Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Pete Savage Co-Author The Wealthy Freelancer:12 Secrets to a Great Income and an Enviable Lifestyle (Penguin)., and co-founder of the popular website TheWealthyFreelancer.com. For FREE chapters and other goodies visit www.theweaththlyfreelancer.com/bonus. Pete built a successful freelance copywriting/marketing consulting business by hand. His clients include Motorola, HP, AT&T Wireless, 3M and AOL. He’s also an accomplished speaker and coach. If you’re looking for someone to champion your desire to build your own “business of one”, you’ll find the inspiration you need from Pete in The Wealthy Freelancer (Penguin Books).
Smallbizlady: Can you really earn as much as a freelancer versus being an employee?
Pete Savage: Yes! In fact, this is one of those realizations that turn some people on to the idea of becoming a freelancer / consultant / solo professional. One day they just start thinking about it, then they pull out a calculator and they shock themselves. They run the numbers 10 times in a row just to be sure, but they sit there staring at their notepad, going, “Man! I’d only have to get 15 hours of billable work per week to match my full-time salary…”
It’s like one of those things where the answer was always right in front of your nose but you didn’t see it. Once you actually see it, a light goes on… and for some people, that alone is motivation enough to start plotting their escape from the corporate world.
Smallbizlady: What’s the first thing you should do to start a freelance business?
Pete Savage: The easiest, most low cost and most important first thing you should do is spread the word. To your friends, your family, your financial advisor, your past employer, your manicurist… tell absolutely everyone about your new freelance business. Everyone has a network, and you never know where opportunities will come from. Honestly, your dentist might have a brother who is the perfect client for you.
And then you can do more formal “networking” type efforts, both online and off. Join groups on Linked In, look at local networking organizations and if they are a fit, try them out. Just be smart about in-person networking because it can be an enormous time drain. If ideal prospects for your business don’t gather together at the local Chamber of Commerce meeting… there’s no point in you going there either.
Smallbizlady: What’s the #1 most effective promotional strategy for a freelancer?
Pete Savage: That a popular question, and I understand why, because people are looking for the one answer to build a successful business. But the truth is, there is not one right answer. There are several techniques that have historically worked, and are working recently. One I always like to mention is direct mail. That’s an important one because for years, many top freelancers recommended this as the number one strategy for approaching prospects. It worked for me, it’s still working for freelancers and it involves building a list of potential prospects and sending them a sales letter.
Smallbizlady: What should your sales letter say?
Pete Savage: First let me tell you what the sales letter should NOT say, which is, it should not be a straight pitch which says, “Here’s who am I and why you should hire me.” Instead it’s better to take a “give before you get” approach. In other words, you offer to give out something that your target audience would find valuable, for free. A special report works very well here. In fact, that’s another promotional tool which I highly recommend.
Smallbizlady: Can you describe a special report and why you like it as a promotional tool?
Pete Savage: Sure, a special report is exactly what it sounds like — an informational report that you create on your own, with the intention of creating interest or “buzz” about it among your target audience.
In fact, this sort of promotional device is commonly referred to as a “buzz piece.” One reason why it’s such a great idea for a promotional tools is that you can promote it through a variety of channels… as the focus of a sales letter, as I just mentioned, on your web site, as the focus of a press release, and of course, you can tweet about it. In everything you do, you offer this type of report for free. The “give before you get approach.”
Smallbizlady: How do you go about creating a buzz piece?
Pete Savage: In order for a buzz piece to work, you must put excellent content into the report. It can include any combination of research, strategies, analysis, predictions, tips, guidelines, etc. You could interview subject matter experts and include that in the report. The format doesn’t really matter, as long as the content is helpful to your target audience. Talk intelligently about a key issue that your audience faces and provide strategies to overcome these challenges.
Think of any great seminar or webinar or workshop you attended in the past, or even some of the best blog posts you’ve ever read. The best ones teach you something, and give you real, actionable things to go away and do. Write your special report with that in mind: impart knowledge and provide actionable takeaways for the audience. Give it a great title like, “7 Ways Manufacturing Companies Can Reduce Supply Chain Inefficiency in 30 Days” Something very specific like that, which identifies your audience and makes a promise.
Smallbizlady: As a freelancer, do you need to be constantly marketing?
Pete Savage: Yes. You should always be looking for new business, but the marketing effort to find new business can decrease in time. As your freelance business you’ll have different “levels” of clients, say, A-level, B-level and C-level. A-level clients are clients that pay well and give you regular work. B-level clients may pay decent and give you occasional work and C-level may pay not very well and give you infrequent work or always come to you with rush requests. C-level are basically the kind of clients you don’t enjoy, but you work with out of necessity. As long as you have Cs and Bs, you want to be marketing because the goal, of course, is to build a stable of A-level clients, or mostly As with maybe one or two Bs.
However, having said that, over time, you can focus less on marketing for new business, and shift the focus to more on growing your business by marketing to new clients. In other words, selling more services to fewer clients, and the strategies for growing the amount of business you get from a client are different.
Smallbizlady: What are the steps to getting more business from existing clients?
Pete Savage: First thing you have to do is to look at your current clients and perform an honest assessment of the client. Ask yourself two questions: 1) Is this a client from whom I think I can get additional business? And, 2) What makes me think that? Answering these questions is important because you don’t want to try growing business from a client who may have no further need for your services, or who may not have the budget to send additional work your way.
So once you’ve identified ways to do that, there are a variety of things you can do such as:
1) Come right out and ask for more work. This sounds obvious, but not everyone does this. One way to open up this conversation is, “So, what’s coming next for you, or your department, once this project is wrapped up?” Your contact may tip you off as to more work on the horizon, to which you can respond by saying, “Oh, I’d be interested in helping you with that…” and there you go, the door is open.
2) Ask to be introduced to others in the company who may have need for your services. This works particularly well in larger companies.
3) Offer a free training session, in the form of a seminar or an on-site lunch ‘n learn.
How important is it to be a specialist or serve a specific market niche?
It’s very important. Having a specialty or picking a niche makes marketing your business a whole lot easier. Sometimes the niche or market you wish to serve is obvious to you. But if it isn’t, and you haven’t started your freelance business yet, it’s better to just get started in SOME direction you feel comfortable with, rather than wait for the perfect niche to show up. You might not know what niche opportunities exist right from day one, but you can explore this based on your skill set, your interests, passions as well as opportunities you see in the market, and experience you glean from projects and clients as you go along.
Smallbizlady: In your book, The Wealthy Freelancer, you focus on the importance of bringing a strong mental game to being a freelancer. Why did you include that in the book?
Pete Savage: The number one reason most freelancer’s shut their business down is because they give up too soon. We also felt that there has been, and still is far too much of a “survivalist” attitude out there among freelancers. Too much attention paid to the struggle and advice on how to just “make ends meet” and not enough on the segment of the freelance population who do very well. These people exist. It is possible to earn a terrific living as a freelancer, but that will never happen if you bring a “woe is me” attitude to the game. So we start the book right of the bat with what I think is the most important of the 12 secrets, which is, “Secret #1: Master the Mental Game”.
Smallbizlady: What are some of the key teachings from that chapter on mastering the mental game?
Pete Savage: Invest in your success. This means invest in books, courses, programs, coaching, etc. in your subject matter but also on the more “softer” things like goal setting, productivity, building a positive outlook, being willing to take chances. Those “softer” skills are what will push you to succeed.
Develop unshakeable belief in yourself. As a solo professional, YOU need to be the one person who is always, unconditionally in your corner. It’s great, and very helpful, to have supportive people around you. But if you lack belief in yourself, you’ll give up when the challenges arrive. One way to do this is to read biographies about the incredible power of the human spirit. True rags to riches stories of people like Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling, Tony Robbins — and there are countless more examples — can help you nurture the belief that anything is possible.
Expect this unshakable belief to be shaken. I’m not speaking tongue-in-cheek here… there will be times when you experience anxiety and fear over your own ability to deliver. It’s normal. When it happens, if it takes you by surprise, it can knock the wind out of your sails. But if you expect and accept it as normal, you’ll be better equipped to cope with challenges, and you’ll bounce back.
Absorb the feelings of success when they come. Hey, you’ll have some great successes — enjoy them! Enjoy the feeling, and the money, that they bring, and adopt that as your new “norm” and you’ll insulate yourself from the “starving artist” stories that are out there.
Smallbizlady: What’s one other important piece of advice for someone who might want to launch a successful freelance business?
Pete Savage: I’ll give you two pieces of advice, the two most important ones: Never stop marketing. And never give up. Do both of those and you’re bound to succeed.
If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9pm ET follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter.