Marketing strategies: some are a total waste of time. Some are too expensive. Some require too much technical know-how.
How do you know what the best marketing strategies are? Where do you focus your energy?
We surveyed over 100 consultants, freelancers and solopreneurs to ask them which marketing strategies have been effective in getting new clients … and which ones fell flat.
Here’s the infographic with the results of the survey:
Keep reading for an in-depth look at the survey results for best marketing strategies for freelancers and consultants in 2019. Plus, get advice on how to get referrals, find your niche, automate your processes and more.
Table of contents, best marketing strategies:
- Average marketing spend per year
- Most effective marketing strategies to get new clients
- Marketing strategies that are a waste of time
- Most effective platforms to find new clients
- Types of marketing visuals created most often
- Most effective print media to get new clients
- Best places to learn about marketing
- Biggest challenge when it comes to marketing
- Marketing strategy to focus on in the coming year
- Advice for new consultants, freelancers or solopreneurs about how to effectively market their business
- Best resources to learn about marketing strategies
Here’s the info you need to know to up your marketing game as a freelancer or consultant this year:
1. How much do you spend on marketing in a year?
The vast majority (76.9 percent) of freelancers and consultants surveyed said that they spent less than $5,000 a year on marketing.
Only 15.4 percent spent between $5,000 and $10,000 a year.
This is probably because the respondents surveyed relied on free or low-cost marketing strategies like referrals, networking, events, social media marketing and blogging (see question 2) to get new clients.
And 37.6 percent respondents said traditionally higher-cost marketing methods like print advertising were “a waste of time” (see question 3).
Plus, only 9.3 and 7.5 percent of respondents said PPC and social media advertising respectively, both potentially expensive options, were effective ways to get new clients.
2. What are the best marketing strategies to get new clients?
Referrals was the overwhelming answer. In fact, 78.5 percent of freelancers and consultants said that referrals were key to getting new business.
Closely related, 47.7 percent said networking and events were most effective in getting new clients.
Respondents chose social media marketing and blogging or SEO as the best marketing strategies, at 38.3 and 29.9 percent respectively.
On the other hand, YouTube and print advertising barely made the cut.
- Our comprehensive guide on how to increase blog traffic is a must-read.
- We have social media templates for all platforms, including LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, that are pre-sized for each channel.
- Blog header templates can easily be customized using our drag and drop editor.
- This social media holiday calendar will help you plan effective campaigns.
3. What marketing strategy is a total waste of time?
Most survey respondents said that cold calling was a complete waste of time–46.5 percent in fact. These freelancers and consultants said that this marketing tactic wasn’t effective for getting new clients.
Print advertising came in second, with 37.6 percent of respondents saying that it wasn’t worth their time.
All other marketing strategies, such as online advertising and publicity, got a smattering of “unrecommendations.”
But, cold calling and print advertising were the overwhelming choice in terms of marketing tactics that were “a total waste of time.” As marketing evolves, “traditional” marketing methods seem to be dying out.
4. What platforms have been most effective for finding new clients?
Survey respondents said LinkedIn was the most effective social media platform for finding new clients (69.9 percent).
We didn’t differentiate between whether they found their clients through organic or paid methods.
Trailing behind was Google at 31.1 percent (both organic traffic and Adwords) and Facebook at 23.3 percent.
Only 5.8 percent and 2.9 percent of consultants and freelancers said YouTube and Pinterest (respectively) were effective for finding new clients.
Some write-in answers:
- Private Facebook groups
- Co-working portals
- Industry groups
- Freelance sites like Fiverr, FreeUp and Upwork
- We have customizable social media templates such as:
- LinkedIn banner ads and cover photos.
- Facebook banner templates.
- Twitter header templates.
- Instagram banner templates for ads, events and more.
- This blog post on Instagram for business (with plenty of tips and templates).
- YouTube banner templates.
5. What types of marketing visuals do you create most often?
Most freelancers and consultants (55.6 percent) said that they created social media graphics the most often, probably because they cited social media marketing as one of the best marketing strategies to get new clients.
Coming up close behind was blog headers at 44.4 percent, probably because respondents said blogging and SEO were getting them clients (see question one).
Slide decks were another popular choice; 31.3 percent of respondents said they created them the most often.
This is despite the fact that only 9.5 percent of survey respondents said that webinars were the most effective marketing tactic to get new clients.
Which leads us to believe these slides are being created for pitch decks and presentations–possibly for events since 47.7 percent said networking and events were the best marketing strategies to get new clients.
Other popular marketing visuals:
- Email newsletter graphics: 21.2 percent
- White papers and eBooks: 20.2 percent
- Infographics and charts: 19.2 percent
Check out our post on visual content marketing statistics (based on a study of 500+ content marketers) for details on what types of marketing activities and visuals drive engagement and conversions.
- Social media graphics templates and easy online editor.
- Our online banner maker creates blog headers and social media banners.
- Our presentation maker has unique, professional presentation templates.
- Our newsletter design tool.
- White paper designs you can customize and make your own.
- Make an eBook without design experience.
- Create process infographics or comparison infographics with our templates and online editor.
6. What type of print media has been most effective to get new clients?
Most freelancers and consultants said they don’t use print media (62.6 percent).
The only print media respondents said was effective was business cards at 23.4 percent.
So overall, survey respondents had never even tried print media as a tactic to reach out to potential new clients.
Venngage has a number of resources to help you explore print as a low-cost promotional strategy:
- Our flyer maker tool and templates.
- Our poster maker tool and templates.
- Our brochure maker tool and templates.
- This blog post on brochure templates and design tips.
7. Where do you go to learn about marketing?
LinkedIn (67.6 percent) and blogs (65.7 percent) were by far the most popular choice when it came to marketing resources. Freelancers and consultants overwhelmingly said they relied on them to learn about the best marketing strategies.
Also popular were Facebook groups (28.6 percent), which respondents also said was one of the most effective social media platforms to find new clients (see question 4 above).
Other popular options included:
- Books: 26.7 percent
- Podcasts: 25.7 percent
- Conferences or events: 24.8 percent
- YouTube: 21.9 percent
Other write-in responses included:
8. What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to marketing your business or services?
“Not enough time” was respondent’s number one challenge when it came to marketing–39.8 percent of respondents cited this as a major blocker.
Only 14.6 percent of respondents said that their marketing efforts didn’t result in more clients or revenue–definitely a significant (and frustrating) challenge.
Then, 11.7 percent said they didn’t enjoy marketing and 11.7 percent also cited a lack of design know-how as a major roadblock for them when it came to promotion.
Obviously, it makes sense to have good tools like Venngage’s templates and easy online editor if you’re not design savvy.
9. What marketing strategy will you focus on in the coming year?
Since referrals were respondents #1 most effective promotional strategy (78.5 percent), it makes sense that they’ll be focusing on referrals again in the coming year.
51.4 percent of freelancers and consultants said referrals would be the main focus of their marketing efforts in the coming year.
Other tried-and-true marketing techniques brought up the rear in terms of popularity:
- Blogging and organic search (SEO): 44.8 percent
- Networking and events: 41.9 percent
- Social media marketing: 33.3 percent
Even though only 22.4 percent of freelancers and consultants said that email marketing was the best strategy to get new clients, 29.5 percent of respondents said they wanted to focus on this marketing technique in the coming months.
Almost 25 percent of respondents wanted to focus on in-person speaking gigs as a promotional strategy, followed closely by online advertising, partnerships and social media advertising.
If you’re looking for speaking tips, we surveyed over 300 MarTech speakers and got their insights on how to design an engaging presentation deck.
Few people wanted to focus on marketing activities like cold calling and print advertising–not surprising given that it hadn’t been effective for them in the past (see question 3).
- Social media graphics templates and easy online editor.
- Our newsletter design tool.
- Our online banner maker creates blog headers and social media banners.
- Our presentation maker has unique, professional templates.
10. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to a new consultant, freelancer or solopreneur about how to effectively market their business?
Survey respondents were generous with their advice.
Many of them stressed the importance of a good network and that you should build one by co-working, attending events, promoting yourself on social media etc.
They also stressed the importance of not being everywhere at once: picking one or two channels and doubling down on specific marketing tactics. So, it’s not as important to promote yourself everywhere as to be strategic about getting the word out in one or two places.
Other major themes in the advice we received:
- Finding a niche that fits the intersection between your talents and demand.
- Don’t try to be like other people; no one likes copies.
- Always be looking for the next client. Be proactive.
- Be persistent! Follow up, never give up and don’t let rejections get you down. It takes time to get results.
- Focus on getting referrals from clients. A great way to do this? Always be on time with your work.
- Scale your marketing tactics.
Here’s a sample of the advice freelancers and consultants surveyed wanted to pass on (in their own words):
Be vocal about what you do and what type of work you are looking for. Spread the word about your work!
-Jacqueline DeMarco, Freelance Writer and Marketing Consultant
Do great work and then tell those people the type of work you’re looking for so they think about you when other folks mention they need someone like you.
–Erin Greenawald, Writer and Editor
Tap into your network. If you’re just starting out and you don’t have a network, seek out a mentor who can help introduce you to the right people.
-Carrie Dagenhard, Writer and Content Strategist, carriedagenhard.com
Never burn any bridges with former colleagues or clients–it’ll make asking for work or referrals easier in the future!
–Sara DeForest, Marketing Consultant
Regularly connect with people you know and have worked with in the past—to say hello, to share news, to check in.
–Alma Tassi, Freelance Writer, Editor and Marketing Professional
Networking is the key to opening the door called referrals.
Follow up relentlessly until they tell you to stop. Forge a solid relationship before you try to sell them anything.
-Beverly Matoney, Freelance Copywriter and Content Specialist at Homeschool Copywriter
Make friends, be vulnerable, and share what you know. Referrals are the key to a healthy and sustainably freelance business, but they can be tough to prioritize when you first start because they take some time to kick in. Do it anyway. Build the relationships today.
Build relationships, always build relationships. Try to engage with different people in different places–offer value and it will come back to you.
Give before you ask–offer help or a free referral/suggestion to build trust and relationship. Too many people believe that strangers will become clients after just one conversation. It takes time and you have to ask politely.
I would get into a networking group of professional colleagues such as LinkedIn, where you are able to mentor others and they you, if required. Being part of a network such as this is beyond valuable as long as all individuals are experts in their chosen fields. Be picky!
Start networking and building connections. Talking to other people in your industry is the best way to learn both new ideas for your business and what’s normal when it comes to business terms and pricing. And a strong network leads to referrals.
Build a portfolio or website where you can direct potential clients. Share examples of your work there-whether it’s for other clients or for your own work.
The one piece of advice I would give to a new freelancer/solopreneur about how to effectively market their business would be to incorporate personalization and empathy in their marketing strategy and create content that is engaging, convenient, and helpful to your target audience.
Keep going. Pivot constantly and keep trying.
Go out, introduce yourself, let the people around know you exist. Talk about your service and learn learn learn. Position yourself properly and don’t feel bad for not being able to spend much on a marketing campaigns to generate new leads. Quality vs quantity of clients plays a big difference when starting out. Use your time wisely and don’t keep offering new services if you don’t have the resources to fulfill them.
Always be marketing—don’t wait until you’ve run out of work to line up new projects.
Find a sales flow and step into it…meaning that you need to find out what demand is readily available and fill it. You can start a channel and educate people on your ideals but it will dramatically slow the sales pipeline (the number one reason businesses fail).
In messaging and positioning yourself, focus on success. How have you actually delivered for your clients (increases in attributable revenue, cost per lead, etc.).
-Doug Hanna, Owner of Hanna Digital
The simplest and most effective way to market yourself as a freelancer/consultant is to do amazing work. Hit your deadlines. Deliver on what you promised. Never turn in something that isn’t your best work. Between referrals from clients and people who find my work online, like it, and seek me out, I almost never need to worry about marketing my business.
Do quality work on deadline every time and you’ll build a pipeline of referrals from clients and fellow freelancers.
Find a Niche
Avoid being a generalist. A jack of all trades may offer you more job opportunities, but not many clients will be ready to pay top-dollar for your work. Choose a niche/job-type and become an expert there.
–Dennis Muigai, Freelance Writer
Focus on sharing insightful information and keep working on practicing and refining your skills. Too many consultants are used to repeating the same information for years without developing their own knowledge so a lot of them are spreading out dated concepts and tips.
-Nadya Khoja, Chief Growth Officer at Venngage
Lay the groundwork first and don’t focus on too many things at the same time. That which works, trust it and scale it.
Find a niche that’s at the intersection between your marketing know-how and the business sector you want to achieve mastery in. You can’t build expertise and cultivate foresight in an industry if you’re not truly passionate about it.
–Andra Zaharia, Freelance Content Marketer
Focus on consolidating what you offer because once you get that down you should already know 10-20 people who will jump at the idea of working with you. And once you have the first 10, let the referrals roll in.
Even if you offer a wide range of services, pick only 1 on which to focus your marketing and business development. And focus on a single industry or category. Then maximize your outreach to that audience on that topic/service.
Invest in a “machine” to generate leads so when your referrals/network begin to produce fewer results, you have another mechanism that is flourishing.
Don’t let LinkedIn’s horrible UI keep you from using it. It does a lot of heavy lifting for you within its own platform and via organic search. Invest in creating a great profile, keeping it updated, and being engaged on the site.
Use your most authentic voice. Know your audience (key demo) and talk to them like you know them. Identify their pain points. Test and retest and retest. Track performance. Put your money on results.
There is no single formula for success in marketing. Each business is unique and their journey to build a business is unique too. So, trust your instincts and don’t be afraid of experimenting with new ideas/concepts. Create your own marketing plans, learn from your failures, grow along the way and always put your audience first!
11. What resources do you trust when it comes to learning about the best marketing strategies?
Answers were all over the map for this question.
These resources were mentioned at least twice by survey respondents:
- Neil Patel’s blog (and his Marketing School podcast)
- Content Marketing Institute
- Brian Dean’s Backlinko
- Traffic Think Tank (and Slack group)
- Search Engine Journal
- Mark Schaefer and his book Marketing Rebellion
- Orbit Media blog
- Get Clients Now book by C.J. Hayden
- Boston Content podcast
- Animalz blog
- Search Engine Land
- Experts On The Wire podcast
- Authority Hacker podcast
- Detailed blog
- Smart Insights
- Masters of Scale podcast
Additional resources to help you discover the best marketing strategies:
- Everyone Hates Marketers
- Kwik Brain podcast
- Smart Passive Income podcast
- Marketing School podcast (Neil Patel)
- #AskGaryVee podcast
- Tactical Magic podcast
- Marketing Over Coffee
- The Creative Class podcast
- Building a Better Agency
- Being Freelance
- Afford Anything
- Business Wars
- Marketing Breakout
- Perpetual Traffic
Best marketing strategies for consultants and freelancers: the takeaway
It’s all about the human connection.
Our survey respondents overwhelmingly said referrals and networking were king for getting leads and growing their businesses.
They told us time and again that it was important to look for mentors to introduce you to the right people, to tell anyone and everyone what you do, find a niche and to do amazing work (so that your clients can’t help but pass the word on).
That said, respondents said that social media marketing, blogging and organic search (SEO) were the best marketing strategies for getting new clients and they wanted to focus on those marketing techniquess in the coming year.
Still, they struggle with finding enough time to do marketing–which means finding marketing automation tools and processes becomes crucial.
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