Turning Around Your Freelance Business with Lead Nurturing

nurturingBefore I was a freelancer, I sold software for a living.

Unfortunately, my employer didn’t have much of a marketing team. So, it was up to me to find my own prospects.

That was a lot of work. But, it’s also what led me to eventually quit my sales job to become a successful freelance copywriter.

You see, by having to write my own marketing and sales materials, I learned a lot about what it takes to generate a steady stream of leads. For instance, I noticed that only about 10 percent of the leads I was generating were actually ready or willing to talk with me about my product.

That was no surprise. But, what shocked me was how many of the other 90 percent (the ones who weren’t ready when they first contacted me) bought from me 3, 6, or 12 months later—as long as I stayed in touch!

Lead Nurturing Works

In fact, at one point, one third of all my new business was coming from this group of “not ready yet” leads! By staying on their radar screen in a nonthreatening way, I was the first person they thought of when they were ready to buy project management software. As a result, the cost of my mailing efforts began to drop (I no longer needed to generate as many leads to make one sale). And I quickly rose to the top sales position in my division.

Since then, I’ve implemented this same “staying in touch” strategy in my freelance business. And I’ve found that much of the difference between just “getting by” and earning an executive-level income as a freelance professional lies in what you do with prospects who are not ready to hire you today.

You’re Leaving Opportunities on the Table!

According to Brian Carroll, author of the popular book Lead Generation for the Complex Sale, only about 5 to 15 percent of prospects for your services are either actively looking for or considering what you offer.

But Carroll notes that as many as half of the remaining 85 to 95 percent of leads will typically buy the services you provide—either from you or from one of your competitors—over the following 18 to 24 months.

There’s a good reason for this. When you market your services to a select list of prospects, you have a great deal of control over the companies and people you target.

What you have no control over, however, are the current needs of those organizations. If there’s currently not a project in the pipeline or even a budget for one, you’re not going to land a project that day.

But, your chances go up dramatically if you stay in touch in a very strategic yet sincere way.

Ideas for Lead Nurturing

I’ve landed a tremendous amount of work just by staying in touch with longer-term prospects. Some of these prospects became big clients years after my first contact. And it was my steady approach to staying on their radar screens that made all the difference.

Here are some ideas on how to do this well:

  • Articles You’ve Written–If you write a newsletter and have a few articles lying around from previous issues, start sending them to your prospects via e-mail or postal mail. Relevant, insightful, and well-written self-authored articles make excellent nurturing material. They give you credibility, position you as an expert on the topic, and provide your leads with ideas and insights that could help them do their jobs better.
  • Reports or White Papers–Have you written a report or white paper on a topic that would be of interest to your target audience? If so, this can be a powerful nurturing piece. Here again, reports and white papers give you credibility while offering value to readers. Don’t have a meaty report you can share? Not a problem! Try assembling one with previously published articles that touch on a common theme.
  • Third-Party Content–The content you send doesn’t have to be completely self-authored. In fact, it’s better to have a good mix of self-authored content and third-party information. Assemble a good list of interesting and relevant third-party content in the way of articles, blog posts, reports, white papers, success stories, reference material, survey results and statistics.
  • Success Stories–Also known as “case studies” in marketing-speak, success stories are short articles that describe how you’ve helped a client solve a specific challenge and your service. For obvious reasons, these make great “staying in touch” pieces.
  • Press Releases–Have you recently written a press release on a big client win, a noteworthy success with an existing client, or a new service offering? Send it out to your prospects! But, don’t limit press releases to news about you and your business. Seek out interesting stories about new trends, statistics, events, and products that would be of interest to the people on your list.
  • Monitor and Adjust–To be effective, make sure to adjust your frequency so that you’re not perceived as a pest. Also, try staying in touch for at least a year before giving up on a prospect. As mentioned earlier, some of these client wins will come 18 months after the first contact.

Finally, to diversify your efforts, rotate your media. Use a combination of email, postal mail and phone. And make sure to keep track when you sent what to whom.

Your Turn

What about you? What methods have you used to stay on your prospects’ radar screens?

Have you landed a client as a result of staying in touch for an extended period of time? How long did it take? Did the effort pay off?

Image by usfsregion5