Create Your Best Freelance Marketing Plan in 6 Easy Steps

happy man throws papers in fieldby Jason Brick

You know that Fortune 500 companies have marketing plans. As freelance writers, so should we.

A handful of the writers I work with object to the idea of a marketing plan (or marketing, or plans).

The theory is that we artistic types are too spontaneous and creative to be constrained by such a left-brain activity.

But the truth is, the more spontaneous and creative you are, the more you need plans and systems to keep your writing business alive.

If you’re lucky enough to have come to writing from a business background, you already know how to do this. For all the other writers, here are six (reasonably) easy steps to creating a marketing plan to move your writing and your business in the right direction.

1. Run Your Numbers

Open your bookkeeping software or bank statements and find out exactly how much money comes in and how much you spend on business and personal expenses.

If you share your finances with a partner or spouse, you can divvy up expenses for this purpose – or count your partner’s income as one stream for your business and cover all the household costs.

Do this for the three most recent months, so the average will account for any outliers from a big assignment or one-time expense.

2. Set Your Goals

Look over your budget from step one. Where would you spend more money if you had it?

Would you pay off debt more aggressively, establish a vacation fund? How about setting free a few extra bucks for a meal out or some retail therapy?

Create a “goal budget” and find out how much more money you need to make to live that life. Go for a few reasonable changes here, and set a new goal once you achieve them. Aiming too high at first just sets you up for disappointment.

3. Analyze Your Output

Work out how much you make, on average, per assignment and divide the result of step two by that number. If you want an extra $500 a month, and write assignments for an average of $100 each, you need five more assignments per month to reach your goals.

Broken down like that, the new lifestyle you want seems (and is) more attainable. If your prices vary widely, break your output goals into sections. That $500 could come from a single $300 top magazine column and four $50 blog posts.

4. Study Your Marketing

Check your email history and other notes for the past few months and find out how many contacts you make with leads for each assignment you actually get. A “contact” includes any communication you have directly related to getting the gig.

Divide one by the other to figure out your ratio. If you get one gig for every 10 contacts, that’s a 10:1 ratio. Don’t include one-off check-ins with regular clients here. They’ll skew your numbers, and it’s better to estimate low and overperform than estimate high and get a nasty surprise.

It also helps protect you from a bad month if you know how much marketing you need to do to get the clients you need.

5. Establish Your Benchmarks

Time for some math. You can do it!

Take the results of steps three and four, and put them together. If you need six new assignments per month and have a 10:1 contact-to-assignment ratio, you need to make 60 new contacts per month to reach your income goals.

That’s 15 a week, or just three every work day. Make those three contacts a line item in your planner or to-do list.

6. Track Your Progress

This final step has two stages. First, make sure you get those contacts in every day. If you miss on one day, double your efforts until you’re back on quota.

This constant system of prospecting creates a continuous stream of new work. Second, check your numbers at the end of each month to confirm you set the right goals.

It might turn out your ratio was a bit low, and you need 70 contacts in the next month. You might have spruced up your website and only need 30.

No marketing plan is ever complete.

This system not only helps you stay on top of your marketing, but helps fight the temptation to procrastinate by giving you a clear to-do list of promotional tasks.

It really is that simple, no matter how much your buddy with the MBA would like to tell you otherwise. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though.

Do you have a marketing plan for your freelance business? If so, share how you do it.

Jason Brick is a freelance tramp who covers whatever topics clients will pay him to write about. He speaks about the business of writing and coaches new writers. See more of his articles about the writing business at brickcommajason.com.

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18 comments on “Create Your Best Freelance Marketing Plan in 6 Easy Steps
  1. Erica says:

    I love how the first part (okay, half) of the steps involve knowing your money flow. Not enough writers make that integral connection between bringing home the bacon and knowing how much bacon to bring home in the first place.
    Erica recently posted…The Care and Feeding of Your Inner HamsterMy Profile

  2. Hermine says:

    This has been one of the toughest things for me to do. Mainly because I think I’m trying to aim too high and then get discouraged when I don’t get to where I want to be right away. I need to start setting myself up for success instead of failure by going for smaller goals and your post just gave me a few ideas on how I can do that.
    Hermine recently posted…Does Your Small Business Really Need Social Media?My Profile

    • Jason Brick says:

      Hermine, a mentor of mine says that the two biggest goal-setting mistakes we make are

      a) setting short-term goals too high and
      b) setting long-term goals too low

      It’s because we set goals when we’re excited. We set unrealistic goals, then fail, then lose faith in our ability to do incredible things over time. It’s tough to teach yourself to avoid these mistakes…but totally worth it.
      Jason Brick recently posted…The New World of Freelancing Jobs for WritersMy Profile

      • Carol Tice says:

        Love that — I think that’s SO true! In the Den we see people post 10-item to-do lists for the month that include huge goals all the time.

        And where is it all headed? Most freelancers I know couldn’t tell you…

  3. Rachel says:

    I started doing this about two weeks ago, although I don’t track it on Excel.

    It really makes it easier to do whatever you need to do in order to market yourself, because for each failure, you can tangibly see you’re that much closer to closing a sale.

    Since I’m still new at freelancing, I guestimated. I figure that the total conversion rate can’t be less than 1%, and hopefully in a few months I’ll have some data to go by.
    Rachel recently posted…3 Reasons Why You Should Say No to TherapyMy Profile

  4. Okay, for several minutes there, I was confused! 🙂 6 gigs = 60 contacts. This is such a great system! I’m going to start utilizing it today! 🙂 Thanks so much.
    Williesha Morris recently posted…A Tidier Site (Bit O’ Spring Cleaning) & An UpdateMy Profile

  5. Deborah says:

    I had to get out my spreadsheet and make a plan for how much I was earning due to some big expenses coming up pretty quickly. I was surprised to find that one client I thought was a lifesaver turned out to be a bust in the long run, and one I thought was a bust turned out to be a goldmine. I had to evaluate how much I needed to make a day to reach my goal. So far, I’m not on track because I had to change horses in mid stream when one source of income fell through, but I have regrouped and hope to be back on track soon. Once this big expense is done, I can hopefully put more money away.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Good for you doing that analysis…I think most freelancers don’t do this sort of exercise nearly enough.

      I too have had clients I thought were great but when I analyzed their hourly rate found they weren’t worth it.

      I like to look at the annual value of a client — how much revenue do they represent on an annual basis? I look for ongoing clients that will add up rather than sporadic or one-off projects…that always pencils out better.

  6. Can I say I loved this post my my absolute favorite thing is Jason’s bio .”Freelance Tramp”.I love it.
    Janeen Johnson recently posted…Chilling in the Wag Water River/Castleton GardensMy Profile

    • J'aime Wells says:

      I was just thinking how differently that would land if a woman writer claimed it. 😉

  7. What a great post. I know as a writer I often focus more on “gut feel” when it comes to clients and marketing than numbers. This is a great reminder to do that.

    I try to get as many long term clients as possible since I find repeat business saves me a lot of time. So I find that sticking to a regular marketing schedule doesn’t always work because then I find myself overloaded as long as I keep most of my client base. Any advice for keeping the balance between regular clients and new clients?
    Jennifer Gregory recently posted…So How is Content Marketing Writing Different from Other Types of WritingMy Profile

  8. Such helpful advice, Jason. This is my Achilles heel, and I *know* I need to be more rigorous about it. I’m going to print out this post and redouble my efforts to be a bit more regimented. Thanks for the friendly nudge!

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