Despite all my preparations, when I finally became my own boss, I didn't know a damn thing about drumming up work. As I had always done before, I scoured the job ads for freelance work, dutifully sent out cover letters and resumes, worked several permalance gigs that gave me a feeling of stability and, otherwise, waited for the work to come to me.
Somehow, it worked. Despite myself, and within only six months, I had matched my previous corporate salary.
But being a business owner is nothing like being an employee, and I couldn't sustain my business on quality content and charm alone. Eventually, I had to start actively marketing myself.
Those new to marketing — and those downright wary of it — can end up floundering in their search for that one, magical, no-fail marketing trick that will lead them to success. Why? That one, magical trick doesn't exist. Different services and products — and different clients and customers — require different types of marketing. So how can you figure out which tactics will work best for you?
1. Write up a mission statement. Your mission statement does not have to be long and involved, nor does it have to be the height of creative genius. It should, however, list your business goals — monetary and otherwise — and should also specify the things that set you apart from the competition. Why is this necessary? Writing out your mission statement can help you clarify exactly what it is you're trying to accomplish. As you make future business decisions, you can refer back to it and ask yourself: does this bring me closer to my business goals?
2. Specify your target markets. Your product or service probably won't appeal to everyone. So list the people you're trying to help, and get specific. Once you've pinned down your target markets, you can start researching the best ways to reach them. Where do they hang out? Which social networking sites are they on? Which blogs are they reading? Do they participate in any online forums, or attend any professional conferences? Knowing all of this will keep you from marketing blind.
3. List your competition. And then look to see what they're doing right, what they're doing wrong and what they're not doing at all. How can you differentiate yourself from the competition? And, in the end, should you even consider them competitors? If you can set yourself apart from them, it will leave room for future collaborations.
4. Finally, list your marketing tactics. This is the fun part. (Then again, I get excited by spreadsheets and cookware.) Referring back to number two — your target markets and where they're hanging out — come up with some marketing ideas that go beyond direct mail spam and pricey space advertising. Think about how they might like to be marketed to. Think about what they want and need. And think about how you like to be marketed to, too. What makes you decide to shell out the cash?
And then? Write a really long and wacky list. Seriously. Go all out. You probably won't use everything on your list, but at least you'll have options. This is what my initial list looked like:
- Coordinate a speed-networking event, and find a fellow coach, writing professor, media company, educational institution, professional organization, or publishing company to co-sponsor it.
- Plan additional networking events, panels, workshops… anything that will build up a community of industry professionals willing to share tips, war stories, contacts, etc.
- Join a planning committee or host a panel at an industry-specific conference. Or hop onto someone else's panel.
- Offer a free giveaway or discount at someone else's event.
- Advertise in industry-specific magazines, blogs, websites, or newsletters.
- Create a targeted advertising campaign on sites like Facebook or Yelp.
- Hold seasonal contests.
- Start a monthly newsletter as a means of building up a mailing list, establishing yourself as an expert, and promoting products and/or services.
- Gather testimonials for your business's fancy-pants website.
- Offer a reward for referrals.
- Start focusing magazine and newspaper pitches on content related to the business, thereby establishing yourself as an expert.
- Further promote yourself as an expert by answering questions on sites like Brazen Careerist or LinkedIn, or responding to reporters' queries on HARO.
- Create a Facebook page for the business.
- Start guest posting like a madwoman.
- Reach out to former employers, clients, editors, etc., letting them know you're available for work.
- Attend far more networking events.
- Eventually open a co-working space that can also act as a venue for networking events, workshops, etc.
Some of these items may work for you. Others obviously won't. But it's my hope that you'll be able use this list as a jumping-off point for your own. Once you're done drawing up that list, pick a few items and execute them. See what works and what doesn't. Try a few more. Analyze results. Adjust accordingly.
And once you're up and running, don’t stop marketing. Even when business is booming. Without consistent marketing, it just won't last.
Steph Auteri is the founder of Word Nerd Pro, a one-stop word nerd shop offering a variety of writing, editing, and coaching services. She has been published in Playgirl, Time Out New York, Nerve, The Frisky, and other bastions of fine writing. She is a member of The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment and underemployment and provides entrepreneurs with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of their business's development and growth.