20 Ways That Freelancers Can Drum Up Sales During Quieter Times

WILL DROP PANTS 4 FOOD sign
(Note: that’s not me in the pic!)

Whether you call yourself a freelancer, a solo/independent consultant, a solopreneur or maybe even something else entirely, one of the biggest challenges that we face as one-person bands is the ability to balance our workloads effectively – in particular by keeping the sales pipeline filling up while we’re busy working on other projects.

And I can speak about this from recent personal experience…

I have a confession to make…

I dropped the ball on the sales front earlier this year. After a busy Q4 in 2014 (resulting in December being my most successful month income-wise to date at the time) and a very busy January running CR 25 single-handedly, followed by two large one-off projects in Feb-Mar (which both overran), I was simply too busy to fit sales into the mix.

Big mistake.

Then in April: quiet. Well… I had enough to keep me going, but things were a lot quieter than I was used to. It was my quietest period since my first three months in business (way back in the summer of 2013) and therefore in over 18 months. Yikes.

Things have picked up rather nicely since then, but I wanted to take the time to blog about some of the ways that I went about drumming up new business during that quiet spell. And while working on this list of sales tactics for freelancers, I just kept adding more and more ideas to it and ended up with 20 different ways…! For the record though, you might not see some tactics that you’re expecting to see… For example, I don’t condone cold-calling, door-to-door sales or any other type of ‘interruptive’ marketing like that, so that won’t be in the list below. I’m also not keen on freelancer marketplace websites (e.g. PeoplePerHour) – I’m not saying that they don’t work, they’re just not for me, and I’m sure that there are other freelancers who feel the same way.

…So what else can you do?

A slight disclaimer: some of these are probably really obvious, but if fellow freelancers (SEO or otherwise) browse the list, see 2 or 3 points and think to themselves: “damn, why didn’t I think of that?” then that’ll do for me…! 🙂

First things first…

1) Remove any “I’m not available” type messages from your blog/website

"Not available" message example screenshot
Taken from Formfett

If you’re in a position to network and drive leads and enquiries your way, the last thing that you’ll want to do is to put people off with a message on your site that says “I’m unavailable at the moment” or “I’m unavailable until [future date]”… It’s all well and good to have this on the site when you are full-up capacity-wise, but be sure to remove it when you aren’t and when you’re actively seeking work. While this might seem really obvious, it’s crucial that you make sure to remember to remove the message everywhere and anywhere it’s featured: is it on your Contact page / your Hire Me page / site-wide? For me, it was on this very blog’s Hire Me page and my freelance site‘s Contact page, but it could be disasterous if I only remembered to remove it off one of the pages and not the other – so be sure to remember to do it…!

As an aside… Some people swear off using these type of messages entirely, which is fair enough (after all, what if a dream enquirer sees it and it puts them off from enquiring?), but @ChrisLDyson of Triple SEO raised a good point that it usually still brings in the more serious enquiries while putting off the “can I just get a quote?” types. Besides, they might not read it anyway and just get in touch regardless.

Right, got that sorted? Good. Onto the next one…

Leveraging existing business relationships

2) Touch base with old clients

If you work with clients directly and you’ve already done work for somebody – maybe on a one-off basis – and you left things on good terms, then it makes sense to touch base and catch up on their current situation. Maybe they’re in need of more of your assistance?

I did some one-off consulting for two companies in the past year and decided to email them asking how things were going. Both of them said that my timing was perfect, that they’d be keen to reconvene things – and I’ve already been to see one of them (the other one is still keen but they’re going to leave it another month or two). Nice and easy.

Obviously this only really works in certain circumstances – for example, if you stopped working with a client because their budget ran out/got cut, or they’ve gone ahead with another supplier, or they’ve brought the service in-house instead, then you may want to give those ones a miss. But think back to all your old clients and get in touch with those who loved what you did for them and might need more of the same.

3) Touch base with your main referral partners (e.g. agencies)

Who usually passes you work? In my case, as an SEO, I get a fair bit of work from web design agencies and PR agencies. Similar to the point above, get in touch with those that you’ve worked with before and find out if any of their clients currently need help with anything.

In one instance, a web design agency that I know had work to pass to me, but decided not to because the owner thought that I was already too busy. H’oh boy. It was a pleasure to correct him – and in his case, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind running any-and-all potential projects by me, just in case I wasn’t too busy, as was the case this time.

4) Touch base with any other referral partners

O Hai cat sketchBeyond agencies, who else refers you work?

A friend of mine is a web developer who has passed me maybe three or four prospective clients, a couple of which have come on-board as clients (thank you @gavD_UK of Radify)! I didn’t actually follow-through with this in the end, but I had planned to email him just to ask him if he knew anyone else who was interested in pursuing SEO at the moment.

Remember… While I said above that I’m anti-cold-calling, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with contacting people you know and asking them for help. There’s no harm or shame in that. They won’t mind – in fact, I’m sure that they’ll be happy to help.

5) Touch base with people that you’ve previously turned away

This is absolute gold-dust under the right circumstances.

Back in Q4 2014, chances are if you contacted me asking to help with SEO, I might’ve replied with something that could be summarised along the lines of: “sorry, too busy…”

If you’ve been guilty of doing the same, and so long as you were polite previously and left things on good terms, it might be worth getting in touch with them again and finding out if they still need help.

I did this myself, just now. In one case, the only wanted to work with me, so they were happy to wait until I was ready. In another case, even though three months had passed since their initial enquiry (and I’d honestly thought that I would’ve surely lost out on the work to a competitor in the meantime), they hadn’t actually advanced in getting their SEO sorted, so the timing was still fine.

At the end of the day, they’re people who have approached you previously, so why shouldn’t you get back in touch with them?

6) Ask current clients/agencies to refer you on

Full credit for this one goes to my life coach effectiveness coach George Savva (@GeorgeSavva1), who is utterly fantastic – give him a follow, won’t you?

When I mentioned to George about my quietness woes, he told me about a fantastic tip: why not ask your current, happy clients if they can refer you on? If you have 5 clients, and you ask them to pass your name on to 5 people that they know, then that’s up to 25 potential leads. Brilliant.

Here’s the email template that I used – feel free to pinch it and adapt it for your own needs:

Hi [name],

Firstly I’d like to say a big thank you for your business.

I was actually hoping to ask a quick favour. I have some spare capacity at the moment and I was wondering if you could help me. I was wondering if you know if any of your connections/suppliers/clients are looking to grow their business / get more sales and might be interested in doing so via online marketing and SEO? If so, would you be willing to pass on their names/email addresses and perhaps let them know that I’ll be in touch (and maybe double-check with them that that’s ok)? Even if it’s just one or two that might be interested then that’d be an amazing help.

Many thanks in advance!

This was one of those head-slappingly obvious ideas that just seems too good not to do. Thanks George! 🙂

Make yourself look good!

7) Get more testimonials

Speaking of happy clients… If things are quiet, now is a good time to press people for testimonials. Especially if someone once promised you one but never got round to it – now would be a good time to (gently) nag them.

My recommendation: ask them to give it via LinkedIn (not simply via email) as then they are attached to real life social profiles. The problem with testimonials is that you often wonder if they’re legitimate or not – but if they appear against a person’s LinkedIn profile then it’s hard to say that they’re not real. The majority of the testmonials on my freelance site‘s Testimonials page come from my LinkedIn profile – the only ones that don’t are from people who don’t use LinkedIn.

Testimonial on LinkedIn screenshot
The recommendation on LinkedIn…
Testimonial on my website screenshot
…and how it appears on my Testimonials page!

Utilise social media

8) Tweet about your availability

I’ve never done this personally, but I’ve seen others do this… Send out some tweets mentioning that you’re available for work. In addition to letting your followers know, the added bonus is that they might RT it and help to spread the word to their respective networks of followers.

Some examples:

9) Tweet links to your old blog content

If you’ve built up a lot of blog posts over the years, then it’s worth tweeting the evergreen pieces (i.e. those that are timeless, not topical) every now and again. I’m a fan of doing this from time to time, prefaced with the statement “From the archives…” so that followers know that it’s not a brand new post. Example:

It’s a good excuse to tweet and therefore to keep putting your name out there (but in a way that isn’t simply overdoing it). I’ve actually won a couple of clients in the past based on my blogging (i.e. they’d discovered me through my blog), so if you’re the same way, then getting more people to read your content can only be a good thing on the sales-driving front.

I recommend scheduling them in advance, so that you don’t have to worry about doing them every now and again manually. Also it makes sense to spread them out rather firing them off all in one go – I spread mine out over the course of a month or two. Use Followerwonk’s Analyse tool to find out the best times of day to tweet based on your followers’ Twitter activity.

10) Contribute to Twitter chats (but…)

I’m a fan of hashtag chats such as #BlogHour – especially those that take on a Q&A format. It’s good to get involved and offer advice, as it’s a really good way to demonstrate your expertise in your field. They’re pretty hassle-free as well, in that it’s not like you’re heading out to an event or anything and so you can do it from the comfort of your own home in your PJs or whatever…!

…However (and I won’t name names), I’m not a fan of those hashtag chats where you’re simply supposed to just advertise yourself, and every tweet is simply an advert for your blog or your service. Or to try and do that kind of thing on #BlogHour. It’s important to contribute – not just to fire off self-promotional tweets.

I’ve gotten an enquiry from simply contributing to #BlogHour (someone saw me tweeting about SEO and got in touch via email about some work), so it definitely works.

Get yourself out and about

11) Go co-working

Welsh ICE in Caerphilly image
Welsh ICE in Caerphilly

I’m a massive advocate of co-working, as a full-time member of Welsh ICE in Caerphilly and an occasional ‘day tripper’ member of FoundersHub in Cardiff before it closed (R.I.P.)…

If you’re a freelancer who tends to work from home, it’s worth mixing it up from time to time and working from a different space. In addition to being good for the soul (in my opinion anyway), you never know who you’ll end up sitting next to… I’ve done a lot of work for ICE-based businesses, but I even had a random encounter in another co-working space: someone made conversation with me by asking me what I did for a living, I told them it was SEO and he responded saying: “oh, I know someone who’s looking for help with that at the moment…” Bingo.

Here’s a list of South Wales-based co-working spaces that I put together a few months ago and plan to keep on updating indefinitely as-and-when new ones pop up and old ones close.

12) Hold free taster/review sessions

Full credit for this one goes to my friends @JayStall80 and @lyannatsakiris of Station Rd. – a fellow ICE-based business (fun fact: Jay and I were colleagues at an old agency job, too).

When Station Rd. first moved into ICE, they ran a series of Tune-up Tuesdays, helping fellow members with a free session analysing their current marketing efforts and helping to guide their marketing strategy.

It was a good move – a great way to get to know people (as they were new to ICE) and to give fellow ICE members a taste of what they do (or could do for them). I wouldn’t be surprised if it resulted in a new client or two for them, or that those people who had a tune-up might’ve passed info about them onto others.

13) Go to business networking events

Ok, so this is an obvious one… but it’s still important.

Need business? Need to network? Then go to a business networking event, my friend!

I’m an old-time BNI goer, and there’s plenty of other business networking events out there. Some take place over breakfast, some over lunch, some in the evening – so there’s something for everyone.

However some people hate ‘traditional’ networking, so the next two points cover other less conventional forms of networking, which have worked well for me.

14) Go to other business events

There are also other business events other there where the sole purpose isn’t to network, but there’s still a networking element to it.

Here’s a great example from recent personal experience: I went to the Canmol Wales Marketing Awards 2015 launch event a few weeks ago and bumped into an old client, who said that they might need my help again in the near future. A few days later they emailed me and I’ve since been in to see them. Now they might’ve gotten in touch with me regardless, but it was good to bump into them in person and catch up again – it most likely helped the process along.

15) Go to social events

Sometimes though, one of the best ways that you can make good business connections is ironically by going along to non-business events…

I used to go to Cardiff Blogs – they don’t run many events these days, but a few years ago they ran them regularly. While I went along to meet fellow bloggers (and it was around the time I’d only just started SEOno, so I wanted to learn more about blogging), when people realised that I did SEO for a living, they’d ask me blogging-related SEO questions. I think that I was the only SEO professional who used to attend the events regularly, so I ended up being the go-to-guy for SEO questions. And a fair few people kept me in mind and would refer me onto those in need – which often included paid work.

I could write a whole other blog post about how being the only SEO at a non-SEO event is a really good way to get known and therefore to get leads – the same goes for web development meet-ups, design meet-ups, social media meet-ups, PR meet-ups, Ecommerce meet-ups… the list goes on.

The important thing here though is that you don’t sell. I know it sounds contradictory, but no one likes ‘that guy/girl’ who’s only there to pass out business cards. Just go along and meet people and help them out. It will pay off.

16) Offer to speak at events

Don’t just go to events – offer to speak at them! It’s a great way to show off your knowledge and expertise – and therefore to help generate enquiries.

I remember doing a speaking gig and within 24 hours I’d had about three or four enquiries from attendees… Annoyingly it was a time when I was already very busy! But never mind. I could always consider doing a #5 (see above)…

Similar to the last point, for SEOs in particular, speaking at an SEO event is good, but speaking at a non-SEO (e.g. design, web dev, PR, Ecommerce) event is even better – especially if you’re the only person who’s given an SEO-related talk in a good while (or even at all)…

17) Get involved with webinars (e.g. Google+ Hangouts)

#maximpact Hangout screenshot
My main guest slot appearance on Max Impact

And don’t just go to real-life, ‘offline’ events. If you know any people who run and host Google+ Hangouts then it might be worth attending them – and maybe even seeing if you can speak/co-host one, too.

They don’t run as much as they used to do, but I’m a big fan of Max Impact (you can read my recent interview with Max Minzer – the dude who runs it – here).

Write!

18) Blog, blog, BLOG!

Blogging imageIf you’re a keen blogger then quiet times are the perfect time to get a few blog posts out there.

You could even consider writing a few in one go and publishing them over the course of a couple of weeks or months (so long as they’re evergreen, of course) – maybe even when work picks up and you’re then too busy to blog.

And while you’re at it…

19) Guest blog

…Why not write a few guest blog posts, too? I know that guest blogging has a bit of a poor reputation these days (although you can read all about my thoughts on the subject over here), but that doesn’t mean to say that it’s a pointless or futile effort – far from it. There’s still a lot of good opportunities out there.

And finally…

20) Work on your website’s SEO

Well, given what I do for a living, I couldn’t not mention SEO…

Why not work on your freelance website’s SEO to try and improve its visibility in Google? Here are a few handy resources if you’re new to the wonderful yet crazy world of SEO:

So… What are your strategies to drum up sales as a freelancer? Have I missed any out that you think should be mentioned? If so then I’d love to hear it – drop a comment below or tweet me! 🙂

[Image credits – “WILL DROP PANTS 4 FOOD” sign: sharyn morrow; O HAI! cat: Ape Lad; blogging presentation: Laura Whitehead]

7 Comments

  • Tom

    June 9, 2015 at 12:17 pm Reply

    Awesome post dude,
    Quick question.

    Where would you recommend people to go for networking events/how do you find yours? Maybe not networking entirely, but places like meetup look good but not a lot of relevant business meets?

    Tom.

  • Andy Cockayne

    June 9, 2015 at 12:35 pm Reply

    Hi Tom,

    I’ll just jump in to try and answer your question re networking…

    I think it depends where you are located, if you are in a big city then you will find quite a few options for networking metopes – I too was a member of BNI but there is a cost involved which (last time I checked) was circa £600 per year and £10 per week.

    In my home city of Sheffield there are networking events that just charge you for a breakfast (assuming it is a breakfast event) which is generally around £10.

    Best bet is to ‘Google it’, if I search ‘networking sheffield’ I get lots of options!

    Hope that helps, Steve may have a better answer!

    Andy

    p.s. great post Steve, enjoyed it!

    • Steve

      June 9, 2015 at 7:19 pm Reply

      Andy, you’ve pretty much said what I was gonna say…! 😛

      Just to add to Andy’s comment, if you’re looking for business networking events then the usual suspects are BNI and 4N. Then there might be some that are not UK-wide and simply specific to a location/area (e.g. Action Business Club in Newport). It’s worth trying them all out as you never know what might suit you – I know some people who love BNI and hate 4N, and I know some people who are the other way around. You just don’t know until you try.

      For non-business networking events, I guess it’s just the case of keeping an eye/ear out. Canmol’s launch kind of just fell on my lap.

      As for the social/non-business stuff, wherever you go, there’s usually a meetup or two for the following: web development, web design, design (in general), UX, social media, email marketing… The list goes on.

      Hope that helps! 🙂

  • Cathy Mayhue

    July 6, 2015 at 6:27 am Reply

    Going back or touching base with old clients has worked me a lot of time, if they did not have any work, they might know some body, who may need our services. Using social media is also a great idea but it is even more important to have a presence on most of the important social media platforms. Lately I have started exploring tumblr, some thing I ignored previously, but now I have realized that you have a blog then you can ignore tumblr at your peril. I have seen every social media websites serves a particular process, so use them and milk them to the maximum.

  • Rob Duckers

    July 21, 2016 at 10:32 am Reply

    Hey Steve, nice one.

    Every now and again I re-read a few quality business development posts just to refresh my way of thinking about things – and this is one of them.

    Cheers,
    Rob

    • Steve

      July 21, 2016 at 10:43 am Reply

      Thanks Rob. 🙂

  • […] I also want to write a book offering sales advice to freelancers who don’t like sales (like me), inspired by this old post I wrote offering sales tips for quiet periods, […]

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