As soon as I found out I could make money writing, my head was spinning.
“Okay…so I can do this freelance thing. But how do I get clients?“
Over the years, I’ve been able to pick up tips and ideas while doing some experimenting in my own business. Now, this business supports me full-time, and I get to work on projects that I enjoy.
Here’s everything you need to know about lead generation. Plus, an inside look at what I’ve done to attract clients.
What is a lead?
Before we jump in, let’s get clear on what a lead is. This term can have different meanings depending on who you’re speaking with. Looking at it through the lens of selling your freelance services, a lead is a potential customer who may eventually become your client.
What is lead generation?
Lead generation is the process of creating interest in your business and services. The ultimate goal is to reach a person who could be a good customer, establish a relationship with them, and get them to work with you.
What does the lead generation process look like?
Now that you know what lead generation is, let’s break down the different steps that take someone from an unknown visitor to a lead.
First, someone discovers your business through one of the marketing channels or strategies you decide to use. Then, they follow your call to action. This can result in a variety of responses from the visitor, but the goal is to capture their contact details and in some way confirm their interest in your services.
Why is lead generation important?
Simply put, if you want to make money in your business, you need leads. Focusing on lead generation and “filling your pipeline” consistently is what will help you build a sustainable business and avoid the feast or famine cycle that many freelancers, unfortunately, come to know.
If you’re struggling with your cash flow, honing in your lead generation skills is one of the best things you can do for your business. Each lead is an opportunity to network, make a sale and build profitable relationships.
Strategies for lead generation: The different approaches you need to know
When we think about lead generation, many people only talk about attracting prospective customers and what you can do to help them find your solution. That’s, of course, very useful but it isn’t the only way.
There are two different types of marketing to consider as part of your lead generation strategy: Inbound marketing and outbound marketing
What is inbound marketing?
Inbound marketing is a strategy that guides consumers to your company, product, or service when they’re looking for solutions to their problem. While using inbound marketing, you’re strategically creating valuable content for your ideal audience to consume. Typically, you aren’t doing any hard selling here. The focus is on being as helpful as you can and then “warm leads” will find their way to you.
What is outbound marketing?
Outbound marketing is the process of promoting your company, product, or service through actions like advertising, pitching, and cold outreach. This is a more direct way to get the word about your offer out there, and it’s more “salesy” than an inbound marketing approach.
Should you focus on inbound or outbound marketing?
Both can work, but generally speaking, it depends on what stage you’re at in your business.
If you’re new or need to bring in work right now: Outbound marketing
When I was brand new to freelancing, I had to get clients in the door. If I didn’t put in the effort to reach people directly, it may have taken months for me to bring in my first client. If you’re also in this position or need to bring in money to pay the bills, outbound is your best bet.
If you have experience and/or financial stability: Inbound marketing
As you begin to get your feet under you in business, or if you already have a lot of experience in your space, spend time on inbound marketing. Investing the time in lead generation strategies that bring clients to you can pay off, but it does take longer than outbound.
What strategies do you use to generate leads?
Next, let’s take a closer look at the different lead generation strategies for each marketing type. This will help you select the option that will provide the best results.
Outbound lead generation strategies
Outbound lead generation is a bit like stepping on the gas in a vehicle. Approaching it the right way can create massive growth in your freelance business.
Want to get in front of potential clients right now? Cold pitching (or cold emailing) is one of the fastest ways to get in their inbox and start a conversation.
The idea of doing this is scary to a lot of people. I get it. I’ve been there, but it’s also something I’ve seen work in my own business. I can say with confidence that sending cold emails was a critical lead generation strategy for me when I made the move to freelance full-time.
It’s an art, and it’s a science. But it’s not as difficult as you might think. It breaks down like this:
- Identify a client you’d like to work with.
- Go on their website and look for something you can help them with.
- Find their contact information.
- Send them a personalized pitch that explains how your service will benefit them.
If you aren’t sure what to say in your cold pitches, check out this post: How to Write a Pitch That Wins Freelance Clients (in 7 Steps)
Let me be clear: Every pitch you send won’t land, but if you learn to pitch well, it can transform what your freelance business looks like.
Job boards and freelancing platforms are full of clients that need to bring in talent. Some freelancers avoid them because they think they’ll only find low-quality jobs, or that there’s too much competition and they won’t win gigs.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
This is a good place to start for beginners, but it isn’t just because it’s usually one of the first recommendations you see all over the internet when you’re trying to pick up freelance work.
It’s because you can use the content of the job posts to help you tailor your pitch and speak to exactly what the client wants.
Think about it.
With nearly every other form of marketing, there’s no way to be sure that you align with what the person is looking for. That you can really help with whatever problem they’re experiencing at the moment.
Job boards are different.
Clients detail exactly what they need, in their own words. If you use that to shape the way you pitch and present your services, you’ll set yourself apart from everyone else.
Connect….with other people? What a novel idea. Just kidding.
Truly, networking events are a great way to get out there as a business owner.
Building relationships is critical in business, but it isn’t always easy to know where to start. Attending events either virtually or in-person can help you establish yourself as a professional.
Before you invest time in attending these events, you need to know who your target client is. That way, you can focus on events that will get you in the room with the right people. Then, you can search for events in your industry.
One tip if you’re looking for work right now: Don’t focus on events that consist mainly of other freelancers.
Networking with other freelancers is a great idea, but if your primary objective is to get clients, find events where you’ll reach them and if possible, be one of the only freelancers there. This will make it much easier to connect with your ideal prospects.
Inbound lead generation
Inbound marketing is like a magnet. With these strategies for lead generation, you’ll be working to inspire your target audience to come to you.
The first thing you need to have in place if you’re leaning towards inbound marketing is your freelance website. It’s a home base that you own online.
Putting your focus here is important because all of your inbound marketing efforts should eventually lead people here to learn about you and your services.
Start with the basics, including a portfolio page and a contact page. Then, you’ll need to do some search engine optimization (SEO) to help direct traffic to your site.
Once you put some work into these things, move on to other items on this list. Your website will always be “in progress.” It will change as your business changes, so don’t stress about getting it exactly right before you try other strategies.
Most people are on social media. In fact, social platforms capture 30% of online time. Some may think that time goes to waste, but that isn’t true.
It changes the way we all connect with each other, and that includes the way you connect with your target audience.
If you learn how to use it effectively, and avoid the temptation to mindlessly scroll on Twitter or Instagram, you can use it to grow your business.
How do you do that, exactly?
Use social media platforms to show off your experience and interact with others in your space. It’s all about being consistent. That’s how you’ll become one of the first to come to mind when a client needs the kind of services you offer.
Long-form content creation
Short posts on social media can be effective, but developing a content marketing plan that establishes you as a thought leader can also generate great results. This might include creating blog content, videos, a podcast, or even guest posting on someone else’s website. Use whatever method feels the most comfortable to you.
The most important thing is to understand best practices for the medium you choose.
For example, if you decide you want to write evergreen content to show off your skills to clients, you’ll most likely get the best results with longer posts. Long-form blog posts generate 7x more leads than short-form blog posts. While it might take more time to create those longer posts, they’re more effective.
Like social media, consistency is critical here. Plan out your content marketing strategy and stick to it.
This won’t work as quickly as outbound, but if you continue planting seeds, you’ll see the benefits.
If you have a network of freelancers or past clients, you can make asking for referrals part of your lead generation strategy.
Your clients and industry friends already know, like, and trust you which works to your benefit.
After all, unless you grow a team for your freelance business, you’re only one person. You can only see so many gigs in any given week.
Encourage others to be on the lookout for you. This can play a huge role in the number of opportunities that will come your way.
You should also look for any opportunities to refer work that isn’t a good fit for you to others. It’s always something that people appreciate and it’s another way to stay top of mind with people in your space.
Lead generation and following up
Briefly, we have to talk about the power of following up.
If you want your strategies for lead generation to get results, you also need to put some thought into the follow-up process. Everyone gets busy, and once a lead does show some interest, you might find that things aren’t moving as quickly as you’d like, or that the conversation stops entirely.
There’s something you can do about this. The majority of freelancers don’t follow up often enough, and this is a costly mistake. Eighty percent of sales happen after multiple touchpoints, so if you’re only reaching out once and rarely following up, you could be missing out on massive amounts of business.
But how do you keep track of who to follow up with and when? As a freelance business owner, you don’t have hours a day to spend trying to stay in touch with every potential lead or an entire sales team to do it for you…right?
This is where having the right tools comes into play. Here are a few different tools you can use to make it easy to follow up.
Boomerang for Gmail
This Gmail extension makes it possible for you to follow up within a specific time frame after sending a message. You can mark the emails you want to get reminders about. Then, when the time comes you can send another message to your lead.
So you know you’ll want to follow up with a lead but what’s the best way to do that? How will you open up the conversation again? HubSpot CRM helps you keep track of all your leads and your interactions with them. You can keep notes on each contact so that you always have the information you need to follow up.
Set up an autoresponder
If you have leads come in through a contact form on your website, you can set up an autoresponder with your email service to send those leads more information right away.
This can impact purchase decisions because 50% of buyers choose the vendor that responds first. You’ll still need to interact with the lead, but if they come into your inbox while you aren’t working, you can still ensure that they have the information they may need to take the next step.
What is the best lead gen strategy for freelancers?
There’s no single best strategy for freelancers. That’s good news because it means you can make any strategy work for you. The best strategy for lead generation is the one that you’ll actually do consistently.
If you “don’t get” social media, don’t start with that.
If you’d rather jump through fire than send a cold email, maybe it’s not for you.
Consider every method that sounds good to you, and learn what it takes to do them well, then try them out. All lead generation strategies are not created equal.
Your success may vary with different methods based on your target market. You may also find that as your business changes, your lead generation strategies will also change to support it.
It will take some experimenting, and you may even find that one method you weren’t so sure about will surprise you.
It’s time to pick your strategy for lead generation
As freelancers, there are a lot of things that require our time and attention, but this is one area we can’t afford to put on the back burner. If you want to grow your business or make your income more consistent, lead generation is the number one thing to focus on. It’s what helps you turn more qualified potential customers into clients.
Doing lead generation well is often the difference between a successful freelance business and constant struggle. Prioritize this and use the strategies here to move your business forward. If you do that consistently, it will play a crucial role in your growth and your wallet will thank you.
If you have more questions about strategies for lead generation, leave a comment or reach out on Twitter.
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