Since Hubspot coined the term “inbound marketing,” every kind of business has been trying to get the coveted inbound lead. And why not? Inbound leads usually buy things more quickly, complain less about price, and renew more often.
As a freelancer, inbound leads are especially valuable. You don’t have a sales team and scaled up marketing efforts - it’s just you and your time. I know this firsthand, because I’ve had a nearly 100% inbound freelance business since day one. My business has been profitable since I started it and increased in revenue each year, all without needing to send cold pitches. In this blog post, I’m detailing the four factors that helped me build my inbound funnel, each one corresponding to a timeless law of freelancing from my book, The 50 Laws of Freelancing.
Step 1: Have a good enough one-liner
I’m a freelance writer for startups and venture capitalists. If you asked me what else I do, I’d tell you that I edit, do content strategy, occasionally work with big corporations and governments, and more. But my “one-liner” when I introduce myself is simply that I am a freelance writer for startups and venture capitalists.
This is the essence of the “good enough” one-liner.
When you introduce yourself, you want to make sure what you say meets two criteria:
1. It’s easy to understand.
2. It’s easy to repeat.
If you want to build an inbound funnel, criterion number two is the most important. If I started all of my introductions with everything I do, people would get confused and understand less. But more importantly, they would repeat it less - or repeat it incorrectly.
The point of a “good enough” one-liner is so that other people talk about you the way you want to be talked about. When you focus on making it easy to understand and easy to repeat, you give people the language you want them to use. This alone has generated lots of clients for me, who reach out and say they heard I did freelance writing, and wonder if I could help them.
Step 2: Try everything and stick with what you like
Freelancers often work remotely, and unfortunately that comes with many pitfalls, particularly around freelancer mental health
. Obviously, selling more is a critical element of mental health - making money can not only address anxiety about money but also pay for resources and help if necessary.
The way that I tackle both the pitfalls of remote freelance work and selling more is to try everything but stick with what you like. You try everything because you never know what might work or what you might like. When you only stick with what you like, you’re more likely to engage on a genuine level and more likely to enjoy yourself. Win-win.
In my case, I’ve tried every social media platform I can find, gone to hundreds of events and conferences, and even did a cultural exchange vacation to France to help a family restore their old chateau. If the platforms or experiences didn’t give me clients directly, they provided stories that rounded me out as a human and freelancer, resulting in more sales.
Step 3: Ask for referrals the right way
Asking someone if they will refer business to you is asking for a favor. Even if you pay them a commission, you’re still asking for them to use mental energy to remember your sales pitch then leverage their social capital to send clients your way.
Instead, make them the hero.
Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Instead of asking for referrals, remind them of your easy to repeat one-liner and tell them that if they know anyone facing the challenges you solve, you’d be happy to help.
Step 2: When that person interacts with someone facing a challenge, they can bring you up as a solution to the problem.
Step 3: Introductions you get from that person will be way higher quality because now you’re presented as the solution to a problem, and the person who referred you is the hero who made the introduction. The third person gets their problem solved, you get an inbound client, and your friend gets more social capital for being a problem-solver.
Step 4: Build partnerships
If you are trying to increase your client base without direct sales, then partnerships are a huge way to go. In making them, though, you have to be clear on the value you provide both to the end user (your potential client) and to the partner. In short, you have to make your partner the hero so they open up their network to you.
Here’s an example of what I did: I was working with a venture capitalist on their content, then we talked about a partnership. We agreed on a few pieces of content that I would offer at a discount to any portfolio company that the VC had. In turn, the VC would market me as the solution to any portfolio company needing content.
It was a triple win:
Remember: freelancing is a business
Startups have limited time and resources, but need good content. The partnership meant discounted rates and a high quality writer.
VCs want to solve problems for their portfolio companies. The partnership meant they got an “exclusive” deal for their startups that no one else could get them.
I didn’t want to chase clients. The partnership meant a discounted rate, but I still profited because I didn’t have to invest any time selling those clients.
Too many people assume freelancing is this in-between zone. You’re not an employee, but you’re not a corporation either. The reality is that freelancing is firmly in business territory. That means you have additional administration to work through, but you also have the ability to leverage business frameworks to make you more successful - particularly around building inbound funnels.