Freelancing Fundamentals: Lead Generation Tactics

Lead generation is simply the art of attracting people who need your products or services to your virtual front door. What tactics do you use to get them there? Read on to find out.

This post is part of a series called Freelancing Fundamentals: How to Take a Project from Cradle to Launch.

Sourcing new customers is the lifeblood of any business. It’s also downright critical if you’re a one-person show and need to keep your books in the black.

As a freelancer, you’re not just selling a product. You’re selling yourself. This can make lead generation super-challenging and just plain overwhelming. And then there’s the fact that mining for clients is intimidating for a lot of freelancers … especially if you’re new and untested.

As a freelancer, you're not just selling a product. You're selling yourself. Share on X

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day

Information is readily available

Technology has completely altered the landscape of purchasing goods and services. The way that people buy things has changed dramatically from even a decade ago. For instance, even brick-and-mortar purchases can be governed by smart phone access.

You’ve probably seen or been part of one of these scenarios:

  • A shopper whips out his phone while standing in the produce aisle to get a list of things he needs to prepare a specific dish.
  • A customer about to buy something stands with the item in one hand and uses her phone with the other to search for reviews or competitive pricing.

There’s one truth, online or off: Easily accessible information drives engagement and engagement leads to sales.

Is any of that readily available information yours?

In a culture of attention that is being pulled every which way (“attention scarcity”), it can be confusing to know what to do.

Despite all the technological advances, fundamental lead generation tactics haven’t changed. These days — just like Way Back When — the key to success is to make yourself findable, then nurture the wandering souls who find you into your loving, commerce-minded arms.

Focusing on the human element of the equation means a win. Relationship leads to rank, and rank leads to sales. Your humanity will always serve you.

The 3 Cornerstone Lead Generation Tactics

1. First, know your Who

The starting point is deciding who you’re going to attract and doing so with as much specificity as possible. How can you hit a target if you don’t know what it looks like or where it’s hanging?

It’s important to know whose pockets are wrapped around your future dollars. You can expand your reach later, but for now you want to have an intense focus on a precise client. What makes for your best lead?

Consider the traits and habits that make up your ideal customer. Construct a brief story of who they are and how they motor through their day.

The fancy business term for this pretend person is avatar or persona, and they help you mold what you offer. Try to define them in as much detail as you can. An easy, free way to do this is to make a list of questions from the persona’s perspective.

Questions to help you put together a persona might look like:

  • “Where do I live?”
  • “How big is my family?”
  • “What do I do for fun?”
  • “How much money do I make?”
  • “How much time do I spend online?”

For this exercise, you’ll want to use a combination of demographics and psychographics. Demographics just means a subset of the population, or the “who:” White males from Cleveland between the ages of 18-35, for instance. Psychographics represents a person’s hobbies, habits, values, and opinions; in other words, the “why” behind their behaviors.

After you’ve asked and answered all the questions you can think of, find a photo and assign that face to your avatar. Give her a name. Make this person as real to you as possible so that you can start defining her needs in order to meet them.

Want to take it a step further? Create an empathy map to really get into your customer’s head.

On the flip side, it’s equally important to know who to turn away. Spend some time thinking about whose business you don’t want, too. Create a “negative persona.” You’ll do yourself a big disservice if you’re chasing the wrong client!

2. Now let’s talk about the What of Lead Gen

Now that you know whose attention you need to snag, what things do you need to capture that person’s attention?

There are lots of opinions and fancy-pants tools out there, but I think it’s pretty basic. You need:

  • Landing page
  • Lead magnet
  • Solid call to action
  • Lead management process
  • White hat reputation
  • Social media presence (okay, this one’s optional, but very helpful)

Let’s go over these things.

Landing page

A landing page is where you send people to learn about your offer. It’s very focused and has only two goals: It explains your offer thoroughly and captures your prospect’s information and/or dollars.

Typically a landing page is pretty frills-free because you don’t want to pull focus from your message. Check out this guide by Instapage for some great information about this key tool for lead generation.

Oh, and if you want to see an example of one of my landing pages, check out Real World Freelancing.

Lead magnets

Lead magnets are things meant to entice your audience and persuade them to trade their information for something you offer. Sometimes they’re referred to as “ethical bribes,” and can come in the form of a contest, an ebook, a handout, or special pricing. (This list is just a sampling and is nowhere near comprehensive … there are a ton of different freebies and incentives out there.)

Graceful Resources offers a free lead magnet guide — his lead magnet! — stuffed with great information on the topic.

Call to action

Your call to action (or CTA, as it’s commonly known) tells your audience what you need them to do and why. It’s usually delivered with a sense of urgency: “Act now for best pricing!”

A call to action is not something to just dash off. It’s an important piece of copy and its language should be carefully considered. Some marketers work and re-work their CTAs harder than any other piece of writing they do — aside from those attention-getting headlines that pull an audience in the first place.

That’s because a CTA can literally make or break a sale.

To get really good at crafting a solid CTA, you need to find great examples and study the crap out of them. Look at your CTAs again and again while asking yourself, “What can I remove, add or rearrange to make this whole proposition more irresistible?” I like using Optin Monster for this. It’s not free, but it’s a great way to time exactly when a visitor sees your call to action as well as A/B test the language you use.

Lead management

A good lead management process is important for several reasons, but mostly because you need to keep up contact with your leads in order to nurture them along the trail to your goods or services.

Incompetent lead management will tank your business fast and hard, because your prospects will feel like they’re unimportant to you.

You can start by handling this manually, but as you grow or become busier, consider investing in lead management tools … there are quite a few out there, and there’s one to suit every size business. My friend Heather Steele shares some tips for selecting a lead management tool.

White hat reputation

No matter what market your business is in, how you run it is crucial. A good reputation is one of your biggest assets. People want to know and work with folks who do right by them. Nothing will kill your freelancing business faster than shady dealings, a bad attitude, showing up late, or taking the money and not delivering.

Did your grandmomma ever tell you to, “Be a helper bee”? Yeah, that. Be a helper bee.

Social media presence

There are plenty of people who freelance and live without a Twitter account, a Facebook page, or a LinkedIn profile. There’s no denying, though, that a well-managed social presence can send a respectable amount of traffic your way. Using these outlets for your business is a good way to telegraph what you’re about and what you do so that potential customers are that much more enticed to want to play ball with you.

Social media platforms drive traffic when they offer things of value: Useful information is useful information no matter where it’s housed. Think of your social media accounts as micro-representations of your mission statement and values, too.

And don’t forget to have your funny meme game on lockdown. I don’t know any people who hate a good chuckle.

Oprah meme saying that everybody gets a meme!

3. And for the now the How of Lead Generation

“Okay, how do I find my leads? How do I even get them to my landing page to grab my amazing lead magnet in exchange for their info?”

There are two basic ways: Go to them or draw them to you. So easy, right?

Whether you are drawing your prospects to your corner of the internet or going to theirs, the best lead generation tactic of all is to endear yourself to them. Do good things for them with no ulterior motive other than being useful.

The positive vibes of goodwill grab traction even in digital spaces.

It’s important to remember that no matter which way you decide to go, both courses of action require the most important tool of all: Time.

Lead generation and development occur over an arc of time invested. The longer your ideal customer engages with you, the more comfortable they grow with trusting you and handing you their money.

Go to them

Find out where your avatar is prone to hanging out. Go there. Listen to what they need. Create a product or service to meet that need and then serve it up to your ideal prospect on a digital platter. The more specific you can be with your product or offer, the better.

As a general rule, you want to proactively scan the horizon for under-served markets. They’re a goldmine waiting for you to move in and develop them.

Once you gain a foothold there, you can turn your eye toward neighboring niches, adjust your process for those, and dominate there, too.

Draw them to you

Decide who you are. A well-crafted mission statement hanging around your internet presence can attract your ideal client or customer. Most people — whether they consciously realize it or not — want to work with people who think and believe like they do. They want to give their dollars to someone who furthers or amplifies their own values.

Most people, whether they consciously realize it or not, want to work with people who think and believe like they do. Share on X

An excellent way to draw your prospects is to offer them value by way of a solid bank of information that they find useful. Come up with a content plan and execute that. Publish valuable things consistently.

I’m sorry to tell you that there’s no way around this: You can float along for a while without a solid content plan, but to really gain ground with your lead generation efforts, you need to have one.

Don’t forget who came to the dance with you

Once you land a client, your relationship isn’t over. In fact, the prospects you’ve converted to clients or customers can be your best source of new business via direct referrals, return business, and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth advertising on your behalf.

Keep giving them something to love. They’re already in the pipeline so it will cost you less in time, effort, and funds to serve than rousting up new leads will. Stay top of mind with them by keeping in touch and reminding them that you are happy to serve them.

Brett Cohen and I talked more in-depth about this on a recent OfficeHours episode dedicated to lead generation. He has some really smart things to say about organizing the information about your existing customer base to increase the dollars flowing from them.

Here’s what it boils down to

Start out where you’re comfortable: Which method of lead gen do you have a knack for? Go at that full-bore.

Are you best at crafting compelling content that can stand the test of time? Are you real, real good at engaging and interacting with people? Maybe your strength is in conveying your expertise in an approachable, understandable way.

When you find the method that most interests you or you’re most comfortable with, work it with all you’ve got. Then when you’ve gained confidence from your successes, you can branch out into other tactics for scooping up leads.

What’s next

I hope his information helps make lead generation less of a mystery to you. For the next several weeks (both here and on the OfficeHours podcast) I’ll be bringing you information about the fundamental pieces of the freelance puzzle, and how they fit together to take a project from cradle to grave.

Next time I’ll be going over all things Customer Relationship Management and why it should be called Contact Relationship Management instead.

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