no cash.
Twitter definitely has its haters – not everyone wants to hear you describe your lunch in 140 characters or fewer. But it’s a highly searchable tool that is free and takes moments to manage. Once you set up your account, search for your favorite designers and studios as well as friends, businesses you frequent and companies you’d like to hire you. This alerts potential customers to your existence – they might in turn follow you and seek you out for future jobs. Tweet your blog, news about your business, a fun project you’re working on, artwork you find inspirational, a handy tutorial – keep your tweets short and informal. Twitter is not the place for heavy copywriting, though it IS a great place to offer exclusive deals.
Unlike Friendster and MySpace, Facebook hasn’t shown signs that it’s going away anytime soon. Therefore, like Twitter, it’s another social-networking tool that is easy and free. Be sure you set up a business page and not a profile – Facebook can be strict with noncompliance and take down profiles that do too much promoting if they’re not billed as businesses. Include all your contact information as well as upload photos of your office space, your logo and select works. You can add tabs to the top of your page. For example, you might want to add one for your works in progress or portfolio pieces. With NetworkedBlogs you can link your blog to your Facebook page so that it automatically appears on your page and in your followers’ news feeds. Encourage comments by asking questions – as with Twitter, be conversational, not stiff.
Foursquare and Gowalla
These are location-based social-networking games that allow players to “check in” with their phones at businesses, public places and homes. Check in enough places, and users earn “badges” and other items. So where does the marketing step in? Businesses can opt to offer incentives to players when they check in. For example, Chili’s offers free chips and salsa to people who check in on Foursquare, and Best Buy hosted a contest encouraging folks to check in on Gowalla to have a chance of getting a free Eye-Fi wireless memory card. With location-based social networking, you can participate on both sides – make yourself seen by checking in places as well as offer your own rewards.
Yelp certainly has its detractors, but whatever your opinion of the site, it pays to at least monitor your business profile. Look yourself up regularly to be sure your contact info is correct and a link back to your site works. Most important, read the reviews posted about you. Tweet the good reviews and perhaps ask those people if they’d like to contribute a testimonial for your website. Respond to negative reviews to see if you can make things right. Remember that for a lot of people, Yelp is the new Yellow Pages, and your business profile might be the first impression a potential customer gets.
Sometimes it pays to get back to basics – not all promotions need to be web-based. A postcard was and still is a multiuse marketing tool. Design a postcard with one or a few of your best works on one side and your contact information on the other. A batch of hundreds can often be printed cheaply. Then ask to leave the postcards at businesses such as cafes, bars, clubs and gyms. Your eye-catching design should attract new customers, whether they contact you immediately or come across your postcard they’re now using as a bookmark. If anything, a postcard gets your name out there, and recognition is a key to advertising.
Let’s face it – for freelancers the trade-off for freedom from a 9-to-5 cubicle job is a sometimes unsteady paycheck. There just isn’t a lot of extra time or money for advertising. But with the Internet comes great opportunity – the chance to take a risk with different types of marketing. If one campaign doesn’t work, try another. You’re a creative pro, so why not exercise that creativity with unique promotions?