I saw a post earlier today with people talking about work being slow this year. We (I have transitioned into a small agency, but was a freelancer for several years) always hedge against slowdowns. Since I have more bills now, it is something that is constantly on my mind and something I am very pro-active about. But, like anything else, it takes work. Below I am going to outline my method, its very methodical.
First and foremost, no matter what stage of business you are in, you need something like a CRM. Preferably something self hosted that integrates with your website. If you don't have a website, you need one. We use WHMCS, we are developers, so it fits our needs. It might not fit yours. It does (as do most) have several important features though. The main features to look for are keeping track of clients, billing, selling services, and it ports to Mandrill. So any system that can do those things should work for most people.
Track your clients and keep track of them. I through all of our clients into a mailing list by default. I segment the heck out of the list too. I currently have about 40 different segments in the mailing list. I do them by services we did for them, services they might need, what they sell online, and a myriad of other factors. As an example, I have a segment of in Mailchimp of clients that had unresponsive sites, there were about 20 clients in that segment. As soon as I read that Google was going to penalize sites in mobile for not being responsive I went through the list and checked all of those clients sites in the Google Mobile Friendly tool. The ones that failed, I segmented them into a failed group and wrote up an mailing list telling them about the issue, what day it was going to happen on, linked it to a couple articles, and told them if this is something they wanted to fix give me a call. We fixed about 60% of the sites. The main point being I am constantly looking for how to service my past and existing clients. I don't maintain a huge mailing list, I personally do not like spam. I only have 150 or so clients on the lists of the last send. But we get great results, this is our past send rate http://screencast.com/t/SWH851jSCZP
which we kill our industry average on everyone http://screencast.com/t/5YWo4mtjUj
Like I said, I am methodical about my tracking. One great thing about mailchimp is the stats. I love stats. The opening and click stats are really my favorites. I go over them for weeks. Heck, I would say I even pine over them, because they mean something. If I see a person that has opened a mailing list mail a lot clicked it a few times and never hear from them, I will reach out to them by phone. I do it as a "Just to make sure you got my email" kind of thing. That way I can talk someone on the fence into pulling the trigger and answering any questions they have.
I mentioned I liked tracking people earlier, but it gets worse. All of our company emails are ported through Mandrill. Mandrill will let me see that you opened it, where you were through IP address and what email client you used. Kind of freaky, but it gives great information. If I send a proposal and I don''t hear anything back for a day or two I look at Mandrill and see if it has been opened. If it hasn't I reach out to "make sure they got it". If it has I reach out "to see if they had any questions", especially if it has been opened a lot. But the insights you can get from tracking people are great. Plus using something like Mandrill can easily settle disputes (I had a clients employee say he didn't get my emails recently, I sent the client a screenshot of the delivery and open reports. Now the client is 100% I was the one doing what I was supposed to do) and it ensures your mail will never hit the spam folder as well.
Back to more tracking. This is an expensive solution, but it works. I use Segment in combination with KissMetrics on my site. Why? I like to track people in a freakishly evil way. Using those two tools together you can get a great amount of information about people browsing your site. If you set all of your systems up correctly, and this is why I stressed self hosted before, you can glean so much information. For instance, if do a website speed optimization for a guy, he has to pay through our billing system. A lot of ISP's now have mostly static ip addresses. In Kiss I have associated his name with his ip address. So I can look at my reports and see "oh, for the last week Mike from Texas has been browsing our SEO packages and our blogs on SEO". Its time to reach out to Mike with a "I was just thinking about you" call or email. If I notice a spike one particular service or type of blog post on our site, I can pull the Kiss list against our mailing list and create a mailing list segment and target the people with a discount. It works. We get great returns off of that. I get a lot of "You know I was just thinking about that the other day" kind of responses.
I know all of this is great and fine if you have existing clients, but if you don't you can still do a lot of this. (As I mentioned we are developers, so this is what we do, it could greatly differ from what your industry has to do) Like every business we generate leads as well. Leads end up converting into clients at some point, it all comes down to giving them what they want to hear when they want to hear it. That is why we track. But as for the lead generation, these are the main things we do.
Contests, yeah, we give time away for free. Here is our latest contest, http://dh42.com/blog/win-4-hour-prestashop-support-package/
We provide a lot of PrestaShop based support. So what we came away with from this is giving 4 hours of support to one person and a new mailing list segment of 50 or so people who would be interested in PrestaShop support. We also got 50 new facebook and twitter followers as well, so that helps too. But now I have more targeted people to advertise to. Most industries can benefit from something like this. The way I look at it is I am going to spend 1/2 a day doing something for someone for free to get 50 more people that would be interested in paying me to do it. When the rubber met the road, we gave away $350 support package and through further marketing earned over $5k from that list. So really, I am happy with that. Again, to pull that off I tracked and I couponed. Wheat I did was sent a mailing list email to all of the people except the winner and told them we chose a winner for the giveaway. On the giveaway page, I had the winners name (not the part about already setting up an account yet) on the page saying if you are him contact us. But then, I used 40 Nuggets to have an exit intent pop up come up on that page offering a 10% discount for a few days if you sign up for a support package. If you are not familiar with exit intent, it pops a pop up when it looks like you are going to leave. It worked, that is where we converted most of the people. Sure, you can look at the contests and coupons like we are lowering our rate to get work, and maybe we are. But one thing I know from my tracking is that 20% of the hours people bought in the last year went unused. (we expire the time after 1 yr) So in reality we are hitting really close to our normal rate, if not above doing this type of marketing in the long run.
Another thing we do to market is to post to forums. I have mentioned that a lot, in my other posts, so I won't go to in depth on it I think people around here might be tired of hearing it. But posting to forums brings in a lot of work. When you constantly are answering questions for people, and your name keeps coming up, it does stick with people. Now names like bigbong68 won't work. Either try to use your company name or your real name. Keep the brand consistent across all platforms. Even if the brand is your name design, vie to have it the same on everything you do, don't confuse people. I get recognized every now and them from one forum to the next by users, things like "oh hey, I didn't know you reddited, you helped me the other day on xx forum".
Marketing is important. We currently do Google adwords for 5 or so terms that we actually rank well for, I just wanted the page to be plastered with no other choice. But not everyone has an adwords budget, I know we don't have a big one ($300 a month) and didn't have one at all for a while. So we marketed in other ways. WE grass rooted it and still that is the marketing that pays off the most for us. If you are a Wordpress developer or any type of platform developer listen up, this will be a gold way to market. We started churning out free modules. I am talking simple free modules that didn't do anything really that impressive. We have one, it is very popular for PrestaShop, it is a CSS module. All it does is have a box that you can enter CSS in and it will put it in the head of the page. Developers know how simple a module like that would be to make. But we have had several thousand downloads for it. Our information is plastered all over the module. But we did them for a purpose. Why simple modules? Because we are targeting people that do not have much technical knowledge. People that cannot put a pinterest validation code in their site. (That is actually a free module we made, https://help.pinterest.com/en/articles/verify-your-website
It is listed on pinterest's site under PrestaShop). I know you might look at the free modules and say oh well, the people never contact you again. But no, the modules are the way of staying fresh in peoples minds. If you are not familiar with what the backend of PrestaShop looks like, this is a screenshot http://screencast.com/t/VwW4lJKtNraZ
But once you install one of our free modules, it does this http://screencast.com/t/gdkS9C4nh8kU
Oh look a nifty support advertisement appears. Click it and you can order new services or submit a ticket from your backend, http://screencast.com/t/L7wp5n9WyEJ
Plus you can see in a big image that we are a partner agency which helps too. Plugins like these and this method can be churned out with any platform. Wordpress, Shopify, Magento, anything you can think of. We are making an even bigger push now. I want that little red menu item installed in as many shops as possible. We are starting to open up to affiliates. They put the script that runs that in their module, they get a % of the sales that come from one of their modules. It puts us in front of more people.
Some other things I would recommend is starting a blog if you don't have one. Target an area and post on it often. But research first. That is what I did. I researched the heck out of the market I am in and saw what people were concerned about the most. It actually helped shape our business. We specialize in speed, on site seo optimization, and support. All under the PrestaShop platform, but those are the main area's that our blogs are on. What made me choose those areas were because I saw posts, questions, and searches coming up for those areas a lot. Then I started churning out good quality articles. Soon someone would ask a question some where and someone would link to one of my posts. Then after that happened for a while, it was a top result in the search engines. When this starts to happen, your whole game changes. It starts to fade from you looking for work to work finding you. There is nothing more enjoyable than waking up in the morning to an inbox full of work requests.
Sell something. A lot of industries can have something for sell on their site. Sell it. It can be Wordpress plugins, Wordpress, Shopify, Magento, or something else support. If you are a writer you can set up an order process to order articles, heck just about everyone can find something to sell. The one thing more enjoyable than waking up to an inbox full of bid requests it waking up to a couple of orders for a product or service.
To close, I think some of the main takeaways are that you need to track your clients and try to guess what they want as intelligently as you can. But at the same time you need to market yourself to people as passively as possible. I am sure most of us have heard the saying that goes along the lines of working for money of having your money work for you. That is how you need to think about your business and your clients. You can either work to try to find clients all the time. Or you can put the groundwork down and have clients find you.
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