In these difficult economic times contractors and consultants really cannot afford to sit back and wait for work to come to them. You must be proactive in promoting yourself to prospective clients and agencies.
The competitive battle in consulting is no longer about vying for projects; it’s about competing for relationships with those who award those projects.
– Guerilla Marketing for Consultants, Jay Conrad Levinson and Michael W. McLaughlin
To help get you started we have written the following short guide to marketing yourself as a contractor.
As the saying goes “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail” and the same is true with your marketing. So, before you undertake any marketing activities, you need to sit down and write a plan based on the following 6 steps.
Step 1 – Identify your target market.
Step 2 – Position you and your services
Step 3 – Determine your Unique Selling Point (USP) – dare to be different!
Step 4 – Write your guarantee
Step 5 – Choose your marketing tactics
Step 6 – Monitor and evaluate the success of your marketing
Step 1 – Identify your Target Market
When you try to be all things to all people, you end up being nothing.
– Al Reis
First you need to decide who your target market is. Based on the skill set and experience you have acquired to date, which companies, sectors or markets are you best placed to offer your services to? For example, if you’re an IT contractor with specialist programming skills and experience in developing online learning applications, you may want to target companies involved in developing online learning applications or maybe universities and colleges, as well as the recruitment agencies that these organisations use.
By having a target market you can focus your marketing activities and in particular your marketing message specifically to this audience, which will drastically improve the responses you get. Your audience will feel like you are talking directly to them through your marketing material and will reward you for that.
Step 2 – Positioning You and Your Services
Positioning is all about how people perceive you and your service. It’s about creating an identity in the minds of your target market for the service you provide. You may decide that you want to position your contracting service at a premium level by charging a higher day rate than the market average. In order for this strategy to work you need to provide reasons why a company would be willing to pay more for you; this could be due to you having substantial experience in a particular area or having a rare skill or qualification, making you an expert in your field.
By targeting your marketing efforts on a few niche roles or skills and by positioning yourself as an expert in these areas, you will dramatically increase your chances of gaining a contract.
Step 3 – Determine your Unique Selling Point (USP) – Dare to be different!
To recruitment agencies and end clients, contractors and consultants can look very similar; the reason for this is that contractors often mimic each other’s marketing identities and therefore fail to differentiate themselves from the competition. The clever minority who find ways to differentiate themselves will benefit from more clients, higher fees and lower marketing costs.
Your unique selling point (USP) is the one point of difference that sets you apart from all the other contractors / consultants out there. If you’re an expert in a particular area, have a rare qualification or a wealth of experience in an industry; this is your USP. It’s what makes you stand out and will put you head and shoulders above other candidates.
Take a few moments to consider what your USP could be. How can you “differentiate” yourself and stand out from the crowd? A word of warning when thinking about your USP; don’t get fooled into thinking any of the following will suffice as a “differentiator”:
- Best price
- Quality service
- Testimonials and references
- Service responsiveness
These are expected by end clients and agencies nowadays and are likely to be offered by all contractors / consultants as “standard”. Your USP needs to be over and above the norm and certainly something that cannot be easily copied.
Step 4 – Writing your Guarantee
What concerns does your target market have when hiring contractors / freelancers? Are they worried about the reliability of freelancers, or the security of the data they will have access to?
If you can develop a guarantee that you can offer the end client or agency then you can minimise these concerns from the outset and this will show that you are professional enough to consider their concerns. Your guarantee will also help to:
- Increase their confidence in you
- Give them security
- Reduce their risk
- Build trust
Your guarantee could be to work a day prior to the start of the project at 50% of your normal day rate. This removes the risk for the customer of being stuck with an expensive contractor who doesn’t have the necessary skills to do the project but also shows that you are supremely confident in your abilities.
The key to any guarantee is to reduce your customers concerns, so think about what the end clients or agencies concerns might be and devise a guarantee that makes you the obvious choice.
Step 5 – Choosing your Marketing Tactics
As a contractor or freelancer you probably already spend a lot of time on the internet searching or applying for jobs. It is quite likely that your potential customers (or their recruitment agencies) will also be using the internet to search for candidates, so you need to ensure they can find you.
Register on the main Internet Job Sites for your Industry / Market.
Register yourself on all the job websites that are specific for your role or industry. For example, if you are an IT contractor you’ll want to register on websites such as:
Promote yourself through your own website.
Many contractors and freelancers now have their own personal website which they use to promote their services to prospective agencies and end clients. A website can be your complete online sales tool, an opportunity to sell yourself and prove your expertise and experience in a particular field.
What should I include on my website?
- Curriculum Vitae (CV) – your online version will be available to all 24/7. Make sure it is concise and easy to read, and ensure it is updated regularly. You can find lots of resources on the internet to help you write a great CV.
- Testimonials / references – include testimonials and references on your website and you will instantly build credibility and provide proof of your work experience to prospective clients / agencies.
- Articles / blog – by writing and publishing articles on your area of specialism, or by keeping a regular blog, you can prove to potential end clients and agencies that you really are an expert in your field.
- Case Studies – here you can include details of the projects you’ve undertaken, work completed and results obtained for the end client. This is another great way to prove your expertise and experience.
If you decide to have your own website, be sure to register a professional domain name rather than opting for a free domain name (i.e. joebloggs.geocities.com); real businesses don’t use free domain names so you shouldn’t either. Domain names are relatively cheap (a .co.uk domain is around £8 for two years) and can be registered at any domain registrar, a few examples can be seen below:
If you are looking for a professional website that’s affordable for contractors / freelancers, Brand Box Marketing provides a professional website design service that costs just £50 a month, without any upfront cost. This provides you with your own bespoke website, website hosting and a content management system that allows you to change the content on your website whenever you want (without any technical knowledge). For more information visit www.brandboxmarketing.co.uk.
Promoting you and your website through the Search Engines
Most methods of marketing via the internet are centered around search engines and the use of ‘keywords’, these are the words people enter into search boxes (like Google) when they are looking for something.
Do your Keyword Research
Recruitment agencies and end clients will use specific keywords when searching for potential candidates for a particular contractor role or project. For this reason it is vitally important to do your research and identify what these keywords are so you can start to target them with your advert / website etc.
To help you decide which keywords you should be targeting, put yourself in the place of the recruitment agent or end client looking for a candidate; what words would they use to describe the role or job you can do. The more specific you can be the better…think about some of the following:
- The skills they are looking for (i.e. SAP)
- The name of the role they are trying to fill (SAP specialist)
- Specific accreditations and qualifications they might be looking for (i.e. prince qualified project manager)
- The location – the end client may want someone local (i.e. SAP specialist London)
Once you’ve done your research and you know what these keywords are, you can then ensure your advertisement or website gets in front of your target audience. Let’s now take a few minutes to look at two methods of marketing yourself through the search engines.
Google AdWords advertising
Possibly the quickest and easiest method of advertising online is to use Google’s Advertising platform, Google AdWords.
Google AdWords allows you to place an advert on the Google search results page when someone searches for specific keywords you choose. For example, if you’re a SAP specialist and you want to advertise your services to companies or recruitment agencies looking to hire a SAP contractor, then Google would display your advert when searches are made for keywords relating to your skills and job role, for example you might choose ‘SAP specialist’, ‘SAP consultant’, SAP contractor’ etc.
The great thing about Google Advertising is that you only pay when someone clicks on your advert (hence the term Pay-Per-Click advertising) and goes to your website. The trick to using Google Advertising successfully is to ensure that your landing page (the page on your website the user goes to after clicking your advert) generates interest and encourages the visitor to take some action (i.e. pick up the phone to call you or fill out an enquiry form).
Your website must convey how you are different (your unique selling point) concisely and explain why you would be the best candidate for the role. In short, after reading your landing page the visitor should be confident you are the right candidate to pick up the phone and call you.
To find out more about Google AdWords advertising visit http://www.google.co.uk/adwords. There are similar search engine advertising opportunities offered by Bing and Yahoo, which whilst relatively small in reach compared to Google AdWords, are still worth exploring. Details for these can be found at:
You will need to set aside a monthly budget to cover your Google Advertising. Please be aware that competitive search terms can be more expensive to advertise on, so ensure that you check the estimated bid prices before starting your advertising campaign. You can however set a monthly budget to ensure you don’t overspend.
Search Engine Optimisation
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of your web site or a web page in the search engines via the “natural” search results. In Google (and most other search engines), the natural search results are those that can be found on the left hand side of the page and are those NOT marked as ‘Sponsored Links’.
Search Engine optimisation is a very complex subject and far more time consuming than Google AdWords Advertising. However, get it right and you really can reap the rewards of having a continual flow of potential customers visit your website, all free of charge!
So, what do you need to do in order to get your website to rank well in the search engines for your chosen keywords? In truth, unless you already have a level of understanding of SEO or have a significant amount of time to invest in learning about SEO, then you will probably need to employ the services of a search engine optimisation consultant or company. Ask around your network of contacts and someone may know or may have used an SEO company before that they can recommend.
Marketing via Email
This is possibly one of the most underused marketing tools in the contractors’ arsenal, but ironically can be one of the most effective in securing new contracts with prospective clients or agencies.
Email marketing provides a means to constantly market to your prospects and existing customers (i.e. those companies you have contracted for previously). This doesn’t necessarily have to be a fancy HTML email, it could simply be a plain text email that goes out to all your contacts on a regular basis informing them of your future availability and any new qualifications or experience you have gained recently.
Through continual email communication you can build strong relationships and trust with your clients and agencies, and if you stay at the forefront of their minds you’ll be the first person they call when a role or project becomes available.
To simplify your email marketing use an online provider such as Constant Contact to manage everything for you. Constant Contact is currently offering a free 60 day trial of their email marketing service – visit www.constantcontact.com for more details.
Social networking has become an essential part of online marketing and can be particularly useful for contractors and freelancers looking to build trust and relationships with recruitment agencies and end clients. Let’s take a look at some examples of Social Networking.
Blogging is a tool that shows your customers and prospects that you understand your industry, and that you are a thought leader providing insights and information.
Your blog can also provide a meaningful platform for you and your customers to engage in meaningful dialog that builds trust and can ultimately lead to you being awarded the contract.
Furthermore, publishing a regular blog will help improve your search engine rankings.
Micro-Blogging (i.e Twitter)
The best and most widely used example of micro-blogging is Twitter. This involves the use of short bursts of 140 character insights that can be an incredibly effective way to engage your customers and prospects. Bite size informative and interesting content will grab their attention every time.
Be warned though, you should NOT use social networks like twitter to actively “sell”, instead use it to build relationships and trust with end clients and agencies; ultimately you will find this leads to new contracts.
For more information please visit www.twitter.com.
Social Networks like Linked In and Facebook are now used extensively by recruitment agencies to find candidates and engage with them, so you really need to be there too. In marketing, these places are referred to as “watering holes”; a place where like minded people gather to discuss something in common, in this case your industry.
For more information and to create your free account please visit the following websites:
Your Email Signature – Marketing on autopilot!
This is a simple marketing tactic but one that most people fail to take advantage of. We send lots of emails on a daily basis so why not fully utilise your opportunity to promote yourself via your email signature? Setup a signature template and then you’re important information will be appended to every email you send automatically.
Does your current email signature include:
- Your website address?
- Your Linked In Profile addres?
- Your Facebook page addres?
- Your Twitter address?
If not, then it should. Create your email signature today and make it easy for your potential customers to engage with you.
Step 6 – Monitor and evaluate the success of your marketing
Once you’ve chosen your marketing tactics and begun promoting yourself you need to ensure you continually monitor these marketing activities to evaluate their effectiveness. You need to give each activity sufficient time to build momentum, for example it will take time to build your social network on sites like Linked In and Twitter, or it may take a few months of testing to fine tune your list of keywords for your Google advertising. However, you need to set a timeframe for evaluating each and every piece of marketing; there is no point continuing with something that is costly and time consuming if it is not delivering the right results. Unfortunately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to marketing professional services, but test and measure everything you do and you’ll soon find the marketing activities that work for you.
Hopefully you have found this short guide useful and it has given you some ideas on how you can start proactively marketing yourself as a contractor.