Basic Online Marketing Guide for Freelancers

Eric Linhares

3 steps to success.

So you want to be a freelancer. You weighed the pros and cons of this lifestyle, selected a career and hopefully organized your finances for the challenges ahead. Now you’re wondering how to find clients and make a name for yourself in the marketplace, starting from scratch.

Step 1: Imitation

You don’t need to be great at first. Instead of writing a list of 35 marketing skills you should develop but never will, I suggest a more practical approach.

You may have heard of website and email templates designed for freelancers and small business owners. Let’s go one step further: pick a successful role model from your field and use his business as a template for your online presence.

Generic advice would tell you to register a domain name for your website and email, write a pithy pitch for the home page, add a smiling picture of yourself dressed according to the professional image you want to project, exhibit testimonials as social proof, and so on.

There’s nothing wrong with this advice. In fact, you’ll be taking it as you emulate the decisions made by someone who already succeeded, with sprinkles of your own creativity. On top of that, you’ll save time by avoiding beginner mistakes and the ordeal of thinking through every detail when you have no relevant experience with multiple marketing techniques. That said, please have the courtesy not to be a blatant copycat who can’t even come up with a different color scheme.

Make sure to analyze his portfolio and case studies. Use the abundant time you have as an indigent to build your own as you provide free services in exchange for testimonials. Assuming you’ve already acquired the qualifications for the job, this is your moment to shine. If you haven’t, welp, at least you won’t charge for the instruction.

Stalk. If your hero takes part in social media and content marketing, take copious notes of remarkable aspects of his communication strategy. Competition is fierce, few rise to the top. Take it easy. Consistently good content creation doesn’t happen overnight, even with a good model for reference.

Now move beyond the explicit side of his business. If you have the funds, become a client and use the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of customer service. You’ll be exposed to thoughtful emails, phone calls, invoicing, payment options, relationship building, and get priceless insight into the mind of your future clients.

Note there’s a marketing component to everything you’ll come across.

Lastly, show appreciation for what you’ve learned in a thank you note and consider politely asking for mentorship. No guilt, no shame. Bach walked 250 miles to learn from Buxtehude. The best Marketing pros can’t be original most of the time.

Your aim at this point is to take advantage of best practices as you see them implemented, not create a perfect replica that stunts the maturation of your individuality. If you pull this off, your business will have a viable marketing strategy from the outset.

Step 2: Differentiation

The most important social skill is the ability to see ourselves from the perspective of others. Trust me, I’m a social butterfly. With, erm, clipped wings. Excuse me, I’m going back to my cocoon.

Switching perspective keeps us honest about our public image, real shortcomings and the value of our work. Frankly, can you say you’d hire yourself over the competition without being influenced by the snoring of your belly? If the answer is ‘no’, it might be necessary to lower your rates for a while and hone your skills until your work becomes worthy of appreciation.

Then again, your weakness could be a deficit of differentiation. In saturated markets, it isn’t enough to provide quality services, freelancers must find a way to stand out from the crowd of morons who devalue everyone else’s work by underselling their labor. And this is when the Padawan must respectfully depart from his master to carve his own path.

Time to specialize. Find the intersection between your interests and market needs that allows you to make a living by following your inclinations. Respecting your preferences is the easiest way to amass specialized knowledge and infuse your work with individuality, distinguishing it from cookie-cutter golem output.

Pragmatically, why respect your preferences? Most people can’t achieve excellence at something they detest. The few who are capable and willing, end up selling happiness to buy money, a funny deal if you ask me. Life is the set of all games, your job is but one of them, and a time-consuming one at that. It’s unwise to sacrifice the former for the latter. But read again. The market is taken into account as a limiting factor to your choices. If you want to help others, doing so will make you happy. As you make money. If you don’t, you have bigger problems to solve first.

John F. Kennedy once said that in Chinese the word crisis contains the meaning of danger and opportunity. Nonsense, but such a pretty lie I felt like reproducing it here. I’m on the fence about politicians, help me out. Do you consider untrustworthy someone who can always be trusted to lie?

It’s true, at least, that crises can awaken us from our slumbering routines. Flashbacks to your damp shack-dwelling days.

Example, suppose you’re a web developer. The economy has gone pear-shaped and the demand for your services has dried up so much you’re tempted to draw money from your puppy’s heart surgery crowdfunding. You absolute monster.

Suddenly, you remember people still need medicine during economic downturns. Ignore for the moment that entrepreneurs need money to open drugstores. Pshaw, ignore it. While this segment is booming against the stream with sales of anti-depressants to suicidal freelancers, you swiftly put together an additional (single-purpose) website advertising your expertise in online drugstores. I mean, they’re just slightly customized e-commerces, r-right?

Feedback will teach you soon enough. If you’re lucky, without destroying your reputation.

Step 3: Optimization

Clearly, optimization, like differentiation, should coincide to some extent with the very first step, Californication. Couldn’t resist it. There’s overlapping at all stages, but the order chosen to expand on the steps here obeys the general chronological emphasis we tend to adopt when learning a new skill. We assimilate the rules, figure out when to break them (by formulating new rules) and then improve their execution, a matter of efficiency and finesse that can go on for as long as we live.

Much of your optimization will come from analysis and the natural refinement of your intuition as you gain experience. The rest of it comes down to research.

Split Testing (A/B Testing)

Split testing is a comparison between two different versions of a web page to find which has better conversion rates. You create two identical pages except for one element with contrasting attributes. This could be a headline, an image, a pop-up, a testimonial, you know. By comparing their performances, you can keep the one with better outcomes.

So you’re creating a website for your puppy’s heart surgery crowdfunding. Sure, you don’t have a puppy, but we’ve already established you’re an absolute monster. On the landing page for the donation, after a heartbreaking picture and a sob story, you placed a call to action: Donate to help Meatball live longer than a hamster. For some reason, you suspect this isn’t very persuasive. You think of another one: Meatball would be grateful for your donation if he could understand the concept. Eloquent.

You’re still unsure. How do you decide which will get more donations? You create two different versions of the page in which the only variation is your call to action. Divide traffic equally between the two and you’ll determine the more effective version.

Okay, this has to be the dumbest example of split testing on the internet, but I hope you got the point.

The topic deserves a post of its own. Try Neil Patel’s A Beginner’s Guide To A/B Testing: An Introduction.


I figured it would be better to let stats speak for themselves (HubSpot) than wonkily defend their utility with arguments. Have some appetizers:

“90% of searchers haven’t made their mind up about a brand before starting their search.”, Status Labs, 2018

“Using videos on landing pages will increase conversions by 86%.”, Wordstream, 2018

“Companies that published 16+ blog posts per month got almost 3.5 times more traffic than companies that published zero to four monthly posts.”, HubSpot, 2015

“Content marketing gets three times more leads than paid search advertising.”, Content Marketing Institute, 2017

“When it comes to delivering content and securing audience engagement, LinkedIn is the most effective social media platform.”, LinkedIn, 2017

“74% of people say they use Facebook for professional purposes.”, HubSpot, 2017

“81% of millennials check Twitter at least once per day.”, Pew Research Center, 2016

“97% of marketers are using prescriptive content, or content that outlines a formula for success.”, Curata, 2016

You’re set to make it, pilgrim. Good luck on your journey!