Freelance Marketing in 2016: Know Your Market

What I’m reading: The Harvest Gypsies by John Steinbeck
What I’m listening to: Rigoletto: Questa O Quella by Luciano Pavarotti

It’s been a good first week back. I’m working on three projects from two clients, and I delivered a first draft yesterday. Today, more of the same. Plus it’s time for me to pick up the marketing — there’s a conference in April, and I want to get some meetings scheduled.

Because it’s the beginning of the month (well, it was a few days ago), I’m once again looking at the marketing plan. It’s something I try to do every month. I don’t always succeed, but making it part of the monthly assessment routine helps (it’s why I include the “Bottom Line” section each month).

But I need more than that, as does every freelance writer. Action begins with planning.

I thought it would be useful to dedicate the next few posts to ways of improving the marketing plan, especially since the new year is so squeaky clean yet and we’re still basking in the glow of possibility. Putting together a marketing plan can be an involved examination of your freelance writing business, or it can be a look at one or more aspects of how you’re operating, just to look for missed opportunities.

Most writers opt for the latter approach. That’s fine, but only if you’ve done a more in-depth analysis in the past. Otherwise, you could be tweaking a plan that’s going out to the wrong people or the wrong market.

So let’s start with knowing who your market is.

Targeted clients are those people who are most willing or likely to buy your services. If you’re targeting consumers, you’re going to want to know their age, gender, interests, and maybe geographic location. If you’re targeting other businesses, the info you need would be different. Since most of us freelance for businesses, let’s concentrate on that segment.

Here’s what you need to know about your target market:

  • How big is the company? What’s their product or service? Company size doesn’t always indicate a good client, but it helps you narrow down those who may have the funds to hire you. Again, not written in stone — some of my best clients are sole proprietors.
  • What’s their problem? What need do they have? Every company has a particular pain point — maybe they can’t crack into a particular demographic or they are always looking like they’re chasing the leader in the industry. Knowing what keeps them up at night helps with understanding where you can benefit their business. 
  • Who is their customer or audience? Look at current marketing info to determine the demographic. Are they selling to consumers or other businesses? Small entities or global ones? Are their consumers young professionals or retired women? It’s all there in their marketing info. If it isn’t, they need you much more than they realize.
  • How are they reaching their customers? Also, how are those efforts working? You can figure that out by the look/feel of their marketing pieces, website, and conference presence, if it applies.
  • What are they saying on social media? What information do they put out regularly? If they’re putting out newsletters, releases, or showing up regularly on social media, they’ve just made your research that much easier. Listen to what they’re saying and where they’re saying it. That’s the key to how to approach them.
If you need a quick tutorial on defining your target market, try existing clients. Ask the same questions and study the answers. Your ideal client is one who will buy from you. Current clients provide a wealth of information on what needs you can market to, what made them buy, and what keeps them coming back.
Writers, what process do you use to define your target market?
How often do you revisit your analysis? How has your client changed over the years?

About the author




  • Anne Wayman January 7, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    Yep… and if, as part of mine is, individuals you do roughly the same thing… describe your ideal market.

  • Paula Hendrickson January 7, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    As I read this I was thinking of last night's episode of The Middle. Mike (the dad) and his brother started a company and too their product to a tradeshow. Mike's on his own when a woman comes up saying the product would do great in her store. She asks to connect on LinkedIn. Mike thinks it's Tinder or something, saying, "I'm flattered, but I'm married." So she asks about Facebook, Twitter, etc…and he finally says he can send their printed brochure – complete with a self-addressed stamped envelope. She shook her head and walked away.

    (Later hilarity ensued as Mike asked his college aged son to help him apply for a Twitter account. Kid grabbed the phone and had the account set up before Mike was done asking how long it would take to get it up and running.)

    Companies like that seriously need our help!

  • Lori Widmer January 8, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    Anne, when you were starting out, did you struggle with this? I know a lot of freelancers at the beginning of their careers do. Just wondered how you got beyond it.

    Paula, that's hilarious. πŸ™‚ And you're right — companies like that do need our help!

    Same question to you that I posed to Anne. Just wondering where and how other freelancers found their stride.

  • Cathy Miller January 8, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    Sorry I'm late to the game. Busy day yesterday. My client has changed or maybe expanded would be more accurate. I can thank health care reform's Affordable Care Act for much of that. Now there's a phrase you don't see often. πŸ˜‰

    It's not only my client who has changed but the services I offer. Originally, my clients were brokerage firms (and they remain in the mix). It was a hold-over from my corporate days and I continued to do almost any kind of work they wanted done. As I got more time and experience under my belt, I dropped the work I didn't like to do and much of what I call the "one and done" projects.

    I stumbled into ghostwriting and really saw my market expand. There is a real need for writers with both industry technical knowledge and the writing skills to go with it. I now have health care organizations as clients (e.g., specialty practice management companies), vendors that service both the healthcare and insurance industry, as well as my original broker market.

    My good relationship with my clients has also taken me outside that niche as contacts moved to new companies. They called me because they liked working with me and liked my work. For example, I learned about the logistics management industry (supply chain), which was fun.

    It's been quite the ride and I love how it continuously evolves.

  • Lori Widmer January 8, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    Cathy, isn't it a great position to be in? We know what we're good at, what we excel at, and we know what work just doesn't appeal. It's nothing against clients and their projects, but we've learned how to balance our workloads so that we can be challenged (but not overwhelmed), stimulated (but not overly so), and satisfied (but not saturated).

  • Cathy Miller January 8, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    Succinct and right on, Lori. πŸ˜‰

  • Paula January 9, 2016 at 12:51 am

    After the past couple of days I'm afraid my stride has been hobbled.

    Things with my existing clients have been great, but a new-to-me client morphed into a PITA almost overnight. Everyone over at Anne's forum have had an earful – or is that eyeful? – about this mess, with names deleted to protect the guilty since she might just turn out to be an overly-stressed editor.

    Short version: I started the week working on five articles for Favorite Editor and a revision for the new client due on January 13. Around 3PM yesterday the new client changed my January 13 deadline to TODAY. This morning she softened and said Monday morning was okay. I said I'd do my utmost to get it in today, but since I had to push three other projects to the back burner I'll need my weekend to catch up on those. She sent me an email that seemed to question my professionalism (because a couple sources I've been pursuing all week hadn't gotten back to me, but she had no problem reaching people…huh?). After I calmed down I reassured her I am a seasoned pro and I leave no rock unturned.

    I now have everything other than one tiny bit of info. The editor said it's okay if I run long (I was 700 words over my word count at one point, but got it down to 600 and was dreading cutting things only to have the editor ask why I hadn't included them). She even wished me a nice weekend.

    I'm glad we ended the day on a positive note, but this roller coaster of confusion ALMOST had be doubting my abilities. Then I remembered I've been writing for Favorite Editor longer than the new client's publication has even been around.

    Yep. I gotz mad skillz.