Setting up an inbound marketing channel for your freelance business

As a freelancer, new client acquisition remains one of the biggest challenges. While cold outreach and freelance marketplaces serve as primary channels to many of us, word of mouth is often the only source of inbound inquiries.

Well, there are blogs and social media channels too, but the number of freelancers actually getting meaningful referrals from here is miniscule.

There is a reason why this is the case. It takes a significant amount of prep work to make this happen. For instance, your blog needs to earn significant ‘domain authority’ before it can rank on Google Search for relevant keywords and bring you a steady stream of inbound traffic.

Social media may seem relatively easier to master. But this requires steady work over months before you can build a following. More importantly, the “purchase intent” of social media followers is much lower than search engine traffic. Conversion rates are thus much lower, and sometimes unviable as a traffic source.

Outbound channels like cold emails or freelance marketplaces need you to put in work every day. However, the results come much sooner and is the reason why they are so popular. Freelancers cannot wait for inbound to show results before they build a viable business.

But with the right strategy, inbound marketing can not only show quicker results, but also serve as your largest source of new customers.

This short guide will help you chart out a plan to achieve this.

What are you good at?

There are plenty of different ways to succeed with inbound marketing. Unlike established businesses, you may not have the bandwidth to hire skilled professionals to execute the plan for you.

As a freelancer, your inbound marketing strategy needs to be based on what you are good at. Are you comfortable in front of a camera? Can you write well? How good are your coding skills?

The answers to these questions can help you plan your inbound strategy. Someone who can write well could consider blogging as a traffic source. On the other hand, if you are a decent programmer, you could use this skill to build applications that can generate inbound leads.

Find shortcuts

Inbound marketing takes time to deliver results. This is the reason why freelancers often give this a miss. Identify shortcuts that can deliver desirable results in quick time.

Source: WingedEgg.com

For instance, the traditional SEO strategy is to optimize your website so that it ranks for your targeted keywords on Google. A shortcut strategy would be to publish conversion-focused guest posts on established websites and building links to them.

This would help you rank much sooner and could help with customer acquisition at least until your website earns adequate authority.

Similarly, you could trade your skills and establish partnerships with larger businesses. For instance, if you offer web design services, you could offer to build a landing page to a business in exchange for a shoutout to their email list.

Creative solutions such as these would help you with accelerating your marketing plan and acquire customers faster.

Invest in third party tools

Freelancers are notorious for their use of free tools and freemium plans. This is not surprising given that most of us are bootstrapped without a big marketing budget.

What many freelancers fail to realize is that they are trading their time for money with free services. It often takes a lot more time and effort to get things done with free tools. In some cases, the reliability of such tools is lower than what a paid tool would offer.

As a result, your inbound marketing campaigns may fail to show desired results despite doing everything right.

A good example of this is the use of images for your blog posts. By now, you may know very well that copyright-free stock photos fail to engage audiences. Besides, finding a good image that is free to use can take a lot of time. Investing in paid creative tools like Snappa, Shutterstock or Getty Images could come at a cost, but can save you an incredible amount of time and effort in producing high quality content.

Produce evergreen assets

Earlier in this article, I had recommended the use of shortcut strategies to find inbound customers fast. The only downside to this is that with such techniques, your pipeline ends much sooner.

A blog post on your own website could continue to be updated periodically so that it is better than the rest of the articles ranking for the keyword. Your guest post on another website stops sending you traffic if your competitors do a better job with their content and take up the top spot.

Similarly, when you own an email list, you could nurture them constantly and make multiple sales from the same list. With a partnership, your inbound customers stop once the partnership has run its course.

For this reason, you must also invest in producing evergreen assets that continue to bring in traffic over time.

Blog posts on evergreen topics is one way to go about this. However, as any marketer will tell you, SEO is an ongoing exercise and so you will need to constantly work to  keep your rankings up on Google.

It is hence wise to seek out other traffic channels. If you can code, you could consider building calculators and tools with programming languages like Python that will be used by people in your target industry. Such tools are viral and can bring in a steady stream of direct traffic from prospective customers.

Work incrementally

As a bootstrapped freelancer, it is normal to feel impatient and wanting results quick with your marketing strategies. Outbound marketing tactics can help you with this, but inbound works out cheaper in the long run.

While it may not be possible for you to invest in inbound completely from the beginning, it is a wise idea to work on this incrementally so that you start seeing results in the long run. Overtime, you could completely transition from outbound to inbound - this is one of the most effective ways to bring down your customer acquisition costs and thereby be more competitive with your service offering.

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