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One of the most frequent complaints I hear from freelancers is that they don’t have enough time to do anything, let alone market their services.
The good news is that there are some amazing tools and resources you can start using today for free that will boost your productivity and help you grow your business. The bad news is that, once you put them in place, you’ll have no excuse not to do any marketing because of lack of time.
Online tools and resources are changing all the time, but here’s my top 10 that you must try today.
Do you charge your freelance work by the hour? You’ll need a time tracking tool to know how much time you’re dedicating to each project, so you can bill accordingly. There are gazillions of them out there, but I’ve heard good things about Toggl. It’s simple, it does what it says on the tin and it’s free. What more could you ask for?
If you charge by project, or use another charging method (e.g. by word), a good online tool to add to your arsenal is FocusBooster. Based on the Pomodoro technique, which recommends working in 20 minute bursts to keep productivity levels up, it helps you work better by staying focused (duh!). It will also tell you where your time goes, so you can take action if there’s an obvious Twitter/Facebook/name your Internet guilty pleasure leak.
FocusBooster offers a free starter option capped at 20 x 20 minute sessions per month. You can always try it for a few days just to see where your time goes, then stop using it. Or you can push the boat out and upgrade to their individual option, priced at a whooping $3/month – a small price to pay for a more productive work life.
If you are a freelancer and don’t have an online calendar yet, get one today and start scheduling your work pronto. Planning your week will help you use your precious time much more effectively, and may well make you less likely to go down the social media rabbit hole.
It can be as simple or as complex as you want, but if you’re a freelancer, you need a task manager tool to keep your sanity. To manage my to-do list I use the Reminders tool on my Mac. It’s simple and it allows me to add, ahem, reminders to each of the items, and keep different list categories (e.g urgent, this week, this month) at the same time.
I’ve also tried Evernote, a classic note taking app that has been around for donkeys in Internet years, but use the free version at your own risk (it’s highly capped – if you like it, upgrade or you will end up quite frustrated). Fellow freelancers also talk wonders about Todoist and Wunderlist, both of which are available for free and include additional capabilities, such as collaboration features and the ability to prioritise.
If you write any kind of content marketing, such as writing for a website or blog, and you’re writing your headlines au naturel, you must check out Coschedule’s Headline Analyzer. It’s an absolutely amazing tool. Hemingway can also help you write better, clearer copy, although I have to admit that I don’t always use it (it can eat up a lot of time, even if the results are admittedly good).
If you need any kind of imagery for your online presence, be it social media, a blog or a banner of some description, Canva is a dream to use, oh-so-easy and able to deliver beautifully polished designs for nothing or next-to-nothing. Pablo, a Buffer tool, is similar and I’m told it’s almost as good for social media purposes only.
For amazing images that are Creative Commons and free to use I like Unsplash (just remember to always credit and link back to the photographer).
For those freelancers juggling several projects at the same time (and who doesn’t), I strongly recommend keeping some kind of basic project sheet for each project you’re working on. You can use a basic word processor or spreadsheet for this purpose. Simply make sure to include basic data such as the client, date of the engagement, scope of the project, price agreed, deadlines involved, contact names, that kind of thing. It’s very simple but can really help.
Hungry for a more sophisticated approach to project management? There are plenty of free tools that can help you boost your freelance project management abilities. As a big plus, they tend to have team collaboration features that come in very handy when you’re working with other people.
Slack, a tool self-branded “the email killer” that includes instant messenger and themed channels for different conversations, has been the star of the show for a while. Trello is similar but works with a much more visual approach, creating a sort of digital cork board able to store notes, images, chats and all sorts of things. My tip? Pick the tool that best meets your needs (or that your other collaborators use) and stick with it, because there’s always a learning curve.
You’ll also need file sharing and communication tools. Some project management tools, such as Slack, come with file sharing included, but my favourite standalone solutions are Google Docs and WeTransfer, with Dropbox a close second. Skype has been my go-to solution for speaking or messaging people from my desktop for ages (not a big fan of Google Hangouts), and Doodle is simply the best at getting people to agree on a time and a date.
Freelancers often list managing their social media presence as one of the top time consuming tasks on their to-do list. But there’s an easy solution. If you still haven’t tried scheduling your social media posts, my friend, get started now. At least give it a try. One of the most effective ways to improve your productivity is to batch task, and with Buffer, Hootsuite, TweetDeck (Twitter only) and Friends+Me (Google+ only) do just that by allowing you to schedule social media posts in advance.
(Side note: Hootsuite and TweetDeck are slightly baffling to the uninitiated, so you may find you need a YouTube tutorial or two to get started).
There are lots more free social media tools out there that freelancers can use to analyse, monitor and generally keep an eye on their social media presence. I’ve tried and tested a fair few, and my three current favourites are Moz’s FollowerWonk (Twitter only), Klout and Affinio Discovery, which by the way is a lot of fun to use.
Finally, let’s talk about shortened URLs, indispensable when character space is so precious (I’m looking at you, Twitter). Many of the social media scheduling tools include the use of their own URL shorteners, but I use the standalone tool Bit.ly. I just like their puffer fish. Oh, and the analytics. Which brings me nicely to the last lot.
Google Analytics, Google Analytics, Google Analytics. There are companies out there that make in a day what you will make in years working as freelancer, and they still use Google Analytics. So, if it’s good enough for them, why shouldn’t it be good enough for you? Get it set up correctly (pay for external help if necessary, or even better, learn to do it yourself – check out Udemy for quality training at a very reasonable price) and start using it.
Do you know any other tools that other freelancers would benefit from? I’m always looking for new suggestions to try and share so please leave your comments below!
Image: Sue / CC
Freelancing is on the rise. In the States one in three workers is freelancing, and where the U.S. leads, the world follows. In today’s insecure job market, being your own boss has never been more appealing. But it’s also ferociously competitive out there. How do you stand out?
If you are considering becoming a freelancer, or have become one, you are presumably good at what you do. But that’s not always enough to create a sustainable business.
For anybody considering where to start in their marketing for freelancer’s journey, the first e piece of advice I give is to come up with a killer unique selling proposition (USP).
Your USP is what defines you as a professional and makes you different for everyone else offering a similar product or service. A well-articulated USP will help you present yourself to the world, and will help customers find you when they’re looking for your product or service.
When you are freelancing, and more so if you’re offering your services online, you’re essentially competing with everyone else in the world with similar skills and an internet connection.
In a crowded marketplace you can only win business if you are cheaper than the competition or if you are better.
If you’re competing on price it will be a race to the bottom and won’t earn you a living. A well-structured USP can help you focus and do things differently, so you can compete on quality, not price.
Imagine you are a plumber. There’s another dozen plumbers in town, and you all have similar equipment, materials and experience. How can you come up with a USP that sets you apart from the competition?
There are five questions that can help you define your USPs:
1. Who are you?
First, identify your strengths and talents and what makes you the outstanding professional you are today. What are your technical skills? Have you got a particular area of expertise? Write them down and add any awards, accreditations and memberships that back up those claims.
How long have you practised your craft? You will have acquired experience along the way, but also satisfied customers, employers and colleagues. You can transform those into testimonials and LinkedIn recommendations. You are also likely to have a good basis for a portfolio so you can show the world what you do. Add everything to the list.
Now think about your personality traits. Do any of them make your delivery unique? Maybe it’s your attention to detail, ability to work under pressure or knack for coming up with creative solutions under the tightest of budgets. Make sure you write down everything you can think of.
2. What’s the market like?
Next, you want to know in more detail what’s happening out there. Who are your competitors? And before you go “oh, forget it, there’s already people doing what I want to do anyway, what’s the use”, stop. Repeat after me: competition is good. It shows there’s customers willing to pay for what you have to offer, and that others are making a living by doing just that.
If others are doing it, why shouldn’t you be able to do the same?
Do your research. What are your competitors offering? At what price? Do you score well against them? Don’t be fooled by an impressive website, dig deeper. How are they positioning themselves in the market? What words are they using to describe themselves?
3. What do your customers want?
Now it’s time to find out more about your customers. If you have already sold your services in the past, pick up the phone and give them a call or buy them a coffee. If you don’t have any customers yet, speak to someone who represents your ideal customer. You’re looking for the core reason why they buy and the path they follow in their quest to meet their needs. What helps them decide what is the best solution for them?
For those of you who are really determined to get to the bottom of things, call someone who’s turned you down. If you have a positive and friendly approach, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to get some feedback on why they didn’t pick you. It will be painful, but it will also give you some invaluable information on how you’ve been marketing yourself and what to change.
4. Where are the opportunities?
Based on the information you’ve gathered form your market research and customer interviews, think about how you can articulate your particular strengths, talent and experience so that they fit the needs of your customers. You want to come up with a unique approach, one that is different from your competitors.
Think about the problem you’re solving, how it’s currently solved and whether you could do something differently. Take the list you wrote back at the beginning. Are customers looking for something that current competitors aren’t quite offering yet? Is there a gap in the market that your talents and experience could fill?
This is probably the most difficult step. Sometimes it’s because of a lack of information, so if that’s your case, go back and do some more research. More often than not, it’s hard because you’re the last one to realise what your core strengths and talents are. Why? Because they’ll come easy to you, and what we find easy we sometimes don’t value, even if others out there do.
So, to help you with this question, I’d like you consider something else.
5. What are your passions?
What fuels you? There’s bound to be a few topics and activities that you are particularly interested or involved in. Is it basketball, dogs, books? Baking, DIY, stamps? Yoga, music, street art? Some of this stuff won’t be relevant in the USP defining process, I hear you say, but put it on paper.
Now, take a step back. Is there any way you could bring some of that passion into your freelance work? Can you somehow fit those interests into what you do for a living?
When you’re genuinely into something, it’s often because it taps into your natural talents. Learning more about that subject becomes a hobby, so you invest time and energy in becoming better without it ever feeling like a chore. You become a master without even trying.
Passions can be the best shortcut to a killer USP.
So back to the plumber. He’s qualified, he’s experienced, he’s good at what he does. He knows his competition and marketplace. He thinks there’s a too much emphasis on plumbing replacement and very little on restoring at the moment.
After speaking to customers and checking out some industry publications, he has also spotted an interior design trend. There seems to be a growing interest in including original antique plumbing pieces, such as radiators and taps, in high-end house renovations.
It also turns out that our plumber spends his weekends going to flea markets and car boot sales and buying antiques that he lovingly restores.
Any guesses as to what his USP may be?
Best of luck finding yours.
Image credit: Loren Javier / CC
The wonderful thing about the persona approach is that it helps marketer think in concrete as opposed to abstract terms. Addressing a generic segment is harder than designing a campaign aimed at Mike, 37, accountant, married, father of two, DIY fanatic, gourmet extraordinaire and your ideal customer.
The problem with buyer personas is that they are often not built correctly. Someone in the organisation decides that personas is the way forward and tasks someone else with creating them. A Google search delivers a few templates, and presto! You have half a dozen buyer personas. Right?
It can be tempting to speak to your sales team first and foremost. After all, they are the ones on the line of fire and know your customers inside out, right? But the results can be misleading, because what interests you sales guys and gals (bottom line: price and features) is not necessarily what really matters to you buyers.
The only way to really find out what makes your customers or prospective customers tick is to talk to them. Ask them good questions, and leave them time to answer. What are their values and worries. What they want from the kind of solution you offer. Why (if) they want to buy, and why now. How they inform themselves. How they make buying decisions.
The results of a persona analysis can support you entire marketing scaffolding, from website structure to content marketing to real life events. Once you really “grok” your personas, you know where to add value to their lives.
I first heard of personas in the course of a Pragmatic Marketing Institute seminar in Boston in 2007. The experience totally changed my approach to marketing.The seminar leader was extremely knowledgeable and a brilliant communicator. Her name was Adele Revella.
A decade later, Adele is CEO of the Buyer Persona Institute, arguably the world’s top expert on buyer personas and best-selling author of a book on the subject.
I totally recommend her book. For a taster, you can also check out her free webinar Beware Buyer Personas: The Cow is on the Ice, which gives an overview of her 5 Rings of Buying Insight methodology. Her approach is very B2B oriented, but regardless of where you work I’m sure you’ll find it extremely valuable.
One of the things Adele said during that seminar that has stayed with me for almost a decade (and I repeat as a mantra when I find myself tempted to skip certain steps in the marketing planning process) is this one:
You can have the most wonderful thoughts and ideas about your persona. But if they are not fact-based, derived from hard work and conversations with your target audience, they’re useless. So if your personas aren’t working for you, go back to the drawing board and start from scratch, this time really digging deep.
It’ll be worth it, I promise.
[Photo credit: Kevin Dooley / CC]
I’ve been teaching a marketing metrics course recently. I’m enjoying it enormously, and amongst other things I find it a great opportunity to reflect on concepts that are often taken for granted. I refer to the kind of topics that you have studied in the past and are familiar with, but don’t really think about much in your day to day life. For me, one of them has been statistical analysis.
I took several statistics courses back at university as part of my politics degree. I remember enjoying the subject at the time, but I hadn’t actively used statistics in years, other than election time (I have a weakness for pre-election poll results).
I’d certainly not used statistics as part of my marketing responsibilities, at least in a deliberate way. The companies I have worked for didn’t manage volumes of data large enough to require statistical analysis and large-scale modelling. Metrics were mostly compiled and assessed manually, and that was more than enough, thank you very much.
But today, as part of the innovation path led by Cloud computing, big data and the Internet of Things, things are looking very differently. The amount of data generated every day by all kinds of organisations would have been unimaginable a few years back. More and more data collection points are giving us vast amounts of data, and the only way to turn them into valuable information is to carry out some kind of statistical analysis.
With A/B testing becoming commonplace when rolling out marketing campaigns, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of statistical significance. You’ll need it to figure out whether any differences between your control and test groups are relevant or not (remember, we aren’t necessarily after 90% plus confidence, 80% plus is probably enough, but you do need the numbers to tell you what works and what doesn’t).
Marketing Mix Modelling (MMM) also uses statistics (more specifically regression) to identify the relevance of your campaign elements and determine which ones have performed best. With the increased emphasis on marketing metrics, performance analysis and ROI, and the insight MMM can give into your work, they will most likely become much more widely used across all kinds of companies, especially as the high cost associated with drilling large amounts of data is eroded by technological advances.
If you work in FMCG you’ll have been using them for aeons and you’ll be wondering what the fuss is about now. But for anyone else working in marketing, using statistics as part of your marketing analysis will soon be a given.I am confident we’ll all be using statistics on our day to day work, from detecting trends to forecasting to analysing campaign results, much sooner than we think. Adding a competent understanding of statistics to your skill set may sound like a smart move now, but it will be an essential requirement very soon.
Back to the classroom, I have to say that getting reacquainted with statistics has been a very pleasant surprise. They have come a long way since the clunky SPSS packages of my uni days. The Internet is truly making it incredibly easy to add statistics to any marketing campaign, from providing straightforward tools and calculators (covering from confidence intervals and sample sizes to everything else you may need) to showering potential users with how-to videos, articles and tutorials. Go and check them out and start using them today.
Your marketing will be all the better for it.
[Photo credit: Lendingmemo]
I recently saw an article on how to hire for marketing positions that got me thinking. Benji Hyam’s post “Why Marketing Has Become The Hardest Position to Hire for” is spot on on a number of things, but these are the ones that resonated the most with me in terms of my personal experience and what recruiters have shared with me:
1. You need the help of a marketer to hire a marketer
This is so obvious, yet often overlooked. The input from a good marketer is essential when hiring someone in a marketing position, simply because we are able to dig that bit deeper into what candidates are saying, ask the right questions to identify the great from the average and really understand whether the person knows what they’re talking about or simply skimming the surface.
Not mentioned in the article, but even more crucial in my opinion, is the advice a marketer can provide when defining the vacancy to fill. Marketing has become an incredibly varied discipline, and it currently includes wide-ranging specialisations and skills, from analytics to creative to campaign management. This is incredibly exciting for us, but can be a pain for non-marketers: with so many possibilities and so few people actually versant in everything, it’s hard to know what you actually need.
An experienced marketing professional will help you focus on your pain points, identify the marketing areas you need the most help with and draw up the right job description, so that the candidates you attract actually fit the profile you need, whether that is a growth specialist/growth hacker, an SEO/PPC manager or a traditional integrated marketer.
2. It’s difficult to spot marketing talent by looking at CVs
I completely agree with this statement. Anyone who’s been involved in a recruitment process knows how dull it is to look at a pile of CVs. They’re all so samey, really. And there are so many of them. No wonder CVs are allegedly looked at for less than nine seconds.
Of course, new technologies like ATS (applicant tracking systems), which automatically pre-filter CVs based on elements such as pre-defined keywords, have appeared to save the day. Only they’re not that accurate: up to 75% of good candidates are filtered out by ATS systems, according to some sources. That’s an awful lot of talent that won’t even get to be noticed by a hiring manager simply because they’re not using the “right” words or they’ve opted for the “wrong” formatting for their CV.
However, there’s an extra layer of complexity for marketers. Unlike software developers, say, the marketing field is so rich in synonyms and buzz words that I wouldn’t be surprised if the amount of talent slipping through the ATS cracks was higher for marketers than for other professions.
But there’s more…
3. The old way of hiring doesn’t really work
Hiring is hard, largely because so much about growing your team well has to do with doing it with the right people – the right people, that is, for your context. Hiring is not just about how good a person is at what they do, but also how well they fit in and the way they work with others. Not so much of an issue if it’s employee number 3,471, but a big headache for a small company, as many a start-up has experienced first-hand.
So, how do you really get to know your candidates before hiring them?
There’s several things you can do here if you get out of the CV-interview-first day mentality.
Hyam’s article talks about asking to see their blog. That’s fine, if they have one. Same for any other portfolio items (now that LinkedIn makes it possible to upload documents, it’s easier than ever). But I’d say that the best way is to actually speak to them first. In a non-interview context, that is. Meet in a café or in the park. Let the candidate relax so you can see whether there’s chemistry there. Have a chat, bounce ideas off each other. Perhaps you’re enlightened enough to do it already, but if you’re still talking to candidates in windowless meeting rooms, it’s a good time to try a different approach.
Find out if they do freelance gigs. If they do perhaps they can do a small project for you so you see if you like the way they work, in a sort of try-before-you-buy approach. If that’s not possible, ask them to describe a recent project in detail. Ideally, get your marketer from point 1 to listen in or read what the candidate tells you.
Say the project they want to tell you about is a marketing campaign: you want to know the specifics about the planning and execution, including the channels involved and how they were managed, as well as the results analysis, not to forget the people the candidate had to work with to complete the project. This kind of detailed run-through will tell you a lot about the kind of marketer you’re speaking to, and whether their work methods would fit in with your organisation.
See if you have any LinkedIn contacts in common, you’d be surprised. Chat to someone who knows your candidate. Perhaps they worked together in the past and can give you some insight on how they function as an individual. This will tell you a lot more than a stiff and standard recommendation from a former employer.
The bad news is, hiring as it’s currently being done requires a leap of faith, and that’s for both the person hiring and the candidate being hired.
The good news is that there are things you can do to make it a small a jump as possible.
Best of luck.
Photo: Ethan / CC
I have just completed an international marketing communications campaign that involved working across several countries in four continents. The scale of the piece was particularly substantial, but, somehow surprisingly, the issues that came up were very similar to the ones that I had encountered in previous global projects of minor scope.
I got thinking on the importance of certain things when it comes to successfully planning and executing a marketing project across different countries. How best to roll out international marketing campaigns, and what works and what doesn’t work when managing marketing projects that have global reach.
Here are my top tips for rolling out international marketing campaigns if you’re doing something of the sort anytime soon:
1. Have a good plan – and an even better contingency plan
As with any big project, you will have put together a detailed plan covering budget, timescales and contingency. I urge you to go back to it and increase your estimates both in terms of money and time required to cover all eventualities.
A big, global campaign is a minefield when it comes to timings: time differences, approval chains, delays in the production of campaign assets, local holidays that initially go under the radar (this website is a good place to start), all have the potential to disrupt your plans for the project, and the best way to cover yourself is to allow plenty of time for everything.
The same goes for budgets; you don’t want unexpected translation costs to endanger your project. Make sure to have enough time, resources and flexibility built into your plan to still launch as expected.
2. Build and strengthen those relationships
It’s always good to recap the basics of building great relationships with your colleagues. Get in touch with your international contacts from day one, and work on establishing a good relationship with them, both individually and as a team. Building trust and making yourself available to the international teams is the best way to reduce the chances of things going wrong.
If you’re working with dozens of individuals in different capacities it can be really useful to create a list with everyone’s names and roles by county. It can get confusing very quickly otherwise, especially if they are involved in different aspects of the project and you have to simultaneously communicate with each of them.
Last but definitely not least, you’re dealing mostly with one person only in each local market make sure you have a backup name – be it their line manager or another senior management team member – that can step in if your main contact is suddenly taken ill or leaves the organisation without notice. It’s happened to me and it could well happen to you.
3. Understand localisation
The good news is that you’ve got a wonderfully consistent set of assets to roll out across all territories. The not-so-good news is that the individual offices are not happy with simply translating them into their local language and want to modify them. What do you do?
There’s a fine line between sticking to an approved corporate message worldwide and rolling out identical campaigns that are of little relevance for the local market, so proceed with caution. Also remember that the standard format of certain assets such as press releases can vary enormously from language to language and even country to country, and you need to allow for that.
Give individual countries the chance to localise their assets, provided they stick with a set of core messages, and be very clear as to what they can and cannot change in the original assets.
4) Get to grips with the sign off process
The bigger the project, the more complex the approval layers, so make sure you understand who needs to be involved at which stage from the word go. In most circumstances both local management and senior global management will want to have a say; it’s your job to clarify the chain of sign offs required and keep the process ticking along.
Assume approval delays as we’ve seen in the first point, and any extra time you get will be a welcome breather. It’s also a good idea to find out ahead of time whether any key individuals who absolutely must give their approval to the project at any one time are planning to be away or unavailable during the project and build that into your planning.
5) Keep on top of version control
Establish from the word go a clear and consistent process for version creation and approval. Email is a danger zone – it’s surprisingly easy to lose track of who sent what when, and which version is the latest one. There are plenty of collaboration tools available out there, free and paid for (you may well be using one already within the organisation) and I cannot recommend them enough to keep your sanity.
Keep track of any changes to the original assets (you could well be asked further down the line who suggested what change) and only share them with the local teams after they’ve been approved, or things could get messy. Don’t be tempted to send out any documents at the “almost there” stage or you could end up with different versions (in several languages) of the same piece floating about.
6) Communicate, communicate, communicate
As well as establishing good relationships with your local contacts (see point 2 above), invest the necessary time in keeping everyone in the loop. Sometimes it’s a good idea to kick things off with a one to one chat with each of your local contacts; it can eat up a substantial amount of time but it’s worth it, especially if they’re new to the project. You can follow up with regular group emails or calls (you may need to organise them by time zone).
But go further. Put yourself in the shoes of your international colleagues and give them any additional tools that may be useful, such as checklists and Q&A docs. And, if you’re speaking to different individuals in the same country, find out from the start to what extent they’d like to know about the conversations you’re having with each of them – some will be keen to know every detail and others will want to avoid it like the plague.
7) Establish clear limits
In a complex project involving different layers of global and local management, as well as several marcoms teams across the globe, it’s crucial to be absolutely transparent when it comes to setting tasks. Be ruthless with deadlines right from the beginning and send the necessary reminders to keep everyone on track; more likely than not there will be the odd delay, but you can keep them to a minimum if you’re persistent.
It’s also important to set clear guidelines as to who will do what; the last thing you want is the kind of misunderstandings that can make an organisation look uncoordinated. For example, on the PR front it’s paramount to determine who will speak to which media – not so straightforward in the case of multi-country regional offices or publications with an international scope. Keeping an up-to-date version of any media lists can help enormously.
You might be wondering how the campaign I worked on recently came about in the end. I’m pleased to report it was a success – more so on certain countries than in others, but that’s another story – although getting there was by no means easy, and it required the hard work of many people across many countries. That’s the beauty of international marketing campaigns: they come with added challenge and complexity, largely because of the different interests, strategies, management and marketing agendas involved, but they are also incredibly rewarding.
So breath deeply and good luck with your next project!
Image credit: Andrew Smith / CC