There are a lot of questions to answer when you start a new business.
A lot of them are asked by people who want to live vicariously through you, as you make those exciting, stomach-fluttering, oh-my-God-I’m-not-sure-if-it’s-going-to-work-out! plans.
Some of them are asked by the people you’ve hired to help you along the way, like your friendly local web designer (who, rather inconveniently, expects you to know exactly what you’re doing).
And some of them you ask yourself.
One of the biggest questions I asked myself when I started out as a freelance writer three years ago was: “How do I want to promote myself?”
I did some research, and it seemed the most popular way to promote a new business was the standard, rinse-and-repeat combination of networking, email list-building, and social media activity.
Not only did all that seem deathly dull (plus, as a confirmed introvert, the networking part terrified me to my very soul), it all seemed to hang on the crucial aspect of homing in on a target audience.
That target audience was something I didn’t have, because I’d committed that all-time cardinal sin of the new business owner. I genuinely felt that the writing services I had to offer could appeal to absolutely everybody.
My marketing plan, therefore, was more scattergun than structured. But here are three ways in which that inadvisable plan of mine unexpectedly worked.
1. The Random Leaflet Drop
Literature-wise, I’m a huge fan of the Russian classics. Running through almost all of them is a theme of genuine hardship; one that reveals the true depth of the human soul and offers scant material reward for back-breaking work.
I mention this only because my early marketing methods had shades of this exact theme about them.
After all, no marketing professional worth their salt would advise getting thousands of expensive leaflets printed, then spending hour upon profitless hour shoving them through strangers’ letterboxes.
But that was exactly what I did.
Strangely, the physical act of posting those leaflets felt like I was doing something tangible for my new business (as opposed to sitting at home and posting on social media). It also meant I could point to some actual evidence of hard work.
Something about all that felt important in those early days, when actual clients were few. I was antsy all the time, constantly looking for ways to use up all my nervous energy.
Of course, I didn’t really think my random leaflet-posting tactic would work. But there was still a hopeful, lingering feeling that it might; like a teenager buying their first lottery ticket.
I heard nothing for weeks. Then, just as I was abandoning all hope, I received a call from the biggest, grandest house on my leafleting route. Its owner had been considering writing his life story for years, and my leaflet had spurred him into action.
The resulting book is now finished, and is about to be published. I’m immensely proud of it, but maybe more importantly, that ghostwriting job was so huge that it kept my mortgage paid for long enough to help me find other work.
(In short: if I hadn’t received that call, I probably wouldn’t still be in business now).
2. Business Cards Left in Unexpected Places
This one isn’t quite so long-winded. As I was starting out, my stepmum was working part-time in a bakery, and she offered to display my brand-new business cards on the counter.
Again, I wouldn’t say leaving business cards in a bakery is a highly recommended marketing tactic (at least, for anyone who doesn’t deal in yeast or oven-cleaning).
But it worked, and I ended up with three new cake-loving clients to show for it.
3. Calendar Confusion
As part of my transformation from worker to freelancer, I’d switched to a new email system that synced with my calendar.
This system included scheduling recommendations, so that when I received emails from potential clients, it would automatically suggest a date and time for us to meet.
I wasn’t aware of this poking-its-nose-in aspect of the system at first. I just assumed the recommendations were coming from the potential clients themselves.
As a result, I gleefully confirmed meetings that may not have happened at all otherwise, because I wouldn’t have had enough confidence to suggest them myself in those early days.
(I’m sure the potential clients were a bit bemused by my ultra-forward approach, and I’m extremely embarrassed about it when I look back. But I did end up winning business from a lot of those meetings, so it all turned out fine in the end).
The moral of this story? I think if there is one, it’s that marketing strategies often have room for a little bit of unexpected magic.
Who knows, if I’d played strictly by the rules at the beginning, then I might have ended up with more business. But I also might have crashed and burned, spending money I didn’t have on the same expensive pay-per-click campaigns everybody else was using.
So the next time a mad marketing idea suggests itself, why not follow it and see where it leads?
(As long as it’s legal, of course. And relatively cheap).
I'm a friendly and professional writer, reviewer and editor who works with warmth, humour and flexibility.
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