Survey Discussion: How Freelancers Market Our Services (2016 – 2017)

Today we have recommendations on how Freelance consultants and small business owners can implement as needed the results of a survey of 1,700 of our peers that was conducted in December 2016 by FreshBooks, a Toronto company that sells cloud based accounting solutions designed for Freelance professionals and small business owners http://FreshBooks.com .

Given the limited time that Freelancers and small business owners have available to devote to new client acquisition and once we’ve accepted the fact that the pool of new clients must be constantly replenished, it is essential that what we do has a very good chance of delivering the necessary results.

The survey indicates that devoting one’s marketing activities to tactics that are ranked as highly effective across all three age cohorts and then diversifying the tactics utilized, has the potential to reap tangible benefits for all age cohorts, despite the fact that each has a clear preference for certain activities and an ROI track record to defend those practices.

Exceeding client expectations of the work you are hired to do is the recipe for obtaining referrals from satisfied clients. Building relationships with peers that you meet at the chamber of commerce, on volunteer boards, at the gym, or at your religious institution, for example, is often a highly successful marketing and business development tactic for Baby Boomers, with 67% relying on referrals to find new clients. The ability to obtain referrals from business and personal relationships will become more accessible to Generation X and Millennials over time, as their personal and client relationships expand.  There is no more effective advertising than word of mouth.

Millennials have made hay with content marketing tactics and 42% of the age cohort use that marketing tactic. I will guess that a certain percentage of what is called email marketing, which has an adoption rate of 24% across the three age groups, overlaps with content marketing because email is how newsletters are sent. Generation X and especially Baby Boomers are advised to step up the use of content marketing if for no other reason than several surveys have demonstrated its satisfactory ROI.

Content marketing is poised to surpass the use of paid advertising because it seems that B2B prospects find advertisements insufficiently credible or engaging and they have gravitated to the brand story approach that is content marketing. Commissioning a marketing case study to put on one’s website and can be used in other marketing activities, is another highly effective method of content marketing (but it is not inexpensive).

Public speaking in the form of teaching, speaking, training (and I will stretch to say it also includes podcasts, webinars and appearing on a panel as speaker or moderator) is acknowledged by 39% of  survey participants across all three cohorts as being a highly effective marketing tactic and I respectfully suggest that you adopt the practice if you have not already done so.

It may be a little intimidating for Millennials to assume the role of expert, but appearing as a guest on a webinar or podcast seems less of a stretch than teaching business courses or speaking at professional association meetings. Your diarist is in the Baby Boom generation and I’ve done a fair amount of teaching and speaking over the years, but I’ve never directly received either a client or referral from any engagement. Rather, prospective clients are always seem impressed when I mention those activities, so be advised that you may see your teaching and speaking ROI indirectly.

Finally, since the survey explored financial management, we might pause and consider that topic as well. While only 20% of survey responders financed their businesses with bank loans, that doesn’t mean that they don’t need help managing the business finances (and their personal finances).  One third of the responders has a relationship with a bank and yet 52% report that they feel big banks are not a good fit for small business owners and Freelance consultants.

Survey findings indicate that Freelancers and small business owners with the greatest financial acumen operate the most successful ventures and enjoyed self-employment the most.  That description applied to 25% of responders.  Overall, responders are wary and uninformed about new financial software that might help them better understand and optimize their financial record-keeping data and learn how to use either what they already own, or software they could buy, and learn to understand and manage the financial aspects of their businesses.

The FreshBooks people recommend that Freelancers and small business owners invest in financial management training.  Courses are either regularly or sporadically available at adult learning centers, libraries, business networking groups, professional associations and the Small Business Administration.  https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/manage/manage-your-finances-business-credit

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Falmouth (MA) Road Race August 21, 2016 courtesy of Joseph Cavanaugh

 

 

 

Advertisements

Survey Results: How Freelancers Market Our Services (2016 – 2017)

Hello everyone and welcome to post-summertime reality.  We’re heading into the fourth quarter and whether or not you’re on track to meet your 2017 earnings goal, the time for a big push to help you end the year strong has arrived.  Marketing will play a big role in your revenue-generating strategy, but as was discussed in my August 15 post, do what you can to create a marketing budget so that your clever strategies and tactics will make it off the drawing board Your Marketing Plan Is Meaningless Until You Assign A Budget

In this post, I’ll share the results of what appears to be a credible survey of 1,700 Freelancers and small business owners that was conducted in December 2016 by FreshBooks, a Toronto company that sells cloud-based accounting solutions designed for Freelance professionals and small business owners  http://freshbooks.com.  Let’s look at what the folks at FreshBooks have to tell us about the practices, priorities and challenges of Freelance consultants and small business owners:

Who were the survey participants?

  • 65% male and 35% female
  • 51% Baby Boomers (age 50 + years);  34% Generation X (age 35 – 49 years);           15% Millennials (age < 35 years)
  • 65% have earned at least a Bachelor’s degree
  • 55% operate as Sole Proprietors, with no formal legal business structure
  • < 10 employees in the business
  • 15% in business < 2 years
  • 42% have no retirement account (median survey age was 50 years)
  • 23% earned < $20K in 2016
  • 23% earned $21K – $50K in 2016
  • 29% earned $51K – $100K in 2016
  • 24% earned $101K + in 2016

What kinds of marketing tactics are most often used?

Tactics considered most effective:

  • 67% ask for referrals, from clients or personal relationships
  • 47% have referral partners (e.g., at business association networking groups)
  • 39% speak and/or teach
  • 23 % use content marketing (especially blogs and newsletters)

Tactics considered somewhat effective:

  • 51% attend industry/ professional association events
  • 48% join business networking associations (e.g., chambers of commerce)
  • 44% entertain prospects (anything from coffee to drinks and dinner)
  • 44% use social media marketing
  • 24% use email marketing

Tactics considered least effective:

  • 32% purchase ads in print or online publications
  • 19% post on industry online forums (e.g., LinkedIn groups)

Age has a statistically significant impact on the types of marketing tactics employed and on the success rate of those tactics.  Baby Boomers have a much better success rate obtaining referrals, probably because they’ve lived long enough to develop those types of relationships.  Millennials have great success with content marketing and social media, no doubt because they grew up with the internet and they’re comfortable and adept with online communications.

Millennial Generation preferred marketing tactics:

  • 42% Content marketing
  • 30% Social media
  • 30% Referrals

Baby Boom Generation preferred marketing tactics:

  • 47% Referrals
  • 26% Content marketing
  • 22% Social media

Finally, marketing and sales are the mechanisms that promote market share and revenue growth and put the venture on the road to earning the desired profit margins that will secure its financial standing.  Yet, small business owners and Freelance consultants devote little time to business development (i.e., prospecting for new client acquisitions). which is supported by the right marketing strategies and tactics.  Most feel that signing new clients and retaining them is difficult:

  • 65% feel they need to find new clients
  • 85% consider business development a challenge
  • 75% devote less than one-quarter of their time to business development
  • 51% feel that they’re too busy with client work to prospect or sell
  • 40% devote one-tenth or less of their time to prospecting
  • 37% are uncomfortable selling
  • 25% feel they’ve found the right balance between making sales calls and performing client work

In order to build and sustain the business, it is necessary to attract and retain clients that you can reliably bill at a certain minimum amount; figure out how to describe and sell a value proposition that makes your services appear desirable to a critical mass of clients; performing client projects that you can price to ensure the desired profit margin; and effectively managing the business’ financial strategies.  As was discussed in my August 22 post, Only Those Who Have Money Can Borrow Money , the survey also examined the access to capital that Freelance consultants and small business owners have, or don’t have:

  • 20% used bank financing to launch their ventures
  • 25% were turned down for business
  • 52% feel that big banks are not designed to serve the needs of Freelancers or small business owners

Next week we’ll weave together the threads laid out here,  examine and analyze the picture that emerges and use some small data to help our respective business ventures get big ROI as we enter the fourth quarter.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Japanese surfer works his plan to win gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics   Photograph: Kyodo News (2017)

 

 

 

Build Your Referral Network With Board Service

Volunteering has for many decades been a way for aspiring socialites, self-made millionaires, traditionally employed professionals climbing the ladder and Freelance consultants looking to meet future clients to expand their networks, build strategic relationships, obtain social credibility, learn new skills and sometimes even support a worthy cause. Volunteering is the best way to do well by doing good and the money you donate is tax-deductible.

The Machiavellian among us may choose an organization that appears to have either the best business networking or most social-climbing potential (or both!), but I recommend that those in search of a good volunteer opportunity start with a review of causes that are important to you.  Some prefer social service agencies, others are inspired by arts organizations and still others gravitate to religious or healthcare institutions. If you’re not sure where to start, try lending your services to your alma mater, your children’s school, or your local Rotary Club.  Rotary Club

Board service is at the top of the volunteer pyramid and not everyone is invited to participate at that level.  However, most not-for-profit organizations plan a big annual fundraising event and extra day-of-event volunteer help is sometimes needed. That could be your opportunity to see a snap shot of the organization, as well as the event committee, up close, in action and celebrating the vision and mission.

Joining a day-of-event subcommittee is often a good place to start your volunteer journey, so that you can meet and work with one or two board members, meet the executive director and learn about the qualifications and possibility of joining the board.  Be advised that many boards come with an expected level of financial support that can stretch into four-figure sums (and beyond).  Visit the organization’s website and speak with the administrative assistant about short-term volunteer opportunities.

There are also corporate boards on which one may serve, but those groups are for the very well-connected and influential.  A path to corporate board service might begin with relationships developed during volunteer board service, but one still must have very formidable professional credentials and superior job titles.  Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as you contemplate your role as a volunteer:

Choose the right organization

You will feel much happier donating skills and money to an organization whose mission you strongly support and that should guide your choice.  Your work on the board should be for you a pleasure and a privilege and not a chore.

Be outstanding

Take your commitment to the board or committee seriously if you expect to be taken seriously by the influencers you hope to impress.  Be qualified to do the work.  Make the time to complete your pro bono work on time.  Be enthusiastic, if not passionate, and a good team player.  If you are sufficiently fortunate to be asked to chair a committee, graciously share credit for a job well done with your committee members.

Add value

While your volunteering may have at its core your professional or social agenda, you must nonetheless approach your volunteer service as someone who wants to contribute and make a positive difference.  Keep the organization’s mission and goals in mind, along with your own.  Raise your hand when leadership opportunities present themselves. Demonstrate how your unique skill set brings benefits to the organization.

Be a passionate visionary

As a board member, it will be your responsibility to prepare the organization to realize long-term goals that accurately reflect and enable the vision and mission.  Suggest that strategic planning be done, so that key staff members can join with the board and map out possible strategies for the future.  In any case, bring your creative energy and practical insights to every board meeting.

Be a team player

Make yourself look good and create the conditions wherein your fellow board and committee members will find satisfaction in their board service and find more success for yourself as you do.  Inspire fellow board and committee members to do their best work by modeling that behavior yourself.  Always acknowledge the good work and dedication of others on your committee and the board.

When you follow the guidelines detailed above, you will distinguish yourself as a superior board member who is a real asset to the organization.  Influencers who are in a position to refer those with your specialty will no doubt be eager to refer a colleague whose work they can personally endorse and your Freelance consultancy will reap the rewards.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Rewards of Awards

I’ve just spent a month as a  preliminary round judge for a prominent international business award’s Women in Business category.  I’ve judged the preliminary round four times now and I still consider it a great honor to have been invited to do so.  The judging is done online.  Entrants in my queue were mostly from the U.S., but a handful were from outside of the country.  The entrants are top of their class in every way and all are prominent leaders in their organizations.

Many are employed by Fortune 500 companies and others are founders of their own enterprises, for-profit and not-for-profit.  They are amazingly capable, brave, ambitious and so very fortunate to have had their considerable talents recognized, encouraged and rewarded.  Reading their approximately 700 word entry summaries gave me a glimpse of how effective leaders set priorities, rally their teams and achieve extraordinary goals that not infrequently have national and global impact.

The awards were first presented in 2002 and there are several thousand entrants each year.  There are numerous award categories within the Women in Business segment, including Executive of the Year, Maverick, Young Entrepreneur and so on. There are other award categories that recognize men for significant business achievements as well.  The entry fee is less than $50.  Entrants obtain access to all of the judges comments, which are no doubt instructive.  Basically, you don’t walk away empty handed if you enter, but do not win, an award.  It appears that highly successful Freelance consultants need not shy away from the awards and in fact, would be wise to include an award strategy in their brand development activities.

Nominating  yourself for a business award is one heck of a clever business promotion strategy.  Getting  your brand story in front of a panel of judges, who are often well-connected movers and shakers, is a wonderful way to get on the radar screen of influential players who may have a need for your talent, or may know someone who does.  Plus, if you’re able to read the judges’ comments, you’ll get some helpful feedback that can be considered coaching.

If you do get lucky and win an award, you will be called to the podium to make your acceptance speech–your  chance to shine, however briefly.  Not only that, but the award sponsor always gives quality PR to winners in every category. You’ll get an electronic version of the award to upload to your website and social media profiles.  You’ll have a reason to send press releases of your own to media outlets, right along with the awards sponsor.

Winning a business award is surpassed only by winning an A-List client to add to your roster.  Awards bring prestige, credibility, visibility, new clients and good referrals to your business.  The application process is likely to be time-consuming,  but I dare say that you’ll be the better for it regardless of the outcome.

Step 1 is to identify an award that you have a reasonable chance of winning. Pursuing a small local award in your first attempt is advisable.  Step 2 is to join the association or professional group that sponsors the award and Step 3 is to attend  organization events, get to know people and join a committee.  In about two years, once you’ve built some solid relationships, Step 4 is to nominate yourself for an award or ask a fellow member to do so.  If you can win an award or two at a smaller organization, then investigate Awards given by larger and more prestigious groups.

Be aware of the obligations that are attached to nominating yourself and especially, of becoming a finalist.  Finalists may be expected to buy a table at the awards luncheon or dinner and that will mean perhaps ten $35 or $50 tickets.  If you win, there is also the price of the award itself, which may cost $100 – $300.  If you nominate yourself you’ll have to buy at least one ticket and if you’re a finalist, then you must also look fabulous, dressed in a great suit, with your hair cut and color in good shape and your make-up expertly applied.  Consider it all as a marketing expense and take it off on your taxes (you can make it work).

When in business, investments must be made and whether you are a Freelance consultant or Executive Vice President at a multinational corporation, in this millenium we must recognize that we have a personal brand to develop and nurture. Accolades and financial rewards are bestowed upon those who package and present themselves well.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

 

Marketing Metrics That Matter

Every business that aims to be sustainable must engage in some level of marketing activity, whether traditional marketing that utilizes retro resources such as press releases and print ads or content marketing, that makes use of social media, blogging and the like. But the benefits and ROI of marketing campaigns are often devilishly difficult to evaluate. How does anyone know what the organization is really getting from the marketing campaigns (and budget) and what is the value of whatever that might be? Furthermore, what are the outcomes that matter in marketing? Let’s ponder the benefits that marketing campaigns have the potential to generate.

Since recent data is available, we’ll focus on content marketing. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 85% of B2B and B2C organizations participate in content marketing, yet only 21% of those who devise content marketing strategies are able to measure the ROI. Among the elements that marketing execs usually design their strategies to influence are:

  • Brand awareness and loyalty
  • Customer engagement
  • Lead generation
  • Referrals
  • Sales
  • Up-selling

Before campaign focus decisions are made, it is advisable to select which of the above elements—may we call them objectives?—that your organization would like to impact. To make those calculations, one must understand the value and expected ROI of the chosen objectives. They are not of equal value.

Promoting brand awareness and loyalty is a wonderful objective and if yours is a B2C operation, it is much easier to achieve. Can a typical B2B Freelancer who sells a service ever build a brand that is truly distinctive? Rarely, I will guess. Usually the brand is a cult of personality that a well-connected person has been lucky to attain, typically through family or  industry connections. Or maybe it’s the home town high school football hero who goes into business and benefits from his playing field reputation, subsequently known as his brand.

My experience indicates that the average B2B Freelancer should approach (personal) branding activities and brand awareness with a grain of salt. Keeping one’s name in play is an admirable ideal, but business is mostly garnered through referrals and not through the number of times that potential clients see your name.

About customer engagement — do you have the staffing to seduce those with too much time on their hands into bonding with Pinterest, Twitter or Facebook feeds from your organization? Beware the Pandora’s Box that customer engagement can become. Giving information and getting uncensored feedback is great. Ongoing dialogues with the bored or self-important are a waste of time that you cannot afford.

Lead generation keeps the sales pipeline filled, but what is the most effective marketing strategy for a service-providing Freelancer to influence that objective? As far as I’ve seen, viable leads are created face-to-face. Potential clients may read your blog or newsletter, watch you on YouTube or read your case studies, but they are highly unlikely to hire or refer you unless they meet you in person and even then, they prefer a personal endorsement of your work from a trusted source. Content marketing is not so effective here. Get on the teaching and speaking circuits to allow potential clients or referral sources to hear what you know and develop trust that can lead to some business.

After all is said and done, encouraging referrals, sales and up-selling must be the prime objectives of any marketing campaign and they are the only metrics worth measuring. The number of social media followers, website page views, newsletter sign-ups and blog post comments are vanity metrics and meaningless, because they do not correlate with revenue. Those people are just a bunch of hangers-on.

Successful marketing campaigns pave the way to revenue generation, meaning sales. Savvy marketing makes your operation look desirable and trustworthy and persuades those with money and motive to take a second look. Marketing messages can be used in sales presentations to continue the theme. A well-conceived marketing message will also open the door to up-selling and add-ons.

Referrals are a different animal, though, and for both B2B and B2C ventures are most directly impacted by your organization exceeding expectations and creating a cadre of satisfied customers who sing your praises to other potential clients.

In sum, B2B Freelancers can forget the vanity marketing objectives and focus on creating campaigns that enhance the perception of your expertise, along with the services that you provide. Marketing messages that address the usual client hot-buttons and position your business as the solution are the most effective. Nevertheless, word-of-mouth referrals are the best way to bring in business and that process is independent of marketing.

Thanks for reading,

Kim