Email marketing consistently produces the biggest Return On Investment (ROI) for small businesses. According to the Direct Marketing Association, businesses average a return of $40.21 for every dollar spent on email marketing. It has played a key part in the success of my websites over the years and I want to show you how to both to increase your freelance business and to increase your own ROI.
Most freelancers’ websites that I review in my coaching programs have some type of lead capture form. Lead captures can vary – you might use a simple form on the Contact Us page – you could utilize a “Quote Request” form. Different examples include opt-in forms for a newsletter, free report, or special promo.
When a visitor completes one of these forms, they become a lead – thus, the capture. The lead’s information is then sent to an email address and/or saved into a database. Most freelancers will then contact the lead by email or phone and begin the sales process.
This is where things often start to go wrong. Studies show that most sales are lost because of two main reasons:
- Slow initial response
- Lack of follow-up after initial contact
This is where having the right tools and a good email marketing strategy can help boost your freelance business. In my business, email marketing is responsible for 67% of our total sales. As you can imagine, it is central to everything we do.
Let’s walk through a few steps and important keys to remember when setting up your strategic email marketing plans.
Selecting the Right Email Service Provider (ESP)
Over the years, I have used a number of services to manage our email campaigns. At one point we even managed our own server. The server alone was $40,000 plus a $7,000 annual service agreement. Don’t worry! The good news is that you don’t have to pay anything close to that to get started.
The service that I recommend is Aweber. It is easy to set up and has a nice set of features to let you easily manage your subscribers/leads. They have been at this since 1998 and serve over 120,000 small businesses.
They have a $1 special for your first month that you can check out here. There is also a free test drive on that page, where you can see their email system in action.
How to Make a Big Impression with an Automated Response
Now that you have your free Aweber account, let’s talk about how to set it up so you can turn your leads into sales.
First things first… you should set up an autoresponder. An autoresponder (AR) is an automatic response to your website form. It’s purpose is to ensure that when your website visitor fills out a form, they automatically receive an email from you.
Tip: Don’t use a generic response like this.
Subject: Quote request received.
Thank your quote request. We will contact you within the next business day.
Make your response more engaging and more personalized. If they requested a quote, provide them with something that will get them excited about connecting with you. You could educate them and give them a “sneak peek” at your “client discovery” process so they know what to expect.
Another idea is to start the ball rolling. Your automated response could ask for the best day and time for you to call them so you don’t have to play phone tag. Here is a sample auto response to a quote request.
Subject: John, thank you.
Thank you for reaching out to me and requesting a quote for your website project.
I would like to meet with you over the phone as soon as possible. Please send me the best days and times to contact you. My assistant Terry will check my schedule and coordinate with you. This will save you and I both some time playing phone or email tag. :)
The phone meeting will last no longer than 20 minutes. The purpose of the call is to discuss the details of your project and make sure that we are a good fit. If we aren’t, I will let you know and I will refer you to another design firm. I have a short list of companies I trust that I refer my clients to when I come across a project that is outside of my area of expertise.
I look forward to meeting with you. Have a great day.
This is a short email, but there is a lot going on here. Let’s break it down.
Personalization - Using an ESP like Aweber allows me to personalize the subject line and body copy of the email. This boosts response rates like crazy. Studies show a boost of 22% or more to your open rate when you personalize your email marketing.
Credibility - Look at all the ways I am building instant credibility as a professional.
- I have an assistant to help me manage my business.
- I have a system in place that is designed to save them time in scheduling a meeting.
- I have a specific plan for the initial meeting that builds trust by consulting with them instead of selling them.
- The meeting will be short. This shows that I respect their time.
- I let them know that I will find them help, even if we are not a good fit.
So, within minutes of asking for more information on my website this prospect knows I have my act together and is looking forward to my call.
Do you see the difference and improvement instead of a generic “we’ll get back to you” email?
How to Use Email Marketing to Nurture Your Leads into Loyal Clients
If you have followed the steps above, you are probably well on your way to closing the deal. Of course, we can’t close every deal. So, if the potential client decides to decline your proposal, you have two options.
Option #1 Throw away all the trust and good rapport you have created… Not to mention the time you have spent interviewing the client and creating a proposal.
Many freelancers throw their hands up in disgust when a client says “no.” They give up and move on to the next opportunity. They never attempt to contact them again.
Don’t make that huge mistake. Instead, let’s look at the better alternative…
Option #2 Add the prospect to your “newsletter” list and nurture them over time.
Leave them on your list and send them periodic emails – the key is to send emails with valuable information. Don’t junk up a prospect’s inbox just for the sake of emailing them. Sometimes this requires an adjustment in your mindset here. Nurturing a “no” into a client takes some long-term strategic thinking and planning. If you want to build a long-term, sustainable, freelance business – your email marketing strategy should be at the top of your to-do list.
“But they already told me no… Why would I keep in touch with them?” It’s simple. You still have a chance to get their business in the future. You also have the chance to get referrals from them. Really? Yes! Here’s why…
- They could have turned down your proposal because money was tight, and they went with a cheaper option. How often does that turn out bad for the company? More often than not! So, if you keep up a relationship with them, you will likely be the first one they call to clean things up.
- If you were not a good fit for them, they could still use you in the future for another project or even just for part of another project. Again, if you have continued to nurture that relationship and provide them with valuable information, you will be at the forefront of their minds.
- If you follow the steps we discussed regarding the initial follow-up and you nurture your relationship even after getting turned down, you are a front-running choice for referrals. Why? Because small business owners hang out with other small business owners and one of their biggest pain points is finding reliable, professional freelancers to help them grow and run their business.
A big question is how often you should email your prospects. Generally, 1-2 emails a month is sufficient enough to keep yourself and your material “fresh” without bombarding someone’s inbox. It’s too easy to send too much which will end in a click on the unsubscribe button so try to limit it to a few, really good emails.
How Long Should You Nurture Your Leads with Email Marketing?
Let me answer this question by telling you a story. I was recently on a coaching call with a group of freelancers and I surveyed them to find out how they heard about us. One freelancer spoke up and said he had been on my email list for over 5 years and finally purchased our training program.
After the call, I looked up his information in our shopping cart and looked at his original subscribe date… He signed up 7 years and 5 months before his purchase date!
Obviously, this is an extreme example, but think about it. Because email marketing is so cost effective, we can afford to stay in contact with a lead for over 7 years. At two emails per month, that is over 100 follow-ups.
If my sales team had to personally followup by email or phone, we would have given up a long time ago. It would not make financial sense to spend that much time with him. At most, we could follow-up 10 times. Instead, we just added him to our newsletter list and kept nurturing the relationship until the time was right for him.
Let’s crunch some numbers and see what a modest email marketing campaign could do for your business.
If you have a decent marketing plan, you should be getting at least three leads per week. Check out our latest workshop on How To Get Clients if you need help in this area. That workshop will help you build consistent traffic to your website so you can have a steady stream of leads and clients.
Obviously your numbers will vary based the type of freelance work you do, but this is a good example of an average sales funnel for a freelancer.
In one year, let’s say, you generate 150 new leads. Let’s then say that 50% of these leads are pre-qualified through your initial email/phone followup process. That leaves 75 leads as qualified sales opportunities.
If your closing ratio is 20% of your opportunity, that makes 15 new clients. Now, instead of writing the other 60 qualified prospects off, add them to your newsletter! This is a chance missed by many freelancers! If you send them two emails each month for 12 months you can keep them engaged and you will have a good chance of getting their business in the future and/or getting referrals.
You should be able to create content for 24 followup emails in about 12 hours’ time. A good lead nurturing follow-up system could easily convert 5% of those 60 leads into new clients. If your average lifetime value of a client is $3,000, you just increased your income by $9,000 for just 12 hours of work.
What Information Can You Send Your Prospects Long-Term?
The content you send to your prospects/leads is very important. I have used the word “nurturing” to emphasize the importance of building a strong relationship. You need to send valuable, relevant information to them. Here is an example.
If you are a freelance web designer targeting small business owners, you could send information related to website design, traffic building, lead generation, social media, security, etc. The key is to send them information that helps their business.
Marketing is always a hot topic, because most businesses are looking for ways to grow. It is easy to take a current event or article on social media and then write up a short email. Small business owners are busy so I recommend summarizing the article and then outline the ways they can use that information in their business. Here is the outline of the email:
- Summarize the article for them
- Link to the article or news piece
- Tell them how it applies to them
- Offer to answer any questions they have
Another great piece of information you can share with your prospects is an infographic. These are really popular because they pack alot of information into an easy-to-read format.
How Email Marketing Affects Your Bottom Line
The simple truth is that a well-thought-out email marketing campaign can really do a few wonderful things for you.
Individual follow-ups (while definitely valuable) can be time consuming and expensive. You likely won’t be able to reach out to someone for 7 years! Don’t rush into deciding what to send, try to really think about the best information you can send. What will keep your prospects engaged and interested? Try to put yourself in their shoes and decide what would help them run their business.Having a great set of emails to send can draw in more prospects. If your reader likes the content, they will send it to others! By keeping in touch with your leads after you’ve gotten the “no” you are opening the possibility for a future client.
All in all, email marketing is an affordable, long-term, and effective way to gain clients and increase your bottom line.
If you have any questions about using email marketing in your freelance business, contact me here or post in the comments below.