By Viresh Harduth, vice president: New Customer Acquisition (Small & Medium Businesses) for Africa & Middle East
More and more South Africans are joining the freelance economy because of the flexibility, work variety and, in some cases, the higher earning power it offers. For example, many accountants and financial professionals today work freelance or consult to supplement the income from their day job; others freelance rather than working for a practice or corporation to achieve a better work/life balance.
Whether you’re an HR consultant, a developer, a designer, a writer or an accountant, running a successful freelance business is all about marketing yourself to your prospective client base. A professional digital presence can help you to attract more business and increase your income. Here are some tips about establishing your online presence.
1. A professional-looking website is essential
Your website is the world’s window on the service you provide, your qualifications and your experience. It will often form the prospective client’s first impression of you - so invest some time in creating a neat-looking website with clean, error-free copy. You can use a service such as Wix or Wordpress to build a website that reflects your personal brand at low or no cost.
You’ll look more professional if you buy your own domain name rather than using a Wordpress subdomain. Services such as Wordpress allow you to buy premium templates that allow you to build a snazzier, more customised site than you could using the standard themes. It’s also worth paying a premium to remove ads from your site if you go with one of these services.
Some other tips:
- An appropriate photo can help make a personal connection with the people visiting your site.
- Showcase your skills, talk about your qualifications, ask clients to write short references for you, and put up examples of your work in a portfolio or a list of case studies.
- Ask for professional help proof-reading copy or designing the site if you don’t have these skills yourself.
- Try to build back-links with other credible people and organisations in your industry. For example, many professional associations allow their members to post their contact details and website link in a member’s directory. That’s a great way to get website traffic and perhaps find new clients.
2. Use social media to build up your business network
Social media is a great way to help drive awareness of your website. Create a social media presence for your freelance business on the channels that are most popular with your customers;
· Keep the content you post there friendly but professional.
· Link your social media accounts to your website.
· Rather than selling your service, it’s wise to use social media to share hints and tips with your audience and to get involved in the conversations that are important to your profession.
LinkedIn is a great place to meet potential clients and pitch for freelance projects. Use your profile to share your achievements, qualifications, and experience, and ask your contacts for endorsements. Join groups that are relevant to your professional interests, share content people in your business will find useful, and follow companies and people in your industry to stay on top of the news.
3. If you have time, share your insights with the market
One way to showcase your experience and expertise is to write informative content relevant to the market you serve. For example, an accountant could write a Facebook post - or a blog post on his or her website - to outline common tax pitfalls for small businesses, or an HR expert could offer a plain language guide to the treatment of sick leave in South African labour law. Not only does this help drive traffic to your website, it helps to position you as one of the go-to experts in your field.
4. Learn the ropes of SEO
Search engine optimisation is about getting your website as close to the top of search engine results as possible when someone searches for a graphic designer or a tax practitioner, for example. Though SEO is seen as a bit of a dark art, nearly anyone can learn the basics and improve their results on search engine listings with a bit of effort. A few simple tips:
- Think about the words people will use to search for your service and include them in the copy for your website - for example, ‘accountant Sandton’ or ‘freelance financial services copywriter’.
- Use your keywords in headings, URLs, and social media content to drive more hits.
- Tools like Google Keyword Planner and Ubersuggest can help you come up with good keyword ideas.
- Learn the basics of Google Analytics to track where your visitors came from and which keywords brought them to your website.
- Focus on the quality of your content and update your website at frequent intervals - this helps you to get quality back links from other people in your business.
5. Use platforms to connect with prospective clients from around the world
Sites such as Upwork and Freelancer.com enable you to post your profile and bid for jobs posted by organisations from around the world. It doesn’t take much effort to set up and account and profile with these platforms and to track job postings. Be warned: competition is fierce on these sites. Focus on the value you can deliver rather than on competing on price.
Don’t neglect the human touch
Building a digital presence can help you to connect with new clients from around the globe. But don’t forget about maintaining contact with your existing network - co-workers, former clients, people in the same profession - to maximise your opportunities. As a freelancer or consultant, you should set some time apart for selling, marketing and networking - not just online, but also through attending client meetings, industry events and workshops as face-value are still the best way to generate new business.