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10 free self-promotion strategies

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As most freelancers and startups begrudgingly acknowledge, self-promotion and targeted marketing are important parts of running a successful business. Having a stellar service or a cutting-edge product is only the first step. Making that service or product known is an ongoing process, and one that often requires strategic planning, time and resources, which are valuable commodities in the freelancer and startup realm. Here are 10 free (or low-cost) self promotion strategies to help maximise product or service exposure in the market, that require little time to execute.

Coworking. Of the most obvious ways to increase your exposure to potential customers or clients is, of course, to work in a coworking space. Deskmag has written extensively about how being a member of a coworking space can expand business, social and weak-tie networks. Certainly, networking and word of mouth are two of the most organic and effective marketing tools - so when presented with a chance to network, it should be exploited.

Be approachable. The reason why coworking increases business networks is because it connects people. To maximize the network effect of a coworking space, then, ensure that you actively seek conversation with other coworkers, and that they too want to talk to you. Ask the community manager to introduce you to new coworkers, and greet new members with small-talk. If you have a permanent desk, put your services on show. Frame one of your most eye catching designs, photos, drafts or quotations, which may prompt people to approach you and ask more about what you do. Keep a stack of business cards on your desk so people know how to contact you if you’re not there. When you are, remember to take your earphones out from time to time. Wearing earphones sends out a clear message that you don’t want to be disturbed.

While a big part of coworking is interacting with a community, most people cowork to get work done - if everyone spoke with each other all day it wouldn't be very productive. When you do have time to talk, though, make sure to use it wisely. For example, avoid eating lunch or having coffee breaks at your desk. Instead, move into a communal area and sit next to someone you haven’t spoken to before.

Business Cards. Have them, and make them sophisticated, thoughtful and complete. If you’re a photographer, for example, why not invest a little more into personalising your business cards with a selection of your photos? Letting a potential client or acquaintance pick their favourite one will make sure they remember who gave it to them, and will encourage them to think of you when they, or a friend, needs your service. Aside from suggesting attention to detail, thoughtful business cards avoid the confusion expereienced at the end of a conference or event when sorting through a pile of business cards that look identical.

Something to keep in mind too is while minimal is chic, too little information is inutile. Make sure to include all important contact information, including social media details if these platforms are used heavily.

Attend events. Armed with nice business cards, find places to hand them out. Attend events and workshops religiously, and consider them (especially those relating to your field) a part of your job. The more involvement with a community, the more business and social networks will expand. Likewise, the more familiar the face, the more likely it is to be approached. Research any regular community meetups and rub shoulders with others in your industry, remembering that referrals can come from “colleagues” (who aren’t quite right for the job), too.

Hard hitting introductions. When introducing yourself to new acquaintances, make sure to say something meaningful. Consider the difference between, “Hi, I’m Anna and I’m an illustrator,” and “Hi, I’m Anna, I’m a freelance illustrator. I work on a whole range of things, from map design to childrens’ books.” Being explicit gives potential customers, of friends of potential customers, a better idea of what you do, and a longer-lasting impression.

Up-to-date website. Networking and first impressions are increasingly important in the virtual world. A website - your virtual face - is crucial for increasing your exposure and being found online. First impressions die hard, though, and virtual impressions are equally as important as the physical ones. A poorly designed, unprofessional-looking website is the equivalent to a sweaty, limp handshake, and can drive away potential clients. Update the content of your website regularly: for a remote potential customer, it’s how they will form their judgements about the quality of your business and your professionalism. For freelancers in the creative industries, a website can also serve as an online portfolio, sent as a link in cold-emails to prospective clients. This avoids an email, loaded with attachments, being snagged by spam filters.

Wordpress is a popular and relatively straightforward choice for new businesses - but it can be tricky to get rid of the “Wordpress look.” For those unfamiliar with code and website design, professional-looking themed templates that suits your business can be purchased for around US$35. There are thousands of styles and designs available, and a number of sites that offer these; themeforest is a good one. In addition, a dot.com domain can be bought for around US$10. When choosing this URL, make it snappy and easy to remember. Including a keyword will help with search results.

Keep in the know. You may have graduated at the top of your class at university, but industry and business are fluid, and never stop evolving. Keep abreast of what is going on in your own industry, and about what, and who, is the flavor of the month. Being topical and contemporary shows that you’re passionate about your business - and customers will know that they are investing in you for a reason.

Knowing your industry also includes understanding competitors, which can offer invaluable insight into a target market and where your own product or service excels or is lacking. What can you improve on? What do you offer that they don’t? Tell potential clients what makes you better.

Be benevolent. Knowledge is best shared. Impart your expertise with your community and offer advice on blogs, forums and articles for newspaper columns and magazines. It is an excellent way to get a name out into the community, and will help establish yourself as an expert in your field, prompting others to do further research into your work. By offering your opinion online (and asking some questions of your own) you also create a window for backlinking to your website, enhancing your SEO. Be careful not to overdo this though, as too much backlinking is sometimes punished.

One resource for putting the wider community (especially industry experts) in touch with media and press is Help a Reporter Out. Journalists, bloggers, and authors post queries that anyone can respond to, and is one way for a freelancer or small business to offer tips, stories or insight to a wider audience, and have a name published in the press.

Make amicable virtual networks. Give credit where credit is due, and commend a fellow freelancer or startup in a virtual space. The recipient of your praise will most likely reward you for it by inviting you to their own conversations, or by returning the favor. It also serves as a positive measure to increase your exposure to their external networks.

List yourself. Sounds obvious, but when in doubt, a user or consumer will turn to traditional listings to find someone (whom they don't yet know) for a job. The Yellow Pages, Craigslist, the Freelancer Directory or LinkedIn are just some examples of web-based business directories. Listing your service or business costs nothing (or very little) but boosts the likelihood of being found online.

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For more freelancer tips, visit Deskmag’s tips & tools column

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