Freelance Marketing 101: Learn to Sell Packages of Ideas
Bundle what you offer to clients for more sales and less stress
Get Proactive in Pitching More Complete Solutions
As a freelancer, are you reactive? Do you wait for clients to bring projects to you? I’m not asking about new clients you may be pitching to get in the door. Showing ideas at that stage is simply a good sales technique. But when you’ve established a relationship with a client, you are only starting to show expertise and reliability. Now is the time to leverage this and start adding value, and, in the process, building a longer-term pipeline of projects.
Make Sure the Foundation Is Solid
Before I get into this, let’s look at where you should be with the client before you start this process. You should have successfully completed several projects, hopefully of different types. If you’re a writer, that would mean a mixture of digital content, possibly including blog posts, ad or landing page copy, website copy, etc. For a designer, it may be doing something basic like a trade show handout or a sample web page, followed by something more complex. Either way, you’ve established your skill level. You should also check all the boxes the client needs on their end:
- You delivered on or before the deadline
- You delivered what they asked for, not what you thought they should have asked for. It is incredibly common for freelancers to deliver content that is wildly off track. It really looks like they didn’t listen.
- Your work was carefully proofread and edited. For designers, this is especially critical because you are often copying text into a design and designers are notorious for not reading content. All too often, errors that a basic edit would flag get published and it, unfortunately, gets flagged as your fault. Get a second set of eyes on it, if you can.
- You’ve asked for feedback and made necessary changes.
- You’ve billed them in a format they can work with and they have paid on time. Billing issues, whether your fault or not, flag you as a nuisance or worse. Get clarity on the preferences of their financial department (see my note on billing below).
- You’ve done at least two projects with them, preferably more.
- You’ve done them a few small favors (more below).
This basic relationship sets a foundation for going to the next level.
Tip: Billing, especially with foreign clients, used to be a big pain. Dealing with international payments, for example, was never simple. That has changed in radical ways. I use invoicing with Square and PayPal, depending on my client’s preferences. There are other options, like Stripe. These enable you to send an invoice and receive payment via a credit card or electronic check, virtually instantly. Yes, there is a fee, and for large projects, it may be a problem. One low-budget way to deal with this is to build the fee into your quote. Never try to overtly pass it on to your client. This can get you flagged by a finance department. Also, if you need your money fast, these services now offer a “payment in minutes” option that sends the money directly into your account right away. The fee is typically around 1%. (Don’t get me started on the entire scam of money transfers and time!)
Become a “Preferred Vendor”
The ideal is to become a preferred vendor in your client’s mind, whether they have a formal designation for this or not. What this really means is you want to be top of mind when they are looking for help. In addition to the points above, always adding unasked-for value really helps.
In my case, as a writer, I have a standing offer to proofread writing they have on hand, often from an internal source, for free, assuming it is not too involved. Proofing an email or sales letter may only take minutes, but it is appreciated, especially if you catch errors. Surprisingly, this has led to additional work for me editing the work of other freelancers that my client needs a pair of eyes on.
I’m going to talk about this from a freelance writer’s point of view because that is my expertise; however, any freelancer should be able to do some brainstorming and come up with a package of the work you offer.
Content marketing strategy says that we provide a potential buyer with an array of information they require to make a buying decision: relevant blog articles, case studies, white papers, fact sheets, etc. A primary content tactic many marketing managers are not aware of is the idea of cornerstone or keystone content. This concept sets you up to pitch a package of content based on this tactic.
While I‘ve written about it in detail, here is the basic idea: a broad article is planned on the core subject the product or service offers. It’s a complete introduction. I think of these as a beginner guide to the subject. The article touches on all the information points a buyer needs to know to make their buying decision, perhaps a few paragraphs for each salient point. This is a “getting up to speed” piece and should not overtly pitch a product or service. It educates the new buyer.
This cornerstone piece is the center of your content strategy. It defines all the areas the buyer or researcher needs to delve into to make an informed decision. But it is designed to guide them to more detailed and specialized information on each aspect of their research. So, each section offers a link to content that is a more advanced deep dive into that aspect. I may write about software implementation issues in my cornerstone piece, making the buyer aware that these are issues they should be considering. Then I may include a link to a video showing implementation stages or a training guide.
Each section of the cornerstone article points to a more in-depth article or content piece. If you conceptualize this, sketch out what these pieces are, and pitch the entire project to the client, you have just packaged your work into a higher value product. This can mean selling one large piece and four or five supporting pieces, as a whole. The pitch is to sell a content approach that is more strategic and proactive, rather than getting stuck always fulfilling random client needs. This changes expectations.
Moving Up the Food Chain
When you do this, you establish a higher level of expertise. I move from being a hired gun writer to a marketing resource, an outside expert set of eyes for their work. You’re moving into consulting territory, and you are not doing it by declaring yourself an expert — you’re doing it by demonstrating you are an expert.
Sometimes simply pitching a higher concept moves you into the next level. I recently pitched a series of articles to a new software client that I had been doing some smaller projects for. She was enthusiastic about the proposed project but mentioned that there were some other things they needed to deal with first. I set it aside with a note to remind her a few weeks later. Then, out of the blue, I received a spreadsheet detailing a major project, an entire rewrite of their website, including the request for my insights into their approach.
This has become my normal way of presenting myself, not as a writer but as a subject matter expert and digital content strategist and writer. I lay the groundwork for this by sharing articles I’ve written on the subject early in the relationship, typically just sharing a link in an email saying “I think this might be something you’d find interesting”. The response is always positive.
Stop Pitching a Skill and Start Pitching Expertise
Perceived expertise equals more money, better work, and higher-level clients. Eventually, it can become more general knowledge that you are an expert in the field. This is reinforced by writing thought leadership pieces and publishing them here and on LinkedIn. Often, if I have one of the pieces, I might send it to clients with a note that says “this is a thought leadership piece I’ve recently published. If you’d like me to write one under your name (or your CEO’s name), let’s talk.” Just another effective example of thinking in terms of the complete package.
Think About the Lifetime Value of a Customer
When we think about success as a freelancer, we shouldn’t be thinking about articles that say How I Made $XXX in One Month as a Freelancer. We should be adding value and building a roster of great clients that send work on a regular basis. Being proactive with your clients builds relationships that, over time, go far beyond that one-month milestone.
In software marketing, we want to know the lifetime value of a customer- how much will they pay and for how long? Will they bring more users or make recommendations? Then we project the cost of getting that customer versus that lifetime value. As a freelancer, this mindset gets you out of the reactive “next project” state of mind and gets you thinking about long term value.
Note: I write frequently about the business of freelance writing. You can see a list of the articles here.