Photo Credit: Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

How to Develop a Basic Marketing Plan for Your Freelance Business

Freelancing Fundamentals

Austin L. Church
The Startup
Published in
6 min readDec 8, 2017

Most freelancers suck at marketing because they give up too soon.

You don’t expect to get in shape after one jog down your street. You also wouldn’t expect to keep muscle mass and definition if you work out hard for a month then take three off.

A million workout plans can melt away belly fat and herald the triumphant return of your sexy arms.

So pick a plan, stick to it for a year, and you will see results.

Pick a plan. Stick to it.

Your marketing fitness is very much the same. The plan itself matters less than your commitment and consistency.

Of course, this cut-and-dry approach to marketing assumes that you stay organized. Disorganization is the elephant in marketing. Disorganization tramples results faster than bad tactics.

If all you did for the next year was blast nearby zip codes with the world’s ugliest mailers — might I recommend something in puce? — then you’d still get a couple of calls.

Remove friction.

You can stay consistent with fitness and marketing by removing hurdles and friction.

Last December, I worked through Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever course, in which he shared a key piece of advice: “One of the most effective ways to lower the hurdles is to plan for them in advance.”

Example #1

I might commit to closing down work stuff by 5:30pm so that I can give my full attention to my wife and kids by 5:45pm.

Scheduling calls for 5:00pm is fine unless they go over thirty minutes. They often do, and I can’t wrap up my day by 5:45.

More forethought would tell me to never schedule calls after 4:30pm.

Example #2

I might commit to running three times a week and working out three times a week.

Believe it or not, laziness isn’t the main deterrent. The likelihood that I will work out decreases as the day goes on. So if I’m going to work out, it needs to be in the morning.

Yet, I don’t like to wear dirty workout clothes, and when I’m digging clean clothes out of the closet in the morning, I don’t like to turn on a light and disturb my sleeping wife.

More forethought would tell me to invest in several sets of workout clothes and to lay them out in the kitchen the night before.

Identify the real culprit.

We have a line-up of usual suspects that we blame for our most egregious failures: fear, anxiety, complacency, laziness, greed, scarcity mindset.

But as often as not, the real culprit is a more subtle obstacle, some tiny patch of friction that we forgot to remove.

You are more likely to meet your marketing goals if you remove friction.

For me planning isn’t about perfect performance but about identifying potential obstacles. Clear out clutter and contingencies, and you can create a frictionless path to your marketing goals.

Once you bring more forethought and organization to your marketing, you will have a much easier time with commitment and consistency.

Don’t wake up on a Tuesday and wonder, “What marketing should I do today?” You should have settled that question for yourself months ago.

What should you organize?

To get in marketing shape, you must organize the following:

  • Goals
  • Strategy
  • Tactics
  • Activities
  • Schedule
  • Tools

For now, let’s touch on your marketing goals.

(People write books about marketing all the time, and you’re not interested in reading a book right now.)

What are your marketing goals?

Fill in the blanks in this statement:

By (specific date) I want to have (X number of) new freelance clients who pay me (X dollars) per month for (your type of freelancing).

To achieve that goal, you must choose an initial strategy and tactics.

Many freelancers confuse the two. A tactic isn’t a strategy the same way that a right turn isn’t a road trip. A strategy isn’t a goal the same way a road trip to Los Angeles isn’t Los Angeles.

So make sure you’re clear on basic marketing terms:

  • Your goal is your destination — Los Angeles.
  • Your strategy is the specific route you pick — I-40 and I-44.
  • Your tactics are the turns you take. Or, if you prefer, the different bullet points in the driving directions.

You will employ different tactics to grow your Instagram following than you would to drive traffic to your blog.

Assuming you do grow your Instagram following, what then? How do you convert the digital currency of followers into real dollars? How do followers and likes fit into your business model?

Many freelancers start marketing with a hazy notion of “success” in their heads. Each tactic, including “build a large Instagram following,” makes an equally indistinct contribution.

So in that respect, using a marketing channel like Instagram isn’t synonymous with marketing. You can drive around in a car without embarking on a road trip to Los Angeles.

Selling Children’s Books on Instagram

Now that we have belabored our second analogy for the day, let’s move on to a concrete example.

  • Goal: Sell 1,000 copies of my first children’s book Grabbling.
  • Strategy: Use Shopping on Instagram to sell to my Instagram following.
  • Tactics: 1 — Curate beautiful children’s book illustrations to grow my following; 2 — Educate my fans about Grabbling with one to two illustrations per week and include a clear call-to-action to buy the book; 3 — Run a monthly contest with a free book giveaway. Ask each winner to take a photo with the book open to his/her favorite illustration and share it on Instagram with appropriate handle and hashtags; 4 — Send the book to Instagram influencers (mostly moms).
  • Activities: Posting, following, networking, organizing contests, following up, tracking results.
  • Schedule: Post daily. Promote Grabbling every Sunday. Kick off each month’s contest on every second Thursday.
  • Tools: SmarterQueue, Shopify, TailWind, Rafflecopter.

Closing Thoughts

I may have just insulted 99% of my freelance colleagues with this basic explanation of marketing. Forgive me.

I simply want to get this point across: Marketing doesn’t have to be complicated. Take a second look at my book marketing plan above. It will fit on a single 4"x6" notecard!

Yet, if you don’t define your goal, strategy, tactics, activities, schedule, and tools, you will fight friction every step of the way. You’ll end up driving in circles in your hometown when you really want to be in Los Angeles.

Eventually, you’ll give up and resign yourself to freelance feast-or-famine.

Please don’t do that! Pick a plan. Stick to it. Write it down on a 4"x6" notecard if you must. Just don’t give up too soon.

Your plan itself matters less than your commitment and consistency.

Do you want to get serious about your marketing today?

A good next step is to use my free “Attracting Better Clients” worksheet to rethink your marketing and to start connecting with the freelance clients you actually want — that is, the ones who will pay you what you’re worth.

Click this link to share your name and email address, and I’ll send you the download link for the worksheet.

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Austin L. Church
The Startup

Writer, Brand Consultant, Freelance Coach | I teach freelancers how to stack up specific advantages for more income, free time, fun 🌴