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How to Market Yourself as a Freelancer Without Paying for Ads

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If you’re wondering how to market yourself as a freelancer, this is the post you’ve been waiting for. Successful freelancers know that gigging can be a lifestyle of sowing and reaping (droughts and harvests), meaning it can be tough to earn consistent income as a freelancer without having a strategy for drumming up that consistent business.

When I freelanced full-time, I spent as much time sifting through and bidding on projects as I spent actually doing the work. And until you can build up a roster of repeat clients who need you for ongoing work, you pretty much have to market your butt off. And that takes time.

First Rule of Promoting a Freelance Business: Be Strategic

First of all, let’s clear the air: marketing isn’t machine-gunning your digital flyer across the web hoping someone will be interested and give you money. That’s a surefire way to seem fly-by-night and janky. You ever watch a video (or 500 different videos) on YouTube that gets interrupted by an ad that has NOTHING TO DO WITH WHAT YOU’RE WATCHING?

Last weekend, I was listening to my 80s Brit Pop playlist and Simply Red gets sullied with a 15-second Doja Cat video THAT I CAN’T SKIP (fully-equipped with close-up boob shots and a girl on a pole).

Dude, I have four daughters! There’s a reason I’m listening to Maverick City and Simply Red in the middle of the day. Why would YouTube drop 15 seconds of HBOMax material (which we don’t subscribe to) in the middle of my I-live-out-in-the-country mom playlist? It’s not even the same TYPE of music.

YouTube is usually really good about showing the right stuff… except for when it comes to marketing “urban music”. Then the platform acts anybody Black is gonna want to see that crap.

We don’t.

But that whole feeling of hyper-annoyance and offense that I just expressed is exactly the sort of reaction you don’t want people to have when they see your ad. But that’s what can easily happen when people are having a serious Facebook conversation about diabetes and intermittent fasting and you mention your freelance business unsolicited. Out of the blue. And out of pocket.

So, I’m going to be pretty specific and very targeted about which avenues to pursue when marketing yourself as a freelancer, compared to the way I would suggest you promote other businesses.

15 Free Ways to Market Yourself as a Freelancer

#1 Build Your Own Website

Launching your own website is one of the simplest ways to market your freelance business. Having a website also helps you come across as more established, professional, and trustworthy. (Right? Because who buys from a company that doesn’t even have a website or a social media presence?)

If you’re not super tech-oriented, building a website can seem like one more thing to do, but building a website can actually be quick (you can do it in a few hours), fun, and lucrative if you learn how to do it for other people as well.

I’m a HUGE fan of WordPress sites because of the flexibility they afford me and there’s no coding involved. And you can get some pretty darling pre-made designs from designers like Blossom Themes and Theme Isle.

But you can also use a drag-and-drop platform like Wix to build your site. Also cute and super easy to use.

#2 Build Your Online Portfolio

You need a way to display your work as part of your branding and authority-building efforts. One of my most compelling sales tactics as a freelancer is that I can tell prospective clients to “feel free to Google me” because, for the most part, what they’ll find online is evidence that I write and publish constantly.

Building a portfolio doesn’t have to mean building a fancy page on your own website. Or maybe it does – there are lots of really cool website themes that include pre-made portfolio sections on the site. If you’re not impressed by that though, you could use a tool like Behance and several other platforms (you can read about them in this post from HubSpot)

screenshot of online portfolio Behance - how to market yourself as a freelancer

#3 Start Blogging

As a freelancer, you’re the face of your business, and blogging regularly is a good way to make sure that face gets seen. Of course, you want to do some of your blogging on your own website, but it’s also a good idea to invest time into creating content for Medium and LinkedIn Pulse.

It’s tempting to brag about your wins (though there’s a time and place for that), but it will make the most sense to write on topics that your customers need to know about. For instance, if you help consultants write and publish books to build their businesses, you could write a blog post that lists easy ways for busy professionals to plan and write their books. Blogging is about being useful and the more useful you are to your readers, the more credible you become.

#4 Optimize Your Website

Search engine optimization (or SEO) is the process of creating content and building a website in a way that helps search engines find and surface your content when your target customer searches for stuff. For instance, if I search for West African food near me, I may or may not find Google results for restaurants in my town. The closest result Google surfaces may actually be 20 or 30 miles from here. The truth is there’s probably a closer West African restaurant, but if it doesn’t have a website or that website is not optimized to help Google find it and understand that they’re a West African restaurant, that restaurant won’t get my business. It will basically be invisible unless I happen to notice it as I’m driving around my neighborhood one day.

That said, it’s important that you structure your website in a way that helps Google, Bing, Pinterest, and other search engines find you, understand what you sell, and recommend your business as an option when your customers are looking to buy the kind of services you sell. That’s the value of SEO, and without it, you’re kind of in trouble. Gary Vee will tell you better.

#5 Google My Business

Speaking of Google, Google My Business is a super-powerful tool and a useful ally when it comes to marketing yourself as a freelancer because it provides instant (instant once you finish the verification process) verification that your home-based business – whether it’s a side hustle selling fashion jewelry or a full-time virtual assistant business that you’re running from your converted garage – is a credible establishment.

Listing your business with Google won’t force you to publicly list your home address. That was my worry too, initially. You build your profile, list your services and your hours of operation. Google will send a verification code out in the mail that they’ll use to verify your address. Once that’s done, your business will be listed with Google.

#6 Claim Your Yelp Listing

Okay. Okay. I know Yelp gets kind of a bad rep. But Yelp gets 77 million monthly users, according to Statista. So, it’s one of the ways people are finding local businesses. And let’s not forget that Yelp is a powerhouse when it comes to SEO, so if you want to get your freelance business on the map, adding yourself to business directories like Yelp and Google My Business is a good move.

Both Yelp and Google now offer attribution tools to help you identify your business by its ownership, so whether your business is women-owned, owned by an ethnic minority, or owned by a sexual minority (sorry if that’s not the right term, I literally just Googled it), you can use those signifiers to help supporters find you online.

All good things. All good things.

#7 Grab Your Name on Social Media

Claiming your social media handle is easier for women (like me) whose moms dreamt up unique names. But if you’re one of 15 Stephanies you know, you’re gonna need to get moving, girl, if you want to claim your name on social networks. Go for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and TikTok (if you use it). You can either make your @-handle your name or your claim to fame (for instance, my personal Pinterest account is @-Sorilbran but my business Pinterest is @-UpskilledMamas.

Even if you’re not planning to use the platform for marketing soon, or maybe even not at all, you still need to grab your name and handle so that when people go looking for you on those platforms they can find you OR you can use your profile to point them to a platform where you are active.

#8 Create a Facebook Page

I think one of the least intrusive and unassuming ways to make an announcement about a new brand, business, product, or service you’re launching is to create a Facebook page and invite your current friends and family to like it. It takes them a second to show their support with a thumbs-up and your Facebook page can get off to a really solid start if you make your first few posts really engaging, and not just posts announcing your thing.

I wish I had known this when I first started my page. I was so bent on getting the most Likes that I spent a few hundred bucks getting likes from women in countries where it was cheapest to advertise instead of trying to make connections with local women.

? Earth to Sorilbran…

Also, take a few minutes to complete your profile, okay? It’s REALLY TOUGH to get Facebook posts seen without paying Facebook for ads. One way to increase your chances of drumming up engagement is to complete your profile (make it interesting, too) so people know what you’re about and what to expect from your page. Also, post content that’s super useful to the people you’ve created your page to attract.

#9 Spread the Word in Facebook Groups

Facebook groups present a really cool opportunity for you to engage with like-minded people and to promote yourself as a freelancer. In this article on finding work as a new freelancer, I talked about how I would promote my ebook service in Facebook groups with a single graphic. Facebook groups are great if you provide a service for other businesses, as opposed to providing a service to people (in which case Instagram would be better).

Freelancers, side hustlers, entrepreneurs, and solopreneurs rely on Facebook groups to help them find solutions – apps and people who can help them do more. That’s why I’m recommending Facebook Groups.

What kinds of groups should you join? I recommend joining groups for women business owners, or groups for freelance writers, or groups focused on an industry, or location-based groups, or school alumni groups, or groups for freelancers and business owners of the same ethnicity or race are the best ones to join. You’ll learn a lot, you’ll make connections, and you’ll probably make money.

#10 Conduct Webinars

If you have a skill set that you’ve been able to monetize, you, my dear, have a skill set other people will pay you to learn, which means…

You can get people to attend a free webinar (about your industry) that you host. It’s kinda tricky because, in order to market your business with webinars, you have to market your webinars. Webinars are live-streamed or pre-recorded video training sessions that you can share with your audience. You don’t need any special software or anything. You can honestly run webinars by going live on Facebook or doing a Zoom call all by yourself.

Something to think about… Not all webinars are going to be designed to get you immediate sales. Some of your webinars may or may not be on a topic that your customers will watch. It very well may be that a webinar on setting up a freelance bookkeeping service will be attended by other freelancers who want to offer bookkeeping services. That’s fine. These webinars can be created to get you more customers OR you can create them to build your brand’s authority, credibility, and trustworthiness. PLUS, you’ll make yourself, your brand, and your business (if you choose to call it that) more visible.

#11 Expand Your Virtual Network

This one loops into my recommendation about joining groups of Facebook. Well, Facebook isn’t the only social network with industry-focused groups. You can also go on LinkedIn, Reddit, Twitter and find your tribe as well. The point is you want to find ways to make your time online enjoyable AND profitable by getting active in groups that will allow you to reach more customers and/or expand your business.

For instance, as a writer, it benefits me to know website designers because they serve clients who need both websites (which they provide) AND content (which I provide). So, expand your customer base, yes. But also expand put some focus on expanding your network.

#12 Video Marketing

I think video marketing is underutilized by freelancers and micro-businesses. Most businesses have created video content, but they aren’t consistently creating video as part of their ongoing marketing. That’s where you (and I) can win, I think. Just by turning some of our regular content into videos and using different videos for different platforms.This is another situation where it doesn’t require anything special besides your phone and decent lighting (which you can easily fix by filming when it’s daytime, right?)

#13 Ask for Testimonials and Referrals

Besides having a little dignity, one of the main reasons for really delivering on your projects is you always want to be able to ask your current and previous clients for referrals. You want them to keep you in mind for future projects and keep you in mind whenever someone else in their circle needs your services. And you may feel a little weird about asking for them, but try to get testimonials from your clients that you can post to your website or post online somewhere.

An easy way to do this is to work on a gig platform like Upwork or Fiverr (read our guide to successfully freelancing on Fiverr) and repost the client reviews you get on the platform to your own branded website. Reviews and testimonials are super important when you’re first starting out. The average person reads ten online reviews before making a purchase. It can take as many as and it takes them that long or longer to believe the reviews are legitimate reflections of your company and brand. So, you definitely want those reviews on your website.

#14 Tell People You’re Available for Stuff

Make the pitch, sis. The idea of pitching my business used to be enough to make me cringe. I imagined myself in a suit (and as a man) extolling the benefits I offer as a writer or whatever and waiting for people to say yea or nay…Hate that scenario.

What I’ve found instead is that when I tell my network about services I offer or packages I’ve put together, most people don’t say anything. The only ones who respond are usually the ones who want to do some business. So, you don’t have to be afraid of being shot down Shart-Tank-style. Tell people what you have to offer, and if they’re interested, they will respond to you.

#15 Promote Your Wins

This is for you if you’re formalizing a home-based business where you’re not just freelancing under your name, but maybe sticking the word “consulting” or “bookkeeping” on the end of it: publish press releases or make official announcements about your business.

I’ve noticed a direct correlation on LinkedIn between companies who talk about themselves and larger follower counts. For instance, brands and businesses that post about their own studies, or features in publications, successes, or new contracts they sign get lots of followers because people like to keep their networks full of winners. BUT while people will follow you when you make announcements about publicity your company’s receiving, they will only engage with you online when you provide useful content to them.

LinkedIn screenshot of author Alexis Kerr promoting an article she's featured in

So, my advice to you is to promote your wins to grow your audience. Then demonstrate your expertise by posting useful content and thought leadership pieces that show your followers that you know your stuff. And I’m in the midst of taking my own advice here.

Yes, You HAVE TO Market Your Freelance Business, But It Doesn’t Have to be a Whole Big Thing

It is important that people know and understand what you do, how you do it, and what makes your freelance services different from the 50 other people (or apps) they’ve seen that provide a similar service. Marketing is your chance to display your value to potential clients. I know that the idea of marketing yourself can seem daunting. Sometimes it’s even quite costly. But it’s important enough to be a make-or-break activity for most businesses.

So…If being a freelancer is your full-time thing, you’re going to have to get pretty comfortable with marketing your services, AND you’ll need methods for doing that effectively (instead of making your Instagram followers roll their eyes every time they see your newest post pitch.)

As a freelancer, you want to make sure that you will still have an online presence when you move away from the computer. You don’t want people to forget you suddenly. I hope the tips mentioned above will help you to grow you market your freelance business the right way.