Last updated on March 3, 2019
Between interviewing other freelancers and consultants for my new online show, and interacting with the freelancers I coach, a pattern has been emerging:
By far, the #1 way that freelancers – even some very successful ones – get new client work is via their network, not via stranger-leads that come in due to any kind of automated marketing. Let’s talk about that.
I find this interesting, because marketing automation and lead-generation is all the rage right now. You may find that you’re hard-sold on the practice as though it’s a guaranteed cure to all of your freelancing feast-or-famine ills. If you’re not getting sufficient freelancing leads, why, it’s because you’re just not producing compelling-enough content, or not participating in online communities enough, or are falling short of attracting anyone’s interest on social media. In short, you’re told that even if you’ve cultivated a healthy network and a steady stream of referral work, you’re still failing if you haven’t built a fully-automated marketing machine!
And what’s the solution to that? Expensive marketing services aimed at making your content go viral, or getting likes, or adding 1,000 subscribers to your mailing list in a weekend (hint: this has never happened to anyone in a way that anyone else can hope to duplicate). Of course. Now, you know me – I’m a big believer in buying books and engaging in continuous education, and I do some automated marketing myself, but…come on.
Suggesting that you do the non-scalable thing doesn’t sound sexy, and yet that’s how most of us get freelancing leads – network exploitation. Very few will suggest that you put work into having conversations with real, live human beings, doing the non-scalable work that puts you face-to-face in meatspace with the very people that you hope to sell to. Very few will suggest that maybe – juuust maybe – human connections drive more consulting deal-flow than any form of automated marketing ever could. And fewer still will suggest that perhaps the handful of people hard-selling us all on the panacea of automated marketing are merely the exceptions – the few who had juuust the right circumstances at juuust the right time to make that kind of a machine work.
So, where does that leave the rest of us? Those of us with imperfect circumstances and imperfect timing? The Average Joes and Janes? The smallfolk?
I think it leaves us in a decent spot. Here’s why:
Like I’ve said before, all else being equal, people want to work with their friends. People want to work with people they know and like, people who are a known quantity, not some faceless marketer who sends out cleverly-worded automated sales pitches every week. For sure, automated sales pitches have their place, as do all the other tools of automation, and SEO fundamentals, etc but…isn’t it time that those of us who get work primarily via human connections and real-life communities step back, take a look at our marketing with fresh eyes, and try to shake off the sense of FOMO that so many of us have when it comes to how we get freelancing leads?
I think it is.
Let me open up a bit and share my own client acquisition breakdown with you:
20% – showing up in Google when & where people expect me to (SEO fundamentals)
80% – my own network of contacts in the business community (referrals, repeat business, face-to-face encounters, etc).
In 15 years, I can’t point to a single consulting dollar that has ever hit my pocket as a result of any kind of inbound marketing automation. Not one dollar. Maybe you can’t either. I know, I know, the first thing some people will say is, “maybe that just means you suck at it! Har! Har!”, and…OK. Even if that’s true, my point stands: shouldn’t we stop regarding having a steady stream of freelancing leads via referral as a failure of some sort, merely because we’re not CRUSHING IT BRO with automated marketing?
So, what about you?
– Is your network the #1 way you get YOUR new clients?
– Do stranger-leads make up 20% or more of your closed deals?
– Do you ever feel “guilty” or sense that you’re missing out by not automating your lead-gen?
This topic – and more like it – will be discussed on my new show, $100K Freelancing. The show launches March 21; join the early-interest list to gain access to insider information and notifications about the show.