When you work for yourself, sometimes you’re up (and so busy you barely have time to eat) and sometimes you’re down (and trolling LinkedIn for projects). Sound familiar? “The nature of being self-employed is up and down. That’s the way it is,” says Ilise Benun, who calls herself “the marketing mentor.” “But it is possible to smooth out those waves — through marketing.”
Benun is a coach with more than 25 years of experience running her own business and advising creatives on growing their businesses, and author of “The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money” and “The Designer’s Guide to Marketing and Pricing.” We asked her how independents can harness the power of marketing to smooth out the waves of unpredictable work.
Narrow Your Focus
The biggest mistake people make when they’re first starting out is trying to be everything to everyone, Benun says. “You have to focus. Go narrow in order to grow. Position yourself as THE go-to resource for a specific group of people and you’ll set yourself apart from the competition.”
“People resist focusing, because it means saying ‘no,’” she says — but focusing your energy is the fastest way to grow.
For example, Benun learned that her sweet spot was working with creatives like graphic designers and copywriters. “It took me 15 years to find my focus, but if I’d known sooner where to focus, I would have grown so much faster,” she says.
Frame Your Pitch Around Clients’ Needs
Once you know your ideal client base, you must speak directly to them. Most people naturally talk about who they are and what they do: “I’m a marketing consultant.” But savvier marketers talk about their work by focusing on what their clients need: “I help creatives get better clients with bigger budgets.”
When someone asks you what you do, consider their needs. Answer their question based on what they’re looking for and how you can help.
Make Time for Marketing, Even When You’re Slammed
If you have one or two big clients who are keeping you busy, it’s easy to get complacent. Your work day is full. You don’t have time to work on your own marketing. Right? Wrong, Benun says. “When one of those clients leaves — which always happens! — if you haven’t been marketing, you panic.”
“Change your thinking,” she says. “Your current work is your present. But your marketing is your future. If you don’t feed your future, you’re going to get there and there will be nothing there for you. You need a marketing machine.”
Constantly Cultivate Relationships
So what does a “marketing machine” look like for an independent? “Marketing is all about cultivating relationships,” Benun says.
Her top three marketing tools are all simple ways to develop those relationships:
- Email. “You could send a simple quarterly email newsletter to everyone you know. That could be enough.”
- In-person networking. “Even with everything that’s possible online, I think you make a much stronger, more solid impression with the right people, in the right moment, in person.”
- Personalized outreach to target clients. She suggests doing some kind of personalized outreach to let potential clients know who you are, why you chose them and a few ideas about how you could help. “Try to get some mental real estate until the timing is right,” she says.
Your Work Doesn’t Speak for Itself
Finally, Benun has some real talk for independents everywhere. “Creatives always say, ‘My work speaks for itself,’” she says. “But it’s very noisy out there. It just doesn’t work that way anymore. Word-of-mouth will not carry your business.”
To avoid slow periods in her own business, Benun thinks of marketing as her gas pedal. “When I need it, I can put my foot on the pedal. I can reach out to everyone I’ve done a free consultation with, or follow up with people I’ve met in person.”
“Curiosity and generosity are the best marketing tools. Find ways to make friends and help people, and you’ll see success.”