7 marketing lessons in 7 years of freelancing
Seven years is a long time to do any one thing. Yet here I am, seven years later, still self-employed and still focused on specialty coffee. My services have naturally evolved through the years and it’s been an interesting journey through it all.
Year 7 felt more like a maintenance, plateau year instead of a growth one. It’s why I committed to more professional skill development this year. Year 8 feels like a year where I can take more risks and try out some new revenue streams that I’ve been eyeing.
In this celebratory vein, I’d like to talk about seven things I’ve learned about marketing while working in marketing. A lot of these things can’t be implemented until you have some basic level of a developed business. For example, you probably can’t say no or invest in software until you have a consistent income stream.
1. Cut out time-consuming, manual processes
That back-and-forth email exchange of “when’s the best time for you for a meeting” and trying to find a matching time was cut out for me when I invested in a scheduler. Now, I send a link to my calendar and clients can book on it whenever they want.
The same can be said for my intake process. When a client fills out a form, my CRM backend is populated with the info and subsequent proposals and contracts are auto-filled. It cut out on my manual copy and paste plus any human error that resulted from this process.
2. It’s okay to say no
I have the privilege to say no to clients who aren’t a good fit for me or whose proposed work is not something I’m capable of doing. If I’m not excited about a project, then I don’t really give it my all. Clients deserve more and I’m always happy to send referrals when I have them.
3. You don’t have to be everything
It is okay to not appeal to the masses. Yes, mass appeal has a wide coverage of potential customers. But just like being a server in a restaurant, you’re not always going to make everyone happy. Narrowing your focus, your specialty, and your audience might generate you stronger brand loyalty than when you tried to appeal to everyone.
4. Be willing to take calculated risks
Marketing can get old. You see the same photos day after day. If you’re not willing to learn new tactics or try out new features, then you get stuck in a repetitive rut while your competitors move ahead. Marketing – especially digital – requires you be nimble to succeed. What works for you in a print ad probably won’t in Instagram. If you don’t accept this, then it’ll show in your engagement rates.
5. Outsource what you don’t want to do
I learned this one the hard way. In the beginning, I was everything: marketer, accountant, writer, PR, business manager, etc. I spent so much time on trying to learn how to do my own taxes that it far outpaced what I would’ve paid a CPA to do. It backfired on me, too. The first year I hired a CPA for my taxes, he sent back a filing that had 40 more pages than my previous year’s and I owed taxes in the tens of thousands. Because as hard as I had tried to understand taxes, I still didn’t quite grasp it. Now I have a financial planner and a different CPA* who help me with my salary and prevent this surprise from ever happening again.
The amount of time and energy I dedicated to this was not worth it. I don’t want to worry about taxes so I pay someone to make sure I don’t have to worry about them. Outsourcing freed up my time and mind space to focus on marketing.
*This is not to say that the first CPA was bad. I owed taxes because I wasn’t smart in my financial planning for the tax year. I changed CPAs because I wanted someone in my state who was familiar with California taxes.
6. Value your time
You have a finite amount of time and people will always want it. This is even more true when you become a consultant or business owner. It has taken me a while to feel semi-comfortable to saying no to someone who asks for my time out of the blue. If it’s something I get paid for and they’re not in my exceptions list (e.g. a student), it is difficult to justify giving my time for free.
The most difficult of these is when people you’ve never interacted with ask for something free – product or service or time. What is the tradeoff? Is this a mutual exchange? Would this be considered as giving back to the community? Do you have the time?
7. Invest in hobbies
My hobbies give me life. They help me ruminate on problems in my work and allow me time to process strategies. I’m constantly learning from each of my hobbies. For example, I’m currently building a DIY miniature cafe. It’s very tedious and exacting in the execution. Through this process, I’ve learned about the slow and steadiness method that still drives results. In turn, I’m not upset if a new marketing strategy doesn’t immediately show results.
These are just a few lessons I’ve learned along the way in my freelancing career. I hope year eight brings in even more things that I can learn from!