Freelancers: How To Market Yourself in a Recession

Estimated reading time: 3 mins

This is the question many freelancers are asking at this time.

We market for a simple reason. If our customers (existing and potential) don’t know we exist, what we do, and how we can benefit them, how will we get more work?

Savvy freelancers like you know that marketing is a core function of your business. Of course, you want to get the most from it – it can be expensive in terms of your time and cost. So how are you approaching marketing?

I’ve learned quite a lot about this, in fact, over the last few weeks whilst chatting to freelancers who are still making waves during the recession. I’ve pulled together their key tactics and share them below:

  1. Keep spending if you have the money – as recession bites, prices drop, and that includes marketing services. If you have cash to spend on marketing, you’ll be getting some good deals. Marketing firms have much more spare inventory during a recession, as your competitors scale back. So spend now to gain the extra benefit. This will improve your brand and land higher quality clients. The return on investment will be high.
  2. Communicate your value – focus your marketing messages on the business benefits you bring to your clients. Use benefits, rather than features. This should include case examples to demonstrate that you walk-the-walk with other clients. Use ‘econometrics’ where you can, i.e. describe the return on investment you provide to your clients
  3. Focus on your top clients – your top clients give you your top dollar, or more guarantees of income, if there is such a thing. Market to your top clients to remind them about the value you have added to them and emphasize the benefits of your continued relationship. Make them feel important, and valued. Now is not the time to lose profitable clients. The other side to this is looking at unprofitable clients – is there business you do where you barely break even? Consider scaling back on marketing to these people.
  4. Align to your market – being a one-trick pony in these times will be very tough. You might have already been forced to take on projects outside of your core focus. Your marketing energy should align to your market – are you addressing their top concerns? Are you showing affinity with their business challenges? The truth is, the expectations of your market have changed, and so will their decision-making practices, so don’t lose an opportunity to show how you’re adpating too!
  5. Send the right message – right now, your clients want safety and security, both at home and at work. As well as aligning to their business challenges, set the right tone in terms of their individual needs.  This includes showing how you are a ‘safe bet’ rather than maverick. Humor and extremism won’t press the right buttons. Reassure instead. Show that you’re a friend with the future of your client’s at the core of your proposition.
    Here’s an interesting example on Chris Brogan’s blog when a marketing message might be a shot in the foot. Note the subtleties of the message and how if you don’t think it through it can have the opposite impact to what you intended.
  6. Switch channels – do you do online only? Or maybe you work through personal referrals? Consider adding marketing channels, or switching entirely. This doesn’t mean you’ll lose business in your existing channels, but if they’re drying up or stagnating then try a different direction for a while.

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5 thoughts on “Freelancers: How To Market Yourself in a Recession”

  1. We don’t think there are a lot of channels a freelancer can explore in terms of marketing. But there are channels where they can be effective in, and these are generally very affordable.

    Personal referrals are the bread and butter of freelancers. The voice of satisfied clients are still the most effective marketing message.

    We will probably put face to face networking next. Freelancers should consider active participation in various seminars and fora in their niche, if they are not already. They should also try joining relevent non profit organizations and industry groups, and actively participating in these.

    Finally, we think it is absolutely essential for freelancers to have an online presence. If they’re the type who can write well and who have lots of writing ideas, then they should try blogging; if they’re not so confident about their writing abilities, they can try video blogging instead. They should also try to select one or two online social media to focus on, and be active in these. Our standout choice is LinkedIn: it is very good in terms of getting your name out there as well as getting some useful contacts.

    1. @A Friend: What about Freelancer Marketplaces such as Elance and Odesk? This is a channel that can be marketed too and leveraged if others are drying up? Such marketplaces have indiosyncracies that provoke adjustments to marketing messages, pricing, promotion, etc.

      I can think of another – business referral clubs (as opposed to personal referrals, Google ‘Business Referral Club’). is one example I’ve heard of. Again, these channels require a slightly different behavior.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. We’ve looked at some of these online marketplaces (Elance especially) but have not seriously contemplated going through them.

    Our gut feel is pricing competition in these venues would be very fierce, and these are probably more suitable for stay at home and part time freelancers, or those who want to earn additional money on the side, rather than the type of freelancers that we thought you were writing your post for.

    Still, at a time when potential job opportunities can be scarce, it’s worth considering all available resources.

    1. simonstapleton

      @A friend – You’re right in saying that price competition is fierce when starting out on these marketplaces. Very good point.
      I think this is still a viable channel to professional freelancers, who won’t compete for the scraps of work you rightly suggest are prolific here – there are bigger projects where more considered criteria other than low price come into effect. Also, I don’t want to blur the line between sales and marketing – building a presence on these platforms is free marketing. I believe buyers of services will look on these platforms during their search for suppliers.

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